Italy is a Sensory Experience

The deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie is quoted by Mark Nepo in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen as saying that, since she can’t hear, she feels  vibrations, saying they are one and the same. She points out that in Italian the word sentire means to hear and to feel. In fact it also means to smell. So it encompasses many of the senses, and in my understanding of the word does really mean all the senses.

This is a characteristic of Italy I’ve often tried to capture in words, always doing so inadequately. How perfectly Italian to have one word that expresses it all, though we have no equivalent word in English. I have only slowly come to understand sentire. Mostly it has been the ever-wise Suor Giovanna at our convent B&B, who has used this word and has slowly woken me to the multiple meanings of the word, to the all encompassing nature of it.

To truly experience the world in all its fullness we engage all the senses at once, what Nepo calls the one living sense. This is what happens to us and to those who travel with us to Italy – it is part of the magic that is that country. You can’t help but have all your senses engaged. It is partly an outgrowth of going slow, staying in one place for a week so you slow down, absorb the rhythms, let each and every sense become aroused. And partly this is Italy and Italians and how they live.

Nepo goes on to say, “Joy is a barometer that lets us know that everything is well tuned.” I love that. Just about everyone visiting Italy experiences joy. We certainly see it in those who travel with us. But I never moved beyond that to say everything is well tuned. Well, it is, and I think it is because we are not only hearing fully, we are using all our senses to take in the richness of Italy and of life. Well tuned in Italy – pretty nice!

Kristi and Bill Steiner began leading “learning vacations” to Orvieto, Italy in 2003. Through Adventures in Italy they provide a cultural immersion experience. Many trips include the pursuit of some kind of creative work that complements and reinforces exploration of Italy’s culture. Relationships built over the years enable Kristi and Bill to provide experiences that a typical visitor to Orvieto never gets.

Trips are held in May and September/October every year. Their Discover Orvieto and Taste of Orvieto trips are available to groups any time of the year.

Learn more about Kristi and Bill’s trips. Stay abreast of Adventures in Italy developments, and follow Bill’s musings about travel and Italy on his blog Make Haste Slowly. View Bill's photos of Italy, Orvieto, and other memorable places at, and follow him on Instagram.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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One Response to Italy is a Sensory Experience

  1. David Jones says:

    Enjoyed your comments about Italy. It really is an experience that touches every one of yours senses…and so much more. My wife, Marianne, and I spent 3 incredible weeks in Tuscany 3 years ago. Our first week we had incredible host, Fernando and Rosetta Scattini, and stayed in Magione, Umbria. He took us everywhere. Rosetta cooked, entertained us in the evening, took us to the market and an olive oil mill. The next two weeks I rented a car and drove us all around Tuscany. Heaven.
    We are hoping that we can also fall in love with Provence. We have read every thing Peter Mayle has written and I, just recently, started reading your “A Chateau in Provence”. Fun read. And, dangerous. I will retire in about two years and we both want to experience France and Italy (again). Who knows, maybe we can come to Bonnieux. David Jones

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