The trip to Italy. With or without Steve Coogan.

Roxana Gramada

I came across the movies a few years ago: The trip (to England), The trip to Italy and recently The trip to Spain. Steve Coogan and the new to me but oh, so smart and funny Rob Brydon jump from feast to feast, splash glam and humour impersonating every great actor you can think of, while secretly facing the uncertainty and anxiety of their jobs. The occasional family crisis will kick in for good measure. Because life, loneliness etc.

But that’s not what I wanted to say about the trip to Italy. (Although the movies deserve a try on a Sunday rainy afternoon.) My trip to Italy was decided late one February night, when wired with possibility and wonder of my new copywriting life, I saw the words that glued me in: “Come write with me in Italy” and “become a content machine.” That was my moment. I was sold. I barely saw the pics with deep blue waters, macaroon coloured houses, plates of pasta, cheese and shrimp, and smiling faces. I applied. (Ha, just wanting to go was not enough! You had to be accepted. But I’m an achiever, when did an application ever put me off?)

It must have weighed a lot that the “me” doing the luring to Italy was Laura Belgray. I love Laura. She’s funny, wise and keeps it real. Not that she’ll break your heart or anything, but you’ll know where your craft stands with her. And she’ll teach you the hows. I came across this really thorough writing conference the other day. Great lineup, funky topics, the works. But after three days with Laura in Italy, I knew I already had the essentials on, if not more.


When I told everyone I would be going to Cinque Terre, I got the universal “oh, it’s so beautiful there.” And it’s true. But that’s not why I went. I went to learn from a master. After 15 years of aikido, I know one when I see one.

So what did I get out of it? To begin with, I got plenty of focaccia al pesto from the Paneficio Rosi. Definitely in the top 3 ever. I shared a studio with Rachel, a really cool contemporary dance choreographer and coach from London. We would wake up early, go for a dip in the sea, grab breakfast from the signora at Rosi’s and head straight to the Castle on the top of the hill for class. We’d sit tight at our desks, typing away or soaking up Laura’s words of wisdom and jokes. Here’s the thing with Laura: every sentence is a picture. She’s not late, she’s dragging her feet. She doesn’t want you to do her course. She wants you to get your butt in there. She’ll teach you what F-words not to use and what to say for clients to go “I love you, here’s my credit card.” I did. I think I went to Italy hoping for confirmation. For faith. And that, I got.

Who do you think comes to write with Laura in Riomaggiore? Some seriously cool, accomplished women (no men attended. Maybe next time.) from all over the world. I was so happy to meet them. Happy to make friends with Monicka, and Sara, Devora, Zafira, and Barbara, Kate, and Tracy, and Rachel, and Caroline. All of them, really. We stayed in touch, relied on one another through thick and thin. Daily calls for support and troubleshooting with Monicka have become a thing (seriously, the woman is an encyclopaedia for online entrepreneurs). At night we would go for aperitivo, which is a small dinner before dinner, dinner and then drinks and stories after. The way to be in Riomaggiore, by the way, is off hours. A whirlwind of tourists hits the place from 10 AMish to 9 PMish, which is largely when we were up in the castle, writing and laughing away.


On the last night, we had a party on a terrace overlooking the bay. Prosecco flew in waves over spicy chats and laugher. I only stopped for a brief game of pig in the middle in front of the church with Portos and Aramis, two brilliant football players in the making, now still in secondary school, but out in the world at large soon. Alessandro, our flawless workshop hostess Bianca‘s husband, put the game together and joined in, shoes off, tactfully rewriting my “f*cks.” “She said duck,” he kept on saving my face to the boys’ mother, watching on the sidelines. It lasted a few precious minutes. Then I was back at the party, taking in relationship advice from Devora. As you will learn on such trips, having a younger husband is OK. Devora tried it and it works. “How much younger is he?” I ask. “Four days.”

I’d go again in a heartbeat. Now go pack a bag! Laura and Bianca will take care of the rest. (The place always fills up fast, so don’t drag your feet.)

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