What Sets Bel Camino Apart
For someone planning a year off who would like to spend some time in Italy, someone having difficulty perhaps in discerning the differences between the many cultural immersion programs in such places as Siena, Florence, Rome and Venice, it will be helpful to know that what sets Bel Camino apart are three key elements: our small size, the week-long hike and the importance we place on the inner growth of each participant.
We offer the full complement of what is normally encountered in a cultural immersion program: home-stay accommodations, language and art classes, plus a menu of weekly cultural visits and activities that take full advantage of Siena and its beautiful environs. But, in addition, Bel Camino prides itself on its small size—no more than 9 people a semester—and that, as a consequence, Carla Fabian, the director and founder, is intimately involved in the day-to-day running of the program and in overseeing the well-being and progress of each participant.
Given the riches of the Italian patrimony in such places as those listed above, it is no surprise that most Italian immersion programs are based in cities; in this, we are no exception. The student who comes to Siena is surrounded by, steeped in, the exceptionally beautiful architectural residue left by a Late Medieval-Early Renaissance golden age, not to mention the artworks to be found inside those buildings. But, as far as we know, Bel Camino is the only cultural immersion program that balances the urban experience of Italy with a six-day walk that follows an ancient pilgrimage trail through the countryside of Tuscany. All of our students are required to participate in this walk and are asked furthermore to unplug from all electronic gadgetry and social media for its duration. As an experienced walker and explorer of pilgrimage routes, Carla believes that walking, especially when performed consciously, has the potential to engender the sensitivity and spiritual awareness that lies, for example, behind the creation of all those beauties that adorn the cities of Italy. If our students can get even a taste of this within the six days of our trek, we will consider our job complete!
Which brings us to what we believe is the most important defining aspect of Bel Camino: the emphasis (in all our programs) on self-discovery. To this end, Bel Camino encourages everyone to keep a journal in which to record observations and impressions, to participate in the weekly meetings and yoga sessions, to take a studio art, music or cooking course and to accompany us on the six-day pilgrimage. Travelers through the ages have learned firsthand the influence of Place – its power to teach and surprise and change those who dare to leave the Known. This is a basic fact of travel, and yet one that still retains its capacity to astonish us. Bel Camino was created precisely to host such moments of wonder – not by simply preparing the stage for a “cultural immersion” through home-stay and a course of language study, but also with the firm conviction that a “self immersion” is equally, if not more, valuable; and that both “immersions” ultimately enhance and magnify and deepen each other in the traveler’s experience.