Seven inspiring people The Local interviewed in 2017

2017 has been a significant year for some of Italy's biggest names, with a comeback apparently on the cards for Silvio Berlusconi and a dramatic disappointment for the national football team just two of the year's major stories.

Seven inspiring people The Local interviewed in 2017
L-R: Katja Meier, Rosalind Pratt, Valeria Duflot.

The Local has spent the year reporting on national and local news from up and down the country, but sometimes the most interesting stories are those which don't generate global headlines.

Italy is more than the twists and turns of politics or the reputation for great food and culture; more than anything, Italy is the people who live here, whether by birth or by choice. A refugee home worker, a British baker and reality TV star, and the Verona women who respond to thousands of love letters are among seven of our most inspirational interviewees this year. Read their stories below.

The trained Swiss actress who ran a Tuscan refugee home

'In a refugee home, right and wrong don't always go hand in hand with the law'
Photo: Private

Katja Meier came to Italy looking for a career break in an olive grove, but along the way, she and found herself running a refugee home. She spoke to The Local about the contrast between how 'expats' and refugees view and experience Italy, and the lessons she learnt working in the Tuscan refugee home, which she has written about in a book, Across the Big Blue Sea. Meier was open about bureaucracy and disagreements in the centre, but had very fond memories of her time there and became close friends with many of the refugees. Reading the interview — and the book itself — offers a rare and balanced insight into the issues of immigration and integration.

The US archaeologist preserving graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum

Photo: Ancient Graffiti Project

When Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in a volcanic eruption, the cities were paused at a snapshot in time, and extremely well preserved. This means they offer a good look at groups less well-represented in the history books, archaeologist Jacqueline DiBiasie Sammons told The Local. DiBiaisie Sammons studies graffiti at both sites, interpreting it and storing it digitally, and she shared some of the stories the ancient scrawls have to tell.

The British baker who became a cult favourite in Italy

Meet the Brit who battled for baking glory on Italian TV

Rosalind Pratt has called Italy home for 16 years and speaks the language fluently, but this year she went from being known as 'the English woman' in her small Bergamo village to 'the contestant in BakeOff Italia', a hugely successful TV baking show. In our interview, carried out while Pratt was baking cupcakes, she explained what it was like competing on the show and dealing with being recognized in the street afterwards. When Pratt was eliminated from the show, her exit prompted a social media storm with hundreds of Italian viewers supporting her.

The Venetian couple promoting sustainable tourism to protect their city

Photo: Venezia Autentica

A common theme in news from Venice this year was the introduction of 'anti-tourism' measures, from protests against excessive tourism by frustrated locals to bans on new hotels, fast food shops, and cruise ships. So it was refreshing to speak to Sebastian Fagarazzi and Valeria Duflot, who had a more positive spin on the tourism question.

Photo: Venezia Autentica

They've launched a social enterprise, Venezia Autentica or Authentic Venice, which promotes locally-run businesses to help steer tourists away from the overcrowded sites and support Venetian families and workers. The couple shared their advice for visitors and explained how they and the city have been affected by excessive tourism. “Venice relies on tourism, like our bodies rely on food to survive,” said Fagarazzi. “But you need to have the right kind of food; the right kind of tourism. The wrong kind can be deadly.”

The Italian physicist who will soon set sail for Antarctica

Photo: Private

Italian physicist Elena Joli will join the world's largest all-women expedition to Antarctica next year. She told us why she's always wanted to visit this “magical, wild, and remote place”, her ideas for getting more women involved in the STEMM fields, and what's making her nervous about the trip.

The Verona woman who responds to love letters sent to Shakespeare's Juliet

Dear Juliet: The Verona women who answer thousands of letters of heartbreak

Photo: Annalisa Conter

Did you know that thousands of people send love letters to Shakespeare heroine Juliet each year, some addressed simply to 'Juliet, Verona'? Elena, one of a group of 'Juliet's secretaries' who responds to these missives, told us about the history of the project, and what she's learned about love from the letters that arrive from all around the world.

Who should The Local interview in 2018? Get in touch with your suggestions at [email protected]

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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

READ MORE: Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

READ MORE: These are the 20 prettiest villages across Italy

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.