Have you been lucky enough to tour Italy with Letizia? The Tuscan-born Trafalgar Travel Director shares with us why she’s proud to be Italian and how she shares her heritage while on the road.
Based in both Rome and Austria, this year Letizia marks an incredible 30 years leading tours with Trafalgar. Let’s hear in her words about her family history and the dishes she loves from Tuscany and Italy.
Let’s start with your family history. Where were you born and where does your family come from?
I was born in Florence as the youngest of five sisters. My mother is from a noble family in Tuscany, and my father is a highly decorated colonel in the Italian army from Naples. My parents met in Florence while my father had been stationed and my mother studied there, attending a lecture about Dante, the great poet and father of the Italian language.
I was born in Florence and I studied at the Florentine university. I married a half Austrian, half Italian and we live in Austria some of the year. Despite the fact that I live partially in Austria today, I am still deeply in love with my homeland, and particularly with Tuscany.
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Tell us about the area of Italy you feel most connected to. What makes it special?
The landscape of Tuscany with its olive groves, cypress trees, Chianti hills and beautiful Mediterranean sea. Dotted with medieval towns and villages and incredible cuisine, Tuscany speaks for itself. Jamie Oliver described it as the perfect balance between northern and southern Italy.
Shakespeare set several of his stories in the magnificent land of Italy, which makes us strongly believe that he had been there himself!
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Why are you proud of your Italian heritage?
1) My forefathers were the mysterious people called Etruscans, an ancient civilisation that taught a lot to the Romans.
2) I was born in and grew up in the land of the Renaissance, a place of great beauty.
3) My country developed the greatest empire of antiquity.
4) Michelangelo, Raffael, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Machiavelli all came from the same roots.
5) All of the cultural sights, antiquities and great artworks added up across the world’s countries are outnumbered by ONE SINGLE country … my beloved ITALY!
6) Italy, a country with only approximately 300,000 km² or 55 percent of France, has the highest number of UNESCO sights in the world!
What are your favourite foods or dishes to share with guests?
Our dishes, originating from old Tuscan farming recipes, are second to none. The peasant tradition is based on the unwritten law of not wasting any food, hence some famous dishes such as ribollita (a thick vegetable soup made from beans, cabbage and bread) literally means reboiled as peasants would reheat the leftover soup the next day.
Pappa al pomodoro is a soup made with tomatoes, garlic, basil,olive oil and unsalted bread. Panzanella is a summer dish of bread, onions, basil, tomatoes and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar. This beloved salad was described back in 1500 by the famous artist Bronzino.
I love street food such as trippa and lampredotto. The latter is a variant of tripe, made from the cow’s fourth and final stomach. It’s simmered for hours in a broth with tomatoes, onions, celery and parsley, and then served in a roll spiked with chilli oil, salt, pepper and green sauce.
Tuscan steaks from the Chianina breed of cattle are rated among the best steaks in the world. Here it is prepared as dry-aged beef, particularly prized for its tenderness.
Zuppa Inglese is a Florentine dessert to write home about. The direct translation means “English soup” as according to a Florentine legend it was a peasant serving in an aristocratic English family, who used the leftover cookies, custard and chocolate pudding to create this famous dessert.
What is your favourite cultural event in Italy?
For me the 15th of August (in Italian it is called “Ferragosto”) is the most important feast of Italy!
Originally the birthday of emperor Augustus, the Christian period – Assumption Day – is somehow the most sacred holiday for the Italians. Italians will ALL be on holiday, there is no traffic whatsoever and the cities are totally empty … in other words: a dream!
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Is there anything else you would like to add about your culture and heritage?
I love to share all of this and more with my guests in my commentary on tour. Growing up here I have loads of anecdotes and stories to share, often inspired by the tastes and smells we encounter on the road. Guests always ask me about my family heritage and I am more than happy to share stories about my roots.
Have you ever travelled abroad to find out more about your family heritage and roots? Let us know in the comments…