“Traveling Italy Can Change Your Life”
By Carson McGrath
Cassandra Lena Santoro, the founder and CEO of Travel Italian Style, believes that traveling to Italy can change a person’s life. It certainly changed hers.
There is something about this country, the topic of more travel books than any other nation, that gets inside your blood.
As a Sicilian American, Santoro said she grew up with Italian family dinner every Sunday, assuming “Italian life is normal.” When her father passed away from cancer, she decided to take the chance to visit a country where she could learn about her family’s heritage.
“I realized he never had the chance to see Italy,” Santoro said of her father.
Santoro then started to do her research. She connected with friends, family members, and small businesses in order to start her own company.
“I started researching and connecting with people and realizing I had so many friends and family member and small business who were just like me and trying to spread the passion of different regions of Italy. So I decided that was my future goal,” she said.
Santoro gained her dual citizenship in Italy and started working within the food and wine events industry in New York to learn a basis to develop her own business further.
Travel Italian Style started in early 2015 she said. The company does custom travel planning and small groups tours for people “looking to have an authentic experience in Italy” she said.
Anyone looking to learn about their Italian heritage or simply to just explore different and exciting parts of Italy travel Italian style. Santoro said the company focuses on choosing locations that people would not be well known for people to travel by themselves. That is why Travel Italian Style offers tours and a variety of events for travelers.
Venice to Sicily
From places like Venice to Sicily, Santoro said each trip is customized to each individual explorer.
“I offer these unique experiences. For example in Tuscany you are not just going wine tasting, you might be able to crush grapes at my friends who happens to be a women’s wine maker’s farm. In Naples you can have dinner inside a friend’s home,” Santoro said.
This year she said travelers have the option of staying on a farm with a local family where they can cook dishes, learn traditional dances, and explore the mountains and outdoor area.
Santoro also said, for women’s trips, the beautiful Island of Sardinia is where people can visit for relaxing. Working with a yoga teacher on the island, she said a wellness trip is in the works.
“It will be focused on wellness but we will also be doing private boat tours and going to see local coral being made, taking part and learning about the local cuisine and wine,” Santoro said.
Though Santoro sees many courageous women ready to adventure on their own, she said the company tries to create a “safe zone” for women who might be nervous to travel alone for such a big trip.
Focusing on empowering women, Santoro said not only giving women the space to travel and travel safe is important, but also incorporating women owned small businesses into her business is key as well.
“For me travel is about being in the moment. I think it is easy when you are going to a place like Italy to want to do, to go to ten different cities and ten different locations in a week and I get it because some of us have a limited amount of vacation and so forth. But I think it is important to experience a little bit more of being there, enjoying a longer lunch, meeting locals, also experiencing a small town maybe you have never heard of before,” said Santoro.
Social Media Savvy
The company also utilizes social media in order to engage with their customers online. Santoro said she spends half her year living in Italy, and the other half living in Brooklyn within the United States. She said social media allows her to share her everyday experiences wherever she may be.
“Social media is my number one network of connecting with my clients,” Santoro said. “They just love the photos and they love picturing themselves there.”
For the people who not only enjoy Travel Italian Style’s social media pages, but decide to book a trip, Santoro said the home cooked meals and connecting with local community members always seems to be people’s favorite part of the trip.
Dining with the Locals
“I find the number one memorable experience is when they get to dine with local Italians,” she said.
Santoro wants to show people that there are so many different travel opportunities in Italy, not just Rome or other well known places, but all over the country.
“I want to encourage people to see all of Italy and take the time to explore north and south and all that they can,” she said.
If you are looking to visit Italy anytime soon, you can visit Travel Italian Style’s website for more information.
“If you are thinking to travel, and everybody knows to not let anything stop you, life is short and there are so many beautiful things to see,” said Santoro.
Carson McGrath is a journalist who loves to write about adventure, politics, and feminism. You can find her on top of a mountain or riding her bike around Amherst.