La Piazza Blog & Stories
How Bicycle Travel Transforms Lives: Carla Gambescia
November 05, 2019

How Bicycle Travel Transforms Lives: Carla Gambescia


Carla Gambescia (on left) with another CC trip participant.

Carla Gambescia–cyclist, entrepreneur, and dog-loving philanthropist–kindly credits her travels with Ciclismo Classico and our native guides for helping to inspire her personal “Italian Renaissance” and, eventually the pursuit of her dreams to open a restaurant as well as the writing of a very special book.

Carla shares her unique story here:

In 1995 I signed up on La Bella Sicilia; back then Ciclismo Classico was the only bike tour company guiding cyclists in Sicily.  A magical thing happened: I rediscovered my roots and I fell deeply in love with the land of my ancestors. Following that fateful trip, I took dozens of trips (fourteen by bike alone) exploring the cities and the countryside in every region, seeing Italy in summer and winter and spring and fall, and delighting in the richness of its cultural gifts. In 2007, while a consultant to the Ciao Bella Gelato company, Lauren and I co-created a Ciclismo Classico original tour we called the Giro del Gelato which went on to be awarded “Best Trip in Western Europe” by OUTSIDE Magazine.

But that original La Bella Sicilia tour was life-changing, and that is no exaggeration. As a result, I resolved to open an Italian-inspired restaurant, not because I was a foodie—though I love food!—but because I wanted to create a place through which my guests could feel they too were “there” even when they were still “here.” About twelve years later I made that dream a reality and operated a very special restaurant for nearly a decade. It was called Via Vanti! (a contraction of via and avanti for “the way forward”) and was very popular, not just because its food was delizioso—we were a top Zagat®-rated restaurant for years—but because of the experience we created for our guests. We transformed the interior of a landmark train station into a veritable jewel box decorated with colorful Murano light fixtures, a Carrera marble bar, and assorted Venetian design motifs. Patrons were greeted with a dazzling gelato case offering 18 award-winning flavors daily. In the role of Culinary & Cultural Director I became the impresario of special dining events with catchy titles like Carnevale Evening in Venice, Swept Away in Sardinia, Sicilian Summer and Fichi Fantastici, through which I’d share the backstories of the food and wine, surprising historical facts about the region, and the like.

I discovered I loved to share with others the things that gave me pleasure, most especially all things Italian. The restaurant’s food and wine were “portals” though which I could share my stories. In addition, I authored a monthly column titled “La Dolce Vita University” for a local newspaper. My awarding-winning book: La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z.  The silver prize for “Best Travel Book of the Year” by the North American Travel Journalists Association, began to take on tangible form.

Honestly, I never imagined I would write a book as I’ve always had difficulty sustaining much of a written narrative, but La Dolce Vita University is different. Its “stories” are shorter than short stories—mini-essays, really, designed to impart surprising or intriguing nuggets that will enrich and enliven your appreciation of all that is Italian, whether you are an armchair or seasoned traveler, a lover of art, food, history, or of any other facet of Italian culture. What I have chosen to write about in La Dolce Vita “U” is what has most captured my imagination, so I have not attempted to be comprehensive or scholarly—just to share my passions.

Special thanks and lots of love go to Mauro and Claudio, the guides on that fateful La Bella Sicilia Ciclismo Classico tour, for being inspiring catalysts to my own Italian renaissance.

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