Book Excerpt: Introduction to Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive by Kathy McCabe

This is the introduction to the book Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, the companion book to the TV special of the same name. Join Kathy on Wednesday, February 16th on Facebook Live for a Dream of Italy Book Club meeting about the book! You can purchase a copy here, but first, enjoy this excerpt. 

There is one thing I know for sure: Italy changes lives.

It casts a spell on us and just won’t let go. How one place could hold so much magic is almost impossible to comprehend.

“I think it’s that soft power that Italy radiates around the world that attracts people here. How does all this stuff come from here? How did the Renaissance come from here? How did these artists come from here? And this music and this wine, this food? There’s a reason. I’m not sure I can pinpoint what the reason is, but this is it,” the musician Sting shares at the open of the TV special, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive, to which this book is a companion.

The premise of the special and this book is that travel to Italy can be a catalyst for personal transformation and provide a road map to thrive, the Italian way. Learning more about the Italian lifestyle can help us to adopt the healthy Italian lifestyle at home, travel to Italy in a more meaningful way or even decide to move there!

In the special and this book, I explore the 11 essential elements of the Italian lifestyle—the land, food, family, art & culture, beauty, pace of life, passion, movement, community, celebrations and sense of home—through the experiences of full- and part-time expats Sting & Trudie Styler, Francis Ford Coppola, Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes,  best-selling financial author David Bach, retiree Sally Carrocino and career changer/interior designer Arlene Antoinette Gibbs. They have all been touched deeply by these unique attributes of Italy, which have in turn inspired them to change their lives.

My own life was transformed by just one trip to Italy—my first—26 years ago when my mother and I set off on a quest deep into southern Italy to discover the town my great-grandfather had left more than a century before. The town of Castelvetere sul Calore held a mythical place in the family lore as a source of mystery and miracles. My grandfather tried to visit the town in the 1960s when my grandparents were on a cruise that stopped in Naples.

He asked the taxi driver at the port to take him to Castelvetere but was taken instead to Castelvetere in Val Fortore, the wrong town. The roads in this area of Campania were still in bad shape post-war and my grandfather wasn’t sure they could make it to the right town and then back to the ship in time and he left Italy without having fulfilled his dream.

In 1995, when my mother and I returned on his behalf, my grandfather was 93 and living in a nursing home in New Jersey. That one day we spent in Castelvetere was truly the greatest of my life. Through what can only be divine intervention, we showed up in the town knowing no one and were taken under the wing of distant cousins. We learned that the Nargi family only hailed from this town and were originally Norman invaders. Some of the people we met and even some of the etchings on the gravestones looked so much like my mother’s family. We saw the churches, cemetery, town hall and even the street where our family lived. My mother said,“This is like Brigadoon,” referencing the play where the town comes alive only once every 100 years.

Less than two days after leaving the town, we received a message from my father as we arrived at our hotel in Rome that my grandfather was dying. My father back home headed to the nursing home and we called to try to talk to my grandfather. We were too late; he had passed away, never knowing directly that we had found the town. I was extremely close to my grandfather and I always believe he “gave me” Castelvetere sul Calore and Italy to stem the brunt of his loss.

Fulfilling my grandfather’s dream of Italy led me to my own. In 2002, I founded the membership website and travel magazine Dream of Italy, now having published 180 issues and counting. In 2015, Dream of Italy became a public television travel series with two seasons and the Dream of Italy: Tuscan Sun Special preceding this special—and all still airing on PBS,, YouTube and Amazon Prime. The premise of all things Dream of Italy—there’s a podcast and a book club too—is authenticity and hands-on experiences with the locals.

I have realized through the thousands of emails I have received from viewers that Dream of Italy is about so much more than a trip or a destination; it is about living richer lives and being inspired to fulfill our own very personal dreams. That’s how I came up with the concept of Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive in 2019. Who would have thought then that when the special actually began to air, we would have just endured a worldwide pandemic that made us all think deeply about how we live and what our future holds? If we don’t live our dreams now, then when? And Italy is a dream that must be fulfilled—at least once.

After all, as the lovely actor/producer Trudie Styler shares at the end of the special, “I would encourage everyone that I know, if they can get to Italy before they die, then you’ve come to Paradise a tad early.”

I hope if you haven’t been that this book will inspire you to travel to Italy and, if you have already visited once, that it will help you to see Italy and indeed the possibilities for your life with new eyes.

How to Use This Book

The premise of the TV special and this book is that one trip can change your life, leading you to make Italy a part of your life in ways big and small. This book isn’t meant to be a traditional travel guide about where to go, what to see, where to eat. For that kind of detailed, insider travel advice, I recommend you join Dream of Italy as a member and access more than 180 back issues of my award-winning travel magazine at

Instead, I include a chapter on how to travel, no matter where in Italy you are going. These are lessons I have learned in some 60 trips to il bel paese over 26 years. Keep them in mind no matter where you go and what you do. They are the keys to unlocking secret doors all over Italy.

This book follows the outline of the TV special exploring the essentials of Italian life including the land, food, family, art & culture, beauty, pace of life, passion, movement, community, celebrations and sense of home. Each of these short chapters ends with actionable “Thrive Tips” to live like an Italian at home and “Travel Tips” to experience this particular Italian essential on the ground in Italy.

If you share some of my Italian heritage, I then explain how to explore your ancestry so that you might be able to return to your roots like I did and even use jure sanguinis, the right of blood, to claim Italian citizenship, which can give you a European Union passport and an easy way to move to Italy.

I believe deeply that Italy is one of the world’s greatest catalysts for transformation. But how is it that we change and transform our lives, spiritually and practically? I talk to a handful of wonderful experts about actionable steps to make any dream come true.

Sprinkled throughout the book you will find Q+A interviews with the TV guests and others who have brought their own dream of Italy to life in unique and interesting ways. Read them carefully; they share some great advice.

Finally, so many of us dream of living in Italy full- or part-time. A good chunk of this book is devoted to how to make that incredible dream come true, whether it is taking your family on a radical sabbatical like David and Alatia Bach or deciding, as Sally Carrocino did, to age “out of place” in retirement in Italy.

I talk to the experts on everything from how to choose where to live in Italy to what the options are for visas to the nitty gritty of making your dream of renovating a house in Italy come true. This isn’t meant to be a full guide to moving to Italy but rather an outline to get you thinking, planning and dreaming.

We live in a world where there are so many demands on our time, especially when it comes to consuming media and information. Your support has made my dream of Italy come true. I hope I can help make yours a reality too.

For more about the TV special and how to watch it, including an extended digital version with 30 minutes of additional content, visit For updates on this book, please visit

I welcome your feedback at Please drop me a note if you would like to be added to our list for future Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform and Thrive Virtual Workshops on topics such as moving to Italy, renovating a house and claiming citizenship.

–Kathy McCabe