By Lesley Tkaczyk Miller
One of the most cliché bits of travel advice is to “act like a local.” Your friends likely encourage you to not dress like a lost tourist with a map sticking out of your pocket, to avoid drawing attention to yourself and the fact that you’re not from the area.
However, when you travel to Italy, acting like a local is more than just blending in. It’s moving slowly through your days, savoring each and every bite of delectable food and sip of wine. It’s watching the sea and getting lost in the colors of the Mediterranean while you chat with your companions. You’ll want to take a siesta in the afternoon and then have a late dinner because the ambiance of an Italian evening is a uniquely intoxicating affair. Moving through Italy like a local is simply the only way to truly reveal all the charms of this country that for ages has enchanted lovers and bonded families and reconnected friends.
Unlocking what it feels like to experience a new place as a local would is a key mission of Club Adventures. Club Adventures ensures that each and every one of its small-group itineraries allows time for unscripted moments and follows uncommon routes that encourage discovery. Its Cinque Terre in Motion vacation is no exception, as AAA Travel Agents Kristin Davis and Vickey Willis recently experienced.
An unscripted moment that became unforgettable for Davis happened the first night after the group arrived in Lucca, a charming Tuscan city west of Florence. In an effort to acclimate to the local time, the group went to a local bar after dinner to keep themselves awake. Davis explains that they were sitting in an interior open courtyard under a canopy of orange trees enjoying drinks and telling stories when a young man used a translation app to talk to them. He was graduating the next day, he said, and wanted to toast in celebration! The spontaneous joy of that moment was only enhanced by the stroll back to the hotel.
“We were walking through these tiny streets, with just a little moonlight and street lights,” Davis recalls. “It felt like I’d always been there. It really was magical. I struggle with the words for what I experienced. We were just strolling along having a great time and it felt like we were the only people there in the city.”
The next day, the group’s exploration of the medieval city of Lucca, nicknamed “the city of 100 churches” was anything but expected.
“For a lot of people, when you think of guided tours, you think of going to a lot of museums and things like that,” Davis explains. “I think it’s really neat that this itinerary takes you to things you don’t typically do on a guided tour – more active things.”
One of those active, immersive experiences was a bicycle ride around the wall that surrounds Lucca’s old town. Once a military barricade, the wall has been preserved as a wide pedestrian promenade lined with trees that offers views of the Apuan Alps on one side and city towers on the other. Willis says that the group went around once together, but that some, including her, decided to ride around again because it was so fun.
“You can’t get much more involved than being on a bike and smelling the trees and the flowers and feeling the air on your face and experiencing the perspiration of it and seeing the mountains off in the distance,” Willis says. “I loved it.”
Eat Like a Local
Working up an appetite is key to fully enjoying all that Italy has to offer, and sampling authentic flavors from the region you’re in elevates each meal. From more unique dishes like zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese then deep fried, to pesto lasagna, fluffy gnocchi or the traditional treat of gelato (cinnamon gelato in a chocolate-dipped cone is the best way to go, according to Davis), it’s not surprising that choosing a favorite meal is nearly impossible. Willis tried.
“The seafood pasta we had the first night we were there was amazing,” Willis says of the meal she savored at the first restaurant Club Adventures had selected for the trip. “It had shrimp and clams and mussels, and it was in the best garlic sauce I’ve ever tasted. It was just wonderful.”
Club Adventures takes care to choose locally run restaurants and accommodations in each destination, while leaving plenty of flexibility for travelers to choose their own dining, enhanced by recommendations from the group’s guide. The Club Adventures Local Leaders are guides who live in the communities the tours visit. While most house wines in Italy will put any brand-name bottle you’ve had at home to shame, having a knowledgeable local with you who can point you to the best white wine to go with the pasta you chose is pretty priceless.
“He made everything fun and silly and lighthearted,” Willis says of Vincenzo, the group’s Local Leader. “He was very knowledgeable about the areas we went to.”
Another of the areas they explored was coastal Levanto, where the group learned to make pesto. After a couple of days exploring coastal cities, including Willis’ favorite Corniglia, they travelled by train to Santa Margherita Ligure where they stayed at the Hotel Continental overlooking a stunning bay. Seen from the expansive balcony of her hotel room, Willis described the view of the bay as “unbelievably spectacular” and dotted with big and small boats.
From the surface of the sparkling blue water in Portofino Bay, as the group went kayaking along the coast, “big” seemed like an understatement. “We were going by yachts that are bigger than houses I’ve seen,” Davis recalls. “The water was just so beautiful. There were jelly fish all around, and when you’re not in the water, they are really pretty to see!”
Davis loved the kayaking and other activities, but also said she appreciated that with Club Adventures it didn’t feel like you had to be busy the entire time. She mentioned that each afternoon was free to do as you pleased, whether that was to rest, venture off to unique areas or to stay with the group for other spontaneous adventures.
“There’s a lot of free time built in,” Davis says. “You might have the morning with the group and then the afternoon to do whatever, and your local guide can point you towards things you’d really love to do. For people who want to rest, that can be very important.”
Rest can indeed be important, especially in coastal areas where it’s easy to see why locals are so fit and agile. There’s no other way to navigate many of these areas except on your own two feet, over cobbled streets, up staircases, down paths, into unexpected alcoves for an espresso before moving along. It’s all part of an authentic Italian travel experience.
Willis says, reflecting the thoughts of many who have ventured through Italy’s intoxicating landscapes. “I would live there in a heartbeat!”
Your local AAA Travel Agent can help you plan your indescribable adventure today. Call 800-750-5386 today!