Most travelogues aim to transport viewers (or readers, in the case of travel books) elsewhere. But Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, the special premiering on PBS stations this month, upends the conventional paradigm of the travelogue.
Instead, this show focuses on what people gain from travel and learning about other cultures that can invigorate and change their lives when they return, wherever that may be.
“I know that just one trip to Italy can be completely life-changing because that’s what happened to me,” said host and executive producer Kathy McCabe. “Traveling to Italy can change how you live at home, how you see the world, and even what you do for a living.”
For most others, the changes are generally less dramatic: never drinking cappuccino after breakfast, seeding a vegetable garden in the backyard, looking for Made in Italy labels on garments, or slowing down to enjoy little things.
Perfect post-pandemic fare for Italophiles
The timing of the Dream of Italy special couldn’t be more fortuitous after a challenging year across the globe. Many are reeling from multiple losses and still searching for ways to move forward. Although borders are opening up, planning foreign travel remains complicated. So watching McCabe explore the ways in which Italy can transform lives from afar is particularly inspiring as people begin to adapt to the new normal.
On the special, McCabe explores 11 essential elements of the “Italian Way” that have piqued the lives of her celebrity and non-celebrity guests, all of whom decided to live in Italy full or part-time.
These include the culture’s strong connection to nature and the land; its reverence for fresh, local, seasonal foods, prepared quite simply; its deep appreciation of family ties, including intergenerational ones; its unique ability to create beauty, evident in the richness of Italian art, architecture and sculpture; its respect for a slower pace of life, with ample time to pursue one’s passions; and finding reasons to connect with others and celebrate life throughout the year.
Forbes.com spoke to Kathy McCabe to find out about the making of the show:
When was the show filmed? How long did it take to put this special together?
Kathy McCabe: Most of the special was filmed in 2019—before the onset of the pandemic—except for the interviews with Francis Ford Coppola and Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes, which were filmed even earlier.
I met with Sting and Trudie Styler in August and then with expats, financial author David Bach, retiree Sally Carrocino and interior designer Arlene Antoinette Gibbs in October.
After filming, it took many months and a skeleton crew to complete all the production as the pandemic forced us to pause for a few months. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I’m someone who loves to work. It was a blessing in that it was a welcome distraction from COVID.
So yes, filming was completed just before the pandemic, thank God. I’ve thought about that a lot – the timing. I’m glad we didn’t have to film everyone wearing masks, etc. This is the Italy we remember and that we can hopefully get back to ASAP.
How did you choose your “cast?” It includes some high-profile celebrities. How did their impressions of Italy compare to those of non-celebrities?
KM: I believe in serendipity and went with my gut. Obviously, we have the Coppola, Mayes, Sting and Trudie Styler interviews but I wanted to show a mix of other full and part-time expats who could show a diverse audience that the dream of Italy is applicable to them.
Clearly, the more famous guests were used to being interviewed and spoke so eloquently and succinctly but that was true of all the guests. Everyone was fantastic and you almost don’t care who is famous (or “not yet famous”) because we were all just talking about our great passion – Italy. It is a happy equalizer.
However, I particularly loved talking to Mr. Coppola because we have a similar story. We both “discovered” our ancestral hometowns for the first time in our 20s as we set out on a quest at the behest of our grandfathers that changed both of our lives.
Actor Joe Mantegna who co-hosts the PBS pledge breaks, which will help raise funds for public television, had this very same experience. He and his wife visited his ancestral hometown in Puglia when they were young, at the urging of his grandfather. I think he said they were going to go for the day and ended up staying something like 10 days. That’s Italian hospitality for you!
How did you feel watching the final product?
KM: I actually watched it live for the first time when it premiered on PBS12 in Colorado. I honestly probably had seen it thousands of times as I was making cuts, rewriting, etc. but to see it on a TV and not on my computer or in the editing room was surreal.
I got unexpectedly choked up at the beginning, really wishing my parents were here to see it. They make a quick appearance (from a prior episode of Dream of Italy, (the Castelvetere sul Calore episode) in a segment related to my family history. I also have to say that it was one of the first times that I stopped and really said to myself, “My gosh, you actually interviewed Sting.”
If you had to give a first-timer one piece of advice before taking off for Italy, what would you say?
KM: I usually have two important pieces of advice. First, don’t overpack your days. In Italy, you simply must leave time for serendipity. Magical things happen. You might meet an Italian who will invite you home for lunch – this really happens. You just don’t know what you will discover along the way. Don’t worry about checking everything off the list.
That said, I also want to give everyone permission to do the touristy things, too. That’s what you’ve dreamed of all your life: to take a ride on a gondola or put your arm up for a silly photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa is beautiful and great city by the way).
It is also fun to see the usual sites in a new way. For instance, when filming in Rome, expat Arlene and I took a Vespa sidecar tour with LivTours. I’ve never seen the Eternal City from that perspective.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How to watch Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive
You can look up PBS air times here according to your zip code. International viewers will be able to view the show in 2022.
The special is distributed by American Public Television and is underwritten by DeCecco, Monteverdi Tuscany, VIETRI, ItalyAncestry.com and Seed From Italy. It will repeat on PBS stations for four years.
The nationwide primetime premiere on the public television Create TV link network is on Saturday, June 26 at 10pm/ET with another nationwide primetime airing on Sunday, July 11 at 10pm/ET.
Watch the trailer on You Tube
About Kathy McCabe
Italy travel and lifestyle expert Kathy McCabe’s first trip to Italy, 26 years ago, was to rediscover her ancestral home. The visit inspired Dream of Italy, an award-winning travel magazine and website in 2002. Since then, it has grown into a public television travel series reaching more than 60 million viewers and a podcast of the same name recognized by The New York Times as one of “13 Podcasts for Wandering Souls.” McCabe is also the author of a new companion book, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, published in June 2021.