‘I wasn’t looking to fall in love. It just happened. There were moments, encounters as fleeting as feelings. Sometimes – tellingly – they emerged from chaos.’
When Kate Langbroek first dreamed of moving to Italy, she imagined a magnificent sun-drenched pastiche of long lunches and wandering through cobbled laneways clutching a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of wine, Sophia Loren-style, while handsome men called out ‘Ciao Bella!’
In the stark light of day, the dream Langbroek shared with her husband Peter after an idyllic holiday in Italy seemed like madness. They didn’t speak Italian. They knew no one in Italy. They had four children. Langbroek also had the best job in the world on a top-rating radio show with her longtime friend, Dave Hughes.
But the siren song of Italy was irresistible. This would be the adventure of a lifetime, a precious opportunity to spend more time with their children – Lewis, Sunday, Artie and Jannie – and it came from a deep well inside to seize life after they almost lost Lewis to leukaemia.
Ciao Bella! is about having a dream and living it as Langbroek shares the sublime joys and utter chaos of adapting to a new life in Bologna, what you discover about yourself when you are a stranger in a strange land, and how she fell in love… with a country.
I’ll admit upfront that I vaguely knew of Kate Langbroek, but vaguely is the key word here. I lived overseas for many years when she first came to prominence as a media personality, and I don’t listen to the radio, which is where she now reigns supreme. So, I went into her memoir without any preconceptions about her, or what this story is about. I’ve emerged from the other end of this utterly delightful read as a huge fan. She is sensational.
Langbroek and her husband – who sounds like a man we need to clone – packed up their kids and took them to live in Bologna. It was to be a one-year sabbatical from their busy lives. A year into it, they decided to extend, and in doing so were in Italy as the tsunami of COVID-19 engulfed the country and put them into harsh lockdown. But the pandemic plays a small role in this read, making its first appearance well into the book. The real star is Italy itself, and Langbroek’s love affair with it.
Deliciously funny, irreverent, inspiring and often deeply moving, Ciao Bella! is her love letter to Italy and her family. It is also a glorious reminder of what Italians can teach us about living life to the full – and what really matters when the world goes to hell in a handbasket.
It’s a delicious, wise and honest read. Langbroek’s intelligence and wit imbue every page. As an avid traveller – one who has travelled extensively with children – I’ve read every family travel memoir around. This is by far the best. It transported me into the streets of Italy and the home of this unique and fabulous family. Ciao Bella! is one of my favourite reads of 2021.