Susan Van Allen’s Italian grandparents filled her early years with stories and food from their homeland. And those memories inspired Susan to write her guidebook 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.
I spoke with Susan to learn more about her recommendations for visitors to Italy. I started by asking her why she’d dedicated her guide to female travellers.
“I believe that women are especially attracted to Italy because it is such a maternal society. There’s the fabulous mamas, Madonnas and the worship of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty,” Susan told me.
So how did she incorporate that into a tourist guide? Susan says the book features ‘female inspired sites and places’ and handpicked special Italian experiences. “I have a whole chapter on my favourite cooking classes,” she says. “I also feature craft classes. I enjoyed a mosaic lesson in Rome and ceramic painting classes in Umbria.”
If you’d rather do nothing, Susan has found some great spas. “It is a great cultural thing to do in Italy as the Romans enjoyed the thermal waters. Now there are free spas like Saturnia in Tuscany. You can use that for free, 24-hours a day if you want. Take a torch and enjoy it under the stars. It’s extraordinary,” she says.
If your holiday must include retail therapy, Susan rates Florence very highly, especially for leather. “I’m so impressed by the artisans who continue the traditions from Renaissance times. The School of Leather or Scuola del Cuoio is in a monastery. The same family has owned it since the 1930s and you can see the craftspeople at work stitching and embossing on weekdays. Visitors can buy really high quality Florentine leather coats and handbags,” Susan told me.
Italy also has a tradition for perfumes and body lotions. “It was originally made by monks for healing. There’s one place near the train station and the Santa Maria Novella Church. It is set in a beautiful palazzo with beautiful frescoes, which were once part of a monastery. The rooms are filled with perfumes made to the same formula that the monks invented centuries ago.”
Susan clearly loves all of Italy but if you’re undecided on which part to visit, Susan says that there is a difference between Italy’s north and south. “There’s more time awareness and punctuality in the north where you get more of a free-flow type of attitude. The locals are very open everywhere but you find more passion and hands flying through the air when it gets south of Rome,” she laughs.
Susan Van Allen’s 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is out now.