As we approach our 30th year anniversary, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to a book that succeeds in bringing Italy to life with exuberance and joy called La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z. It is authored by Carla Gambescia, an eleven-time veteran of our tours, and is a “must read” for anyone in amore with La Bella Italia. Carla kindly credits her travels with CC and our native guides for helping to inspire her personal “Italian Renaissance” and, in following her dreams to open a restaurant and now writing this very special book.
Carla will be joining us for at least two special La Dolce Vita “U” Departures this season and next. Our cycling and gustatory extravaganza Piedmont: Land of Barolo and Truffles September 21-28 (four spots left!) and next year’s Bike Across Southern Italy June 11-22, 2019 which will be a special “Giro del Gelato” and feature a delizioso focus on gelato tasting and connoisseurship, and … all the gelato will be on us! YUM.
In La Dolce Vita University’s introduction Carla shares her story and the role we are honored to have played in her life; Brava Carla! And, grazie mille from your Ciclismo Classico famigilia!!
Here is the excerpt from La Dolce Vita University by Carla
“Then in 1995 I signed up for a cycling trip in Sicily with Ciclismo Classico and a magical thing happened: I rediscovered my roots and I fell deeply in love with the land of my ancestors. Following that fateful trip, I took dozens more (eleven by bike) exploring the cities and the countryside in every region, seeing Italy in summer and winter and spring and fall, and delighting in the richness of its cultural gifts. In 2007, while a consultant to the Ciao Bella Gelato company Lauren and I co-created a unique tour we called the Giro del Gelato which went on to be awarded “Best Trip in Western Europe” by OUTSIDE Magazine.
But that original “Bella Sicilia” tour was life-changing, and that is no exaggeration. As a result, I resolved to open an Italian-inspired restaurant, not because I was a foodie—though I love food!— but because I wanted to create a place through which my guests could feel they too were “there” even when they were still “here.” About twelve years later I made that dream a reality and operated a very special restaurant for nearly a decade. It was called Via Vanti! (a contraction of via and avanti for “the way forward”) and was very popular, not just because its food was delizioso—we were a top Zagat®-rated restaurant for years—but because of the experience we created for our guests. We transformed the interior of a landmark train station into a veritable jewel box decorated with colorful Murano light fixtures, a Carrera marble bar, and assorted Venetian design motifs. Patrons were greeted with a dazzling gelato case offering 18 award-winning flavors daily. I took on the role of both Culinary and Cultural Director and became the impresario of all sorts of special dining events with catchy titles like Carnevale Evening in Venice, Swept Away in Sardinia, Sicilian Summer and Fichi Fantastici, during which, between courses, I’d share the “back story” of the food and wine, surprising historical facts about the region, and the like.
I discovered I loved to share with others the things that gave me pleasure, most especially talking about Italy and all things Italian. The restaurant’s food and wine were “portals” though which I could share my stories, stories that I built into the menu and weekly specials. I enjoyed creating all sorts of “edu-taining” touches and souvenirs for my patrons, including laminated “La Dolce Vita University” fun fact discovery cards and “Parliamo Italiano” vocabulary cards placed at each table, which guests often collected. In addition, I authored a monthly column titled “La Dolce Vita U” for a local newspaper. Frequently I shared my “thesis” with guests that all of us, regardless of ethnicity, possess an Inner Italian—that part of us which is most joyful, spontaneous, and expressive. This was invariably met with a knowing smile and unanimous nod of understanding and agreement. La Dolce Vita University began to take on tangible form through the restaurant.
I never imagined I would write a book as I’ve always had difficulty sustaining much of a written narrative, but La Dolce Vita University is different. Its “stories” are shorter than short stories—mini-essays, really, designed to impart surprising or intriguing nuggets that will enrich and enliven your appreciation of all that is Italian, whether you are an armchair or seasoned traveler, a lover of art, food, history, or of any other facet of Italian culture. What I have chosen to write about in La Dolce Vita “U” is what has most captured my imagination, so I have not attempted to be comprehensive or scholarly—just to share my passions.
Special thanks go to Mauro and Claudio, the guides on that fateful Ciclismo Classico, for being inspiring catalysts to my own Italian renaissance. Most of all, I shall be always grateful to my sweet and humble parents who cherished me and gave me the confidence to feel that anything is possible. I know they would be so very proud La Dolce Vita University is dedicated to them, and I hope that they would be able to see a small part of themselves in its pages. I hope you love it too!”