In the past 24 years, no other writer has probably attracted more travelers to Italy than Frances Mayes. Her 1996 memoir Under the Tuscan Sun chronicles how she fell in love with a dilapidated 200-year-old villa outside Cortona and how she painstakingly restored it alongside her Italian neighbors. The book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two and a half years, was turned into a feature film starring Diane Lane, and led Mayes to write a series of subsequent love letters in Italy that inspired number of its readers to dream of. move to beautiful paese.
50 reasons to love the world – 2021
50 reasons to love the world – 2021
“Because I had the unexpected joy of two days in Rome in December. Instead of crowded sidewalks, cars and buses erupting with tourists, the city was shining, calm, squeaky clean. I had a lot of streets and squares to myself. I could smell the sea air. I just walked around, admiring the essential city. Imagine – I was standing alone at the Trevi Fountain, listening to the splash of water. Among the many trips in my life, I have never felt so amazed and lucky. – Frances Mayes, author
More reasons to love the world
For Mayes’ latest project, Always Italy, which I co-wrote, she and I spent almost two years zigzagging all over Italy only to find that many years after we moved here there was still so much to discover on our adopted homeland. The book came out last spring as the country was locked down as the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. While the timing may have seemed miserable at first, the book is an opportunity to show solidarity for the beloved Italy of Mayes and its 20 diverse and uniquely beautiful regions.
I recently met Mayes to deepen her love of Italy and ask her for advice on unlocking meaningful travel experiences that forge connections with people from other cultures.
Q: You wrote that you are deeply in love with Italy. What inspired this love and what feeds it today?
From the first trip to the last, I experienced exactly the same sensations – the feeling of being at home. Who can explain how you can feel a metabolic connection with a foreign place, when you have no genes, no connections? Colpo di fulmine – “love at first sight”. I traveled to Italy originally to see art and architecture. I live there now half the year for about 1000 reasons, but the deepest: I open the door and say out loud: “I am at home”.
Q: You recently traveled all over Italy for the first time. What surprised you the most about this experience?
For several decades I have traveled a lot, but I have repeatedly returned to the favorites (Piemonte, Veneto and Les Marche) neglecting entire regions such as Calabria, Molise, Val d’Aosta. Writing See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy in 2018 sparked my desire to see each region. I was traveling to rediscover the spontaneity of travel through visiting little-known cities. I thought, one day in the exquisite [town of] Troia in Puglia, “Why not continue? See everything. “
What will always surprise me is the amazing diversity of Italy
What will always surprise me is the astonishing diversity of Italy. Each region [is] so unique. You can’t go to the bottom of Italy, although after four years of intense traveling everywhere I can say that I am starting to get to know her a bit.
Q: You have written a lot about some of the most beautiful places in Italy. Why is it important to preserve and protect these places for future generations?
Venice, for example? The most evocative and romantic place on Earth? I would like to think that our great-grandchildren will go for a midnight gondola ride, ribbons of light on the water, only the sound of the oar knocking, and look in the windows of the big one palazzi with frescoed ceilings, huge armfuls of chandeliers light. They will discover how this enchanted city was born from the marshy sandbanks and that the first inhabitants posed black and white mosaics that still stun the viewer. This, multiplied by a million other life changing moments for travelers. Our landmarks and our natural resources are the gifts we have to pass on.
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Q: Like many popular destinations, your home region of Tuscany is struggling with the effects of over-tourism. How have you seen the influx of travelers changing Tuscany in recent years, and in what ways can governments and travelers help mitigate this trend?
Tuscany should only attack in high season. The rest of the year, from November to April, cities return to “what they were”. In my adopted hometown of Cortona, traders, restaurants, hotels and other businesses bemoan the slow weeks of winter, declaring them boring. After the winter break, most pull down those metal doors for a shutdown, a good time to do repairs and repaint. Everyone looks forward to spring when visitors return as the log (swallows). June and July are tourist prime months, while May, September and October are busy but generally not crowded – except sometimes in the cities.
Some people can only travel during prime time, but travelers can choose early spring or late fall. Go to Rome, Florence, Venice if you haven’t, but save part of the trip for the road less traveled. I arrived in beautiful Torino and said: “Where is everyone?”.
[When researching the book, you] and I reveled in cities that are often overlooked: Genoa, Catania, Palermo, Trieste, Cagliari, Syracuse, Treviso, Trento. In these, you feel that the experience becomes more intimate and exciting. Arriving on Orsara, a village in Puglia, where you sit down for lunch in a forno (bakery) where they have been making bread since the 1500s; or you walk through a vast meadow in Cogne, in the Aosta Valley, with the sunset over the snow-capped mountains; or you find yourself lying in a poppy field outside Montepulciano, you are the, exactly where you want to be. These off-piste locations bring you closer to this essential question, why travel?
I reveled in cities that are often overlooked: Genoa, Catania, Palermo, Trieste, Cagliari, Syracuse, Treviso, Trento
Regarding government regulations, some places will need to set limits. One thing the pandemic has shown, Earth is rapidly recovering from its human overloads. Maybe we can use this knowledge in the future. Limit bus entrances, close centers to traffic, limit theft, limit platform space. Mass tourism is lousy and will require brave maneuvering to control it in some of the world’s most desirable places.
Q: What are your top tips for unlocking meaningful travel experiences that connect with people from other cultures, foster better understanding, and build empathy?
Planning a trip is half the fun. I love to read writers from the place I plan to visit. You get off to a good vantage point, say, in Sicily if you’ve read The Leopard of Lampedusa and the novels and stories of Leonardo Sciascia. In Always Italy, we wanted to establish a cultural context in each region, through books, films, architecture, history, archeology and art. Such good preparation widens the openness and prepares you to meet the people who have been shaped by the place. Once there, Italy is the better to contact residents. People have an inherent humanism unlike any other place I have traveled.
Go to a bar in Naples three days in a row and the barista knows what you want without asking. Even if you are reserved, it is natural to chat with the person who is also buying wine or artichokes. Ask the waiter where she is from. Ask to meet the chef. Visit the mozzarella maker, the focaccia baker. Take some language lessons even if you’re only in town for a few days. Join a cooking class with a local. Have a haircut. Ask for directions, even in the age of GPS. Attend church services or concerts. Sit in the square on market day. If you are with a group, stop or get up early and see the city wake up. Most importantly, make eye contact. Where you come from, you may not have this habit, but it is a given in Italy.
Q: You took a risk buying an abandoned villa in Tuscany. When is it important to stick to a plan while traveling and when is it important to be open to unexpected experiences?
I rented houses all over Tuscany for five summers before buying my house. In the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances bought on a whim, but not the real Frances. But, yeah, still a risk because I was a recently divorced college professor with limited funds, and at the time (1990) buying foreign property was like signing up for a moon trip.
I think taking that risk allowed me to take other risks later on, like quitting my job on the basis of two successful books when I wasn’t sure if the writing would work. While I love planning trips and enjoying having reservations, I’m all for taking a detour when a waterfall, hidden Romanesque church, clear cove, winemaker or festival calls me.
Q: What places and experiences did you like the most during your travels in Italy?
See the two bronze warriors in the museum of Reggio di Calabria; dinner on New Years Eve at La Subida in Cormons, Friuli; take my grandson in search of fountains in Rome; standing under the Pantheon oculus when the snow has fallen; lying in a field of wild flowers on a starry night near Trento; hike to the green lakes of the Dolomites; walk along the Arno at dawn with a hot brioche; explore the aquatic world of the islands of the Venetian lagoon; join the evening promenade along the seafront in Carloforte, Sardinia; harvest our olives every October; set the table under the trees for a long dinner; find a treasure at the Arezzo antique market; see the magnificent Greek ruins of Sicily and Paestum; finding myself almost alone at the Uffizi one afternoon in January; discovery of the chapels of purgatory in Puglia; come on the jewelry box baroque town of Scicli in southern Sicily.
Endless, yes, Italy is endless.
BBC Travel celebrates 50 reasons to love the world in 2021, thanks to the inspiration of famous voices and unsung heroes in local communities around the world.
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