Over the past two years, we have all been dreaming of something. Southwest resident Anna Bonavita has been dreaming of Italy. She’s the founder of Esperienza, a local nonprofit organization devoted to celebrating Italian culture and preserving its foundation in small villages and towns.
A former scientist with a passion for culture, cuisine and environment, in 2006 Bonavita founded the Italian Cultural Center as well as the Italian Film Festival of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Later, while living in Italy, she became acutely aware of the plight of many small towns and villages in Italy. All are special gems, but suffering from a devastating population loss due to changing times. With her own history and love of Italy, Anna decided to do something about it, beginning with the region she knew best.
Her vision was to create opportunities to travel slowly and mindfully, infusing the experience with purpose, meaning and joy. She started Esperienza to bring people to Emilia-Romagna, away from the overcrowded focal points of mass tourism where one can still find the authentic, unspoiled, magical Italy many people long for, and to truly connect with artists, artisans, chefs and just kind, local people.
Beginning in 2018, Esperienza offered travelers the opportunity to learn more about Italian language, culture, art and cuisine, while enjoying immersive and even transformative experiences. It was based on the belief that away from the fast speed and superficiality of mass tourism, we can truly appreciate Italian culture, connect with its creators, and give back to the local economies.
And then, in 2020, everything changed. At the onset of the pandemic, Esperienza quickly sent financial support to two local nonprofits in Pennabilli, a small Italian town population that had hosted several of Esperienza’s tour programs. Gratitude came back from Italy, but Bonavita did not stop there.
She reorganized the limited resources of Esperienza and invented new ways to connect to Italy, including high quality Italian online language classes taught by native Italian teachers, online cooking classes led by world-famous Casa Artusi, and monthly live virtual visits and conversations with museum directors, artists, Michelin chefs, farmers and vintners, all who live and create in rural Italy.
Over the last two years Esperienza has been virtually transformed. The organization continues to offer these online programs. Not only have they enabled Esperienza to survive without its travel programs, but they have also deepened the connection and appreciation the organization’s followers have for rural Italy and its people.
Dreams can once again come true, now that the return of travel is becoming a possibility. This year, Esperienza will offer language immersion in villages where students, the only foreigners in the town, can make personal discoveries and genuine connections. Closely following it will also host an amazing culinary tour program featuring lessons with two young Michelin chefs – plus visits to Casa Artusi, markets, bread makers, vintners and farmers.
At the end of September, Esperienza guests will also visit Ravenna, still one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Travelers will be hypnotized by the golden light of its mosaics and the beauty of this ancient city, discovering the wealth of art, history, and hidden treasures in this relatively small, charming and convivial city in Romagna. The capital of three ancient empires, Ravenna, its architecture, archeology and mosaics are highlighted by no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, which will be shared by those who know it best, its local people.
If you’re dreaming about Italy, like I am, you can learn more about Esperienza’s online and travel programs by visiting their website, www.esperienza.org.
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