All students are placed with an Italian family residing in the center of Siena for the duration of the program. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience the culture in an intimate way. Sharing delicious home-cooked meals in the evening with the home-stay family is always a highlight of the program, giving students the chance to not only savor the region’s delicacies but also to increase their proficiency in Italian. While breakfasts are also provided by the home-stay families, lunches are at the student’s expense and can be had at one of the many eating establishments found all over Siena.
Learning Italian with inspiring and creative teachers is delightful. Lessons last for 3 hours each day Monday through Friday for the duration of the program and provide the opportunity for noticeable improvement in Italian. Covering both language and aspects of Italian culture, they enable participants to better communicate with and understand their Italian hosts and friends.
In order to foster self-reflection and esprit de corps in the group, participants gather every Monday afternoon at our center to share food, plans and ideas, and to process and reflect on their experiences. Time is set aside each week for journaling, discussion of various topics of interest and for practicing yoga or some other form of mindfulness.
Semester members take a trip together every week of their stay in Siena. Mid-week excursions might, for instance, visit quaint Tuscan towns, vineyards or organic farms. Weekend trips might include visits to such notable places as Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Assisi, Venice or Cinque Terre. Free weekends can either be spent in Siena or in independent travel.
A certified yoga teacher, Carla Fabian, the Bel Camino director, is happy to offer free yoga classes throughout the semester at the weekly gatherings. A way of practicing mindfulness, yoga also increases strength, balance and flexibility, both on and off the mat.
Midway through the semester, director and students undertake together the bel camino, a week-long hike through Tuscany along a 90 kilometer section of the centuries-old Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route that links Canterbury and Rome. Beginning in the lovely hill town of San Miniato, our route passes through picturesque countryside and several medieval towns (San Gimigniano, Monteriggioni, e.g.) before ending in Siena. We begin each day with breakfast either at our place of accommodation or a coffee bar before beginning the day’s trek. Picnic foods are purchased on a daily basis for lunches en route and dinners will be eaten upon arrival at each evening’s destination.
Accommodations are in convents, monasteries and pilgrim guesthouses that, while not luxurious, are always adequate, often historic and the hospitality is invariably warm. Carrying our own packs and traveling about 8-15 miles each day, it should take us five days to complete this walk. Encountering friendly people and new places every day on this devotional path makes this week an enriching and unforgettable experience. If undertaken with intention, it can also be a transformative one.
Since we believe that life is immeasurably enriched by exposure to the myriad aspects of culture, we have organized a variety of activities for the group throughout the semester, all of which are included in the program fee. These include, but are not limited to: cultural excursions, museum visits, concerts, a soccer match, special seminars, Italian movies, some cooking classes and wine-tastings.
Bel Camino encourages participants to pursue their passions and explore new interests and, to this end, free time has been scheduled on various afternoons for such activities. Opportunities abound in Siena to learn about Italian cuisine or the craft of book-binding, to take dance or music (vocal or instrumental) lessons, or engage in studio art classes such as stained glass, clay sculpting, sketching, photography or painting.
Please note that these additional classes are NOT included in the program fee.