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Bringing Italy to Lake County: Italian Tours and Treasures

Grayslake resident Nancy Gabriele shares her love of Italy through Italian language classes, tours to Italy and a gift shop with imported products.

Nancy Gabriele of Grayslake, the unofficial ambassador to Italy, shares the language, culture and food of Italy through her business La Gabri-Elle Language School in Gurnee. And her audience is growing.

Nancy Gabriele started teaching Italian, her first language, through her business, La Gabri-Elle Language School in Gurnee. But learning the language wasn't enough. 

Gabriele said her friends wanted to go to Italy but did not want to go alone because they were not familiar enough with traveling overseas or the language. So they suggested she organize a trip.

So each year, Gabriele has planned a nine-day trip to Puglia, Italy in September. Among the sites, they go to Bari, where they stay within a trullo, a traditional Apulian dry-stone hut with a conical roof. They visit an olive oil factory, historic castles and churches and take a boat trip along the Gargano coast.

Gabriele also added a cooking trip along the Amalfi coast, which next year will run April 13 to 22. In between excursions to Pompeii and Rome, the group takes cooking classes, learning to fillet fish and make homemade pasta.

But among her highlights, she is able to take them to see members of her family, who still live in the region. Many who take the trip keep in contact with her family.

“It’s like sharing my family with them,” she said.

Opening Shop

A big part of the Italian culture to share food, and Gabriele always offers a full table to those who come to her home. But whenever friends see spreads of food, they ask how she does it. She said it is keeping simple, fresh ingredients.

That sparked the idea to expand her business again, opening a gift shop three years ago to introduce the public to Italian products.

“I used to drive an hour to get specialty products in Elmwood Park or Palatine,” she said. “I decided there is a demand for this around here,” she said.

The shop, at 223 N. Milwaukee Ave., Suite 6, Gurnee, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays starting Sept. 24, is filled with olive oils, vinegars, pastas, cheeses and chocolates with a romantic note in each. She shares spreads ranging from black olive pate to a Mediterranean pesto made with tomatoes, basil and cashews. There also are linens and ceramics. All items are imported from Italy.

“People think Italian food is so complicated. They think, ‘I can’t do it.’ As long as you have the ingredients that are fresh — good quality ingredients — that is all you need,” she said.

Gabriele also makes gift baskets within the shops starting at $19.99. She said her latest baskets would be gifts that teach, such as including Italian cards with various snacks.

“In the basket, I will write a note about the culture, sharing that when together after a meal, we play cards,” she said. “Another idea is offering a romance basket, including a meal for two, chocolates and vocabulary words, sweet nothings they can share.”

Running the classes, tours and the shop is a full schedule. But with a bright smile, Gabriele said she does it because she loves to share her home and culture.

“I think it’s important that you learn because it is good for your mind, but you also become exposed to another culture,” she said.

Classes are held at La Gabri-Elle Language School, 223 N. Milwaukee Ave., Suite 6, Gurnee. For information, call 1-847-219-3678 or visit her website, www.lagabri-elle.com.

The fall session of adult classes starts Sept. 19. She offers beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Tuition is $125 for 10 classes. Gabriele also offers private classes.

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