Lake Como Italy
Lake Como Italy
A toast with Lake Como’s water aboard a boat. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


When people enjoy an authentic experience, they tend to care more. They’re inspired and feel a desire to give back.


Leaving a place you love to return to your real life after a memorable vacation experience is difficult. Leaving it better than you found it can help soften the blow.  

There are examples of artwork that evokes literal and figurative footprints in the sand.

Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco.

Jimmy Buffett sang of toasting an old photograph of himself and a lover “up there on that crazy painter’s shelf” in San Remo.

Ernest Hemingway sought solitude on the tiny Venetian island of Torcello where his signature can still be found in the lobby of Locanda Cipriani.   

Travelers hunger for a deeper sense of purpose and connection when they travel on sustainably sensitive adventures to Africa and the Galapagos Islands…but what about a stately but delicate destination such as Rome – one of the enduring cultural cradles of Western civilization?  How can we enjoy the times of our lives in Italy and embrace an experience as eternal as Rome but do so with as small a carbon footprint as a Grand Canal gondolier? Can we feast on Florence, drink up Venice, and lap up luxurious Lake Como…but protect those elegant historical destinations and leave them better than we found them? 

Enduring Memories without Lasting Evidence 

“Travel unites the world by opening hearts and minds though the human connection,” said Andrea Grisdale, the English founder of IC Bellagio, the “Italian Connection” company that, from a beehive of guest ambassadors on Lake Como, creates and implements insider itineraries for visitors who want to not only see the sights and lay eyes on the icons that have amazed generations but also to live like a local in places few travelers traipse upon. “Tourism has an obvious impact on local economies, but can we gracefully ensure through purposeful awareness, and conscious travel, and sustainable purchases that culture is preserved?”

Grisdale, who has lived in Italy for decades, says travelers intrinsically care about sustainability…whether they can identify it or not.

“Visiting authentic, delightful destinations such as the Dolomites, Naples, and Taormina can be transformational for both travelers and their local hosts. The world has become closer and more casual and so engagement with locals is important. We have studied what makes people connect.”

Grisdale, who personally vets all of her guides and experiences, believes it is more personal for travelers when they seek connection with a destination. “What motivates people to seek a sense of community – even on the road? Vacationers tend to more easily shed their corporate titles and regular responsibilities. They like the idea of finding common interests and forming genuine relationships with local people. They enjoy the experience of living like a local.”


Rome Italy
Vespa across Roma. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Acclimating and Acquainting Authentically

Living like a local means meeting locals…or lodging with them. And leaving with new friends.

“Authenticity, on the part of the traveler and the host, is the key to these relationships. When people enjoy an authentic experience they tend to care more. They’re inspired and feel a desire to give back,” said Grisdale. “They seek ways to volunteer their enthusiasm. And if you respect a place – it will give back, too.”  

Receiving the gift of connection is a reward that lives on in spirit and esteem. The connection can be enduring, especially in the era of email and social media when being a “pen pal” means more than an occasional postcard. The souvenir of one’s trip can be the opportunity to become lavishly, fully immersed in a place or culture. 

“The concept of ‘luxury’ means different things to different people. Luxury is all about how you feel – it’s personal,” Grisdale explained. “And ‘tourism’ is not all things to all people. Travelers will be excited to eat in ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurants but at night they may want to retreat to heated bathrooms. Travel is the thrill of discovery mixed with the privilege of access…and sometimes the comfort of security.” 

Taking Italy with You

There are, of course, tangible souvenirs that become ambassadors of Italy. Each of those, even when functional, can provoke a palpable memory of an experience. 

“Even though Italy is arguably the world’s fashion capital, a ‘luxurious’ experience here is not about what you are wearing…it’s about where it was created. ‘Made in Italy’ is a luxurious idea and visitors desire locally sourced, locally made luxury products and apparel. They have a priority to stay true to Italy’s “brand” and Italy’s traditions,” explained Grisdale, who, through IC Bellagio, can even arrange for clients to visit EMMA Firenze, a Florence showroom and studio that produces upscale, custom doggie clothing and accessories, and meet the designer. “Simone Fammoni’s philosophy, and his love for dogs and all things ‘Made in Italy,’ was the reason I wanted to take a step inside his world and learn all about how he took years of brilliance in the fashion world and switched gears to create some of the most beautiful pieces for dogs I have ever seen,” said Grisdale who, like Fammoni, who named his company after one of his four-legged friends, is a dog lover. 


Ca' del Sol Italy
Join Venetian artisans at Ca’ del Sol. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Grisdale’s IC Bellagio also has more traditional fashion experiences, as well, such as the opportunity to meet Federico Sangalli, his flagship store and atelier (designer workshop) in Milan – Italy’s fashion capital – where apparel is art.   


Federico Sangalli in hai Milan
Meet famed designer Federico Sangalli in hai Milan fashion studio. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Falling in Love Forever 

Venice itself is like walking through an intricate masterwork, and it took some masterful effort for Nicole Belatti, and IC Bellagio guest ambassador, to both present Venice in a new and lasting light. 

Nicole Belatti said the most unique request she’s received was from a very nice client who wanted her, as his travel advisor, to prepare and arrange a special surprise for his girlfriend and propose marriage to her.

“He was already traveling and their trip was almost finished. We had nothing arranged prior to their arrival and did not know he’d be including a marriage proposal. Perhaps the beauty of Italy inspired him to pose the question to his lovely lady friend?” she speculated.

“His idea was to arrange a very special setting and game for his proposal. He wanted to make it fun for his girlfriend. They were leaving Puglia for Venice and the boy had told me his would-be fiancée loved Venice and that she had been there many times,” recalled Belatti. Upon learning the woman was already familiar with Venice, Belatti appropriately adjusted the couple’s itinerary. “Instead of their scheduled introductory tour I arranged a very special treasure hunt in romantic Venice for them.” 

The girlfriend became engrossed in a half-day series of what Belatti described as “small games” designed to lead her to discover sights and shops in the pretty passageways and corners of city she and her man had never seen. 

“With the help of an IC Bellagio guide named Roberta we arranged this beautiful game in which the girlfriend found a small gift from her boyfriend planted at each stop or stage of the treasure hunt,” Belatti explained. “She really wanted to dine at Trattoria Antiche Carampane so I made that the last stop and reserved a small, secluded table and asked the restaurant to prepare a super nice setting with balloons and things that the boyfriend requested.”

Belatti admitted the occasion was special for her vicariously because the guide shared the pictures and video clips she took of the couple enjoying the elaborate treasure hunt throughout intricate ancient Venice and the proposal in the restaurant. “They found even more love in that adventure of a proposal. I am certain they got married for sure!”


Sicilian market
Sicilian street markets are colorful in many ways. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Connecting with Personal Heritage Through Modern Locals

Virna Fumagalli, an IC Bellagio Itinerary Designer, also plans and facilitates custom Italian experiences for excited IC Bellagio clients.

“I worked with a guest from the United States who wanted to visit Castelmagno because his ancestors came from the village,” said Fumagalli. Her initial planning research revealed only 50 people remained living in the tiny hamlet. Castelmagno is in Italy’s Piedmont region about 50 miles south of Turin. 

“I checked with the local town hall about the possibility of welcoming our clients and showing them Castelmagno. The public employee I spoke with was truly excited and started checking all the archives. He personally met our clients to show them the village but also revealed some historical documents he’s found including the guests’ ancestors!”

Connecting With More Recent Family History

Fumagalli also delights in being a bit of a culinary detective.

“Marilyn Carlson remembered her father Curt, himself a legendary travel company founder, talking about a restaurant he would take groups to with the word ‘alfredo’ in its name that served the best fettuccine in Rome. She wanted to take her daughters there so I phoned every restaurant in the Eternal City with the name Alfredo,” she explained. After 10 calls she determined the restaurant was Alfredo Alla Scrofa. The restaurant, at which fettuccine alfredo was invented, opened in 1914 and has been visited by many celebrities over the decades. “The owner Mario remembered Mr. Carlson and the special dinner he helped me arrange became a truly touching moment for Marilyn.”  

It was in Fiesole, overlooking Florence in Tuscany, where Fumagalli arranged a special birthday dinner for a family at a fantastic table in a local restaurant. “Their experience was highlighted by a private opera performance given by two singers,” she said. 

Speaking of sweeping views, Fumagalli worked on different types of cultural connection for a father-and-son. “Their itinerary took them to many destinations but everywhere I could I included towers for them to climb up because the son loved towers.”  

Climb into culture and travel will forever be imprinted on your heart.


Read more on Michael Patrick Shiels’ travel blog, The Travel Tattler. Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

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