After visiting dozens of times, Stephanie Chance can’t pick her favorite place in Italy.
What she loves most about the country, and all of its equally beautiful regions, are the people, some of whom she considers extended family, that she has met along the way.
“They know how to live life,” Mrs. Chance said. “Americans, we live so fast, we don’t know how to relax and enjoy life.”
In Italy, family and food come first, followed by work. People grow their own foods and eat by the season, she said.
Mrs. Chance loves Italy so much that, for nearly 15 years, she has taken groups of people from America on Italian tours twice a year. She goes on a third trip to Europe herself to buy things for her store, Decorate Ornate, in Gladewater.
Mrs. Chance worked as a paralegal for an attorney in Gilmer for 16 years before starting her business in 2000.
At her store, she sells antiques and home décor from all over Europe. She has castle doors and church windows from Italy and France, handmade mirrors from Germany, Sicilian Marionettes and Moorish Urns and hand-woven tapestries made in Belgium and Italy. She has prayer benches, confessionals and a priest’s pulpit from Italy, as well as several religious antiques and anything to do with churches, she said. She also has dressers, chests, tables and needlepoint pillows.
“Once you walk into my store, you feel like you’re in Italy,” she said.
Mrs. Chance has expanded the store a couple of times, moving into a larger, two-story building, which she has since added on to.
Mrs. Chance has been visiting Italy all of her life, and when asked how many times she has gone to the country, she said, “There’s no way to know that.”
The groups she takes in May/June and September/October always visit Italy during the vacation, but because many people go with her every year, she adds other countries, such as Greece, Austria, Switzerland and France.
In September, they will start the trip in Sicily to experience the last harvest of the grapes and begin the process of making wine, staying for a huge feast afterward, before seeing other regions of the country and ending up in Tuscany, she said.
Next May, the trip will feature Italy and Greece.
Mrs. Chance said she doesn’t take the groups on the expected tourist attractions, and when they leave, they feel like they’re leaving family.
Tony Filaco, who grew up in Sicily but now lives in Tuscany, is considered by Mrs. Chance as her “extended” father and helps her run the tours, made up of 10 to 25 people.
The tourists are from all over the United States, including California, Florida and New York.
Mrs. Chance loves to write, and about two years ago, she began writing a book detailing some of her favorite places in Italy and the funny situations they get into on the trips.
“I call them the hair-raising adventures these Americans get into,” she said.
On May 26, her book was published and has been doing well on Amazon, she said. She recently returned to East Texas from a weeklong trip to Los Angeles for book signings. And she has had people coming into her store for signed copies.
“It’s been overwhelming, to say the least,” she said.
Mrs. Chance plans to write another book.
“I’ve got enough to write an encyclopedia,” she said of stories from her travels.
Mrs. Chance has been married to Allen, a master electrician, for 20 years. They have a son, a daughter and one granddaughter. When Mrs. Chance is not running the store, which is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, she is writing or planning for her trips to Italy.
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