As Italy reopens to the world, armchair travelers can take a quick trip to the land of La Dolce Vita via the new Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive special on PBS stations in June. Hosted by Kathy McCabe, the special showcases the transformative power and beauty of Italy with guests who include Sting & Trudie Styler, Francis Ford Coppola, and Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes, all of whom are full or part-time expats living in Italy.
McCabe is a strong believer that Italy can change your life. On her first trip to Italy 26 years ago, she rediscovered her ancestral home and was inspired to create Dream of Italy, an award-winning travel magazine and website, which led to the popular PBS series Dream of Italy.
In this special, she explores what she calls the 11 essential elements of the Italian lifestyle – the land, food, family, art & culture, beauty, pace of life, passion, movement, community, celebrations, and sense of home – and shows how Italy has changed the lives of each of her guests. The companion book Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive that will be published in June. On the eve of the broadcast, I caught up with McCabe.
Everett Potter: In your new PBS special, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, you take a multi-layered approach to speaking about the country, from traveling in a meaningful way to even moving there. Why did you take this point of view?
Kathy McCabe: I’ve been running the travel magazine and membership site Dream of Italy for 19 years and producing the Dream of Italy travel series for six years. I definitely realized a long time ago that it was all about so much more than “Italy” or “a trip” or this idea definitely really crystalized for me in the past few years. I would hear from readers/viewers about their own stories of transformation, big and small, inspired by Italy and watching the show. In the past year in particular, I’ve really learned that a big part of Dream of Italy is giving us all “permission to dream.”
Some told me about how they started to incorporate the Mediterranean diet into their lives, others said they were inspired by my journey to seek out their own ancestral roots, others were exploring how to move to or retire in Italy.
I wanted to put it all together to explore three main themes: how to live in happier and healthier ways as the Italians do, how to travel in a more meaningful way and how to move to Italy. All of the guests have such eloquent points to make about all of these themes. They feel Italy deeply in their souls.
EP: What was it like to meet Sting and Trudie Styler and visit their estate and vineyard Il Palagio?
KM: Well, the one thing I have learned through my work is that famous or not famous, those I interview are simply people who love Italy. We all feel a profound connection to this place and a deep and abiding passion for the land and its people. In that way, they are truly just like us.
I found Sting and Trudie kind, welcoming and down to earth. They have lovely energy and so does their land. I’m quite sure that one influences the other. I’ve visited so many places in Italy but their home and vineyard Il Palagio has a very special feeling, particularly because of the way they tend to the land.
Sting said to me, ‘Everything is related, the wine, the way it is grown, it all helps the environment. There’s more insects here, more birds here. They treat it kindly. Nature pays you back a hundredfold.’
EP: Can you actually visit Sting and Trudie’s villa and vineyards in Tuscany?
KM: You can rent Sting and Trudie’s main villa or one of the one of the smaller guesthouses at Il Palagio. They also run a Farm Shop that is open to the public. Here you can buy so many products that come from their land: fresh vegetables, fresh eggs, honey, olive oil, wine. This is also where you can taste some of the wines. Many of the locals shop here so it is truly authentic and will give you a taste of Il Palagio.
EP: Has Frances Mayes, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun and countless other books about Italian life, been a guiding force for you in your own explorations?
KM: I distinctly remember reading her book in 1997 and the exact spot where it sat on my bookshelf for many years. It is one of the few books I have re-read and I remember that a number of years later, I visited Cortona with my mom and made the pilgrimage to Bramasole. Frances truly was a pioneer in this modern dream of having a more authentic life in Italy. So you can just imagine the thrill when she and I filmed the Dream of Italy: Tuscan Sun Special in 2018. She makes another appearance and offers fantastic advice in the new special. Plus, in what must be one of the highlights of my career, she wrote the foreword to the new companion book to the special.
EP: As someone who has traveled all over the country, what are some of the lesser known places that you think Americans might enjoy exploring?
KM: I adore southern Italy. It might be because that’s where my roots are, in the region of Campania, but I also love it because it often feels like a place out of time, a throwback to yesteryear, a simpler life. Southern Italians are always celebrating something. When I spoke to Francis Ford Coppola in his own ancestral hometown of Bernalda, he said, “They make their own fun” about all the local festivals and event. It just seems like life is more in Technicolor in southern Italy. In Campania, I recommend the area of Irpinia, where my family is from, which is quite an impressive wine-growing area these days. In Basilicata, you must visit Mr. Coppola’s hotel Palazzo Margherita and see the ancient cave city of Matera. Puglia, ah Puglia has my heart. Visit the Baroque city of Lecce and get some beach time while staying in a masseria, an ancient fortified farmhouse.
EP: One of the great aspects of the new special is that while Sting and Frances Mayes are spotlighted, so are Americans who aren’t famous but have decided to live there. How easy is it for an American to move to Italy?
KM: I’m a firm believer in anything that you really want, you can make happen and I know that all the guests in this special feel the same way. You might think that being famous of having money would make it easier but you’re still integrating into a new culture and a different way of doing things and those (famous and not as famous) who have been successful have been open and flexible.
As an American, you can spend 90 out of every 180 days in Italy without needing a visa. So that’s six months a year. To live there full-time, I do think it is easier on either side of the spectrum of life – as a student to get a student visa and as a retired person to get an elective residency visa where you have an income and don’t need to work in Italy. For professionals, it can be very hard to get a job and a work visa in Italy.
Keep in mind that Americans who have some Italian blood may be able to claim citizenship jure sanguinis, by right of blood and get an Italian/EU passport. I’m working on this myself.
For the nuts and bolts of how to move I interviewed Michele Capecchi, a citizenship and relocation attorney in Florence and Damien O’Farrell who has coached 10,000 expats in how to move to and thrive in Italy. There are so many nuances to moving to Italy and living in Italy that I wrote a companion book to the special with much more detail! It is also titled Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive and is available initially as a pledge premium when viewers give to their local PBS station. The pledge breaks are hosted by Italian-American actor Joe Mantegna.
EP: Do you think that you will ever take the big leap and move to Italy yourself?
KM: That’s the $64,000 question now isn’t it? Well, it is more likely now than ever because both of my parents have passed away and that was part of what was keeping me close to home. I’m definitely up for the part-time here, part-time there life. But I really do feel like the best version of myself, so full-time could be in the cards. Just where to live? I love so many corners of Italy.