I've always loved travelling, mostly beach holidays and city breaks. I divorced from my husband over 20 years ago, so I'm used to going solo. But it wasn't until I retired from my NHS career that I was inspired to go on a longer adventure.

I was originally planning another week-long holiday to Tropea in Italy. But as I was browsing apartments, I began to think there was nothing holding me back from staying for longer. I was 64, I had money saved up and no job to return to.

When I told my son, Adam, that I wanted a taste of the real Italy - and I was going to spend three months finding it - he encouraged me. Meanwhile, some of my friends thought I was mad. Others said I was brave to go on such a whim. All I thought was, why wait?

I had no concrete plan in place but I had faith that it would work out. I arrived in Tropea in November 2015. The small fishing town was mostly untouched by tourists and the locals were very welcoming. I couldn't speak much Italian, but I got by with my trusty phrase book. When I was leaving, a fisherman spotted me with my suitcase and offered an enormous bag of fish as a parting gift! He had kind intentions, but I politely declined!

There was incredible food everywhere. It was late at night and pouring with rain when I arrived in the city of Lucera. Hungry and tired, I settled for an unassuming trattoria down a side street. But it was here that I ate the best pizza of my life!

I stayed in all sorts of properties. From a tiny flat in cave in Matera, Puglia, to a family home in Pescara, where I shared breakfast with a couple and their children every morning.

Zig-zagging north, I made my way through Perugia, Sienna and Lucca by train, where I saw beautiful landscapes. Everyone was so relaxed - a fellow traveller even had a cat on her lap!

With the festive season approaching, I visited Bologna - where Adam and his girlfriend Sarah flew out to see me - then Rimini, before spending Christmas day in Venice. Adam's dad had proposed to me in St Mark's Square years before. As I went back to see it, I received a call from Adam: back at home, he'd proposed to Sarah that morning!

Christmas dinner consisted of pizza and pannetone at a local restaurant. I didn't feel like I was on my own. Friendly strangers were always striking up conversation with me.

I rung in the New Year in Lake Garda, which was beneath a blanket of snow. One day, I missed my bus, so a group of locals formed a line in the middle of the snowy road to stop it for me!

Mostly, I explored towns and sometimes ventured into the countryside, soaking up the views. I loved browsing the markets and stopping for coffee too, where I'd sit and watch the world go by.

12 weeks, 18 locations and 1,432 miles later, I returned home. My Italian adventure taught me that I could do more than I ever thought possible. I used to be a great planner, but I've since learned to go with the flow.

I haven't had another long trip yet, thanks to the pandemic and moving house twice. But I've taken many short, spontaneous holidays across Europe.

I keep a list of places I want to explore and another big journey is definitely on the horizon. I may be in my seventies now and a grandma too, but age is just a number. I'm determined to carry on living la dolce vita!

2024-01-12T09:45:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd