The Retreat Experience:
Workshop Content, Location & Accommodations,
Excursions, Photos & Endorsements 

The Writing

Our daily morning sessions focus on first-person narrative nonfiction writing—story-telling based on a writer’s personal experience, sometimes accessed through food, travel, or family memories.  We discuss the craft of narrative nonfiction: the narrator’s voice and role, effective structure and organization, revision techniques, and effective language. Whether your focus is on food, travel or pure memoir, we work together to explore the techniques and craft of the genre found in model essays and to workshop your writing in a supportive atmosphere.

Many writers bring a creative nonfiction work to revive and replenish, a work in progress, a germ of an idea, or come empty-handed and ready to respond to the “delicate layers of human history” encouraged by Varenna’s charm. Lush solitude lakeside and intensive instruction throughout the week will provide inspiration and writing prompts for those interested in starting new writing projects. 

Early afternoons are set aside for reading, resting and writing.


The Town of Varenna on Lake Como in the Lombardy Region of Italy




The tiny town of Varenna embraces pastel-colored houses, “delicate layers of human history,” stacked against the mountainside and restful views of Lake
Como. Stroll along the passerella from one tiny harbor to another, under trailing wisteria and palm trees that nod gently in lakeside breezes. Watch boats and kayakers on the lake while enjoying a cappuccino at a small cafe.





 Our Accommodations

Our accommodations at the Hotel Royal Victoria in Varenna provide each guest a single room with a lake view. The Hotel Royal Victoria was named in the 19th century as a tribute to Queen Victoria of England who stayed there in 1838,  leaving the townspeople with an indelible memory of her visit. Another source of pride for the townspeople was the French composer Charles Gounod, who, while staying at the Hotel Victoria, was inspired by his contemplation of Lake Como to write the melody of “Ava Maria” (derived from a Bach prelude).

Mid to Late Afternoon Excursions

We offer a variety of activities to deepen understanding of the local Italian culture–-such as a hike to the ruins of a local castle, a ferry ride across the lake to Bellagio, a wine and cheese tasting of the best produced locally.  Our guide, Linda Prospero, also delivers enriching informal narratives about the culture, literature and history of Varenna and the Lombardy Region of Italy.















Eating and Drinking

Breakfast (included in the program) is held in our hotel, American style. During our morning break, participants enjoy “taking” their coffee and pastry standing up at the local bar–breakfast Italian style.

Lunch is easily available in town, just steps from our meeting room. Enjoy a sandwich or salad outdoors at a cafe in the town square or by the banks of the tranquil lake. Relish northern Italian delicacies–salami, prosciutto and local cheeses such as fontina and gorgonzola.

Dinner is included in the program five of the six evenings we are in Varenna. We eat dinner at the best restaurants in town, as Italians do close to 8 pm, earlier when possible. You will find the delicate cuisine of the Lombardy region shows the influences of its proximity to Switzerland. It favors butter sauces punctuated with fresh herbs over the preponderance of olive oil used more predominately in the south. First courses might feature pasta with a creamy sauce, vegetable soup or a risotto made from arborio rice that grows on the region’s low-lying plains.  The area is prime cattle area and the abundant beef and veal provide carefully prepared second courses. We also enjoy fish from the lake such as trout. All meals are accompanied by the best wines of the region.

Chefs in Varenna demonstrate the same commitment to bold yet balanced flavors common to all great cooking throughout Italy.




















Prior Retreats in Varenna at Lake Como














Prior Retreats in Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo

Writers at Work, June 2013

Endorsements: Thank You for the Kind Words

Janice Mock, Tiburon, California
Varenna is a perfect location! It’s beautiful, quiet and inspirational. It’s always great to get feedback and encouragement of my work. I feel like this was an opportunity to just get better and better–constant growth! I enjoyed the nice format of open dialogue followed by lecture and lecture notes.

Cassandra Joubert, Vallejo, California
I loved the content of the instruction. We covered just the right amount of material for the time we had. The workshopping was fantastic and the short instructional day was appreciated so that we could enjoy the other amenities of the area. Kathryn is a great teacher and I appreciated her deep knowledge and familiarity with the content.  I loved all the outings–fun, fun, fun! I loved having Linda as our guide.

Barbara Roppolo, Laguna Beach, California
I continue to prefer this location for its great beauty and contemplative setting. It is remote in some ways but gives the writer some great options to work as well as enjoy the remarkable setting–which by itself can be inspiring. The rooms are charming and the views unbelievable. 

Paula Cathey, Santa Barbara, California
My favorite tour was Castello, but all the tours were fun and informative. All the food and wines were good and the best dessert was at Villa Cipressi. The wine and cheese tasting was sensational!

Pamela Davis, Houston, Texas
The grounds were simply beautiful! The instruction was excellent and I gained a lot even though I was a less-engaged attendee. The workshopping and individual conference were both very effective and necessary to success. 

Eileen Houlihan, Washington D.C.
The instruction was an overall great experience. The group was a good size; I would not go any larger. The feedback in the workshopping was very helpful. All of the activities were fabulous. Bellagio was the highlight.

Rhonda Callaway, Houston, Texas
The workshop in Varenna was one of the best experiences of my life, and I just wanted to thank Kathryn and Linda for providing such a wonderful environment for us. I learned so much about my narrative voice.  How I wish I could go again!

Carol Sherrill, Danville, California
Kathryn’s memoir workshop in Santo Stefano fulfilled every hope I had when I signed up. From each session, analyzing and appreciating how good writing develops, I grew in understanding of the craft. Through the revision techniques we learned in class—working on each other’s and our own pieces—and in conference with Kathryn, my confidence in myself as a writer multiplied. I left fully inspired to “do the work.” 

Gloria Humphrey, Plantation, Florida
Every once in a while the unimaginable happens along the journey of life. Being in Abruzzo for the “Italy In Other Words” retreat has changed my life forever. It was like finding a hidden treasure filled with genuine historical and cultural wealth.  I loved meeting daily for workshops in a classroom setting that challenged my writing skills and being serenaded nightly with wine and fine dining. I am undoubtedly enriched by the experience. 

Janie Ellison, Buckner, Kentucky
Combining a unique and well-planned cultural/foodie experience with a serious writing workshop, Kathryn presents writers, artists, and photographers an invaluable gift. She is tireless, approachable, and a superior teacher. She can make writers let down their guards and interact without self-consciousness. And write better. The writers, a photographer and a watercolorist, as well as Linda Prospero, the guide/translator/IT manager/writer and all-around good person, made the Santo Stefano di Sessanio experience pretty much magnificent. Kathryn is also a perfectionist, and the workshops reflect her plans perfectly. 

Susan Imboden, Fairfield, CA
I do a lot of writing in my work and can put one word in front of the other. But the Santo Stefano workshop has given me the tools to write creatively. From the nuts and bolts of an essay to the nuances of tone, I received new skills and ways of looking at my work that have bumped both my writing and confidence a notch or two. And the cultural activities and camaraderie in that beautiful setting added so much to a fun and worthwhile week.

Dan Martin, Kansas City, MO
The content of the workshop was solid even for someone like me who teaches writing. I found that Kathryn’s understanding of the components of the memoir genre was strong and nuanced. She did a great job of explaining the elements of memoir and illustrating them with examples.

Jan Mannino, Laguna Beach, CA
Since attending Kathryn’s workshop my writing has improved considerably. Her teaching techniques, my class members, the surroundings, the food, the wine all came together in my efforts to find direction in the writing. Kathryn is an excellent instructor; her lessons on honesty in memoir writing have been a major turning point for me. She has refined my desire to write more and better. Learning to listen and to understand the critiques of the other writers have been an important life learning experience for me. I can highly recommend this workshop and trip to a magical place.

Richard Bilotti, Pennington, NJ
The content of the workshop was excellent, good enough to get me focused as never before on my work. The delivery was easy to understand and Kathryn’s making sure there was no room for nasty critical criticism made the tone very good.

Elizabeth Enger, Portland, OR
The instruction offered eye-opening insight about writing purpose, technique, revision, etc. I received great feedback from class members and the instructor. I finally feel I can understand the building blocks of memoir composition and revision because of the excellent classroom procedure and direction. I enjoyed the company of writers—amateur and professional—who came for the same purpose, regardless of experience. Watching other writers go through the process of creation was gratifying.

Arthur Darby, Calgary, Alberta, CN
The content of the workshop and the presentations were excellent, the materials were good, and the technique of having the writers listen while other gave feedback was good. I will recommend this course to anyone who will take it. Absolutely! Fantastic excursions. Linda is a very good guide and presents a lot of information.

Julie Ramos, West Nyack, NY
All in all it was a memorable week that got me off my duff and writing again. I appreciated Kathryn’s encouragement. The individual meeting with her was very helpful. I hope you keep that part of the program.

Lorelei Albanese, San Juan, PR
Italy, in Other Words was a marvelous experience, and one I wish I could repeat. Everything was perfect: the setting, the food and drink, the writing classes, excursions, our classmates and, of course, the teacher. My best regards to Linda. She was a great asset for our workshop, and I feel sure she will be shine in her official role in 2012. Wish I could be there!

Laura Vejarano, Milan, Italy
I have the fondest memories of our week in Santo Stefano! It was both inspiring and instructional. I wrote in my notebook non-stop on the train from Rome to Milan, just enjoying the act of writing. I very much appreciated Kathryn’s style because it was very organized and engaging but, at the same time, left space for change as the group dynamics and needs evolved.

Cynthia Parry, Long Island, NY
Thank you for so many things: the program, the wealth of sharing and warmth that Kathryn and Helen and Linda have brought to this process, the opportunities to work and meet others who are serious about their work, but not themselves…The activities outside the workshop created a bond that allowed all of us to have easy conversation and connections that added to the trust developed in the workshop. Our interactions contributed immeasurably to the sense of camaraderie that we felt, although we started out as strangers.

Gina Fattore, Los Angeles, CA
I’m an experienced television writer, but I’d never written memoir before, so Kathryn’s morning sessions on fundamentals and techniques were incredibly helpful to me. Plus, she and Helen and all the other participants were just great people: smart, adventurous, funny. Everyone had a story to tell—on the page, on our day trips, and over drinks at the Cantinone.


find California retreats and more at

The Heart of Memoir