I thought long and hard about this one, because there are so many things I find charming about Italy. However, I do have my top three reasons that always have the same effect on me each time I return. After making over ten trips to bella Italia, it never changes.
So what are these reasons I find so hard to resist? I’m happy to share them with you because as I write, I find myself falling in love with Italy all over again.
#1. Wine. I love wine. Simply put. It is one pleasure in life I look forward to. Not only do I appreciate the variety of tastes, but also because it symbolizes the end of a busy day and the beginning of a relaxing evening. It can be enjoyed with friends or with just a beautiful view. Italy produces the ultimate in wine experiences. At almost every aperitivo, I drink the “vino rosso,” or “vino bianco” depending on the weather. I can be assured of a delicious, locally produced wine that sets the mood for the evening nicely. Maybe it is the minerality from the soil that makes Italian wine so appealing to me, or the way it is produced. Whatever it is, at aperitivo hour you can be assured I’m enjoying one somewhere.
#2. Warmth. I’m not talking weather here, although that is a definite perk in Italy. When I think of warmth, I think of the people. The Italians hold a lot of pride in their family, traditions, and work. I admire that. It touches me when I visit a pizzeria in Naples and converse with the owner who points out a tall building across the street that his father helped build. He then shows me some old photos on the wall of his family hard at work in the restaurant that has remained in the family for generations. He is open and welcoming. Or the young man Andrea who drove my around in a little cart throughout Matera in Basilicata. He shared his heart of sorrow for his hometown which is quickly becoming overrun with tourists. It is difficult for them to see change happen where family and tradition are so important. But he accepts it with open arms, stopping for me to take photos and suggesting a good place to eat. I am constantly introduced to locals who embrace with a kiss on each cheek and a warm smile. They are not reserved. They are affectionate, emotional and loving. I feel like I’m a part of their family, and I love that.
#3. Layers of History. I’m stunned each time I put my foot on Italian soil. No matter where I stand, something of historical significance has taken place. Naples and Rome rest on top of entire civilizations from the far past. Tunnels, rooms, shops, markets, churches, banquet halls….it’s all right there, under my feet. It is everywhere, and that just gives me the shivers. How often have the subway systems given way to some new discovery, an ancient room or courtyard, that causes all work to stop. Archaeologists are called in. A man digs below his house in a small town in southern Italy to improve the sewer for his taverna only to find that there is an entire settlement right under him. Now it is a museum open to the public. Time and again, new discoveries. I don’t know about you, but my jaw drops and I stand amazed. It fascinates me.
So there you have it. Italy never ceases to surprise, inspire and entertain me. Of course the list is endless. I am addicted to the affogato, my daily gelato fix with espresso poured over the top. And Caprese salads with fresh basil leaves. Neapolitan Margherita pizza. Fresh seafood pasta with mussels in the shell. Small toy-sized fiats driven by little old ladies. Balconies bursting with red bougainvillea. But let’s be real. Italy has its aspects of irritation as well. People will cut in front of you in line, drive like lunatics, appear to be arguing loudly only to slap each other on the back minutes later, and take their time (never a rush when it comes to public relations.) I look at it all as a compromise, a kind of paradox. The good overwhelms the not so good. And that is quite enough for me. I have grown to depend on Italy for many things, from developing an appreciation and celebration of food to living my life a bit more passionately. I love my family and friends more. My choice in dress has come up a notch. And I’ve learned to slow down a bit and enjoy the conceivably smaller things in life.
What are your favorite things about Italy? If you have been to Italy, what is it that draws you back? I would love to hear from you.