For many of you who have followed the blog for a number of years you would know about the locals I love series where I interview people who live and work in Florence who share an honest account about what life is like for them here in Italy. Because of life (damn you!) getting in the way I haven’t been able to keep up with this series as much as I would like but I do (yay!) have some interviews coming up for you guys that I know you will really enjoy.
Lisa is originally from Australian with an Italian background and a twin sister that resides in Italy (Rome). What I appreciate about her is the sheer energy that she exudes and a sunny, compassionate demeanor.
She publishes her own magazine “This Tuscan Life”, a beautiful homage to all things Tuscany, while raising two boys and running food & fashion tours for small groups when tourism actually existed in Italy. Or I should say, when it returns.
A passion for cooking also runs strongly within the Brancatisano family and I was lucky enough to be one of the “taste testers” of her recent sourdough bread experiments during lockdown. Trust me, a girl that gives me bread that good is a girl you definitely want get to know.
Without further ado, ladies and gents, meet the lovely Lisa!
Blog : thistuscanlife.com
Instagram : @this.tuscan.life
Introducing: provide your name : Lisa Brancatisano
Nationality : Australian
profession : good question! Not really sure what to call myself these days – ‘Tuscan Experience Specialist’ 😀 / Magazine Founder & Editor / Fashion & Food Tour Leader …..
favorite drink : Red Wine & I love a good Margarita
Tell me a little bit about yourself Lisa, where are you from and what keeps you in Florence?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia to an Italian migrant and so grew up in a big Italian family (Dad is one of 9 children). I studied fashion design and after working for a few years decided to come to Florence in 1993 to learn Italian ‘properly’. I ended up meeting a local artist who taught me how to paint watercolours and then stayed here for the next 2 years selling paintings as a street-artist in front of the Uffizi gallery. I returned home via London but destiny pulled me back to Florence in 2006, when I was offered a job working for a fashion distributor and have lived here ever since, getting married in 2010 and am now also a mum to two boys, aged 5 and 8.
How was it adjusting to life in Florence on a personal level – was it your dream to live in Italy or did it happen by chance?
I remember talking about living in Italy while studying fashion design in Melbourne, but I don’t think I could ever have imagined the events that lead to me living here permanently. I did come over on a one-way ticket in 1993 so I was probably secretly hoping that I would stay for a while. I didn’t have a huge circle of friends here during that time as there was not the internet and expat community that is available now. Coming back in 2006 was a totally different story – I was so happy to be back here and felt like I was returning ‘home’. Working for an Italian company allowed me to meet a great circle of locals.
I feel like everyone needs to work in a mostly Italian environment when they come because it truly does help with integration, so brava! Since your father/family emigrated to Australia and you and your twin sister is in Italy – how was that for them? Were they happy that both of you decided to make Italy your home?
My parents have always been super supportive of my sisters and my desire to travel. My mum was English but always talked about wanting to live in Italy for 6 months of the year once us kids were old enough to move out and so she was very excited about me coming to Florence. Dad was of course very happy and it was beautiful when I could finally speak to him in Italian. He visits once a year and so I know he loves ‘the excuse’ to come and visit his girls in Italy. My mother sadly passed away in the year 2000 but I will never forget our letters to each other in those pre-internet times that I was here. I remember she also bought me the cassette tape soundtrack of A Room with A View to listen to on the plane trip over (on my Walkman of course!) That music still evokes beautiful memories for me.
In a way it might have made you even closer. I love that your mom gave you that cassette tape – I know you must hold on to that with love. What are you up to here? Could be hobbies, work, passions or all of the above.
I changed my career path a few years ago after having worked in the fashion industry for thirty-plus years. I created a little magazine in 2016 about the best that Tuscany has to offer – the iconic borghi, festivals, artisans and of course food and wine. It started as a bit of a personal project and draft for a book idea actually before it morphed into a magazine. It was then a natural evolution for me to offer fashion, food and artisan walks around the city as I am constantly asked for advice on where to shop and eat here. So, the magazine, tours and my two young boys was keeping me really busy……… and then Covid-19 happened! In a matter of a few days, school was closed, all my tours were cancelled and I stopped working on my Spring magazine as I had to suddenly keep the boys busy at home. Apart from not having the time or space anymore, it was very hard to even find the motivation as I entered a sort of state of shock and depression when we were placed in the severe phase one stage of lockdown.
You were not alone. I think a lot of us were suspended in grief on just how quickly life changed and how hard we were hit economically. So I have to ask, how is it working in this kind of career in Italy, do you find being in Florence an advantage or a disadvantage professionally, and why?
So, there are obviously pros and cons to working for yourself. BC – Before Covid, I loved having the freedom to travel around this region, getting to know the families and artisans that make this place so special (and tasting some of the most incredible local foods). The advantage of being so close to everything I want to write about is a big plus and as we know, Tuscany is a place loved by many. I especially love driving the country roads here, it’s just so picturesque any time of the year. I also really enjoy meeting people on my tours and sharing with them not only what I love about this city, but places that they might not have found if wandering around on their own. The professional disadvantages for me are just not having enough hours in the day or the resources to do everything that I want to do with the business – being solely responsible for putting the whole magazine together, coordinating the private shopping and food walks and also wanting to be a good mum etc, it’s all a bit of a constant juggle. I often work late at night when everyone is asleep when I know I’m not going to get interrupted by calls and messages. Since having children, I really enjoy these moments of solitude and quiet!
That’s the always tricky thing about working here – doing everything on your own is sort of the expectation, stepping it up a notch and hiring help is so difficult with how red-tape works here it’s a deterrent for anyone who wants to do so. What have been your hardest struggles working as a freelancer in Italy? Have you ever thought about returning to Australia?
The biggest struggles working as a freelancer have been the bureaucratic hurdles one discovers when working for yourself in Italy. My biggest challenge at the moment is chasing payment. Just because you may have 30 days or less terms on your invoice doesn’t mean that is going to be respected here. It seems to be the Italian culture to pay after a set term and 120 days can be quite normal for many. Add the Covid situation into the mix and many people suddenly decided to use that as their excuse to not pay old invoices anymore! The many taxes that one must pay as a ‘libera professionista’ in Italy also make it very frustrating to work as a freelancer. Having said that though, I can’t see myself moving back to Australia. My life is here now and I know if I moved back to Australia I would feel that I was missing out on so much in Florence. I also seriously don’t know what work I would do if I moved back there as I’ve changed so much in the last fourteen years.
Yes the ol’ chasing invoices is a super struggle – especially right now. What annoys you about Italy? Or some cultural clashes you have personally felt. Feel free to be as open as you want.
Italy can be a little bit annoying for getting basic things done in public offices. Many simple things like replacing a lost driver’s license, that you could do online in other countries require you to line up, wait a long time and then find out you are in the wrong place, or have been given the wrong information etc. And so, patience is definitely a virtue worth having here. As far as cultural clashes go, I mostly experienced this when I had my boys. Everyone, especially the Nonnas are expert on how you must feed and dress your baby and are not shy to share their opinion with you, like when I was carrying my son when he was a baby on a stinking hot summer’s day and a dear old lady, touched my son’s feet telling me I should have socks on him. I have learnt to smile, nod my head, say thank you and move on. Also, this assumption that us foreigners ‘stranieri’ don’t really have a clue when it comes to food. When I say that my dad is from Calabria, they smile, reassured and say, “Ah ecco! that’s why you can cook / eat well” etc . (my eyes usually roll at this point of the conversation) But all of these little cultural differences are also what makes this place kind of special in its own way and so it’s not worth letting it get to you!
That’s really the best attitude to take – you have to learn to pick your battles, right? What do you think of the current economic situation in Italy? Do you feel that living here is better economically for your family or no?
This is a complex question to answer briefly, especially since everything has been turned on its head with the closing of everything and collapse of the tourism industry due to the corona situation. Obviously, the economy everywhere has taken a big hit but I still say that I am pleased to be living here in Italy. I am fortunate that my husband is still working and we were able to suspend our mortgage for six months as well and so while this season has been a total write-off, I am really optimistic about tourism returning to Italy
I feel like there is an omnipresent need for people online to paint Italy as this perfect place where everyone should come and live. Since we are trying our best to provide a more balanced viewpoint. What is your perspective for those who think they should “sell it all” and move here?
I would encourage anyone wanting to move here to really do your research first, preferably already have a job lined up before coming and also knowing a bit of the language will be a huge help. Can you get the right permit to stay for as long as you want to? Do you know the tax implications on what you will earn here / do you still own property in your birth-country? Maybe come here for an extended stay at first before selling up everything back home as the reality may be very different to what you imagine. Work out a realistic budget, look at rental prices for where you want to stay and look at apartments before you make the move. (easier to do now online than a few years ago). If you plan on buying a property make sure you have a good local property lawyer as buying a house here is a very different procedure to what we are used to in Australia – (or anywhere else in the world probably) Will you also need a car? I guess that’s all common-sense stuff but I think that some people find the reality quite different to their dreamy vision of ‘Life under the Tuscan Sun’ if they haven’t thought and planned everything out properly.
Such great points! How has your life changed now that you are also a mother? What does Italy excel at in regards to what it provides for mothers and where does it fail?
Tuscany is known to have the best maternity care in Italy and I was very happy with the maternity leave entitlements when I had my boys. If you are employed by a company you are entitled to 11 months paid maternity leave. (6 months at 80% pay and then 5 months at 30% pay). My life changed a lot when I had my boys as I was working full-time in a demanding job that also involved a lot of overseas travel but my husband Emiliano was a great support and we also had an amazing day-care. Most Italians rely on their parents to help out with child-care but as we don’t have any parents living in Florence, my boys went to a private day-care from 12 months old. It was a great place as was open till quite late and also during the Summer months but was also very expensive. Now that I am working freelance, I mostly pick-up the boys from school and if I have afternoon tours, then I have a few baby-sitters or other mums that I call on. Italians love children so you never feel like you are not welcome in restaurants when you rock up with your kids, no matter what their age is. I think things have improved now but it used to be difficult to find places with change tables in the center. There also weren’t any Italian ‘mothers groups’ here when my boys were born but I did make some great friends with some of the other mums I met in hospital which helped a lot especially with my first baby.
That is the kind of maternity benefits we can only dream of in the U.S.A. Any tips for fellow parents raising bilingual kids?
I have been making a concerted effort lately to just speak English to my boys. They understand everything and actually prefer to watch tv in English. My eldest, Matteo speaks English really well and Thomas has improved so much in these past months that he has been at home every day so this is one positive that has come out of this lockdown situation. I think it’s important for children to hear and speak both languages as much as possible. When my husband is home, we mainly speak Italian and both of my boys are now taking great pleasure in correcting my Italian when I make a mistake and so this is another reason for me to just speak English with them!
Now I feel bad for always correcting my mom’s English when I was kid (she’s from Mexico). Weekend escapes: where do you go when you need a break from Florence and why?
I have a soft spot for the town of Pietrasanta where my sister lived for 15 years. It’s just such a beautiful place with such a mix of art, good places to eat and the beach is just down the road too. My husband is from Cecina, a coastal down near Bolgheri and so we often go there to visit his family and of course we spend a lot of time there in the Summer as it is a great place for families. Now that my boys are older it is much easier to go away for the weekend and last year we spent a lovely few days at an equestrian resort in the Val d’Orcia which was just heavenly! I think we are quite spoilt here in Tuscany as there are so many beautiful places that are easily reached for a weekend get-away.
To the person who has already seen the Uffizi, David’s nether regions and walked across the Ponte Vecchio. Can you share three special places everyone should know about in Florence/Tuscany that you personally adore?
Having always lived in the San Niccolò neighbourhood, I love everything on the Oltrarno side of town. The Rose Garden offers the most stunning view of the city while also offering a quiet place to sit & relax, especially in the early morning. For anyone who wants to go for a great hike, I would suggest walking up the via di Belvedere which becomes the Via di S.Leonardo towards the viale Galileo and then continue up to the Pian de Giullari. These narrow roads are home to the most stunning villas and gardens and you will feel like you are walking in the country, even though you are so close to the city.
When friends or family come to visit, we always take them to Panzano to meet butcher, Dario Cecchini. He is obviously now very popular but his food and the atmosphere is very special and of course the drive there through the Chianti hills is stunning. I also love the town of Bagno Vignoni which I visited for the first time a few years ago. The main piazza /thermal bath is so unexpected and beautiful, especially when the steam is visible above the water’s surface.
For people who want to experience the best natural Tuscan beaches, then head to the south of Tuscany, to Maremma where there are many National Parks and some really beautiful beaches.
We just got back from Val d’Orcia, one of the first trips post-lockdown and I almost cried it was so beautiful. Three foodie favorites and why?
Oooohhh difficult – I really love my food and have a lot of favourite places here …… OK so number 1)- Real Florentine street-food – I love a panino al lampredotto and Trippa alla Fiorentina from Trippaio Simone in San Frediano or Giacomo at the Tripperia at the Mercato Centrale. I will never forget my introduction to these ‘street foods’ when I first came to Florence – at first I didn’t know what I was eating as a chef friend took me out to lunch and said that he was buying my lunch. If I didn’t like it, he would eat it but much to his dismay, I loved it and then my dad was also very happy when I came home and cooked these foods for him too! Number 2. Sostanza – you will never taste another ‘Tortino di Carciofi’ / artichoke omelette quite like theirs – seriously it is so light and soft – it’s just cooked so perfectly! 3. Omg this is really hard – I have a few favourite trattorias for their unpretentious atmosphere and truly authentic food – Alla Vecchia Bettola and Casalinga & of course Buca Lapi for not only the amazing food but also for the genuine hospitality of the owner and chef, Luciano! So I know I named more than 3 favourites but it is hard to narrow it down to just three and I didn’t even mention any of the gelateria or pasticcerias!
Right, now I’m starving! What can you do in Tuscany and nowhere else?
Tuscany is such a beautiful region for the amount of things available to do all year round no matter what your interests are. You can go skiing in winter, explore stunning beaches and gorgeous islands in summer, hiking, bike-riding, horse-riding, wine-tasting and obviously taste some of the most varied local foods from southern Maremma to the tiny northern town of Colonnata in the Apuan alps!
If you had to make up a tagline for Florence according to Lisa, what would it be?
I thought about this for a while and I know it sounds cliché but I would have to say
‘Florence, a total feast for every sense’
I would like to add that I have been so impressed with the coming together of community during these past three months. The way many restaurants suddenly changed their way of doing business to offer home delivery was really inspiring as well as the sharing of information regarding supporting small businesses etc. It’s been a time where friends, family and even strangers have reached out to offer support or just checked in to see how we were which really meant so much! This is just another reason why I’m so happy to be living in this city, especially now.
Thank you so much Lisa for sharing your perspective here on the blog and I can’t wait for our next coffee date.