Florence is home to many expats:
those who have longed to live here, those who have found love and moved here,
and those who have come to Florence
and felt immediately at home. Many people arrive in the city at a point in
their lives when they feel a desire to redefine themselves: whether they were
not completely happy, were searching for something new, or were looking for
love, it seems that those who come to Florence
are reborn. Florence
will always be the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ for the art world, but it also
welcomes people of all walks of life who are seeking to follow their hearts.
The first time Sophie Bye came to Italy, she fell
in love. At the age of 19, during a two-week study visit to Rome with a group of students, a sense of
unbridled self-expression was awakened. She vowed to return to Italy one day
and learn the language. After graduating from Cambridge
University with a degree in
architecture, Sophie moved to Florence and found
odd jobs to support herself, like teaching English and working in the San Lorenzo market. Not finding work that inspired her,
she returned to London
nine months later, working as an interior designer and in business development
for design companies. When she had the opportunity to move back to Tuscany to work for an international trend predictions
company, she based herself in the small fishing and beach town of San Vincenzo for a couple
of years. Living in a small town and needing to get around, Bye bought her
beloved first and only car, a Fiat 500.
However, an interest in working in television took
Sophie back to London.
She applied to the BBC for a job providing content for an architectural
program, and she eventually became an assistant producer, traveling the world,
filming for a variety of television programs and documentaries.
But after five years of working in London, she decided that it was time to open
up her own business so she could exercise more self-expression. Looking for an
idea for her new business, while on a flight back to London she found an
article in the in-flight magazine about a man in Berlin who gave tours in
Trabants, an East German car from the 1950s. Why not offer tours of Florence and Tuscany in
Fiat 500s, she thought, and share my love of Italy by taking visitors around the
city and surrounding area in my other love, the Fiat 500?
With much determination and a few road bumps along the
way, Sophie wrote a business plan, found a garage and office space for the cars
in Florence, bought six Fiat 500s, and opened the 500 Touring Club a little over a year later.
With her fleet of Fiat 500s, Sophie takes people
around Florence and through Tuscany for wine-tasting tours, special
events, weddings and private parties. Each car is named after a person who was
helpful in getting her business started, from the mechanic who got the cars in
shape to the woman at the Automobile Club d’Italia who helped Sophie get
permits for each of the cars.
‘The Fiat 500s are a great way to enjoy a bit of Italy’s modern
history,’ Sophie explains. The cars were built from the late 1950s to mid
1970s, the time when things began
picking up after the war, and the car was affordable for Italian families. The
Fiat 500 is a part of contemporary Italian culture that still evokes nostalgia
in the locals, and Sophie says that Italians smile and wave at the convoy of
Fiat 500s as they drive through Florence and Tuscany. ‘It’s a great
experience for people to feel as if they are a part of the city by driving
around in an Italian car that Italians still cherish,’ she observes.
Sophie says, ‘It’s a delight to be here.’ That delight certainly comes through
in every aspect of her unique touring company.