My meeting with Guido Gambone three years ago was a serendipitous encounter. I was arriving in Naples to begin a 2-month stay in the city when my friend Evan, a tour operator in Rome, wrote me to say he was in the city, too – on the same day I moving into a studio apartment near the Chiostro di Santa Chiara. He and Guido were in the centro storico when I pulled up in a taxi. We said a quick hello and exchanged numbers so we could stay in touch. During two months in Naples, we met for coffee in Chiaia, saw La Traviata at the Teatro dell’Opera and even visited a secret vineyard in the center of the city.
I quickly learned that Guido and I had a few things in common. We’re both Italian-Americans living in Italy with a mission to share our country with the world. And we’re both aesthetes who approach the country’s cultural heritage with a rare insider-outsider perspective. While Guido work as a tour guide and personal concierge, I’m focused on sharing Italy’s riches through my writing and photography – though we speak often to share ideas, ask for advice and swap know-how about destinations around Italy. Over the past few years, Guido has become my personal “black book” and confidant about the best things to see, do and eat in cities across Italy. It only made sense to kick off this new interview series for The Italy edit by speaking with him.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?
Like you, I’m Italian-American and grew up traveling around the world with my family. I lived in Milan, Florence, Rome and am based on Amalfi Coast in a small town near Vietri sul Mare. I always remember seeing the joy in my friends’ eyes when they came to visit me and discovered the beauty of Italy, so when I grew older, I started to organize tours to share unique aspects of the country with them. I wanted to go beyond the visuals and the food to share the arts and traditions of Italy. I was lucky to grow up in a family of artists and art-lovers, so I developed an appreciation for both classic and contemporary art from a young age. Now I curate experiences and work as a personal concierge for guests who want to discover a different side of Italy.
I’m not an artist myself but I like to think of myself as a travel expert who designs hand-crafted experiences.
2. What role has art played in your life?
I was born into 2 generations of artists. My grandfather, Guido Gambone, passed away two months before I was born so I was named after him. He was a famous ceramicist on the Amalfi Coast and I’ve always felt close to him when I touched his pieces. My father, Bruno Gambone, is also a ceramicist and as a child I would see him in his studio, spinning the wheel and painting for hours. I also remember growing up in the centro storico of Rome and seeing the artisans work in their bottega – all the streets are named for a craft in the city, like Via dei Sediari (the chair makers) and Via dei Cappellari (the hat makers).
Now I live in my family home near Vietri sul Mare where ceramics, pottery and clay cooking have a long history. And I have a deep respect for the craft because it requires so much commitment: being an artisan is a huge time and financial investment and there’s no welfare system for this kind of work. Artisans are heroes and their workshops are a national treasure. We need to help sustain and preserve their crafts so I’m always eager to introduce my guests to artisans and take them into their studios when they come to Italy.
3. What do you think makes Italy so irresistible to travelers?
I think people are eager to feel like they belong to a place, to experience a shared heritage. So there’s a pull to visit ancient civilizations like Italy, Greece or Egypt because there’s something relatable about these cultures that they’ve seen in books and movies since they were born. There’s a feeling that they found the place where it all started. Think about architecture and our visual symbols: the capitol buildings of every American state are built in the neoclassical, a trend that started in Greece and was developed in Italy. When a traveler comes to Rome and sees the Pantheon, he is seeing something familiar.
There’s also something comforting about the idea of the Italian piazza, of walled cities that give a sense of protection. The Piazza in Siena, shaped like a shell, is a perfect example of this – an embracing square. The idea of urbanization developed in Italy and cities were set on a grid to create a sense of community, direct movement and so on. Though we often talk about the dolce vita and cuisine, I think the appeal of Italy goes beyond food and wine (but it’s an added bonus). The whole lifestyle is alluring and Italians have lots of soft skills that travelers appreciate.
4. You’ve been all over Italy. What are some of your favorite art destinations?
One of the off-the-beaten-path places I love is Bassano del Grappa, a city in the Veneto region. It’s a nice-sized city set upon a river with a 13th century wooden bridge that crosses over it. And you can see the Dolomites from the main piazza in town. It’s also one of Italy’s famous “ceramic towns” and houses a nice ceramics collection inside Palazzo Sturm. The small town of San Giovanni Valdarno in Tuscany is another place that is close to my heart because the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, a Dominican Monk, is my favorite work of art in all of Italy.
And for a famous destination, the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The museum is built inside a huge park and is a perfect blend of art, architecture and design. The Bernini sculptures are incredible, and I love The Deposition by Raphael. I think Cardinal Scipione Borghese [the founder of the gallery] is a perfect example of the contradictions of Italy. This privileged man was the nephew of the Pope, but he was so in love with life and art – he wasn’t quite so spiritual or honest, but he was one of the world’s greatest art patrons. He loved this painting by Raphael so much that he had it stolen from a church in Perugia!
5. You live on the Amalfi Coast, one of the most beautiful areas of Italy. What are a few hidden gems in your area?
My dear friend and neighbor Lucio Liguori produces amazing ceramics in the town of Raito, near Vietri sul Mare. Lucio has been a ceramicist all his life – he was born into a family of breadmakers and stared to work at a young age to make money for the family. He has turned an old cistern into his studio and creates wonderful pieces with his nephew Christian: he has a skill for blending colors and textures to make unique works of art. Lucio’s work is popular all over the Amalfi Coast and he’s sold pieces to luxury hotels like the Sirenuse and the San Pietro Positano. He also has pieces on display at an open-air “NaturArte” exhibit in Praiano.
Oplontis, an ancient villa that belonged to Emperor Nero’s wife Poppea, is extremely off the beaten path by amazing. The archeological site is impressive, with porticos, remains of a swimming pool and vibrant frescoes. There are never any lines because it’s not well-known, but it’s a shame to miss it.
And Cetara is my favorite village on the Amalfi Coast. Its known for the art of fishing and Cetara’s patron saint is San Pietro e Paolo, the protector of fishermen. While Positano and Sorrento became famous tourist destinations in the 1950s, Cetara stayed under-the-radar until the 1980s. Acquapazza is my favorite restaurant in town: it’s been around for 25 years and started off a tiny food joint with 4-5 tables and then expanded over time. The two Gennaros were a big force in propelling the town. You can’t miss the alici alla piattella with lemon & garlic and spaghetti con alici freschi with fresh anchovies, wild herbs and raisins.
Write to Guido Gambone to arrange a tailor-made trip to Italy.
See More: A Local’s Guide To The Amalfi Coast