Chris Ellis is a pro blogger and world traveler. Chris has written for Lifehack.org as well as many other websites. At Lifehack Chris wrote many articles that went viral including one that garnered over 34,000 shares on social media and several others that garnered tens of thousands of shares.
Chris and her husband, Pete Sobolev purchased a property in the hilltop village of Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria, Italy as it is a perfect jumping off point for all of Europe, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
Calabria, Italy is starting to boom in terms of tourism but great travel deals to amazing Italian destinations are still to be found.
Chris and Pete love to introduce people to the wonders of Calabria and Santa Domenica Talao as well as the other fabulous places they have discovered.
Ok so you have arrived in Italy and by some great good fortune you have found your way south.
You wake up hungry and decide that nothing would be quite so perfect as light, crispy, sweet Italian pastry and a perfect cappuccino as you soak in the bright Calabrian sun just as the day is warming up around you.
Down the Mediterranean coast, halfway to Reggio from Naples you come to where we live.
Just south of the Gulf of Policastro and a short hop from the border from Basilicata you enter Calabria and her gorgeous stretches of azure coastline, magnificent beaches, dramatic jutting mountains and a culture deep and rich as the Magne Grecia from which it was born.
Little train stops dot the coastline, Maratea, Praia a Mare/Aieta, Scalea/Santa Domenica Talao, And Santa Maria Del Cedro. And here is where you will get off.
Pasticceria Arrone is located in Santa Maria del Cedro just along the train line heading down to Reggio Calabria. It is perfectly located to provide you with the perfect coffee and treat before or after your journey. But we have found that Pasticceria Arrone is a destination unto itself.
One early morning, my husband and I gathered our friends around us and made pilgrimage.
Happily our friends Bonnie and Carolyn Oliver had their other sister, Barbara visiting for Summer so we all headed down licking our lips along the way.
Pasticceria Arrone is the labor of love of two master confectioners, Adolfo Arrone and Luigi Barone. Together with a team which they consider more of a family, they are dedicated to creating master confections mostly with the local citrus, the cedro (which is like a Bergamo or a very delicately flavored lime.)
Their dedication to quality transcends any wish to save money by using inferior ingredients and when you see, smell and taste the magnificent creations, you can tell that they have found their calling.
The best way to enjoy the creations is to go in the morning with friends, order a perfect cafe and a selection of cakes. Share them all so you get a variety of different flavors, fragrances and textures.
Although everything you try there is amazing, my favorite was the light crunchy phyllo type pastry filled with pistachio cream. It is knee weakeningly delicious and you have to close your eyes and “have a moment” with every bite.
Pasticceria Arrone makes cakes to order and every dinner that ends with a Pasticceria Arrone package coming out, suddenly becomes epic.
Pasticceria Arrone can be found at Via Orso Marso 3, Santa Maria Del Cedro. +39 0985 42577
So you are heading off to Italy! You researched flights online and got the best deal or you went with a travel agent. You have your hotels, your trains, your cars all figured out. It is going to be GREAT!
And it will be. You almost cannot go to Italy and have it be anything other than great.
But Italy, with all its beautiful cities, amazing structures and fabulous art can be a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you look there is something spectacular to see. Italy is a giant art bath and it literally takes your breath away.
So how do you somehow get everything in order in your mind so that you don’t see it all in a giant blur and then not remember any of it?
My husband and I are avid Italophiles. We have a place in Calabria and get over there whenever we can. We always stop over in Rome and many times Florence before taking the train down south and every time we go we see new and exciting things.
Florence is a very special city and the birth place of the Renaissance.
But Rome and Florence can also be a giant blur unless you know the history and at least have an idea of the chronology of the events and the personalities that have shaped these cities and made them bright stars in Italy’s crown.
Since we first realized that we needed proper context in order to really enjoy these cities on a deeper level, my husband and I started purchasing courses through The Great Courses.
In addition we founda great series on YouTube that anyone can view for free. There is so much available that it is difficult to pick out a few favorites.
1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D. (The Great Courses Plus)
In his course The Rise of Rome, Dr. Aldrete explains in entertaining detail how from the 8th century BC, Rome rose to a massive civilization that controlled the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond.
Dr. Aldrete not only goes over the chronology of the rise of Rome but puts in perspective all of the main events and characters that shaped Rome as she rose and then started her demise.
Dr Aldrete is as entertaining as he is brilliant sometimes giving his lecture in a Roman toga and inserting anecdotes that enlighten and add color.
Many of the Great Courses lectures are offered in DVD format or you can stream them. They come with an accompanying text with pictures and important information but even if you simply watch the lectures you will gather tons of great data that will put the entire city in perspective for you.
2) “Meet the Romans” series by Dame Mary Beard(YouTube)
Dame Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge as well a a fellow of Newnham College and the Royal Academy of Arts. Honestly she has so many achievements that it would take pages to list them all, however despite her amazing depth of knowledge of all things Roman, Dame Mary Beard has managed to create a series that is intimate and understandable.
The most fascinating part of her series is that she follows the steps of the Roman Empire and on the way, translates various monuments and grave stones from Latin to English and gives historical context to each one.
Apparently back in ancient Rome, when someone died, a lot of information about them was written on their grave markers. Since these are in Latin, we pass them by in the streets, in alleyways and lining the Via Appia, and never know what secret treasures they contain.
Dame Mary opens up this treasure trove of intimate information so we see how the inhabitants of Ancient Rome lived, from the emperors to the men and women in the streets.
3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses Plus)
The Prince is a lecture series that follows the life and downfall of Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact his book “The Prince” has had on society up to and including present day.
Machiavelli lived in Florence during the Renaissance and is a contemporary of Michelangelo, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Rafael, Leonardo Da Vinci and the insane Franciscan monk, Savonarola.
Political situations were volatile back then and one could be in a cushy government job one minute and hanging upside down in a bonfire in the piazza the next.
This lecture series gives a close up look not only at the political situation and surrounding events during that incredibly active time, but also how the crucible of political upheaval helped create Machiavelli’s brilliant work and how his ideas have permeated our culture today.
Walking the streets of Florence, you can’t help but understand better everything around you and to see the city in its ancient context bringing the Renaissance to life.
4)“The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.(The Great Courses Plus)
Of all the courses my husband and I have studied, this is my favorite because I have a deep love and respect for the genius that is Michelangelo.
Professor Wallace shares that love and respect and takes you through the journey of Michelangelo’s life from his relatively ignoble birth to his rise in Florence and to the associations with various popes who commissioned him to create some of the most beautiful art works ever created anywhere.
Florence is a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s works and one of the homes he owned is now a museum dedicated to him where you can see up close and personal his early works like “The Madonna of the Stairs” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”.
Walk in Michelangelo’s footsteps in both Florence and Rome and see where they cross those of Machiavelli and Leonard Da Vinci. Glimpse of the personality of the artist and understand the barriers he had to overcome to create everything he created in one short life time.
This lecture series more than any other take both Rome and Florence from one dimensional tourist destinations to multi dimensional story tellers with every street, palace or museum contributing to the tale.
5) “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” by Professor Steven L. Tuck (The Great Courses Plus)
In the days of the Roman Empire, Pompeii was a thriving port city and a playground for the rich. That all changed in 79 AD when an explosion blew the entire top off the mountain of Vesuvius and created a pyroclastic flow that killed everything in its path and enshrouded the entire city and all its inhabitant in volcanic ash where they lay for centuries.
It was not until the 1700’s that Pompeii was properly discovered and excavations began uncovering a city almost perfectly preserved as if in amber right down to a loaf of bread that was cooking in a bakery as the eruption began.
Walk with professor Tuck through the ancient city and get a taste of life on the Mediterranean in ancient times.
6) The Life and Operas of Verdi” by Dr. Robert Greenberg (The Great Courses Plus)
In addition to being an Italophile and Renaissance addict I am also a musician. I have purchased and studied many of Dr. Greenberg’s lectures and find him uniquely understandable and highly entertaining.
Travel with him through the life and the operas of Italy’s favorite musical son up through the Italian Risorgimento.
Verdi’s operas are beautifully constructed and anyone who loves opera has seen one or more of them.
Dr. Greenberg gives us a glimpse of Verdi’s character, his trials and tribulations as well as his resounding successes. This is all presented within a rich historical context giving us a unique slice of life in Verdi’s beloved Italy.
If you love music, you will love this set of lectures. On another topic, Dr. Greenberg has similar lectures exploring the life and works of Beethoven and an all around favorite “How to Listen to and Understand great Music”
These lectures and other similar studies have deepened our understanding of these unique beautiful Italian cities and of Italy itself.
Italy has the deepest and richest history of any European country. It boasts of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and gave birth to the most compelling and greatest artists, architects and statesmen the world has ever seen.
If you study even one on the above lecture series, you will have a depth of understanding that will allow you to remember your trip long after you return home and will also you to reignite your memories when you rewatch them.
The Great Courses offers the courses we referenced above and much more through the Great Courses Plus video-on-demand service offering over 8,000 engaging video courses taught by university professors from top schools. We have viewed many of their courses and recommend them without hesitation. The Great Courses Plus has a free 30-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking on the banner link below. We do receive a commission from signups through this link, but it’s at no extra cost to you and helps us fund additional content for this site.
While traveling, it is amazing how often you learn something by making a mistake. One minute of error can cost you. But that is no reason to worry.
In travel, as in all of life, there are losses that will occur and they go with the territory. The key is to understand how they occur so you can minimize them and then to know what to do when they inevitably do occur.
And bag snatching is one of the main concerns of tourists to any big city.
My husband and I have firsthand knowledge of this because when we first arrived in Rome recently, we decided to save a few bucks and take the train to the hotel. Having taken a night flight (not recommended unless you can sleep on a plane) we had been up all day and all night. Add to that the sudden transition from English into Italian and train schedules that are printed so tiny that you can barely see them, we became confused.
Knowing as we do that there are “pickpockets” in Rome and many other big European cities (“pickpockets” is a misnomer as they do not limit themselves to the contents of your pockets.) we are normally pretty careful. In this instance, we were targeted.
The scam goes like this. A man comes up to you and sprays something on you then points out that you have shit on you. “Sheet! Sheet!” He yells while pointing. (It wasn’t shit but some substance) then he generously gives you a tissues to wipe it off. While you do so, another person steals your bags.
In this case, we never set our bags down at that point but they apparently followed us and when my husband put down his bags to put on his glasses to read the insanely small print on the train schedule, the thieves made off with his camera equipment and back pack containing his computer and his passport.
It was so fast that we hardly realized what had happened. These thieves obviously drill this and work in teams. They are pretty slick even though they are giant assholes.
In any case the question became, “What do I do when my passport gets lost or stolen in Rome?”
The answer is pretty simple. You have to go to the American Consulate if you are American. The consulate is on the Via Veneto in Rome and right next door to the embassy.
This is accessible on the metro if you take the red line and get off at the Piazza Barberini. From there head uphill on the Via Veneto and you will see the embassy first and the consulate right next to it. If you are a citizen of another country, you have to go either to your embassy or your consulate. Normally your hotel can give you good advice on this because losing your passport is a surprisingly common occurrence in Rome.
Our consulate was extremely quick about getting my husband’s passport replaced. We were there probably an hour total. According to the folks there, people come in every day having lost their passports. Bring some coins and money because it cost 5 Euros to use the coin operated photo machine and I think it cost about 120 Euros to replace the passport.
My advice is this, when travelling, if you need a copy of your passport to prove that you are American in order to take advantage of discounts which occasionally occur, targeting certain groups of tourists, make several copies of each passport, and keep your passport either in a locked suitcase in your room or in the hotel safe. Take the copies with you out and about and if you lose them, no bigs.
Now, if you have had your bags taken, you probably need a police report for insurance purposes. There is no other reason really to go to the police about a bag theft because you really don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your stuff back unless the thieves suddenly find Jesus and turn themselves in. I am still waiting for news that this has ever occurred. ( i.e. never gonna happen.)
The police station is very close to the consulate. You can ask the consulate folks where the nearest one is and they will point the way. We found the station and headed upstairs.
the police station we went to did not look like any of our police stations in the US. There were no cells, only about three guys making conversation in the office and helping people make out reports. Well, one was helping people with reports, the other two were more or less there for moral support I guess.
There were two people ahead of us so I took the opportunity to catch a few Z’s with my mouth hanging open in the super comfy police chairs. The police office was in an old building. The windows were open catching the breeze. I could hear the sing song conversation of the person ahead of us explaining and acting out in detail exactly what occurred, accompanied by the shaking head and the tsk, tsk, tsk of the sympathetic officer.
When you combine that with jet lag, it lulls you into a soothing slumber where images of Italian trains and flight schedules run through your dreams accompanied by the smell of cafe and black tobacco.
When our turn arrived, I unfolded myself from the comfy police chair and went in. The officer loudly finished his conversation with his cohort about family matters that were on his mind and then turned his attention to us.
We related our unfortunate experience to him while he wagged his head from side to side expressing deepest disappointment in his fellow countrymen.
This was followed by an educational rundown of all possible ways a thief can distract your attention and slip away with your bags while you are in the Eternal City.
“One could be having coffee” he says, while sipping an imaginary cafe and expressing surprise and disgust when an imaginary thief makes off with his imaginary briefcase. “Or perhaps seeing a monument…” He opens his eyes in wide eyed amazement and sets down his imaginary bag to take a photo with his ghostly camera while the same phantom thief steals up and grabs it.
Once he completed our criminology course for the morning, he settled down to assist us in filling out the police report and allowed us to take photos of it to email to our insurance carrier. He then shook our hands wishing us a nice stay while extracting promises from us that we will be more careful next time.
Our job complete, we made our way out to the Via Veneto and a sidewalk cafe where we split a magnificent plate of pasta and a giant gelato sundae while watching the impeccably dressed Italian business men and women hurry by.
By mid afternoon, our chores were complete, Police report filed, my husband had new passport in hand and I had tons of information for a new blog post of what to do when this happens to you.
My take away on this is threefold:
1) When you arrive from a long trip and you know you are tired, take a taxi to the hotel.
Yes, they can be a bit pricey but when you look at the fact that we lost about $1,500 worth of camera gear, computers and other important items (no cash, thankfully) $60, is very cheap insurance.
2) When you are in a big European city, if anyone tries to distract you for any reason, be suspicious, especially if they are adamantly trying to get your attention.
There are all manner of scams out there. Most of them involve distracting you.
In my experience, Italians normally won’t care if you have shit on you, or your fly is open or you have toilet paper on your shoe. If they do, they are too polite to mention it.
3) Carry your belongings for the day in a small cross the body handbag.
Take only what you need and use a small handbag with a long strap that you can put across your body. This makes it a lot harder to steal.
Also BTW, if you are at a train station and a man in a blue shirt comes up and guides you to your cabin and then tries to carry your bags, be aware, these people do not work for the station, They are scammers who then advise you that you owe them 25 Euros for carrying your bags.
There are as many scams as there are thieves. Don’t be intimidated if someone does something for you without asking you, then demands money. You do not have to pay them.
The same goes for the gladiators you see at the Coliseum or in the piazzas. They are not sanctioned guides and they charge you money to take their photo. I have heard of people being threatened or having their cameras forcibly taken by these guys because they have taken a photo with one of them in it. My advice? Stay away from them.
The tour guides in Rome who work for the tour companies, have to have a degree in Art History and must be licensed. They are well regulated to ensure that you have a great experience and get correct information.
If you are looking for a great tour guide in Rome, I recommend Through Eternity Tours. Their guides are wonderful and you get correct information about the wonders that you are seeing.
All in all Rome is a wonderful city, in fact it is one of my favorite cities on planet earth. Everywhere you look, there are treasures put there for your wonder and enjoyment.
Unfortunately, anything that draws people and attention also draws the underbelly of the population looking to rip off and make a quick buck. Be aware, take precautions and if something happens, don’t panic! There is a work around for everything.
Last Winter my husband and I were lucky enough to run across the pond and spend a couple of weeks in our village, Santa Domenica Talao in Calabria.
It was a bit chilly and downright cold at night but we did have some glorious days of almost warm and sharp, bright sunshine to explore the towns and villages near us.
On a previous property scouting trip with a friend who was looking for a house, I had had an opportunity to explore Praia a Mare a little bit and discovered just how beautiful it was.
So one bright morning I dragged my husband out for lunch and a stroll through the town.
Praia a Mare is located on the southern end of the Gulf of Policastro which is one of the most stunning sweeps of Mediterranean coastline in the world.
The Gulf runs its fingers through three regions of Italy, Basilicata, Campagnia and Calabria.
The main downtown street in Praia a Mare features a beautiful tree lined promenade which runs the length of downtown. Both sides of the street are lined with shops and apartment buildings decorated with beautiful wrought iron railings.
Behind the town the Pollino Mountains jut up wildly creating a magnificent backdrop to the charming downtown area.
A couple of blocks from downtown lies the crystal blue Mediterranean, her beaches lined with row after row of brightly colored umbrellas and lidos featuring some pretty spectacular restaurants.
All across Southern Italy one stumbles across grottos or sacred caves. Praia a Mare boasts of their own. Il Santuario Santa Maria Della Grotta is featured in the photo below. One has to peek between the buildings to see it as you perform your giro (tour) of the town.
In addition to the sacred grotto, Praia also has the Grotta Azurra or the Blue Grotto much like the one in Capri on the Amalfi Coast. The Blue Grotto is on the side of Praia A Mare’s spectacular little island, the Isola di Dino facing out to sea. You can hire one of the local boats to take you out or you can rent a peddle boat and peddle there yourself.
You can visit both caves and swim in the bright blue water surrounded by fish.
After your boat tour you will be hungry. In Italy the restaurants don’t open until about 7:00 at night and even if you go then you will be the first ones there.
So in the meantime, stop and have a gelato at one of the shops that line the main drag in Praia.
The you are ready for dinner, stop for a fabulous pizza, or delicious pasta or seafood at Ristorante Pizzeria Rinaldi da Vittorio.
Happily Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio offers gluten free options including some fo the best gluten free pizza I have ever had. In a side by side taste test, my husband could barely tell the difference.
To see Praia a Mare at her best, go in Spring or in Fall. The weather is gorgeous, the trees are filled with shady leaves and the people are all out and about. Shops spill their wares out into the street adding more color and fun and there is a happy buzz of activity going on until late at night.
Pete and I are managing an apartment just up the hill from the down town area in Praia a Mare. It is far enough away from the beaches so that you will not be kept awake by the late night beach partiers but close enough to get there in a short 5 minute ride.
The apartment has sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the wrap around balcony/terrace and a large private patio just below.
Stay tuned as we are still finalizing the purchase but we will be renting it out for the Summer and Fall months when Praia is at her prettiest.
Big Italian cities in Summer are lovely however if you go in August, you will notice that things are a little different. Shops are shuttered, restaurants would be empty if not for the tourists and the traffic dies down to a dull roar leaving you wondering where the heck is everyone?
Most Europeans have all of August off. As soon as vacay time rolls around, they are off and heading to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Where do Europeans go on Vacation?
Since August is pretty warm most everywhere in Europe, they naturally head to the beaches and the best beaches are along the Calabrian coast in Italy.
As you take the train south from Naples, you wind down along the shore past Salerno, through the Gulf of Policastro and if you are a European tourist, you very likely end up in Scalea.
Scalea lies about halfway between Napoli to the North and Reggio Calabria to the South. As you drive or taxi from the train station to your destination, you look up and see the picturesque Centro Storico (Historic Center) with its tiny houses clustered together on the hilltop like shy children, rising above while the more modern area pedonale (pedestrian area)with its shops and cafes, stretches out before it like Mama’s apron.
The large street, the Corso Mediterraneo winds up and down the coast to neighboring resort towns with hotels lining the shore and shops and apartments rising up on both sides. Beyond the Corso Mediterraneo lies the crystal blue Mediterranean reaching open armed out to embrace the horizon.
Here and there rocky outcroppings drop into water so clear and blue that swimmers look like they are flying and boats appear suspended in midair over the sea floor.
And those are only a few of the myriad of reasons Scalea is Europe’s favorite holiday spot.
Calabria is the epitome of Southern Italian culture and charm but it was not always a well known tourist destination. In fact much of Calabria was very poor until recently.
If you chat awhile with the elderly people in the hill towns, you will still hear stories about days of hunger when the harvests were scarce or the hunting was unsuccessful.
Those days have happily passed and Calabria is starting to boom as a tourist destination not only for Europeans but also Americans as we discover the unspoiled beauty of the region, the unrivaled Calabrian cuisine and the warmth of the people.
The Old Town
Back in 2010, my husband and I decided to go to Calabria and look for a house. We wanted to retire in a little house overlooking the Mediterranean where we could immerse ourselves into a village and become a part of it.
We contacted a real estate agent who recommended that we stay at Casa Cielo BnB. I remember his words clearly “Clive is a great cook”, and that sealed the deal.
Casa Cielo is not currently taking new clients as Clive and his wife Kathryn have retired and are traveling and blogging. However our agent was absolutely correct, Clive is a great cook.
Casa Cielo is situated right in the middle of the Centro Storico Scalea just off the famous main stair case that everyone photographs when they go.
The little medieval houses huddle together and spill down the hill to the sea creating a gorgeous village filled with vias and alleyways that duck under houses and turn off into tiny stairs that wind through dark tunnels only to end with a splash of sunlight in a completely different part of the village.
Walking down any staircase leads to the foot of the village and, across the Corso Medterraneo, the beautiful deep blue sea.
Restaurants and shops peek out from corners in the Centro Storico inviting you in.
And when you get to the beach, the lidos lined up dotting the beach with different colored umbrellas, beckon you to grab a resting place and perhaps bob in the sea for awhile.
The Monday Market
One of my favorite things to do in Scalea is to go to the Monday Market. Scalea generally has a fruit and vegetable market daily and there are any number of produce trucks lining the streets at any given time selling fresh produce. From Tropea onions, potatoes to fruits and chili peppers, all the produce is freshly picked and brightly colored.
These you can purchase for pennies and create a magnificent dish with just a few of these fresh ingredients.
However the Monday Market is something else. It takes up a couple of blocks and is stall after stall featuring everything you would ever need for life in Calabria.
I love the One Euro tables where you can find great T shirts and even dresses for almost nothing. The jewelry stands are likewise filled with treasures that you can purchase for a few cents.
Bright shawls from Africa billow in the breeze and bathing suit and underwear stalls are set up next to hunting goods. It is a free for all and way too much fun.
Every time I go to the Monday market, I meet several of my friends there. We stop and catch up promising to meet for coffee or lunch soon.
The Surrounding Towns and Villages
Scalea is a large resort town but some of its charm is the proximity to other hill and resort towns. Seemingly every mountain top in the area is crested with a little hill town. Each one has its own character and charm.
Maiera is quiet and reverent. Grisolia is bubbly and welcoming. Diamante is well named as it is truly a diamond set next to the sea. Its beautiful promenade is home to fun shops and gelaterias. Its old town hides beautiful murals and mosaics.
And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Sweeping green of the Lao plain and the Mediterranean beyond that, Santa Domenica Talao is an artist’s Mecca where seemingly every villager is a master of some form of art.
Our architect, Antonello Lucchesi recently unveiled his spectacular terrace just off the piazza with an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains beyond.
Under the terrace is a stunningly beautiful loggia with different levels and perfect stairs that open up the lower village and make it accessible as the stairs prior to this were pretty brutal to navigate.
Our neighbor Rosaria is a master chef and we have been beyond lucky to have been invited several times to one of her spectacular lunches.
Several villagers knit or crochet. After lunch one day Rosaria brought out her tiny crocheted teacups that were so small and delicate that I was afraid to pick them up.
I could go on and on bragging about the amazing people in Santa Domenica but I digress.
When you come to Scalea, give yourself time to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Each is a jewel in a perfect Mediterranean setting.
Calabrian cuisine is just now being discovered by the foodies of the world. America has known Calabrian cuisine of a sort since the late 1800’s when the Italian diaspora brought an influx of Italian immigrants to the US mostly from Calabria.
Once they arrived, pizzas pastas, breads and other Italian staples appeared on American tables but they were adapted to America palates.
The cuisine in Calabria is unique. At lunch recently Rosaria told me that some of the dishes she was creating (I should say “crafting” because that is what she was doing) were specific to Santa Domenica Talao and that each individual hill town had its own recipes.
This is a treasure trove of magnificent new food treats for us to explore and enjoy.
From the Arancini (little rice balls, filled, rolled in bread crumbs and fried) to the ragu to the bacalao (salt cod rehydrated and cooked to perfection) Calabria has something new for every day of the year and I have not even touched on the desserts.
Calabria also has many immigrants from Sicily who have brought their amazing cuisine and especially fabulous desserts. Our favorite restaurant in Scalea is Vulare Sicillienne where we find pistachio encrusted sword fish, beautiful seafood pastas and the world’s most perfect cannoli.
The first time I arrived in Calabria our plane slanted in over the Mediterranean and I saw the stretch of magnificent coastline. I suddenly felt like I was home.
I felt like I had been on a long muliti life time journey looking for who knows what and that I had finally found it.
Then when I came to Scalea and finally to Santa Domenica Talao, I knew that I was where I belonged.
In our city of San Jose, California, there is a spiritual hecticness, an anxiety that I can feel in the air. Wherever I go in San Jose, it is there.
When I reached Calabria, it disappeared. And truthfully, until I visited Calabria, I did not know that it even existed and that I had grown so accustomed to it.
It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was there in the moment to enjoy all the gifts that Calabria was giving me.
I cannot describe it other than to tell you to come and experience it for yourself.
I am the luckiest person alive, I mean along with my husband, our friends Bonnie and Carolyn, and Father Ernesto.
Why you ask? Well, not to brag but I had been invited to the lunch table of one of the master chefs of Calabria and right now I can barely put my arms around my massive belly to type this to you and that, my friends, is lucky.
No, this master chef doesn’t have a syndicated TV show, nor does she even own a restaurant. She has a beautiful kitchen lovingly crafted by her adoring husband Peppino and a kitchen garden where they grow everything from tomatoes to mushrooms, to herbs and a gaggle of happy chickens.
And happily she and Peppino have chosen us as friends.
A few days ago was Valentine’s Day so my husband invited our friends to dine at the Bella Vista here in Santa Domenica Talao to celebrate. That was a fabulous meal as Michelle of Bella Vista fame is another mistress of the kitchen and her pizzas and pastas are top notch.
As we ate and the wine flowed, Peppino leaned in and told me that this Sunday, we were all having lunch at his house.
I didn’t stand up and clap my hands although I wanted to, but even though I was mid a perfect pizza, I started thinking about what magic Rosaria might have up her sleeve this time.
The last time we visited was Summer and we were invited for lunch. Rosaria allowed Pete to take video of her making tagliatelle.
And I do not exaggerate when I say, this was one of the very best meals I have ever had and I have had some epic ones.
As she cooks so also does Rosaria instruct. “These are the dishes not only of Calabria but specific to this village, Santa Domenica Talao.”
And as she moves gracefully from the stove to the cutting board to the sink, some of the most amazing smells start to emerge. Her braided Calabrian loaves of the softest white bread filled with cheese and salami are almost perfectly browned in her counter top oven and they fill the house with a yeasty goodness.
A pan lid on the stove slides to the side revealing potatoes perfectly browned, frying in a deep pan, crackling and sizzling as Rosaria turns them over and over.
Another pan lid allows one to peek inside and see wild boar cooked with peppers in an impossibly delicious sauce.
And on the bureau in the dining room lie perfect fusilli, hand made that morning and resting before their hot bath and dressing with Rosaria’s famous sugu.
We breathe in filling our noses with the hope that the smell will make us less hungry because one cannot be exposed to this kitchen without becoming ravenous.
We sit at the already set dining table catching up on the latest news from the village. Peppino tells us that the village is a grand family and the joys and losses of everyone in the village are shared. He lists some of the events and we laugh and cheer at the successes and shake our heads in sorrow at the losses.
We chat while listening for the doorbell because lunch cannot start without Father Ernesto who has raced over after saying mass in Santa Maria Del Cedro to join us.
Finally the doorbell rings and Father Ernesto appears talking in rapid Italian and filling the room with his laughter and benevolence.
Bonnie and Carolyn tell him how much the villagers miss him. He was transferred to a nearby village for some reason and it has left a giant hole in the church and in the hearts of the villagers.
But finally we are all together again and Rosaria is at her finest,
Despite wild pleas for “piccolo, piccolo!” (only a small helping please) big bowls of home made fusilli pasta appear topped with sugu (sauce) made from tomatoes and an unfortunate, though tasty wild boar who was shot by Peppino’s friend and sold off in bits to whoever is lucky enough to hear about it.
“This boar is a young one” Peppino tells us as we savor the fusilli and slurp up the sugo.
Home made fusilli is the perfect pasta. It has a hole in the middle made by rolling it over a thin piece of metal such as an umbrella spine and stretching it out sideways until it forms a hollow tube.
Rosaria cooks hers perfectly al dente creating a delightful mouth feel in addition to the super fresh flavors.
Father Ernesto says grace and with a flourish and a giant Buon Apetito! he finishes and we dive in.
The table falls uncharacteristically silent as we focus full attention on the fusilli.
From nowhere bowls of bread appear just in time to sop up the sauce and clean our plates for the next course.
With the first dish handled, we sit back and in our chairs. Our stomachs that have been torturing us all morning are happy but we still feel the tug of hunger as we know round two is on its way.
Rosaria appears again with two dishes of wild boar. The first is a stew of tomatoes and cinghiale (wild boar) and the second, cinghiale roasted with peppers.
Again silence falls with only the sounds of happy sighs and wine glasses being refilled breaking the hushed reverence.
We are full and somewhat worried because we hear a clattering of dishes in the kitchen that portends another course. We think we cannot eat another bite until Rosaria appears again, this time with plates filled with fried potatoes, thinly sliced pork sautéed in white wine and a hint of lemon, vegetable frittata and sweet chili peppers fried up to a crisp like potato chips.
I pick up a chili to try it and it crumbles in my mouth filling my tongue with sweet peppery deliciousness and a perfect blend of salt and olive oil.
Suddenly despite the first two courses I am hungry again.
And again silence falls.
Rosaria disappears once again and emerges with a platter filled with individual rectangles of orange sponge cake filled with orange pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. it is impossibly light and so freshly orangy that I have to help myself to a big slice instead of “being good” and sticking to a small one.
Finally Rosaria emerges once again this time with tiny coffee cups and thick, powerful coffee perfectly sweetened to end the meal.
In case you have not divined this yet, lunch with Rosaria is a work of loving art unequalled by anything anywhere.
And the company is also unequalled.
Although we live far away and are gone for months at a time and although Father Ernesto is now watching over a new flock in another village, it is as though we were never apart. The Winter sun shines in Rosaria’s dining room and we are all together loving each other and enjoying Rosaria’s works of culinary art. It is a moment that seems like it will last forever.
And I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”
And no matter what happens in the future and where I might find myself, I will hold this feeling close to me and never lose it.
Tomorrow I will go to the flower shop in the piazza, I will climb the steps filled with flower pots and plants next to the little fountain the runs all year round, and I will chose something very special for Rosaria.
To repay love with love.
As you may know from reading previous posts, Pete and I are opening a BNB here in Santa Domenica Talao. I have asked Rosaria if she would be willing to teach our clients how to cook her amazing Calabrian dishes and she is ready to roll. If you are interested in joining us in a Calabrian culinary experience, please write to me.
The news today is off the charts. Man’s inhumanity to man is blasted from the front pages and TV headlines.
Every day we hear about things happening “over there” that are so atrocious, we can’t even believe someone would actually do them to another living being and yet, they seem to happen more and more.
And the same newspapers and tv anchors are desperately trying to make us believe that this is all the “new normal”, that it is somehow understandable that someone kidnaps another living being and uses them for sex slavery or beheads them in front of their family or sends bombers to their villages to bomb them into eternity.
Looking at all this, one could easily start to think that there is no hope for mankind and that it is only a matter of time until we all end up like characters in a Greek tragedy, just one big, red lump on the stage when the curtain comes down.
If you believe the news, this is where we are headed and there is nothing you or anyone can do about it.
However for every problem, no matter how thorny, there is at least one solution.
And when the problem comes down to international relations, the only thing that resolves anything is communication.
Why travel will save the world
Before my husband and I bought our place in Southern Italy, I had no idea who the people were who populated those regions.
I never noticed their disasters, their troubles, their upsets as I had no idea who they were.
But now I have been there many times and have grown to know and love my Italian neighbors.
Their loves are my loves.
Their losses are my losses.
And their hopes and dreams for a great life are mine as well.
I feel this way about all of the places in the world I have visited. One cannot go to a place and submerge into the beauty of its culture without falling in love with the people who have created it.
And this is why travel will save us.
Suddenly we are not ok with some politician dropping bombs on our friends. When someone threatens them, we cannot turn our backs.
And the more places we visit, the more we must be involved in the care and handling of these places by our governments.
We the people of our countries have all the power. Our politicians only have what we give them.
When enough people befriend each other from other countries and cultures, our politicians and the bad news, lapdog media will be brought to heel and atrocities will end.
So if I have not yet convinced you that it is your duty as a citizen of our planet to go out and visit all the other citizens of our planet, let this article gently guilt you into planning a trip.
If you don’t know where to start contact me. We can plan your dream trip.
I have written much about our magical village of Santa Domenica Talao and its warm and loving people. When we arrived there we suddenly became a part of something much bigger than ourselves and our world expanded greatly.
We were now a part of this beautiful place and part of the lives of our neighbors. We love them and we feel loved very much in return.
And this creates a bit of a double edged sword personally speaking, especially when we are so far away for so much of the time.
When you love someone, you feel their joys, their wonders, their loves and their losses. You feel their pain every bit as intensely as if it were your own.
I have noticed this as I have gotten closer to our neighbors in Santa Domenica Talao. This has been a very tough year for some of our closest friends.
And it takes a bit to understand all that that entails. We now have a sense of responsibility for each one of them and for their happiness and protection. We have a responsibility to promote our beautiful village and its people. We have a responsibility to stand up for it when someone might say something mean against it. It is a part of us and we are a part of it now and forever.
And with that knowledge is the certainty that when we lose someone, we will feel it keenly and we will grieve with the families and the loved ones left behind.
That said, we want to send our special love and care to our friends in Santa Domenica who have suffered recent losses.
Even when we are in California we think of you often and always wish we could be with you, especially in the rough times.
So! If you have a thought about purchasing property in Italy, how about our little village?
On my last visit, our village architect, Antonello gave me a gorgeous tour of several properties because my friend was looking to buy there. And honestly there is so much available.
If you have ever thought of moving to Italy but wondered how to do it, go see my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver, an expat in our village.
At the top of the village is a gorgeous two bedroom apartment that has recently been fully restored. Everything has been removed and replaced down to the windows. It features a cute little terrace where you can have coffee or hang your clothes.
It also has large windows that open to sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the lounge area and the bedroom. The asking prices was $80,000
Another apartment featured a one bedroom, one bath apartment above and another bed and small bath below. This was listed at $55,000
And yet another was a cute one bed one bath with views of the sea for $40,000.
In addition to these finished apartments, there is a seemingly endless supply of ruins that could be renovated to your specifications. Some are pretty crumbly but others only need finishes to be beautiful and very comfortable once again.
Pete and I have gotten to know the village architect very well and he loves designing spaces in keeping with the Italian flair and making them stunningly pretty.
If you are interested in our little corner of paradise, please let me know. I can line up a trip for you and assist in the translation and introductions.
Lining up your future home and dreaming about your own personal House Hunters International success is something to think about on these long, cold evenings while we wait for the sun.
So what do you think? Maybe this will change your mind:
Or how about this?:
And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.
If you are like me, you are hooked on House Hunters International. I watch every episode on Europe and I love trying to figure out which house the buyers will get and what kind of life they will create there. The episodes on Italy are always my favorite.
Back in 2011, my husband Pete and I made our House Hunters International dream come true by purchasing a medieval house on the top of a 300 year old building in an ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.
Back then not many people had heard of Calabria. Guidebooks ignored it despite the fact that Calabria boasts of some of the most dramatic landscapes and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.
So we had very little competition buying our house with its sparking white tile and sweeping view of the sea.
And we have been visiting there as much as we possibly can since we bought it. We love it there and miss it sorely when we are away..
Last Summer I was there with a friend who was looking at purchasing a property there. As we wandered though the piazza toward the back of the village, my eyes fell on a ruin that Pete and I had fallen in love with when we were looking for our house. It had been on the market then but was too expensive and needed extensive renovations.
This ruin, I had heard, had been purchased and yet here it was, still sitting in a state of partial renovation as it had for the last seven years.
So I asked my friend Antonello (Who you remember from my previous post about the ruined palace in the back of the village) about it.
Antonello told me that a lady had purchased the building with the intention of renovating it but that she had found another house and had moved in. He stated that the lady wanted to sell it and I asked him to find out how much.
In 2011 when we were initially looking to purchase, the property market was strong. People from America and various parts of the UK had come over and purchased holiday homes. Since then the market and gone pretty soft so the price was right and we are now in the process of purchasing the “Pink House” steps away from the piazza.
The house itself looks like a two story house from the front however it is built on a hill and all together it is four stories.
We have figured that if we are judicious with the space, we can create five studio apartments, a communal kitchen, communal laundry facilities and a huge roof terrace with sweeping views of the Pollino mountains and the Mediterranean.
A few months ago we agreed on the price and now we are waiting for the contracts to be translated and the date set with the notaio who will meet with us and go over the contract, line by line to ensure that all T’s are dotted and eyes crossed.
Then it will be ours.
Right now it is looking like early February 2019 and then the renovations can start.
This is going to be a magnificent project. the architect has an amazing sense of aesthetics and loves to make things beautiful.
We are so excited. The village has been changing and gearing up for tourism. The village leaders seem to want this beautiful place to be a destination for tourists rather than a place you stumble upon if you are lucky.
And Pete and I have a purpose to introduce this amazing place to the people we come into contact with.
The grand opening for the BNB is tentatively set for May 2020. Please stay tuned here for updates, photos and announcements.
I will write more and post more photos when we visit in February.