Tasteful Travels in Italy
A Madison guide helps visitors experience Italy's dolce vita
FIND MORE PHOTOS OF ITALY IN THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.
Sleeping in villas in the Italian countryside. Exploring small towns. Sampling wines and visiting chefs’ kitchens. These are just a few of the experiences that characterize Cathy Fleming’s culinary and wine tours. She formed Viaggi di Gusto—which means “tours with taste”—eight years ago to create customized trips in Italy.
Fleming fell for Italy while living there in her early twenties and now takes small groups on off-the-beaten-track tours of different regions. She balances activities with downtime, with a focus on getting to know local wine, olive oil, cheese and chocolate producers. We asked her to share a few of her travel highlights.
What attracts you to Italy?
The pace of life gives you time to savor the important things. For Italians, their priorities center on family, friends and good food. Life slows down when I’m in Italy. I also really appreciate the aesthetics of Italy. You can find beauty in almost anything. It’s not just scenic Tuscan landscapes or stunning coastlines; it’s also cobblestone streets, architecture, the language, food, window displays—even a simple glass of wine.
What’s the most memorable dining experience you’ve had on a tour?
That’s hard, but two stand out. The first was a farewell dinner we organized for a group after a day at Mamma Agata’s in-home cooking school in Ravello, along the Amalfi Coast. We started with wine tasting in the garden, followed by a seven-course meal served outdoors on the terrace overlooking the sea—amazing food on a beautiful night with a spectacular view of the cliffs and a full moon that reflected on the water. I’ve enjoyed a lot of special times in Italy but this night was once in a lifetime for me.
The second was a stay at an old monastery in Sicily. We did a cooking class with a mother/daughter team who have had some cookbooks
published, but it was a brother who was the real star. He prepared our everyday meals. It was such simple and honest food—and he was so passionate about what he prepared for us using simple ingredients from his garden. It was unfussy. We’ve had a lot of upscale dining experiences, but these simple, authentic meals by a passionate cook really blew me away.
What’s the most dazzling sight you’ve seen?
On our most recent trip to Piedmont and the Italian Riveria, one of our hotels was along the Ligurian coast, and the view of the Mediterranean is incomparable. I’ve been to the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast many times, and each and every time the coast takes my breath away. It’s hard to describe in words the color of that water. You just have to see it. And of course, you can’t beat the landscapes of Italy’s wine regions—miles and miles of vineyards dotted with hill towns and castles. Maybe it’s sensory overload. Pretty soon, even a plate of food or the color of a certain wine starts to feel dazzling.
Describe a perfect day from one of your tours.
On our most recent tour, the day began with a leisurely breakfast at our converted castle in the heart of Piedmont. That morning, we joined a local truffle hunter, Giuseppe, and his dog, Luna, on a truffle hunt. We walked through woods and past gorgeous vineyards, watching Luna sniff and dig for truffles—she found four! After the hunt, Giuseppe invited us back to his home for family-produced wine, cheese, salami and bread. Then we moved on to Alba and sampled regional specialties—wine, cheese and, of course, truffles. We returned home via the “wine road,” stopping for a tasting. We topped off the day with a swim at our hotel’s pool, and later a typical Piedmont meal with local wine.
What have you learned from traveling it Italy?
Overall, Italians live a more healthful lifestyle. They walk everywhere, they eat better and they cook with fresh, local ingredients. They appreciate their food and where it comes from. I try to adapt that into my life here as much as I can. There’s a saying, “Il dolce far niente,” which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to incorporate that into my daily life yet.
Fleming hosts tours several times a year and customizes individual tours for clients. For more information, visit viaggidigusto.com.
Katie Vaughn is managing editor of Madison Magazine.
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SLIDESHOW: Enjoy more of Cathy Fleming's impressions of Italy.