[This article has been updated March 16 2021]


We’re all missing travel a whole lot, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, what you probably miss most of all is the learning experience that you have every time you come to Italy. Although I’ve been here more than twenty years now, I still learn new things through traveling and taking tours with local guides – all of us can use a refresher every once and a while. For a number of years I’ve had a partnership with Context Travel that has allowed me to take any of their tours in Italy’s major cities and I’ve always written informative articles after those experiences; their “docents” (as they call the guides) all have higher degrees in the subjects they lead and are always extremely well informed. To fill the (hopefully temporary) gap in our ability to travel, the company recently launched Context Learning (previously called “Conversations”), and a number of the seminars provide a pleasant way to learn about Italy online.

*Click here to get a 15% discount on your first Context Conversations Italy online seminar with code ARTTRAV*

Context Conversations is about as close as we can get to a small group tour at this time, with opportunity to interact with the docent and other attendees. There are seminars related to Italy online all the time and I recognize a lot of the docents from tours I’ve taken over the years, so here I’m picking a sampling of the ones that most inspire me.

Florence and Tuscany

Perennial favourites Florence and the surrounding region of Tuscany are featured in a few of the scheduled online experiences.

View of Florence from the terrace level of the Duomo

Sally Tucker, who completed her Masters in Art History at Syracuse University in Florence a few years before I did the same program, is leading an online trip to Florence’s Duomo Complex. They don’t call it a “complex” for no reason – there’s a more than thousand years of history to explore through the Baptistery, Belltower and Cathedral.

Kate Bolton Porciatti, another long-time figure on the Florence expat scene, presents “Walled Cities and Towers of Tuscany,” which is an interesting online tour that you’d have a whole lot of trouble doing in just one day (let alone in an hour and a half!). Covering the history and culture of Lucca, San Gimignano, and Pienza, her talk will explore the needs, ideas, and ideologies that form the foundations of Tuscany’s communes and city-states.

The uncovered floor of Siena’s Duomo

If you’re in love with Siena, Dr. Kristin Stasiowski, Ph.D., Professor and Assistant Dean at Kent State University, has two online seminars planned. One is on Siena’s Duomo Floor, which as you probably know is usually covered by carpeting, and “revealed” just a few months per year. The floor’s iconography is the topic of Stasiowski’s talks called “A Divine Marvel: The Mosaic Floor of the Siena Cathedral“. She is also leading a talk about the Palio of Siena, the historic event that is much more than a horse race. For the Sienese it’s about ritual and identity, as we’ll learn in the seminar.

Stasioswki is also leading a very timely three-part class (November 2020) about Dante’s Divine Comedy as we celebrate the 750th anniversary of the summa poeta’s birth. You’ll get to read the book just like at university – the course description indicates “close readings of select canti will explore the literary, political, theological, and philosophical concerns of the poem to understand Dante’s work within the intellectual and social context of the Middle Ages.” Funny story: the first time I met my future husband’s grandmother, she asked me if I could quote the first canti from Dante’s Paradiso, and I had to explain that we didn’t study that at school in Canada, we have Margaret Atwood.

Courtyard of San Marco
Courtyard of San Marco, a monastery paid for by Cosimo de’ Medici

The Medici Family in Florence gets a four-part course [currently no dates scheduled – March 2021], I’m glad to see, led by Alessandra Becucci (PhD in history). I really loved the context tour I took on this topic with long-time guide Patricia Rucidlo back in 2017 (I wrote this article) because it reminded me of the many places that the Medici were involved in the city due to centuries of patronage.


Last but not least, for the many lovers of Northern Italian art reading this blog, I think you’ll like this course on Parmigianino and Mannerist art, or maybe this one on Palladian villas (it’s not so easy to visit them, so why not do so online?).

context conversationsClick here to see all of Context Conversation’s “Destination Italy” online Seminars!


Naples with Fiorella Squillante

Fiorella on the streets of Naples in her red coat

Fiorella’s name is like something out of the My Brilliant Friend novels, a series with which she herself – a native Neapolitan – is quite obsessed. When I spent a day in Naples with Fiorella, my understanding of the city finally clicked. It took me years to gain an appreciation for this place full of confusione and casino, too loud, too messy for my liking, until I learned to embrace these aspects but also find the peaceful parts of Naples. Some of what I learned from Fiorella I wrote up in this post about the history of Naples and the many things to do there, though as she’s someone who is rather fast-talking and so full of information, I could hardly get it all down. I was happy to see that she is leading a few online seminars:

  • An Introduction to Naples – which appears to be the online version of the walking tour I did.
  • Herculaneum – my favourite of the “ruins” – years ago I wrote about how I much prefer Herculaneum to Pompeii.
  • The Amalfi Coast – Capri, Ischia and Procida, three places I’d love to visit but haven’t had time yet!


Cooking with Gina Tringali

Craving pasta?

If visiting Italy is more about the food for you, Gina Tringali is your girl, in person and online. I met Gina and her business partner Eleonora Baldwin years ago in Rome (through our common friend Linda of The Beehive hostel in Rome), where they founded Casa Mia Tours. Both are excellent writers, communicators and foodies! I’m already salivating at the thought of Gina’s hands-on cooking class to make Cacio e Pepe, the Roman classic that I’ve never quite gotten right. In another class, she’s making the Sicilian classic arancini, a dish my husband craves so badly that he once booked a flight to Palermo on a whim.


From North to South, from the foodie center of Bologna to the ruins of Herculaneum to the Ancient Greek Temple of Agrigento, these Italy online seminars should help keep the Italian dream alive for you. Let me know if you attend any of the seminars, and if you liked them!


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