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kathy mccabe dream of italy pasta pugliaFew travelers are as passionate about Italy as Kathy McCabe, who’s spent more than a decade as the publisher of a newsletter and website called Dream of Italy, dedicated to discovering every corner of the Boot. Starting this year you can also catch her Italian explorations on TV as part of a new series on PBS, also called “Dream of Italy.” You can find the schedule and watch full episodes online at her website.

We reached out to McCabe to find out her favorite immersive experiences in Italy, her advice for first-timers and more info about her new series.

IndependentTraveler.com: Why is Italy so eternally appealing to many travelers?
Kathy McCabe:
Italy has everything — ancient cities, stunning beaches, warm people, the best food in the world, 60 percent of the world’s art. I’m not sure of another country that offers as much as Italy, but maybe I am partial!

IT: What can viewers expect from your new “Dream of Italy” TV series on PBS?
KM:
Viewers can expect a different side of Italy from the usual tourist attractions — authentic is a word that seems overused these days, but I think it is one of the best words to describe the people we meet and experiences we have in the show.

We feature real Italians living their passions, from a goat farmer in Italy who makes goat cheese to an artist in Rome who teaches the ancient art of mosaics. One of my favorite segments features the Tuscan cowboys of the Maremma — there are only a few of them left. (Check out this clip in the video below.) I’m proud that not only are we giving viewers great travel ideas, but we are preserving Italian culture for future generations.



IT: Which region of Italy would you say is most overlooked, and why should travelers check it out?
KM:
One of my favorite less-visited regions is Puglia — the region of Italy on the heel, facing Greece — though it is really becoming more popular. We even devoted an entire episode of the TV series to Puglia. Puglia has 500 miles of stunning coastline: beautiful empty beaches and fortified harbors. The olive trees in the region are gargantuan and dot the landscape. You will also see trulli, small white stone huts. And the people, like all Italians, are warm and welcoming.

IT: What are your favorite immersive/hands-on experiences in Italy?
KM:
I love taking cooking classes in Italy, and these are accessible to every traveler (in the Dream of Italy print newsletter, we devoted two full issues to Italy’s best cooking schools). You can easily fit a half-day cooking class into a trip, and it’s a great way to learn about the culture through food and to interact with locals.

Another great experience is enjoying a dinner in a local home through Home Food. The hosts go through a rigorous selection process and speak English.

IT: What one piece of advice would you give travelers planning their first visit to Italy?
KM:
As hard as it is, don’t over-plan or try to do too much. I have been to Italy more than 35 times and I still haven’t seen every region. Pick a few places to focus on, and be sure to leave time for serendipity!

IT: Outside of Italy, what are your other favorite travel destinations?
KM:
Most of my travels are to Italy, but when I have the chance to travel somewhere else, I have found it hard to tear myself away from Europe. (I guess I made a good choice in college when I majored in European studies.) France was my first love — one summer in college, I studied in the exquisite towns of Annecy and Talloires in the Alps. Ireland is another favorite European destination. The people are so warm, just like the Italians.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

child pool africaIn this month’s featured review, reader Barbara Helveston discovers that even a 4-year-old can appreciate Africa’s many natural wonders. “After a couple of days, we boarded an eight-hour flight to Johannesburg, a quick overnight and a short flight to Victoria Falls where we promptly fell in love with everything Africa,” she writes. “We stayed at the Zambezi River Lodge … a lodge hotel with all the amenities situated on the Zambezi River, complete with warthogs, meerkats and a local hippo named Sebastian!”

Read the rest of Barbara’s review here: African Adventure Extraordinaire. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

colmar france at night


Population: 66 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: S’il vous plait (please)

Fun Fact: When the Nazis occupied Paris during WWII, the French resistance cut the cables of the elevators in the Eiffel Tower so that Hitler would have to climb the stairs (some 1,500 of them!) if he wanted to get to the top.

We Recommend: Capture the City of Lights with a Paris photography tour.

12 Best France Experiences

Have you been to France? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

On my last trip, I traveled nearly to the ends of the earth.

My destination was Svalbard, a remote cluster of islands located approximately halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It’s a land where polar bears and reindeer roam, and where the only ways to get around are by air, sea, snowmobile or dog sled.

svalbard polar bear


I traveled with polar specialist Quark Expeditions, which offers small-ship cruises in Antarctica, Greenland, northern Canada, Norway, Iceland and even the North Pole. My itinerary was the “Introduction to Spitsbergen,” a Svalbard cruise that sails roundtrip from Longyearbyen with a focus on spotting polar bears, walruses and other Arctic wildlife.

Over eight nights aboard Sea Adventurer, Quark’s oldest vessel, I discovered a few of the qualities that make this itinerary special — plus a couple of little things that didn’t quite live up to expectations.

HITS
Wildlife: Every part of a Svalbard cruise is designed to get passengers as close to the wildlife as possible. When a whale surfaces or a polar bear is spotted in the pack ice, the ship veers off course to get a better look. For more intimate encounters, smaller Zodiac boats bring passengers right up to the shoreline for views of nesting puffins or grazing reindeer. In the most incredible moments, the animals came to us — as when a polar bear padded directly across the ice to within about 50 feet of our ship, lifting its sensitive nose to scent us every step of the way. The wildlife is the number one reason that most people book a Svalbard cruise, and it didn’t disappoint.

svalbard reindeer


Staff: Led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable expedition team, Sea Adventurer’s crew kept us safe, well fed and well informed. Naturalist guides piloted the Zodiacs and offered insight about the animals and birds we saw along the way. When viewing wildlife on deck, they helped passengers spot the animals (which were often quite far away and difficult to see, even with binoculars) and positioned the ship’s telescopes to give us a better glimpse. In the evenings they gave talks on everything from walruses to glacial geology.

Beyond the expedition team, the rest of the crew greeted us with smiles and provided efficient service in the dining room, bar and cabins.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

Food: Sea Adventurer may not be a massive cruise ship with food around the clock, but we certainly never went hungry. From early-morning munchies in the lounge to tempting desserts at both lunch and dinner, the food aboard the ship was plentiful and usually delicious (if not always particularly healthy). The highlight was an Arctic barbecue, held on deck one mild evening when the ship was anchored in a fjord. Dining alfresco on burgers, ribs and corn on the cob with a stunning view of a glacier? Yes, please.

MISSES
Shore Landings: One of our scheduled hiking outings was called off because we spotted a polar bear on shore — obviously not a creature we wanted to encounter on foot! Another landing spot was inaccessible due to ice. In the end, we boarded on Monday afternoon and didn’t set foot on land again until Friday afternoon. That didn’t mean we were twiddling our thumbs in our cabins — Quark filled our days with Zodiac cruises (including some amazing close-up viewing of the polar bear that would have been such a danger to us on land) and nature lectures. Fortunately, we did end up with four landings over the last three days of the cruise, all of which were excellent. But passengers on any Svalbard cruise should keep in mind that all landings are subject to the whims of weather and wildlife.

svalbard hike


Staying in Touch: While Internet access was available on the ship (via Wi-Fi and two computers in the Internet cafe), it often didn’t work in the remote regions where we were cruising. Even when you could get a signal, it was extremely slow and might boot you off between emails. Considering the lofty prices ($20 for 10 MB of data, $50 for 30 MB and $130 for 100 MB) and the fact that the access cards are nonrefundable, most passengers simply didn’t bother.

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Are you interested in traveling to Svalbard?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

atacama desert chile


Population: 17.4 million

Currency: Chilean peso

Phrase to Know: Habla ingles? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: Chile was the final country in the Western Hemisphere to make divorce legal (back in 2004). The divorce rate here is still extremely low — just 3 percent, as compared to 53 percent in the U.S., according to Business Insider.

We Recommend: Head to the small town of Curarrehue, where you can weave with local Mapuche women.

10 Best Chile Experiences

Have you been to Chile? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

koutoubia mosque marrakesh


Population: 33 million

Currency: Moroccan dirham

Phrase to Know: Shukran (thank you)

Fun Fact: Numerous films have been shot (at least in part) in Morocco, including “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Gladiator,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Black Hawk Down.”

We Recommend: Visit Fez to enjoy foodie experiences such as cooking tagine with a local family or visiting an artisan fromagerie to taste organic cheeses.

11 Best Morocco Experiences

Have you been to Morocco? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: Known for its olive oil and stark white homes, this ancient Iberian town features an Arab castle, a Moorish wall and a Franciscan monastery among its historic skyline.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 15, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Meredith Vanderwilt, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Olvera, a town located in the province of Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain. Meredith has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

kilkenny castle ireland


Population: 4.8 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Slainte (cheers — a toast)

Fun Fact: A popular legend about St. Patrick, the country’s patron saint, is that he banished snakes from Ireland back in the fifth century. However, researchers at the National Museum of Ireland have pooh-poohed this legend because there is no fossil evidence that snakes ever lived in Ireland in the first place.

We Recommend: Channel your inner royal by spending the night in a castle.

12 Best Ireland Experiences

Have you been to Ireland? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

tulum ruins mexico


Population: 30 million

Currency: Malaysian ringgit

Phrase to Know: Nama saya… (My name is…)

Fun Fact: Home to thousands of different plant and animal species, Malaysia is one of 17 nations on the planet designated as “megadiverse” by Conservation International. (The U.S., Australia and Brazil are among the others.)

We Recommend: Sample the incredible street food in George Town, Penang. One of our favorite options is char koay teow, rice noodles stir-fried with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and an optional egg.

11 Best Malaysia Experiences

Have you been to Malaysia? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

amsterdam canal housesWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about their travels for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. We received a number of excellent submissions, detailing everything from excursions in Barbados to a whirlwind weekend in Bucharest.

Choosing the best review was a true challenge, but in the end we went with Christian Dew’s dispatch from the Netherlands, Going Dutch. Here’s an excerpt:

“I am a frequent visitor of the Netherlands and I love all things Dutch. Born and raised in America, a southern girl with a wanderlust mind, the Netherlands has a special place in my heart. Have you ever wanted to see the North Sea? Take a train through the Dutch countryside? Visit an old windmill? Go to a concert to see one of your favorite artists? Then I invite you to come and join me on this reading adventure of Going Dutch.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to highlight a few runners-up that we also loved reading:

A Trip Underground, Running from Killer Coconuts and Tripped by a Turtle by Andrea MacEachern: “The others in my group went in one direction and I walked in another, solo through the maze of paths, [enjoying] the serene sounds of leaves blowing softly in the wind and birds chirping until suddenly, that peacefulness was shattered by a loud, crashing thud followed by shouting. I thought I was alone in that area but on the other side of the trees to the right of me, a couple from my tour was enjoying a leisurely stroll, just like I was, when a coconut came crashing to the ground about a foot away from the man’s head.”

Fall family trip to Italy, France and Spain via cruise ship by Nancy Lorentson: “Day three was the Vatican. We had gotten self-guided tour tickets online … 20-something dollars each, which is well worth it as the lines are long. You go in the back door museum entrance and we saw the entire museum. Try to get there at opening when it is less crowded.”

Iceland During the Winter by Rae Ann Wright: “Here we enjoyed the first half of a full ‘Culinary Coastal and Countryside’ tour. We were able to focus on the seaside and materials from the sea as well as the first microbrewery in Iceland. All the producers we visited were small family firms, and for some the knowledge had traveled from generation to generation. They offered us to taste fresh fish, local microbrewery beer and salted cod.”

Feeling inspired? Share advice from your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter