When we think of the Mediterranean we think of azure blue seas and leisurely days. I think of robust feasts served in olive orchards on one of our many trips to Italy with clients, family and friends. The image of the table laden with freshly cooked whole grains, beans and seasonal vegetables prepared in deliciously simple and imaginative ways, transports me there.
I get it. I know why the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world. Sure, the food: The un-messed with olive oil, wine without additives, fresh seasonal ingredients all join together to help us to create health and wellness in the most delicious ways. You can read study after study on the diets of the long-lived people of this region, linked to why they don’t suffer from “lifestyle diseases” as we do.
The food certainly is the star of the show here, but there’re more to it.
It’s the lifestyle as well…and we can take a lesson! Most Americans are what we call Type A personalities, moving fast; making it happen; getting it done. We are overscheduled, burned out, frustrated and stressed. We count the days to our weekends when we hope to chill a bit. Then Saturday comes and it’s cleaning, laundry, kids’ activities and family obligations. We hit Sunday night feeling not one bit refreshed because we raced around for our two measly days off trying to do all the stuff we don’t have time to do during the week.
And cycle begins all over again on Monday morning.
I spend a lot of time in Italy. I would classify most of the people I know there as having a Type Eh personality. What, you say? Type Eh. Was I late for the meeting? Eh. Did I get everything done today? Eh, there’s always tomorrow to get it done.
There’s a more languid pace to life in the Mediterranean that we have lost touch with here in the States. Yes, we accomplish great things and do great work, but they do, too, with less stress.
Our country has an incredible work ethic. If you play by the rules and work hard, you often come out ahead. But many years ago, I began to wonder: ahead of what? Stress, ulcers, anxiety, insomnia, emotional eating, relationship troubles all seem to be the riches we earn for all our efforts. Oh, sure, we also have big houses, flat screen television sets in every room, iPhones, iPads, luxury cars and frequent flyer miles and lots and lot of stuff, but there’s a price we are paying and I wonder if it’s worth it.
When I was younger, I lived in Italy for a time and at first, I found their three-hour lunch tradition to be ludicrous. How did these people expect to get anything done with three hours taken out of the middle of their day? I quickly learned that the break we took made for extremely productive work hours.
Italians have the reputation of valuing a good meal, bottle of wine, coffee and time with friends and family over achievement in the workplace. But that’s not true. What I have discovered is that Italians (and other cultures, I am sure…) have life in perspective. They have learned what is really of value to them and what isn’t. And remember…this is also the culture of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo…Gucci, Ferragamo, Versace, Valentino…the Opera and tremendous contributions to art, fashion, food and science. All done with three-hour lunches…
The three-hour lunch can really teach us a lesson. Often when tourists arrive in Italy, they want to eat lunch as quickly as possible so they have more time to shop and sightsee. They quickly discover that lingering over the midday meal, enjoying a leisurely coffee or glass of wine, savoring every bite of a well-prepared feast, and people-watching far exceeds that pair of shoes that they thought they could not live without. They quickly discover the meaning of ‘La Dolce Vita.’
There’s a lesson in observing and adopting the more leisurely lifestyles of other cultures. You discover that you can achieve and have a life. You can work hard and have time to play. You can change the world with your mission and laugh around the table with friends and family. You can work internationally and turn off the phone.
Look, I’m not saying that we all ditch our jobs and lives and sit on a terrace sipping on Bellini’s for the rest of our days (although…). I am saying that life would go on and we would still get a lot done if we just took a step back, breathed deeply and slowed down a wee bit.
On our intimate boutique trips to Italy, you can do just that. Slow down. Each time we land in Rome, jetlagged from an overnight flight, we’re eager to welcome our guests to their own little piece of La Dolce Vita.
We begin our trips with three days of sightseeing in Rome, Florence or Venice, sampling all these magical cities have to offer and then we’re off, hanging our hats in a gorgeous villa that we will call home for the next week.
While the weather is often blistering hot in Italy in the summer, we find respite in the pool after a day of sights and sounds, tastes and feelings you can’t describe, on canopied patios, shaded by gorgeous vines and trees. Cold glasses of prosecco, sparkling water and Italian craft beer complete the scene on many a day.
And we cook…and eat…and cook and eat some more. Plant-based feasts are the order of the day at the villa. My happy band of cooks and I create fresh meals from breakfast to dinner and include something for every taste. Moist and oh, so yummy muffins are an absolute morning hit, while savory breakfast fare of soft grain porridge and delicious stewed veggies are eaten with as much enjoyment as the muffins. We start our days off right.
From homemade ravioli (stuffed with tofu, finely diced beet greens, fresh herbs and olive oil) served smothered in a homemade tomato sauce (made from fresh local tomatoes), to tempura zucchini flowers; handmade gnocchi to miniature fruit tarts; barbecued seitan (yup…you read right…) to hearty veggie soups; biscotti to chocolate cake, we cook our hearts out, with our guests wandering in and out of the kitchen, helping as they desire…or simply refreshing our wine glasses!
On a recent trip abroad, I re-discovered my own natural balance. It’s my personal goal to carry a small piece of La Dolce Vita in my day to day life with the spirit of the three-hour lunch. Nothing and everything matters. Remember that old cliché: no one ever wished they had spent more time at the office.
Of all the work I do to help people create the lives they want to live by discovering their paths to health and wellness, nothing brings me more joy than watching people smiling…all the time…as they discover Italy, the country I love so much, relaxing, eating delicious healthy vegan food, creating friends and memories.
On our trips, our guests discover…and I re-discover each and every time…that the real meaning in life comes not from things, but from the love and joy of being surrounded by friends, family and people who will become friends.
I hope that each and every one of you experiences that joy…with me in Italy, creating your own adventures and memories. It’s truly priceless.
For information on trips, go to https://www.christinacooks.com/healthy-travel-christina