Dream of Italy: A TV Show About Italy’s Delights

Dream of Italy: A new PBS series

Kathy McCabe takes a cooking lesson in Puglia. Kathy McCabe photos.
Kathy McCabe takes a cooking lesson in Puglia. Kathy McCabe photos.

By Shannon Broderick

Kathy McCabe is cruising around the Italian city of Lecce in a 1935 Morris model eight. The Denver-based newsletter publisher and now, TV show producer, is enjoying the ride.

Her guide and driver, local resident Tonino Benincasa, carefully steers the antique car through the narrow streets of the city, past pedestrians and beautiful facades both built and decorated with Lecce stone.

“Everyone is laid back, no one rushes. Everyone moves at a slower pace, perhaps to be able to fully appreciate the beauty of this city, even the climate,” he says in Italian, offering insight to McCabe—and to viewers at home, who are watching the Puglia episode of McCabe’s television program, Dream of Italy.

Lecce is only one of the several beautiful locations showcased around Puglia, a region in the southeast of Italy, in the episode, which McCabe cites as one of her favorites. Viewers also get the opportunity to delve into il paese (the countryside), where McCabe tries her hand at making oreccehiette cime di rape at the Masseria Provenzani. They then travel to Alberobello, a small town with a high concentration of trulli, cone-shaped houses, head over to the former fortress of Monopoli, a seaside town, and finish in Squinzano, where dancers perform the pizzica.

According to McCabe, this particular episode was produced with the help of several friends across the region,. “I hate to use the word authentic…..but we did some things really cool to the region,” she says.

An authentic newsletter

Kathy McCabe in an episode of Dream of Italy
Kathy McCabe in an episode of Dream of Italy

Italy is one of the most oft-visited countries in Europe, with a grand total of 47 million visiting in the year 2013, only France tops Italy. (Some Italian tourism folks joke that these people are on their way to Italy, through France!)  Travelers come to Italy for a multitude of different reasons— history, fashion, beaches, their family heritage, or for the food. More travel books are published about Italy than any other country in the world.

From the crowds of tourists posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the lines to see the David in Florence, it’s no secret that certain areas have become destinations on the tour-bus circuit, as visitors rush to see a lot in a short period of time.  Many tour operators will say, ‘they want to see the Big Three–Rome, Venice and Florence.’

But for travelers eager to venture off the beaten path in search of the “Authentic Italy,” Dream of Italy is a good place to start. The monthly newsletter is packed with first person accounts of places that might not pop up in people’s minds, but are spectacular destinations…like Sardinia, for example.

Campania after College

McCabe made her first trip to Italy after college— her travels took her to Campania, a region in southern Italy known for hot-ticket destinations like Capri and the Amalfi Coast, to see her ancestral home. The experience was “life changing,” and she found herself falling in love, “addicted” to the country.

She decided to start a subscription-based newsletter that has published almost 130 issues in the last 13 years, in the hopes that it would provide “authentic Italy travel information.” Each issue contains articles and travel tips regarding off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Joan Amatuzio is the founder of Woman and Children International, a charitable organization that provides aid to children in need in both the United States and Italy. She is also a big fan of McCabe and her website.

“The most enjoyable aspect of the newsletter, “Dream of Italy” is the monthly featured articles,” Amatuzio says.

“It is a treasure trove of information revealed to the reader each month in the featured articles… with page after page of great travel tips, advice and recommendations.  Italy is a beautiful country with a lifetime of villages, hamlets, and cities to explore, Kathy does such a great job in presenting truly helpful information in her newsletter for both travelers and dreamers.”

“The newsletter is a very personal experience for the reader.  It is a unique collection of usable and helpful information with photos scattered throughout.  The author’s personal experiences take you there on each of her adventures. It is very exciting to await the next newsletter to discover new towns and villages, artisans, food, and authentic tour guides. “

For Amatuzio, the September 2012 issue was a very special one, as it featured Molise, a region in Southern Italy and the birthplace of both of her grandparents. Amatuzio was preparing to visit with a charitable organization and, after finding out that McCabe had recently toured the region with the founders of the local tourism board, she reached out to the founders immediately.

“The wonderful newsletter, “Dream of Italy” played a very important role in our journey to Molise. We would have never known about such amazing tour guides nor would we have had the experience to learn and to provide aid to the children of Molise.  It was a life-changing trip.  We are very grateful and look forward to each issue.  We never know what we will discover next in the newsletter, and where it will take us on our next journey through Italy,” she said.

Taking the leap to TV

Kathy McCabe exploring Roman Market with her guide.
Kathy McCabe exploring Roman Market with her guide.

In time, McCabe’s newsletter has expanded to include a website, and a built-in travel service to help travelers plan the perfect trip to Italy. But recently, McCabe’s services took a big leap—to television.

McCabe had partnered with a producer on a series on Tuscany, which aired on PBS a decade ago. “I had always though the stories in the newsletter would make great television,” she commented—and she was right.

The series, also named Dream of Italy, is a six-episode series where McCabe explores some of the most interesting and authentic aspects of Italian culture.

Each episode focuses on a particular area of Italy—so far, there are episodes featuring Tuscany, Rome, Umbria, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Piedmont and Lake Iseo, and Puglia—and feature experiences ranging from truffle hunting to cooking classes to winemaking.

According to McCabe, she loves each episode for different reasons—however, the Piedmont episode was a favorite, particularly because of the segment that featured two farmers truffle hunting with their dogs in the forest—something she had already experienced, but had “translated well onto the screen.”

The show has been airing on PBS and the Create network since May 2015, and will continue to air until May 2017. Episodes are also up on the Dream of Italy site.

It was beautifully done,” Amatuzio commented,”with an intimate look at the artisans, country side and the food/wine from different regions of Italy.”

An expert on Italy

Based in Denver, McCabe generally makes about two trips to Italy each year. She has visited 18 of the 20 regions in the country, choosing to visit areas that she or her viewers and readers find particularly interesting.

McCabe in Piedmont
McCabe in Piedmont

When asked about her favorite region of Italy, McCabe is quick to answer.

“I love Rome,” she says.

“I love the history, the ancient buildings, and the energy.”

McCabe also cites the southern portion of Italy as another favorite area.

“There are still a lot of authentic pockets,” she comments, mentioning that people are warmer and the pace is slower— echoing Benincasa’s comments as he drove around Lecce in the episode about Puglia.

McCabe had two suggestions for planning a trip to Italy—firstly, to talk to family and friends when planning a trip to Italy, particularly if there’s an ancestral connection to a particular region of the country.

And secondly?

“Read the newsletter,” she said.

Watch a clip from Kathy McCabe’s Dream of Italy on PBS.

Shannon Broderick
Shannon Broderick

Shannon Broderick is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and aspiring photojournalist. She likes exploring back alleys, learning new languages, and spending hours at art museums. Check out her  blog or follow her on instagram for more adventures.