Featured Explorer: Erica Firpo | Airheart

Featured Explorer: Erica Firpo

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Travel writer and author Erica Firpo has her finger on the pulse of everything Italy. Just by visiting her Instagram page, you can see breathtaking architecture and art, as well as delectable dishes and treats found throughout Rome and the rest of the country. But if you’re looking to fully immerse yourself in the culture of Italy, and learn even more about the people, communities, and history, Erica’s writing and podcasts will nearly transport you there. 

Her travels in Italy first began at a young age, when she would visit family in Rome. In the early 2000s, a career opportunity brought her to Venice, but with each chance she got, she was off to explore Rome further. Eventually, she made a permanent move to Rome, where she established her journalism and writing career.

Erica’s personal blog evolved into the website Ciao Bella, which she says is a celebration of Italy. It has expanded to include a podcast that takes deeper dives into topics spanning travel, art, culture, cuisine, and more. As a leading writer covering travel and culture in Italy, she has been included in over a dozen travel guides for publications including Fodor’s Travel, Insight Guides, and Lonely Planet. She has been named a top digital influencer by Italy’s national newspaper, and her writing is featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, and more.

We talked with Erica about her career, travels in Italy, and what’s next for her.

What brought you to move to Rome from the United States? 

I’m pretty lucky, my nonni and mom are from Rome, so I visited this amazing city several times while growing up…. A lot of family dinners. At the beginning of the 2000s, I had the opportunity to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and La Biennale in Venice, so of course, I packed up and moved to Venice. While I was there, I spent almost every free weekend (or time off) in Rome. And then I realized Rome was where I felt most myself, and that was where I wanted to live, grow up, and grow old. That was it.

Can you talk to us about Ciao Bella and how you came to create your website and podcast?

I think Ciao Bella has always been in my head. I love sharing my take on Italy with anyone who asks, and apparently I’ve always been doing so. Ages ago, when at university, a friend asked me what to do/where to go in Rome while she prepared for her summer backpacking in Europe. I gave her pages of handwritten tips, secrets, and more. When I moved to Rome full time, she sent them back to me - with the greeting Ciao Bella! A few years later, my personal blog evolved into Ciao Bella, simple as that. My podcast is the latest incarnation - I am so lucky to hear so many amazing stories from people - artists, innovators, creators- living here - that I thought what could be better than hearing them first person and at your pace. That is the Ciao Bella podcast - kick back and listen to contemporary Italy in your ears.

How have your experiences been writing and talking about Italy throughout the pandemic?

Initially, it was hard because no one wanted a single word about Italy - we were pretty much ground zero, and people were scared. As the rest of the world started to lock down, I started getting more and more requests to know what was really going on here and what life was like. I was lucky to write about some amazing and empowering stories for Ciao Bella like Massimo Bottura’s Kitchen Quarantine, as well as stories in great publications like How to See Italy’s Best Sites from Your Sofa for Fathom, Italy’s Inspiring Response to the Corona Virus for BBC, and Life after Lockdown for The Guardian.

What is the biggest or most memorable adventure you've had while traveling?

Climbing through an abandoned Roman aqueduct in Tunisia while pregnant and with my archeologist husband, Darius, who was so obsessed with its engineering, he didn’t notice I was pretty much stuck!

As an expert on Italy, do you have a favorite way of traveling throughout the different regions? 

There is something about trains for me, but the way to travel in Italy is by car and on the smaller roads. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

I was beyond flattered when Italy’s national newspaper, La Repubblica, named me one of the top eight Digital Media Influencers in the country.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in getting into travel writing or podcasting?

Fully immerse yourself, ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes, and do the work.

What is next for you?

Next up for me and Ciao Bella –  more travel, more art, and more food! I’ve just launched a short video series bringing you into the Ciao Bella world, and I’m in full interview mode for Season 5 of the podcast. I love traveling for art, and there are some great site-specific installations and foundations in Italy. I’ll hit the road for the Calamita Cosmica (Umbria) and Il Cretto (Sicily), and then I need some ancient vibes, so I’m off to Athens for the Acropolis and contemporary art.

To learn more about Erica and to follow her latest adventures, visit her website.

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