In April 2021, I hit a wall. We'd been locked down for over a year because of Covid, and my already small one-bedroom apartment in Chicago was starting to feel smaller. I found comfort in reading and communicating with other women in my Facebook travel groups who were also confined but in different places around the world. At least there, we could share how we were coping in our little corners of the world and daydream about where we’d go the minute the world let us move around. One day, while scrolling through Facebook someone posted a link to a Travel & Leisure article: “This 4-week Program Lets You Live and Work in Tuscany While Learning About and Drinking Wine.” Now THAT’s how you break the travel drought!
Immediately after signing up and putting a deposit down for the October chapter, I began the process of getting it approved at work and at home (after all, someone was going to need to watch my fur-child for four weeks). I remember my manager happily signing on, but also hinting that maybe, just maybe, the world would still be closed. It was pretty clear that I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
Who cares? I thought. I’m doing this anyway because I need something to look forward to, and I won't risk missing the opportunity of a lifetime all because of the “wait and sees..”
My work made me go through a ton of hoops, but the biggest question was, “will you be able to actually work if you’re going to be in the land of wine?”
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
Fast forward to September 2021. The itineraries and details start coming through, the excitement is building, and with that, the slow burn of internal doubt. Was I insane for just leaving my dog and my apartment for a month during a global pandemic? What if no one else signed up for this program? What if Italy shuts down again as I’m making my way there?
Well, what’s that old saying?
“There’s no time like the present?”
I packed my dog in the car and drove the three days from Chicago to San Diego to leave her at her grandparents’ house for the month… Now that’s dedication to getting back out into the world!
By now, I’d gotten access to our hub through the app—I could see when and where everything was happening and who else was going. I started messaging with a few people ahead of time so that I would have friends as soon as I landed, and I started planning what I wanted to do while I was there. Still, it wasn’t until the week before departure that we had our intro meet and greet via Zoom, and it all suddenly felt real.
I could see everyone that would be there, and I could hear everyone’s excitement. It was happening! I was going to be Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun for four weeks, and I was going to come back a wine connoisseur! How cool!
Now, was it everything I ever imagined? No. Definitely not. It was better! As I was writing this, I decided to go back through my pictures of that month. I counted 32 pictures of different pasta dishes, 347 Tuscan countryside pictures, 60 pictures of Chianti and Brunello glasses of wine (I didn’t drink that many…. I don’t think), and 124 different pictures of myself and my chaptermates exploring.
I’ve been to Tuscany before—this was different. This was sophisticated but exciting. Educational but oh so fun.
For starters, my chapter mates are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. The fact that there were 20 other people who felt the same way as me, took the same chance as me, and all made it there to experience this together still blows my mind! A bunch of us girls all had beautiful apartments in the same building— immediately it felt like a sophisticated adult dorm.
So much wine was drunk while apartment hopping at Via Stalloreggi! The best thing about the whole experience was truly having this group of instant friends who were all there for the same reasons. To learn, To explore, To eat, To drink! To truly become part of the local community. And that we did!
My chaptermate (and now really good friend) Hayley and I became locals at Spadiaforte pretty quickly. By the second week, as soon as they saw us sit down, they would bring us our drinks followed by our usual orders—Carbonara for me and Cocaina pizza for Hayley. On our last day there, we swung by, and they all came out to wish us safe travels and wave at us until we were out of sight.
When they say Italians are some of the most hospitable people in the world, it is absolutely true! The crew at Spadiaforte will forever hold a special place in my heart, and their carbonara will hold a special place in my belly.
So, aside from eating every carb in sight and finally understanding the different flavor notes of the wine I was drinking (thanks to the amazing Giorgia and her team at the Tuscan Wine School), how did I spend my time in Italy? Well, for starters, Sojrn set us up with weekly wine-related activities and lessons (pairing food and wine, learning how to read a label, understanding the production process from beginning to end).
When I wasn’t in those lessons, you can bet that I was applying what I was learning as I ordered my next glass of Chianti at Cafe Nannini in the piazza. Of course, I also opted for the additional toursso I spent most of my free days traversing the hills of Tuscany, visiting different vineyards with our fantastic guide, Daniele.
I had to work American hours, and I will admit pulling myself away from the Italian countryside was a bit of a challenge at first. Luckily, there is literally no better commute than walking down the steep hill of Via Fontebranda, with the Basilica looming over you as the sun starts to set. Golden hour definitely hits differently in Tuscany; there’s no denying that!
But why stay in one place when you’re in Italy for an entire month? During the weekends, a bunch of us packed bags and spread out to explore more of this stunning country. I mean, surely the Cacio e Pepe tastes different in other places, right?! I took off to Florence for the Renaissance vibe (and scored an amazing brand new leather jacket) and Rome for the Hilary Duff/Paolo experience overlooking the Colosseum. Others broke off into groups, or alone, and made it to Cinque Terre, Bologna, and even Venice. That’s the thing—the possibilities are endless, and there is no wrong way to go. Plus, I can confirm that the pastas taste different, but they are all AMAZING.
So, when the four weeks sadly came to an end, I packed up all the wine, limoncello, pasta, truffles, jams, and spices I had spent a month stockpiling and squeezed everything into the extra suitcase I brought with me for this very purpose (highly recommend!) We had one final night out with the entire group, shutting down the Tuscan Wine School, as they were also preparing to close for the season. I spent the last night in my apartment on my bed with my roommate, recapping and reminiscing every detail of the last 28 days. We stayed up late, we laughed, we cried, and hugged each other before finally going to bed.
I’ve been back now almost four months, and our WhatsApp group is still very active. I just recently had dinner with my Spadiaforte friend, and we opened up some wine we each brought back from Siena. All this to say, spending a month in a different country with a bunch of strangers creates a special type of bond. It’s one thing to go on vacation with friends or family, or even solo travel as I tend to do. But, getting the chance to bunker down, embrace new friendships, and become part of a community of like-minded people is a whole other level.
So, as I raise my glass of Prosecco, here’s to La Dolce Vita!