About ExperiencePlus!

Meet Your Tour Leaders – Silvia Cafora

by ExperiencePlus! - Thursday, July 11, 2013 ExperiencePlus! tour leader Silvia Cafora

Why did you decide to become a tour leader?Silvia Cafora considers how a new nose and mustache.
I can combine my passion for bike travel with my knowledge of Italian and French culture and architecture.  I’m also a people person and some of my most interesting encounters have happened while traveling by bicycle. Architecture is also one of my motivations because so much of a place can be understood through its buildings. On tour I really enjoy sharing information about the variety of architectural styles that can be found throughout the different regions of France and Italy. I worked in Paris with an architect who coincidentally is from Sarlat, one of the towns that we visit on the Cycling the Dordogne tour. In fact, when he comes back to visit family and friends he stays at the Hotel de Selves which is where we spend three nights on the ExperiencePlus! trip. I hope I get a chance to see him on my next tour there!

Do you have a favorite architect or style?
Silvia CaforaThat’s a challenging question and because I love so many buildings designed by different architects. I am drawn to Modernist (1920-50) because I love the use of space and proportion. If I had to name an architect I’d pick Le Corbusier who was a pioneer of the style. You’ll find his buildings throughout Europe, the USA and India. I also admire Peter Zumthor a Swiss architect who, in my opinion, uses materials in a perfect way. One of his finest works is the Vals Therms Hotel and Spa in Switzerland. For poetry in designing spaces I look to Japanese contemporary architects Ishigami and Atelier Bow Wow. I also love experimental architecture and was fortunate to live at the Ciudad Abierta in Chile which is an open city, where architects, students and sculptors works together.

Speaking of Chile, tell us a bit about your travels by bicycle.Silvia's bike in Chile
Over the past 5 years I have done 3 solo bicycle trips in South America, Sicily and along the Danube in Germany and Austria and ever since I have been hooked on traveling by bike. In South America I rode through the Atacama Desert from Chile to Bolivia where I had to stop because at altitudes of over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) I literally ran out of oxygen. My second trip was to Sicily where I pedaled around the island starting and ending in Palermo. The Sicilians were incredibly kind and would regularly invite me into their homes, feed me, and give me a bed for the night. On a number of occasions I ended up staying for several days and became friends with several families that I am still in contact with. The Danube was also an incredible experience and though I was traveling solo I met so many cyclists along the way that I had to remind myself that I was “alone”. After those experiences I decided I no longer needed a car so I gave it to my brother and now get around exclusively by bike and public transportation.

When you aren’t leading tours what keeps you busy?
Silvia's saffron fieldI have a degree in civic art and architecture. One of my favorite recent projects reclaims abandoned public spaces and buildings and restores them. One focus is creating spaces for neighbors to gather and participate in different activities to create and strengthen a sense of community. It’s been found to be a very effective way to integrate immigrant populations.

I’ve also created a company, Zafferanami that cultivates and sells saffron in Milan with a group of friends. We realized that none of the saffron used in Milan’s most famous dish, Risotto alla Milanese, is actually grown in Milan. We found a farmer on the outskirts of the city who is willing to let us cultivate saffron in exchange for keeping his field cleared. Twice a year we rent a house near the field for planting and harvesting and because the bulbs cannot be exposed to sunlight when planted, and the flowers need to be harvested before they open we start very, very early each day. We sell the saffron at the market in Milan and each year the demand far exceeds our modest harvest so a few years ago we began an education and promotion program and people have come from every region of Italy to learn this lost art.

You have lived in France and you are from Italy. How do they differ?
Both celebrate the simple pleasures of daily life in France it’s the “Joie de vivre” or the “Joy of living” and in Italy it’s the “Dolce vita” or the “Sweet life”. Although the French cuisine is excellent I do have to say that I prefer Italian food because I find there is more variety. But one thing I couldn’t get enough of in France was the delicious bread!

Any big plans for the near future?
After being a nomad for several years I met my fiancée in Chile and we have decided to get married this month! Although I don’t see this changing my lifestyle much I did decide that between leading tours and other projects it will be nice to finally have a place to hang my helmet. I’m excited because we have decided to build a house in the beautiful Val di Mello in Italy’s Lakes District.

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