There’s no map-holding when you’re touring Tuscany with Susie Macklem.
Three years ago, she traded life on a farm in Beresford, S.D., and a bakery business for a bed and breakfast in Marradi, Italy. As far as dreams go, she’s living it.
“This has been a powerful experience for me after running several businesses in the States and raising two daughters,” she said. “But I can say besides missing … my family, I feel I am where I should be, doing what I truly enjoy.”
Tucked away in the Tuscan countryside, Macklem found a villa and opened Living the Dream Bed and Breakfast. Part of her journey was filmed for an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters International.” Her Italian real estate agent had connections to the show.
Macklem, who grew up in Westfield, Iowa, looked at several locations. However, each one needed major renovations to be fit for a B&B. Ease of travel to and from the inn was another important aspect she took into consideration.
The five-bedroom property she picked near Marradi gives visitors access to a nice train station centrally located in northern Italy.
Macklem can help guests plan day trips to Verona, Lucca, Pisa and the capital city of Florence, which is just a little more than an hour away by train. Other popular Italian destinations such as Venice and Rome can be reached from the B&B but require an overnight stay in the city.
“I would say that, when traveling in Italy, you cannot compare my small B&B with the experience of say Rome, Venice and Florence,” she said. “But what I can provide is the ability to move freely through these cities with a person that speaks American English, understands and knows the culture of Italy, as well as understanding the needs of an American traveler.”
When you’re at Living the Dream with Macklem, you’re getting more than a place to sleep.
She helps eliminate common problems faced by travelers. To help them make the most of their stay, she offers an escort service so there’s no time wasted wandering around lost or looking at a map.
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Also, she’s learning more Italian all the time, and her B&B appeals to middle-aged travelers who want an English speaker to be their guide. She aims to make a vacation exactly what it should be: stress free.
“They pack their bags, I meet them at the airport, and we start the Italian adventure,” Macklem said.
She also offers a weekend getaway to American collegiates on a budget. Students studying abroad get to explore obscure parts of Tuscany by horseback riding and trekking mountain trails.
Many of her guests go to a neighboring stable for trail rides in the Apennine Mountains.
There’s also a bit of home-cooking – wood-fired pizza prepared in a brick oven.
Before starting over in Italy, she ran a bakery in Sioux Falls. She was raising two teenage daughters, and she enjoyed horseback riding and barrel racing.
Some days, Macklem just relishes in childlike wonder living in the beautiful mountain setting, learning new words and trying new things.
“I have developed a base of Italian friends, and I speak more and more Italian every day,” she said. “Also, I have repeat customers. I am very proud of the fact I have been here long enough to have repeat customers and also customers send their friends. This has to be the best compliment I business owner can get.”
While the high season winds down in September, Macklem looks forward to Tuscany in the fall: harvest time. Festivals celebrate the haul of olives, chestnuts and grapes.
Food is one of the great pleasures to be sampled and savored, which up a final point. Italy’s culture embraces life at a slower pace.
“Italians do not understand urgency when it comes to travel and vacation,” Macklem said. “If I had a dollar for every time you hear, ‘Relax you are on vacation.’ This is true. Relax and enjoy.”