My Favorite Culture Discovery Vacation- Sam

Hello everyone, my name is Sam, I do the accounting for Culture Discovery Vacations. I’m not very active in our online community, but I like to poke my head out every now and then to share with you all some things that are very near and dear to my heart. In this case, it’s the vacations that we offer. We all have our favorites for different reasons. Something that you might not know about me, is that I love to be by the sea. My favorite vacation, naturally, is Favignana. Like Michael said in his post, we actually all picked Favignana as our favorite vacation.

Cooking and adventure on the islands of Sicily
Me in Favignana

I think about the things that I value, that is a sense of being welcomed and treated as family. There is no better location to grasp all that, than Soriano.

Originally born and raised in Los Angeles, California, I come from a traditional nuclear family. I have family scattered across the country, but I never had a real bond with them. When I first met my wife, Alyssa, her family welcomed me with open arms. The kindness they showed me was an example of the kindness I would experience in Soriano.

My First Time in Soriano

The first day I arrived in Soriano, everything was different from what I was used to. My brain went into overdrive trying to take in where I was. The roads were narrow, the buildings were old, everybody dressed differently than I had ever seen. Even though the town was so small, it was BUSTLING. There was an explosion of interaction everywhere I looked. People gathered in giant groups talking fast and loud in Italian and gesturing ever so emphatically. I had never seen anything like it before.

Young Sam and Alyssa in Soriano

What was the very first thing I did upon arriving in Soriano? Naturally, it was eat gelato at like 10:30 AM. I’m a fan of ice cream (possibly to my detriment) but when I tasted this gelato, a harp started playing. And for the next three months, I had a serious addiction, that could not be stopped. Oh, I also fell asleep everywhere I sat down, jet lag was not my friend.

Okay, that was a little tangent to shout out gelato. Let’s get back to my favorite vacation. As I eluded to earlier, the sense of family and welcoming that you experience in Soriano is unparalleled. That feeling starts with Carla. She is warm, sweet, funny, and an all around joy to be around. I got that sense of her immediately upon meeting her. I didn’t speak Italian well at this time, but that didn’t stop Carla from being as sweet as ever. Not only opening my eyes to Italian culture, but also giving me awesome Italian lessons along the way.

Guests always mention how they want to steal her and bring her back home with them. It’s no coincidence that everyone gets the same feeling for Carla. She is magnetic. She embodies what Culture Discovery Vacations is about: family. The only way you can understand the feeling, is to experience it yourself. If you’ve been on a Soriano vacation, chances are, you cried when it was time to say goodbye to Carla. You’re not the one one, we all do.

Carla in the Kitchen at the Villa on a Thursday
Carla in the Kitchen at the Villa on a Thursday

My first Culture Discovery experience was the Limoncello, Gelato and Biscotti cooking class. That culminates in a heaping bowl of carbonara at the end. In a word: WOW. That was the best pasta I have ever had in my life. I’ve had that pasta since, both in Italy and back home in the US, but there is something about the ambiance. Something about being in the cabana, under that Umbrian night sky, eating pasta with family. That is the feeling of family.

On top of having the best pasta experience ever, I met my first friend in Italy, Antonio. He’s a local shepherd that comes to the villa to teach us how to make pecorino and ricotta cheese. He is a true artisan, and to my LA eyes, the ultimate culture shock. Everyone warned me that he’s intense and he looks like Shrek! He is a farmer to the core, he milks all of his 200 sheep by hand every day… every…day. Can you imagine a life like that? He is emphatic, enthusiastic, and a little bit overwhelming since I had no idea what he was saying. But he was also very welcoming and patient with a naive 20 year old who was experiencing a different world at this time. Even though he didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand him, we talked for hours, and became the best of friends.

A local shephard in Soriano
My first Italian Friend: Antonio!

Just like Carla and Antonio, everyone that I met in Soriano showed me the utmost kindness and generosity. From the local bar owner to the butcher to the grocer to the fruit and vegetable shop owner, everyone was amazing. This kindness has lasted year after year. Every person in Soriano treats me like I’ve been there all along. To their core, they embody hospitality. At that moment, my family had gotten bigger.

My Italian Family

The sense of family that I’m describing stretches beyond the limits of Soriano, it reaches out to our friend and olive mill owner, Serena and winery owners, Enrico and Roberto. These people have watched me grow and been invested in mine and Alyssa’s life ever since I touched down in Italy for the first time. They were at our wedding, they bought gifts for our baby daughter, and even dedicated a bottle of wine to her. This is what you get in Soriano. A family. This is why Soriano is my favorite Culture Discovery Vacation.

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