Steve Perillo, a third-generation owner of America's biggest tour company to Italy, figures he's traveled there over a hundred times. Steve brings expertise and humor as he and Lea share glorious travel memories from Milan to Sicily, and offer a charming overview of this blessed travel destination. What's not to love?
-- Steve talks about Adam Sandler playing him on Saturday Night Live, but goes on to list the myriad qualities that make Italy a just-about-perfect travel destination, and reminds us that it's an ancient crossroads of the Mediterranean. We even talk about a few of Italy's negatives, including the VAT tax.
-- Italy may be compact and easy to get around, but each region offers something special. These include:
-- Milan and the Lake District, including the Galleria, La Scala and The Last Supper in Milan, and the prettiest villages and grand hotels in the Lake District.
-- Venice, with Murano, Burano and the ancient cities of the region, including romantic Padua and Verona.
-- Tuscany, with Florence, Siena, Lucca, fishing villages and Pisa; nearby Umbria, with Assisi and Perugia.
-- Rome, with its ancient wonders and its pasta!
__ The food and beauty of Italy's Amalfi Coast, with Naples, Capri, Sorrento.
-- Sicily, the largest island in the Med, with its special treasures.
-- Steve gives us more basic travel tips about traveling to Italy, and then tells us of his favorite memory, involving a helicopter and an ancient high-rise Tuscan town.
Steve Perillo is the president and owner of Perillo Tours, America’s leading travel company to Italy. A lifelong apprentice to his father, the legendary Mario Perillo who was also known as “Mr. Italy,” Steve represents the third generation of his family’s 75 year-old business. Steve is also a respected classical composer.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written many travel books, including Places I Remember, and has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter, Travelea on Instagram, and blogs about travel at forbes.com. Contact her at placesirememberlealane.com.
Follow Places I Remember with Lea Lane wherever you listen to podcasts. New travel episodes every otherTuesday. And please consider reviewing us on Apple!
* Podcast edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 00:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. In this episode, we're talking about Italy. Steve Perillo is a third generation family owner of Perillo tours. America's leading tour company to Italy. welcome Steve.
Steve Perillo 00:37
Oh, hi, Lea. Good day to you.
Lea Lane 00:39
Good day to you. You know, I, I knew your dad Mario. Since the 1980s. And you and your father are both local celebrities in the New York area because of commercials. I heard that Adam Sandler even dressed up as you for a Saturday Night Live script. How did that feel?
Steve Perillo 00:56
Ah, that was really shocking. I didn't know about it. So the next morning, and it's really, we're a small company is we don't deserve to have a a skit on Saturday Night Live. But apparently we're on the air enough that made an impression by somebody. And now I'm friends with one of the producers there. And it's really I got to meet Adam. And it's really been, it's been a highlight of my career.
Lea Lane 01:23
Well, that's cool. Let's talk about Italy, which is one of the world's favorite countries to visit. How many times you think you've been there?
Steve Perillo 01:34
Two or three times a year? 50 years? 127?
Lea Lane 01:39
Oh, so you think you know a little bit about it? Let me just ask you, what, what do you think are the qualities that make it so beloved by so many travelers, let's let's just talk, you know, basic, like scenery and so forth?
Steve Perillo 01:52
Yeah, it starts with the it happened, you didn't ask why it happened. But I have to add that because of its location, and like the center of the cradle of civilization in the center of the Mediterranean. So it was the crossroads of civilization for 2000 years. So they had everything going on. The first of all, the natural beauty, the beaches, and the mountains and the Alps and all of that stuff. And then you start with the food and the wine, the art, architecture, fashion, music they invented in music notation, opera, literature, film, cars, what country has the number of fan amazing, the car industry in Italy? Who would even think, you know, France has some cars, but Germany had Lambos Yeah, or the, and the high end exotic cars that they really did well, besides the FIA, which is also a great experience. If you can get a Cinquecento here, it's a really cute little car. So that's why so it translated to this country with the food is easily in the top three foods in this country. And, and it's compact to so you could see it, you can kind of in two weeks, you can kind of get a good idea of the main, the main places, and it leads us it leans towards a bus tour. Because it's so compact, the main cities are three hours apart, you can say that, as a rule Rome to Florence, Florence, Venice, Venice and Milan, you don't have to know much, it's three hours apart, they're driving.
Lea Lane 03:24
And plus, each of the areas are so different that you know, they originally of course, were separate states or separate areas. So the cultures themselves even though they're so close to each other are so different. So you really do have a compact experience. I guess I would say what's not to like? Is there anything maybe that you don't like so much that we should be aware of?
Steve Perillo 03:45
You don't want to open a business in Italy? Okay.
Lea Lane 03:48
Traveling is the key.
Steve Perillo 03:51
Pay taxes on everything, you pay every transaction in Italy and Europe, you pay taxes on every single school and VAT tax on every single transaction.
Lea Lane 04:00
Yeah, well, I guess it's one of those places where you say I'd rather visit than live there at the moment.
Steve Perillo 04:05
Yeah, unless you bring your own money. You know, I'd love to get a Tuscan or OBrien Villa, would be great to, I'm thinking of doing that seriously.
Lea Lane 04:15
Let's take a quick overview of a few of Italy's most treasured areas. Just tell us a little bit about each of them. Maybe the main things not to miss maybe something we didn't know. Let's start in the north with Milan and the Lake District.
Steve Perillo 04:29
Well, there's Milan you know, I took notes for this, Lea. Well, great. Elana is the city of south which the center's is the Duomo and attached to the Duomo, almost attached is the first shopping mall in the world, the the Galleria, and that connects to the Scala the opera house so it's all connected downtown the area by this amazing shopping mall. So they have that and they have it's the fashion capital of Europe, Paris and Milan, those are the two fashion cut and New York. Those are the three fashion capitals in the world. And they have it's a big industry town.
Lea Lane 05:06
Yeah, the gallery I remember it's filled with light. It's very old, but it was like skylight glass all around very beautiful. You see copies of it all over the world. Maybe based on the Galleria in Milan, also La Scala, I would say I took a wonderful tour they are they have, you know, maybe two hour tours where you can go backstage and go see the Opera House. And of course is the Last Supper by Da Vinci in one of the monasteries there. Don't miss that.
Steve Perillo 05:37
And then the lake region you mentioned which are just supposed to be died and went to have in Lake Como the it's the castles around the lake, you know, they're hundreds of years old. And there's Bellagio which is crazy. The landscaping, the the gardens that they built over the centuries about Anna, I met so Minaj Oh, these are all lakes and islands in the in the north, you could spend a week easily up there in the springtime.
Lea Lane 06:06
It's beautiful. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, you can drive along. Or you can take boats that go to each of these little villages. Each each are different again, one place that would be nice to stop over maybe just to visit his villa Deathday a beautiful hotel, one of the Grand Hotels of the World just to have a drink or sit there is a lovely experience. Yeah, but you just have to have a drink. I would just sit there and maybe not worry about the money. What about Venice?
Steve Perillo 06:36
Venice is if you take any city you remove the cars like right away you have a dreamland, this happened during the pandemic in the early part where the cars went away and you walk through the streets of New York was an amazing experience. And you have this dream, it's you can't you've got to go. Now there's the canals, the bridges and the palaces. So and the water and that's what Venice is. But if you could go off season and you could roam around the back alleys and stop into these little bars. There's something called Qi cacti she can't see are like poo poos in Hawaii and what's the Spanish version? Now the Greek it's exactly like that. And it's a great way to eat. You eat on your feet. You drink some wine and you have these little finger foods in Venice. So go in November in the winter the dead of winter is the most romantic.
Lea Lane 07:30
Oh, it's so misty. Oh, lovely in November I know. Yes.
Steve Perillo 07:35
You buy a coat it's you know a few hundred dollars for a coat, you'll save 1000s if you travel, buy a coat.
Lea Lane 07:40
And yeah, I think I think it's one place where the tourists have sort of changed the whole feeling. I know I've read where they're trying crowd control now and cruise ships have been banned from the downtown you know port. So they're trying very hard, but this is one place that if you can go in offseason, St Mark's plausible whole thing is much much more special. But you should go to Venice.
Steve Perillo 08:06
And then you'd like boat trips around the islands. The most famous one is Murano and Burano Murano has the glass, the famous glass, glass work. They have some very modern things. It's really amazing.
Lea Lane 08:19
Marina village itself is so colorful, it's like a little mini Venice it's very less crowded and very pretty. And the area around then as you have pad you you have Verona these are romantic, beautiful towns with frescoes and Roman Colosseum and all kinds of beautiful things, which if you can take a few extra days, it's worth it.
Steve Perillo 08:41
Lea Lane 08:42
How about Tuscany.
Steve Perillo 08:44
Tuscany is the most popular region I guess after lots ago which is Rome. Tuscany is Florence and Florence is beautiful. But Tuscany has these secondary cities like Siena is the second city and they have the Pollio and it's just gorgeous the cobblestones and the bell towers and the fantastic architecture. But my favorite city Luca I'm learning about Luca and it's just these are storybook places. And again if you can go in the evening offseason away from when it gets a little crowded it's just so so romantic. And then you you get to work off your food with the walking around or a bicycle ride around Luca five kilometers it's great for bicycle riding these towns some of you
Lea Lane 09:32
Somebody called Luca the original town with a highline because there's a wonderful path around the town.
Steve Perillo 09:39
That's right, that's the three or four kilometer one I was talking right.
Lea Lane 09:42
And there's also of course the Leaning Tower in Tuscany, I forgot. Yeah. And then you have these wonderful little fishing villages on the coast, which are quiet and you know a nice place to get away to. So as you say there are many big cities but of course the Tuscan country. Free side is what people think of very often when they think of Tuscany, the lavender fields in June and, and the beautiful.
Steve Perillo 10:08
Yeah, the vineyard of the terraces of one of the vines, you know, the grape vines everywhere. And to rent a car to rent a villa and a car, it's so easy driving is so much easier, you can get automatic transmission, you know, it's long gone. I don't even think you need a international driver's license anymore. You know, that's what I recommend. And I put Uber in the same category of Tuscany. And it's less well known and has a cc but it's got the same qualities but less yes
Lea Lane 10:36
Umbria is less crowded, but it has Perugia, Assisi, some of these other beautiful little towns a little bit greener, I think, in some ways, they're a little bit different, but they're both exceptionally beautiful, very close to each other. That's another great region. And you were mentioning a house there, you can rent. There are many people who rent places there, in that area.
Steve Perillo 10:57
Get a three bedroom, and you know, six people can share it. It's really way, way cheaper than a hotel. And it's a lot of fun. You can get a maid service you want to or a chef to come in once or twice or every night. This is the way people live, I don't know,
Lea Lane 11:14
at least for a few weeks. That's right. How about Rome, Roma.
Steve Perillo 11:19
Rome is the best because it takes forever to get it all. You can just keep going back again and again. And again. It's just got so many sections. Every corner has history, you know, the great authors and poets and painters and every block has history as soon as New York but Rome's goes back 3000 years. So it's got unbelievable history on every corner and the main sites are beautiful, but there's a there's other sites that people don't know about. There's a little keyhole at the Embassy of Malta, the keyhole Lyons, this sounds like a silly thing. But yeah. Lately they, of course the gelato trucks have shown up in the last three years now this keyhole, and you get to see the the dome of St. Peter's perfectly in this keyhole. It's amazing phenomenon. Then,
Lea Lane 12:17
The Pantheon AI that building looks like it was just built in a you know, a few years ago, and it's almost 2000 years old. I recommend everybody going inside of it. You won't believe it out how perfectly preserved it is.
Steve Perillo 12:29
It's perfect. Exactly. I don't think they even repair the dome very much at all and unbelievable.
Lea Lane 12:36
Yeah, it's it's an incredible building. I think it's one of the best preserved in in all of the worlds of that era. The Sistine Chapel, of course, if you go to the Vatican, I would say there's another time you want to try to go off season or go very early in the morning or late. It's very crowded. And but we're seeing St. Peter's, of course,
Steve Perillo 12:56
Peters, they have mosaics that look like paintings, the mosaic ships are so tiny. They're like a millimeter across. And it just looks like there's a shot of a guy's ankle underwater. You can see the way the water displaces the image. There's some little stones it's this is a craftsmanship. You know, that's 600 years old, that there's no way we could do it. I don't know how they did it the time and the, you know, the amount of time and effort that went into these things with the Catholic Church, the middle,
Lea Lane 13:29
They didn't have Netflix, then they had more patients. I think the other things that you know, people always go to the forum and the Colosseum in the downtown, the main part of Rome, I would say I've been many times but the best time I ever went was with us a superb guide. I think when you look at the forum and you understand what these buildings were, it makes so much of a difference whether you take a guy good guide book, or a good guide, it helps otherwise sometimes people just kind of glance at it and don't really know the importance of some of the little details as you said, Yeah, Rome we have to mention the food the pasta, I mean that's where he fantastic.
Steve Perillo 14:07
Yeah, well it's the pasta that they do in Rome. What's the famous pasta?
Lea Lane 14:12
Well there are several the carbonara is one.
Steve Perillo 14:15
With the eggs and the bacon pancetta or whatever you the whatever pork you put in it is it's my favorite pasta now what's your favorite pasta, Lea?
Lea Lane 14:24
Oh, anything that they put in front of me the moment I like it, when it's handmade and fresh and the sauces fresh and you know anything basic. I think the the wonderful thing about Italian food is it's based on fresh food simply made and locally made so very often you'll have fish in the fish areas and meat in the other areas and you will get the local food and that's where the slow food movement started by the way in Italy.
Steve Perillo 14:51
Yeah, that's right. I didn't know it went beyond Italy. Yes. So going in Italy you know comes from the north pasta is so you Just don't I mean the last few years pasta most of the time it's flour and water. That's it. It's basically a pinch of salt. That's it. Sometimes I put eggs later on. And then a tomato, garlic and olive oil and that's the entire but it's the ingredients have to be perfect. They have to be perfect. If you mess up to the olive oil, you ruin it, but it's only six ingredients. The whole thing is just to die for.
Lea Lane 15:25
Yes. And many of these people have been making it the same way for generations and their families. They know exactly the amount they don't have to measure a damn thing. But the best part is that you're eating it in Italy. That helps make it taste delicious when you're sitting at a cafe and watching the people and I think so hearing the Italian and all that yeah, let's go to the Amalfi Coast. One of my favorite areas.
Steve Perillo 15:48
Yeah, that's where we come from. Most immigrants come from the Naples area. Amalfi I guess is an hour south of Naples. And it's my favorite area because of the food they have the mozzarella, the lemon shell out the lemons, the citrus fruit and fish and the pasta with the fish. And that's just the food part. The white wine is what a lunch what a lunch.
Lea Lane 16:14
I know. And you know, you go to these little places and they make their own lemon cello out the garden they have some lemons and each one has a little bit of a different flavor and they're so proud of it. It's it's so charming, to go there and eat the local as I say local These are from their gardens and from their vineyards. Very special. But the beauty of it I think is the thing that that I really can't stop thinking about. I actually wrote about the Amalfi Coast for feautres guidebooks three times I think I had to go there's a tough assignment. I had to return it to check everything out and I know all the little towns Positano Amalfi Ravello. Absolutely beautiful. Just one of those places that you can't escape feeling relaxed, you just feel specially relaxed there you feel like you're in another world and they are close and mafi coast as close as you said to Naples is close to Sorento, which is a beautiful old town where the Roman emperors used to go way back and set up on a cliff very special place very different. And of course you can go to the islands like Capri, which is also good.
Steve Perillo 17:25
Just scan and protein. I think I think I pronounce it properly but yes, so we're very unknown, beautiful little island and other one and copy propri is obviously the most famous and as you gotta go.
Lea Lane 17:43
Well Capri has the Blue Grotto. But Amalfi has the green grotto. If you go somewhere near Positano between Positano and Amalfi. There's something called the Green Grotto and similar where you go in and the light is so special. I agree with you approach it as one of my favourite islands because it's unspoiled as a fishing village full of color and still not overrun with tourists kept pre can be very crowded. Again, you try to go off season or off hours or even stay over it because if you do that you can get up early in the morning. Otherwise the crowds in the afternoon are pretty big.
Steve Perillo 18:14
Right? The boats go home around five o'clock. Exactly. yourself. Yeah.
Lea Lane 18:18
Spend about a weekend Capri. That would be a nice trip to How about Sicily,
Steve Perillo 18:24
Amazing place, and we sell it a lot as a company and so many Americans over I'm Sicilian heritage. And for some reason. Tower meters must be about beautiful little town in the worlds on a cliff side and it overlooks Mount Etna. Yeah, mountain Stromboli. Mount Vesuvius is going and mount Edna's going, it's safe. It's safe to go. Yeah, it's gonna blow that thing
Lea Lane 18:54
pulled out. They have warnings now. So I don't think it would be something we wouldn't have an inkling about ahead of time.
Steve Perillo 19:01
Oh, good. Thanks.
Lea Lane 19:04
Sicily is a big island to largest island in the Mediterranean could only get there by ferry from the south, I think only from the south of Italy.
Steve Perillo 19:12
Right? Oh, by the Palermo and Palermo is a very nice, nice city. And it's got some beautiful hotels on the water. There's no trains really in Sicily that works. So you've got to get a driver or rent your own car. And it's great to explore. There's a lot of Greek, Greek history there. It's a crossroads of the Mediterranean for sure.
Lea Lane 19:33
I agree. How about just a few words of advice. What would you say? When traveling in Italy? You know, what would you tell us that maybe we wouldn't think of ourselves? Yeah. Well,
Steve Perillo 19:43
What we've been saying about traveling in the offseason for sure. Don't worry about the weather. The weather is mild all the time. It never gets. It snowed once in Rome in the last 40 years, once or twice. So you should go up season travel light Have a really good plan stay in the center of the towns you go in, don't try to save money on location, go to a lesser hotel and stay in the center. So you can go outside and walk at night. What else would you have, Lea?
Lea Lane 20:17
I would say spend as much time is you can, add some days if you can, don't rush it. It's a special place, it is remarkable and and you know, treat it like that give yourself a lot of time and don't try to see everything at once hopefully you'll be back even though it's compact, you want to feel the place each prep as we mentioned, each area is different. So you can spend time in one area and and just feel like you're you know having a wonderful escape you don't have to necessarily go all over the place but you know, it's up to you whatever way you do with this train service and there's airline service you can get around, but the idea is to just know relax, enjoy it, soak it in. It's one of those wonderful places of the world. The name of the podcast is places I remember Can you share one or two of your very best memories of all your trips to Italy?
Steve Perillo 21:08
My vineyard that we take our groups to, he bought a helicopter and we went around San Gimignano in this helicopter, that is the city of towers and they have two towers side by side.
Lea Lane 21:21
How old are they?
Steve Perillo 21:22
They're 900 years old probably like that. And that's where they think they are so it's truly charming surrounded by vineyards all in the countryside this on a big hilltop like they most of them are so you're looking all around the from horizon to horizon the sunrise is you could hear the I woke up there one morning the one of those birds chickens see in their heads off, but it just so charming and the stone for you. So everything we have is wood but everything there is stone and that's what makes it last for 1000s of years. That's the benefit we're getting because they have no trees so it's gonna completely Stone City like many of these cobblestone places are and that's what makes it so beautiful and so powerful. So Rahl you know like it was nature made it put it there. And that's sandeman Yano, you gotta go see some German? Yeah, no, it's not far from Florence. Probably 45 minutes.
Lea Lane 22:27
Right. This is one of the many beautiful little towns around that area. You went by helicopter. You said Did you see it from above? And the whole area or?
Steve Perillo 22:37
Yeah, yeah, I'll have to send you my video. It was about a half hour. And this was really so green. So Verdun. And it's just centuries of cultivating the land.
Lea Lane 22:53
I think you like Italy.
Steve Perillo 22:56
I've mentioned I haven't been there in a year. A year and three months. Yeah, yeah. First one there when we can go though.
Lea Lane 23:03
Yeah. I think all of us would love to go. Well, look, thank you so much, Steve Perillo, you brought Italy to life for us. And I hope we all get to go back very, very soon. And please be sure to check out my links on my show notes for details about this episode. And I'll be writing about Italy on my forbes.com blog. So check that out too under Lea Lane. Thanks again. Steve.
Steve Perillo 23:31
Back at you. It was fun. Thank you very much.
Lea Lane 23:40
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.