At SmartFlyer HQ, in the rare moments where we aren’t on the road, we’re traveling through the books we read; One Italian Summer perfectly encapsulates the reverie of the Amalfi Coast, so we couldn’t think of a better way to transport ourselves straight to Positano together.
For “Gilmore Girls” fans of yesteryear, the maternal advice delivered by Lorelai in which she tells her daughter, Rory, “Get a window seat, honey, ’cause there’s so much to see” may incite a knowing smile. The line lovingly serves as the epigraph to One Italian Summer narrated by Lauren Graham – who plays Lorelai – in the audiobook version of a story equally steeped in mother-daughter dynamics. In this vein, our chat with New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Serle covers her playful approach to what’s possible on vacation, the inextricable link between travel and fantasy, and the power of mother-daughter trips to cement lifelong memories.
“Get a window seat, honey, ’cause there’s so much to see.” – Lorelai Gilmore
As chronicled by the New York Times, the inspiration behind the novel lies in a trip that Serle took with her mom prior to the pandemic. Her mother had spent time in Italy after college, fallen in love, and had a magical summer (before going on to marry her father, who was not the other half of said Italian romance). When her mom’s Italian boyfriend of nearly fifty years prior met them at the Trevi Fountain during their time in Rome, it got Serle thinking about the women our mothers were before we meet them. What plays out on the pages of One Italian Summer is a moving exploration of the people our moms are before we enter their lives and a mother-daughter relationship that transcends time altogether.
SmartFlyer: You could have chosen anywhere in the world to set this book. Why Positano?
Rebecca Serle: There is a timelessness to Italy and specifically, Positano, that is really important for the thematics of the book. Plus, I was in Positano in the summer of 2019 when the idea for this mother-daughter story first came to me. It seemed obvious.
SF: Your description of spots beloved by SmartFlyer travelers like Il San Pietro are enough to make anyone want to book a one-way ticket. How did you choose which specific locations to feature in the book?
RS: I always tell people that the book is a great itinerary! I wrote about the places I love there. I find that my best writing comes when I’m talking about places and meals and geography that I feel a deep connection to and love for. Also, people ask me all the time if the places in One Italian Summer are real. Yes! They all are!
One Italian Summer celebrates the version of ourselves who we can become when on vacation. How do you view this shedding of the armor that we often wear in our everyday lives to transform into the “vacation version” of ourselves?
…That’s why travel and fantasy are so intrinsically linked. One Italian Summer is certainly about fantasy. But it’s also about presence. I found both of those things in spades in Italy.
RS: This book is ultimately about a young woman coming back to life after a great loss. I feel like travel forces us to be very, very present in ways that we don’t have to be in our normal lives. In our normal lives, we can be on autopilot sometimes, but when we are on vacation all of our senses need to be very sharp. We are dealing with a landscape that is entirely new to us! I love travel for that reason. It forces us into the present moment. It is such a beautiful experience and I think being in that present moment can really allow us new levels of growth. We also don’t bring with us all of the narratives we have around who we are at home. We could really be anyone. That’s why travel and fantasy are so intrinsically linked. One Italian Summer is certainly about fantasy. But it’s also about presence. I found both of those things in spades in Italy.
SF: Your stories always include an element of magic. Tell us more about this in relation to One Italian Summer.
RS: I love magical realism because I think it allows me to get at the heart of what I’m trying to talk about faster and with more intensity than I would otherwise. In this novel, Katy gets to meet a young version of her mother, Carol. I could have told the same story about a young woman coming to Italy and rediscovering a place her mother loved so much, maybe even running into a friend her mother knew, discovering old letters, etc. But why not tell the story of a young woman who gets to actually meet her mom? And hear all of that from mom? It’s an emotional shortcut and that’s why I love playing with magic.
SF: Mother-daughter trips are truly transformational. What advice do you have for anyone looking to plan their own?
RS: I love traveling with my mom, and I’m lucky that we’ve done so much of it together. I think it really depends on your relationship, and whether or not you tend to run on the same schedule. For instance, when we travel with my father, he requires a full lunch and a nap in the afternoon! My mom and I could shop all day. I think just leaning into this uninterrupted time together, exploring a new place, and maybe getting to see a side of each other you don’t get to in normal life.
I think the moments outside the norm are the ones that we remember. The time the train was incredibly delayed and you missed a night in Rome and had to spend it at a funny airport hotel in Germany, the time you read the boat schedule wrong and missed a flight, the time you forgot the name of the restaurant that you were meant to go to and instead stumbled upon a hole in the wall and had the best meal of your life. Those are the things we remember. And as our parents get older I know I treasure these memories more and more.
SF: Where are you most excited to go back during your eventual return to Italy? What’s the first dish you’ll order?
RS: I’m going back this summer! I will park myself at the Hotel Poseidon, and eat whatever they’re serving.
SF: What are your must-pack items when traveling?
RS: I am a chronic under-packer. For Europe: great sneakers, cute sandal flats, a bunch of bathing suits, lightweight dresses, and a cardigan that can go over anything. I have a cozy wrap I love for travel, and I never get on a plane without compression socks!