Slow travel. It’s a term you’ve heard a lot lately, and I’m sure you’re familiar with the easy breezy concept of spending your days moment-to-moment without a set plan and living as the locals do. Despite the idyllic imagery of lazy days in sunny Italian villas, slow travel isn’t always easy to achieve.
It can be really tough to make that decision to pick one small area when you travel instead of trying to do it all. Especially if you don’t know if/when you’ll ever be back.
It can also be a challenge to resist the urge to overplan. Authentic slow travel requires a certain pace to do it right. You can’t be on a schedule, so if there are things in the area calling your name, you may have to just trust that you’ll see and experience the right things at the right time simply by following your intuition. And that’s difficult for those who, like me, experience FOMO (fear of missing out).
Just getting the minimum two weeks off for a real slow travel vacation can be the biggest challenge.
I understand that you may need some encouragement to take your foot off the gas pedal and slow down your vacation plans. I want to prove to you that it’s worth it, so I’m sharing a handful of my favorite things that happened on one of my slow travel experiences as well as my top tips for meaningful slow travel in Italy.
On this particular slow travel trip, I stayed in Monopoli in the southern part of Italy for two weeks. Read on to find out what happened when I surrendered myself to the slow pace of daily life in Italy!
Just looking for tips on how to travel more meaningfully with slow travel? Hop to the bottom for my Top 6 Slow Travel Tips!
Table of Contents
What Happened When I Surrendered Myself to Slow Travel
I made friends with a group of nonni (grandpas).
I had made a habit of going to the same bar everyday (bar = cafe in Italy). Despite my urge to blend in as much as possible, I had to get some work done so I would sit with my laptop and enjoy my cappuccino and pastry (there were many to choose from, which played a large role in me selecting Caffè Napoli as my go-to spot).
One day, I noticed an older man give me a couple of curious glances. The next day he and his friends came again at the same time for their usual morning espresso. But this time, he approached me to ask where I’m from and what I’m doing there.
Before I knew it, I was having breakfast with my new friend Gianni, and his friends Marcello and Vincenzo. Afterwards we ran into more of their friends and I snapped the photo above– one of my all time favorites! (See video below for a taste of this breakfast scenario!)
But that’s not even the best part!
Turns out that Gianni is a poet, painter, fisherman, and historian about the village of Monopoli. He walked through the ancient stone streets with me and made the whispers in the walls come to life with stories. He literally had the keys to the city and opened up every hidden door to me. He brought me to his art studio (across from The King Street Food) and with great passion, explained the stories behind his beautiful artworks; stories that connected to his childhood spent painting in the boat as his father fished.
By the way, all this happened on day 3 of my stay, so it’s totally possible to have these kind of experiences without staying for several weeks!
I found the prettiest spot in town for a drink.
One day while wandering around, I caught a glance out the corner of my eye of the prettiest little window seat I’d ever seen. I gravitated towards it and found out that it was tucked into a tiny little bar called Tuttoapposto that served drinks, snacks, and full meals if you wanted! I chatted with the owner while waiting for the occupied window seat to become free. When it did, I quickly claimed it for myself and spent the afternoon writing in my journal and sipping an aperol spritz while looking out at the most beautiful little port full of colorful boats. I soaked in every sensation and detail, then captured them in words on the page to return to for years to come when I’ll be reminiscing about this slow travel adventure in Monopoli, Italy.
A few days later, on my birthday, I returned for a celebratory drink and the whole bar sang “Tanti Auguri” to me–what a special memory!
New friends introduced me to the best local street food.
I’ll never forget this over-the-top slow travel memory. My new friends and I had just finished having dinner in Monopoli and I was so full. Stuffed to the brim. The conversation carried and somehow landed on panzerotti (plural), the local street food. When they learned that I’d never tried a panzerotto (singular), they insisted we go right then to the best place in town to have one! I laughed so hard I got a stomach ache. They couldn’t possibly be serious. Oh, but they were! And OH, but I did try one, somehow finding a little more room in my belly for these golden, deep fried pockets filled with tomato and cheese or various other fillings.
I got to visit the lesser-known beaches.
With plenty of time since I’d opted for a slow travel vacation, I got to check out the most popular beach in town, but I also got to visit one that was lesser-known, less crowded, and just a lovely stroll away which included a wonderful view of Monopoli.
I chatted with an old lady on a bench.
As little kids played soccer in Monopoli’s largest piazza, I took a seat on a bench next to an old lady and started up a conversation. I realize how mundane that sounds..big deal, you had a conversation with a lady on a bench. But it’s truly these little interactions that make slow travel so meaningful. They are the mundane details of everyday life that allow us to feel like a local, if only for a short time. Heck, you probably can’t say when was the last time you chatted with someone on a bench even in your home city! Slow travel returns us to these small but meaningful moments of connection and exchange, which is partly why slow travelers return home feeling more inspired, more relaxed, and better connected with themselves and the world around them.
I shopped side-by-side with locals at the outdoor market.
When you’re running around checking off famous sights, you don’t have time to pause to connect with daily life. On this slow travel vacation though, I had all the time in the world. And one of my favorite ways to connect with the culture was to visit the market! I loved finding odd fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before and asking the vendor how they prepare it. I loved watching the Italian women fuss over getting the best quality vegetables. And I loved simply walking through the colorful market and soaking in every color, scent, and sound. It was a vibrant way to start my day and a place where I could feel plugged into the authentic everyday life.
I nailed down which was the BEST gelateria.
If you know me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a gelato addict! Since I’m often in Italy for 3 months at a time, I know that daily gelato could get me into trouble. But even just dropping to every other day is a challenge for me! And one of the worst things is that if I pick a flavor that doesn’t satisfy me, I feel the need to get another. Yep, full-on addict over here!
Anyway, with plenty of time to try all or most of the gelato in Monopoli, I was able to find the very best and the most authentic gelato in town. It’s at Caffè Roma at Largo Vescovado 1, in case you’re wondering, and the locals agree! It’s no wonder it’s the best, it has been open since 1851!
I took in every detail of the architecture lit up by night.
Oh, my heart still aches for those walks at night, mesmerized by the Baroque architecture so curvy and ornate that it seems to be carved from butter, not stone. Walking Monopoli by night, it was like I was experiencing an entirely different city. The sandy-colored stone glowed in the orange light, shadows dramatized the intricate details, and I could feel the echoes of history speaking to me. Slow travel allows you to really be present to the details and that goes a long way toward making your trip more meaningful and memorable!
I took a daily passeggiata.
The passeggiata is practically a mandatory ritual in Italian culture. It’s the leisurely stroll before and/or after dinner when people come out of their homes and offices to reconnect with their community. There’s a bit of a “seeing and being seen” aspect, but it’s also just a nice way to ease into the evening and speed up digestion if you’ve just had a big meal. During my slow travel adventure, I liked to pause at a particular spot where I’d sit on the big stone wall by the castle overlooking the sea and just people watch. I loved noticing the fashion and watching old friends run into each other and exchange cheek kisses. There’s a certain rhythm to it that slow travel allows me to tune into.
I found an underground hidden gem.
Actually, my friend Gianni showed it to me. It’s called Cripta Rupestre Madonna del Soccorso, and it’s an underground crypt from the 10th century. When the Normans ruled in Monopoli, they buried it in sand for safety reasons! There’s another striking church called Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio, or sometimes just La Chiesa del Purgatorio. What’s so special about it? Well, there are mummies on display there. Yes, you can see skeletons and mummies of several founding members of the church on display in glass cases. There’s also one of a very young child. Slow travel certainly helps to reveal more local secrets and unique hidden gems anywhere you go!
I got to go “backstage” in the city’s main cathedral.
I got to hear the story of the town’s patron saint told with great passion by my friends Gianni, Vincenzo, and Marcello. Essentially, in 1117, the Bishop decided to build a bigger cathedral. Hard economic times fell and they didn’t have the resources for the big beams needed. A man named Mercurio had three visions of the Madonna and she told him the beams were in the port. Sure enough, there was a raft that had washed into the city of Monopoli carrying a painting of the Madonna and child and made of exactly the kind of wooden beams needed to complete the cathedral.
My friends showed me the painting, then brought me behind-the-scenes of this beautiful cathedral, showing me ancient relics of cultural importance. But what was so cool to me was when I pointed out the ornate wooden walls/furniture in one of the back rooms they’d brought me to. My friend Vincenzo piped up saying his great grandfather had built it! There’s nothing more special than experiencing the history and culture with those whose families actually lived it! Experiences like those are just one more benefit of taking the leap towards slow travel.
I committed details to memory.
I remember looking out at the sea one night and noticing a lone fisherman slowly rowing his boat at night, revealed to me only by the moonlight. It was so serene and sweet that it might’ve been a dream in a storybook. It was so beautiful that I spent a few moments memorizing the scene so I could return to this special slow travel memory.
Now that you have many examples of the type of meaningful experiences that can happen when you commit to slow travel, I want to help you get started on your own slow travel trip in Italy! Below are my Top 6 Tips for a Meaningful Slow Travel Journey.
My Top 6 Tips for a Meaningful Slow Travel Journey
1. Pick a far-flung location.
Choose a small village and do research to get a feel for how well-known it is and how many visitors it attracts. The lesser-known it is, the easier it will be to tap into the everyday rhythm alongside the locals.
2. Make friends.
Use the tips from my free workshop, How to Connect with Locals, to forge connections with locals. Pop into the nearest bar for a coffee and chat with the barista. Show that you want to learn about their town by asking questions about what their traditions are, if they have any typical dishes or desserts, and what the story of their patron saint is.
3. Pause in the piazza.
Around aperitivo time (6-7pm), the little town will likely come to life. The best place to be is in the piazza, watching the kids play soccer and the adults stop to greet each other. Set yourself up on a bench, leaving room for someone to join you, and soak in all the sounds and sensations. You may even sketch, do some writing, or introduce yourself to someone else you spot slowing down to enjoy the moment.
4. Cook like a local.
It’s so much fun to wander the market for your veggies, pop over to the meat shop for your protein, and pass by the cheese man for some dairy! It’s probably the #1 way to feel like a local. As you’re shopping, don’t be afraid to ask about vegetables that are new to you, it can be a great way to meet locals and snag a recipe or two!
5. Be part of the community.
Look for local events you can get involved in such as a trash clean up day, a group nature excursion, or an agriculture trade show. Most villages will have a cultural association, often called a Proloco or Cooperitivo, which works to promote their area and the organizations within it. Ask your B&B staff where to find it and if you have trouble, the next best option is the tourist office. You can also check Facebook and Meetup Events.
6. Immerse yourself.
Sometimes the quickest way to tap into the culture is to book an immersive activity such as cooking with locals in their home, a historical walk through the village with a local, or a hands-on lesson with an artisan. Get in touch to see what Creative Edge Travel might offer in your destination!
I hope this article has inspired you to put your whirlwind trips on pause and slow down for a more meaningful and authentic experience in Italy!
Have a story that resulted from using these tips to immerse yourself with the locals? Share it in the Authentic Travel Italy Facebook community to inspire and connect with other slow travelers!