Why Kathy McCabe Loves Italy


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Kathy McCabe, the host of “Dream of Italy” on PBS, inspects a few of the country’s famous food products.

For the past 12 years, Kathy McCabe has written and published Dream of Italy, a subscription newsletter devoted to travel in Italy. Her infatuation with the country began with her first trip there in 1995 to visit Castelvetere sul Calore, home of her maternal ancestors near Naples. The town was full of families bearing her mother’s maiden name (Nargi). “It was like Brigadoon,” she said. “The town had come to life for one day.” That led to annual visits with trips farther afield. “In starting the newsletter, I realized there were a lot of people like me who went to Italy over and over.”

Ms. McCabe expanded to a new medium in May, hosting the PBS half-hour series “Dream of Italy,” which explores major destinations like Rome as well as more offbeat choices. Recently she offered tips on traveling in Italy. Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Ms. McCabe.

Q. What is the point of view of the new PBS series?

A. The point is to present authentic experiences, meet locals and preserve culture. I feel that when we go and meet a woman preserving stained glass in a way that’s been done for hundreds of years, we’re preserving the arts for future generations. When we go to Rome, we highlight big things in passing, but I take a lesson in the ancient art of making mosaics. We meet a street artist who is becoming famous and explore how her art compares to frescoes or graffiti. Then we make cacio e pepe, a popular dish in Rome. It’s a combination of documentary and interaction.

How did you pick the destinations for the show?

We were looking for these little stories about a place. In 27 minutes there’s no way you could do even a town, let alone all of Tuscany. So we go on a boar hunt and go out with Tuscan cowboys, called butteri. In Umbria, we touch on a few places and you get a feel for the whole place. Rome is my favorite city. I even feel weird saying that, like I’m picking children. We did Tuscany because when people dream of Italy, they’re initially thinking about Tuscany.

What do you recommend for travelers who want to get off the beaten track?

We did an episode on Puglia, one of my favorite regions. It’s in the south. They have the most beautiful beaches. The olive trees in Puglia are unbelievable, 500 to 1,000 years old. They’re gargantuan. They’re way bigger than in Tuscany or Umbria. Puglia produces more olive oil than other regions. It’s great for biking. You have the ocean on one side, rows of these gigantic, personified trees on the other and ancient stone walls around the farms, and it feels real and uncrowded.

What attracts you to Italy?

I just adore Italians. I feel like I’m with my grandparents again. The people are warm, generous and really take time to get to know you and to make you feel welcome. They are very proud of their country, their history, their families. I think a lot of why people are attracted to Italy is the people. You can never run out of museums, but interacting is the best part.

What’s your don’t-miss recommendation?

Rome, Venice and Florence I think everyone needs to see. There is sort of a formula to going at first. Then maybe do Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast. Some of the experiences we think of as stereotypical are really enjoyable. For instance, taking a gondola ride in Venice. It’s still really incredible though it is touristy and a lot people are doing it. It’s the fantasy of Italy we want to come true.

Correction: June 14, 2015

An answer in the Q&A column last Sunday quoted incorrectly from comments by the PBS host Lisa McCabe about activities in Tuscany featured in an episode of her show. The episode included scenes in which she separately went on a boar hunt and went out with Tuscan cowboys; the boar hunt was not with the Tuscan cowboys.



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