Join writer/workshop leader Crescent Dragonwagon, her husband Mark Graff (a cyber-defender who a few years back did the security for the Uffizi, in Florence) and our lovely Italian hosts, Marcello and Raffa, for twelve once-in-a-lifetime days in Emilia-Romagna, a gem of a region in North Italy.
Twelve days of delicious “deep travel” (as opposed to tourism) exploring the food and culture of Emilia-Romagna, a treasure of a region, for culture, cuisine, architecture, and history, in North Italy (in 2018, named by Lonely Planet as the best place to see in Europe). Also included: one session daily of Fearless Writing™ — the world-renowned approach to writing, creativity, and risk-taking developed by Crescent Dragonwagon. Full, day by day details, here.
On this remarkable, amiable small-group tour, you’ll combine the best kinds of travel: both outer and inner. And — it’s Christmas! In a country that is both majority-Catholic and sensual, food-centric: you couldn’t find a more lush, interesting way to enjoy the holidays.
- THE OUTER:
The culture, cuisine, art and architecture of the country that gave the world Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, Prosecco, pesto… and, of course, artists like Michelangelo, Titian, and Caravaggio. Details, on precisely what-all these magical days will include, are here.
But just for starters: cooking classes, a truffle hunt, visits to wineries, home kitchens, tours and tastings where you’ll get an inside glimpse of how some of Italy’s legendary foodstuffs are made, plus a visit to Ravenna, a UNESCO site with some of the world’s most breathtaking mosaics, an evening operetta performance, and glorious restaurants ranging from casual to upscale.
Our base: a superb 4-star historic hotel, meticulously and charmingly renovated, in stunning Bologna, a medieval city that is, among many other things, home to the oldest university in the world (established in AD 1088!) and the center of Italian Resistance during World War II. Again: day by day details here.
The outer is also our group and our hosts (see “WHO” , below).
- THE INNER:For one to two hours a day, you’ll enjoy the interactive, exuberant experience of Crescent’s world-renowned Fearless Writing™ workshop. For many, this is a life-changer; CD has heard, from countless students, “It’s not just Fearless Writing™ — it’s fearless living!” Some take the class for the writing, some for the fearlessness, some for both. Practical, effective, serious and playful, Fearless’s twelve foundations turn seemingly insurmountable obstacles into material — from which we write, and can build all-around thriving lives. Its practices and principles spill over, cornucopia-like: from writing, to creativity, to problem-solving, to business and personal life. Its twelve sessions will leave you with the skills, tools, experience, and understanding by which writers, would-be writers, and non-writers alike can work this alchemy! Details about Fearless Writing™ (and why even those who think they aren’t interested in writing love it), are here.
Register: Right away — because there are only ten to twelve spots! Registration is in two parts, one on the American side, and one on the Italian. Go here for details.
Pre-trip Zoom Reception Welcome Call: meet Crescent, Mark, Marcello and Raffa and your fellow travelers on Sunday, December 3 at 10:00 AM Central US (9:00 AM Eastern, Noon Pacific, 5:00 PM Bologna time… and here is a time-zone converter). The Zoom link for all registered Fearless in Italy guests will be sent out on December 1. In this brief gathering via Zoom, we’ll greet each other and go over any questions you may have, as well as any last-minute details.
Fearless in Italy Tour Dates: Arrive in by train in Bologna, Italy on December 22, 2023. Depart Bologna, January 2, 2024. (We suggest flying into Rome a day or two early to recover from jetlag, reorient, and catch the excellent train to Bologna in leisurely, no-stress fashion. The 3-hour train ride is about $13, and our Italian hosts, Marcello and Raffa, will meet you at the train station, providing a warm welcome and transportation to our hotel.) See our day by day break-out here.
Our home base is Al Cappello Russo, a charmingly renovated, comfortable, supremely welcoming historic hotel in the heart of beautiful Bologna. Each of the hotel’s restful, secure rooms is individually decorated (there’s even one with a writerly theme! They did that one long before they knew we were coming).
Convenient, walkable to countless restaurants and sights, we’ll have breakfast here each day, and be picked up here for the adventures of the day by Marcello and Raffa.
Set in Bologna’s historic district, our hotel is located close to Piazza Maggiore, the jaw-droppingly lovely central square (and also, where we’ll celebrate the coming of the New Year). Al Cappello Russo is itself on the Piazza del Nettuno, home to the famous Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), put up in 1566.
Bologna itself is a fascinating city, the seventh largest in Italy. It has three nicknames: Fat City (for its gloriously rich cuisine), Red City (both for its red-tiled rooftops and its leftist politics), and the Learned City (it is home to the University of Bologna, the oldest university in continuous operation in the world).
The porticoes of the city — there are 24 miles of them! — add an intimacy and beauty to the city, a feeling like no other. Besides allowing pedestrians to walk protected from any inclement weather, these beautifully arched, open exterior hallways were named a UNESCO heritage site.
See the day-by-day itinerary here to get a taste of some of the other locales we’ll visit, including Ravenna. Read more about Bologna’s fascinating history here (the city was the center of Italian resistance to the Nazis during World War II) .
And be sure to see the six-minute New York Times film 36 Hours in Bologna.
You’ll have two sets of hosts on the tour — American (Crescent Dragonwagon and Mark Graff) and Italian (Marcello Tori and Raffa Raspadori).
Mark Graff and Crescent Dragonwagon have been together for nine years, married for three. From the West and East Coast respectively, both widowed, they had a late-life love affair and now happily make their home (including a tiny but much-loved garden) in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Crescent Dragonwagon is the author of more than 50 traditionally published books in many genres: novels, children’s books (including a Coretta Scott King Award-winner, and Will It Be Okay?, recently featured on NPR), cookbooks (including a James Beard Award-winner, and a best-selling title, Dairy Hollow Soup & Bread, recently re-published in a 30th anniversary edition), a book of poetry, and a biography. She also developed and continues to teach writing in small group classes, with a unique focus on both craft and process. Fearless Writing™ is her flagship course, but she also offers other classes and events. These include Tuesdays with Crescent, Unadulterated: Writing for Children, Out of the Frying Pan: Write a Fearless and Original Cookbook and This is The Year You Write Your Memoir. Hundreds have studied with her around the world, and many have gone on to publish, both traditionally and via self-publishing.
In addition, she is literary executor to her late mother, the children’s book writer and editor Charlotte Zolotow. Exuberant and hospitable, she also co-owned a small inn and restaurant for almost two decades. A New York native, she has lived most of her adult life in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is currently working on a memoir.
Mark Graff, a cyberdefender, futurist and technologist, has spent his professional life keeping people and our country safe, and continues to do so. As CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) of Laurence Livermore Laboratory, he protected the nation’s nuclear secrets; in the same role at NASDAQ, he protected the stock markets. He also did security, awhile back, for two world-renowned museums: the Uffizi (in Florence) and the Louvre! He has written two widely used and respected books on secure coding. But a few minutes with him will make clear he is not just what you might think of as a typical “security guy.” A serious history, film, theatre, opera and literature buff, he has turned his intelligent, interesting mind towards everyone from Winston Churchill to Mark Twain to Shakespeare, and to everything from the Nuremburg trials, the history of chess, contract bridge, refinishing furniture, constitutional law, classical physics, and amateur radio.
A Los Angeles native, he is the father of four adult children, two of whom are writers.
Marcello Tori and Raffaella Raspadori, married since 1980, are our Italian hosts. Warm and congenial, they are natives of Bologna. Located in Emilia Romagna, this is a region long recognized, in a food-centric country, as the culinary capital of Italy (the first American cookbook to explore the region’s cooking is Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s award-winning The Splendid Table– just in case you want to do some reading up beforehand!). Marcello and Raffa grew up eating the region’s fantastic, abundant, delectable traditional foods — tortellini, tagliatelle alla bolognese, passatelli, risotto and many other great and much-loved dishes. — as cooked by their mothers and grandmothers. Always fresher-than fresh and made from scratch! Their grandfathers, meanwhile, were making the families’ wine.
After many years as travel agents, Marcello and Raffa decided to combine their experience in meeting visitors’ needs and dreams with their own passion for the culture, food, wine, and cooking, of the region they loved and knew so well. In 1995, they started Bluone (pronounced blu-O-nay, emphasis on the o), their own specialized (some would say “boutique”) tour company. They run Bluone with heart, soul, practicality, and delight, tailoring each trip to those involved. Some tours are open to the general public; others, liker this one, are designed for special groups. They do what they do so well that Bluone has received 172 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.
What’s Marcello and Raffa’s secret? There are many factors to the enchantment they cast for those fortunate enough to travel with them. Besides being natives, they have the deep and natural hospitable nature that makes for truly great hosts. They are knowledgeable and passionate about their country and region. Fluent in English, they have chosen only to work with small groups, ten to 12 people. On one hand, they are precise, thoughtful and impeccable on well-organized travel details (accommodations, restaurants, various sites we visit, transportation). Yet, on the other, they are wholly easygoing and accepting of their guests, congenial, flexible and kind.
“We want our tours to be different, ” they write, “a trip to be remembered a lifetime. The places where we go are off the beaten path, places you could not find traveling on your own. You will cook in different environments, with professional chefs, great cooks, Italian mamas. You will feel Italian, and become part of the Italian life and culture during your tour. You will be welcomed in private homes, by local families, local artisans. The people you meet during our tours go out of their way to welcome you and to show you their best products. “
American portion $1000. Italian portion: Euros 7,250 (currency converter here; if single room desire, E 750 single supplement). Register here for Fearless in Italy; this is a two-part process (three if you’d like to pay in installments).
Winter Weather in Bologna: The weather in Bologna in December is chilly but far from brutal, with temperatures between 37°F and 48°F. There may be occasional rain or snow. When doing your final packing, we suggest looking here to see the precise 14-day-in-advance forecast.
Physical activity level: During our explorations, we’ll be on foot a lot: Bologna is a wonderfully friendly city for pedestrians, and of course, we’ll have a few cooking classes and museum visits and our morning of truffle-foraging — but none of it is particularly strenuous or on rugged terrain. If you walk regularly and bring comfortable shoes, you’ll be fine.
Attire: think casual and comfortable; bring clothing you can layer up and down, as we’ll be in and out of the December weather. We have one dressy dinner, at San Dominco and our night at the operetta.
Dietary options: Let Marcello and Raffa know in advance if you have allergies, food sensitivities, are a vegan or vegetarian; are gluten-free; they are happy to work this out.
What’s included: Once you step off the train in Bologna, everything is included except two “dinners on your own.” Your hotel room, all entry fees at museums and cooking classes, glorious meals and adventures, and of course Fearless classes and materials — all are covered in your payment.
What’s not included: airfare from the U.S. to Italy; on-the-ground costs (transportation, possibly hotel in Rome); any travel expenses before or after you arrive in Bologna.
Register here for Fearless in Italy is a two-part process (three if you’d like to pay in installments).
Part one comes through Crescent and holds your place on the trip. When you’ve completed it, we’ll provide you with the link that takes you to part two, with Bluone. When part two is completed, your trip is confirmed, and we’ll 1) send you a confirmation letter that includes our Zoom link, 2) see you first on that Zoom call on Sunday, December 3, and 3) see you then in Bologna on December 2022. Whoo-hoo