When choosing where to study abroad in Italy, we had two options at my college. Orvietto, a more southern town that's larger and closer to Rome. Or Castiglion Fiorentino, a town I had never heard of and couldn't spell properly at first. But after hearing former students rave about this quaint hill town, I picked my summer destination.
I go into more detail about that first summer in this other blog post here but I don't describe why I chose to go back for two years after college. Why would I chose to live in a tiny town with poor wifi, a language barrier, no car, no ice or air conditioning, weird Monopoly money and no family? Two years in Italy is always a tempting offer and after spending 6 weeks as a student in this town, I became addicted not only to watercoloring but the culture and way of life this town offers. So I skipped my college graduation and headed back to Castiglion.
It was at times exhausting work but during those two years I made friends with locals. I'd stop and catch up with the focaccia lady, Carmen, and practice my Italian while munching on fresh, oily bread. I made friends with the cafe owners that I'd visit every time I had a morning off or I was running to an early train. The market owners recognized me on my morning runs to restock on milk to make a few dozen cappuccinos for students. I made friends with the bar owners so we could commiserate about another batch of drunk college kids. I made inside jokes with the gals that cooked all our meals at the study abroad center. And I met other Americans looking for a community in a country that wasn't our own that we were so deeply connected to.
Simply put, I learned to live in a foreign country and not just pass through to snap a photo and check a box off on my "bucket list places to visit." I lived in this town and felt at home in its streets, and I want you to feel the same.
While Cortona, Arezzo or even Florence offer a lot more famous sites, more selection of restaurants and activities, you'd be one of a few thousand on any given day hoping to find just that and get the perfect Instagram shot to make everyone at home jealous (good luck cropping out all those tourists). Heading to these smaller towns gives you a glimpse at what life is like for a local in Italy! How they keep up their traditions and a slow way of enjoying life in this modern day that moves much faster than their little Ape scooters can go!
You may not be able to spell this town correctly at first, but you'll be calling it home by the end of your week in Castiglion Fiorentino.
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats