Growing up in Florence, Italy, Nada Vergili was just steps away from some of the world’s most iconic spots—and had a front-row seat to a lifestyle overworked and stressed-out Americans want more of. Now her Charlotte-based tour company, Nada’s Italy, located in the heart of Dilworth, is all about sharing that way of life, “la dolce vita,” with people from around the world who want the anti-tour, small-group experience.
The tour themes range from “Jewels of the Amalfi Coast” to “Wine, Food and Traditions of Tuscany” to “Italian Paradise,” and most are 10 days long. They cost around $5,800 per person (not including airfare), and at the request of her most dedicated customers—many of whom are Baby Boomers—Nada’s Italy also includes tours to Spain and France. (Croatia is next.)
Now, 14 years after Vergili started her company, the 40-year-old is opening a second location in Del Ray Beach, Fla. SouthPark chatted with Vergili about early entrepreneurship and what Americans can take from the Italian way of life. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What drew you to the U.S.?
In 2000, I met this young American man who was in Italy doing an internship with a chef, practicing Italian food in these pretty high-end establishments. We started to date, fell in love. I knew English, so it was going to be easier if I came over here. We did get married and did get divorced. But I’m grateful to have that experience because that’s what brought me here and eventually I started my business.
Tell me how you moved from teaching Italian language and cooking classes to giving tours.
A lot of people were asking me for travel tips during the classes, so I started to gear them toward travelers. Then people started asking me, “Why don’t you start planning trips? You know what to do, you lived there most of your life, your family is there.” I took the plunge in 2004.
What was that first tour like?
I had no idea what I was doing. My boyfriend at the time ended up being our driver, and I had three people with me I’d met through my classes. Some days were structured. Some days were like, “Do you guys want to go to this pecorino cheese maker in a small village, and we’ll stop for lunch in a little trattoria, and then we’ll stop in a little winery in a little village?”
My mom would cook dinner and do cooking classes in a villa I would rent in the countryside. People really enjoyed it. Everything is elevated now, the level of service. But the core concept and model hasn’t changed.
So how are your tours ‘for people who don’t do tours’?
We have small groups—never more than 12—and we move around in executive Mercedes vans with a private driver, not the big-bus style of mass tourist transit. People never feel, “Oh my gosh, I’m embarrassed I’m with these other 80 people wearing a sticker on my shirt.”
We work mostly with small, boutique hotels. Some only have seven or eight rooms, but they’re luxury. You could be in a medieval castle. You could be staying in a Renaissance villa in the countryside. It could be staying at a family-run boutique hotel in the Amalfi Coast, overlooking the sea.
What’s the essence of being Italian?
There’s no compromising on quality. When you think, “I’m going to have a piece of chocolate,” Italians want the best piece of chocolate and the best espresso. So when our travelers are put in touch with that, in their heads it also clicks. When they come back, I’ve had so many clients say, “You’ve ruined me. I can never have bad olive oil again. I can never have my pasta without some good Parmesan cheese.”
Italians also look at daily life tasks. If it’s not going to get you what you want or you’re not going to be spending good time with friends and have a good meal, don’t do it.
This story first ran in the April 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.
Photo by Nada’s Italy