More Reasons Why Calabria is the Perfect Retirement Destination

Perfect coffee and cakes
Perfect coffee and cakes

Ciao again!

First off I want to thank you all for your interest in my article “Living in Paradise: Why Calabria, Italy is the Perfect Retirement Destination”  .

Of all the articles, this one has generated the most interest and motivated you to put pencil to paper and send me a note and I love that.

Since I wrote that article a lot has happened in our little corner of the Gulf of Policastro and Riviera de Cedri in Calabria (Cedro is a citrus fruit only found in Calabria)

Last Summer while I was there I was privileged to be invited to attend and speak at an event presented by our mayor with all the other local mayors in attendance.

This forum was designed to pull everyone together from the various villages and towns and to coordinate efforts to really promote the beauty and the products of Calabria.

After all Calabria has EVERYTHING!

Maratea borgo

And the Italian government is now making a concerted effort to open the area up for tourism, not only for the Europeans who tend to descend on Calabria every Summer and enjoy her beautiful beaches, but to the world at large.

For far too long, Calabria has been Europe’s best kept secret and the secret is out.

So aside from the points in my first post, what other possible reasons could there be to retire in Calabria?

I gatti
I gatti

There is an amazing group of people there

During the event last Summer, our mayor got up and spoke about how proud he and the entire village was that so many people of different nationalities called Santa Domenica Talao home. We have Americans, English, Irish, Russian, Swedes and Finns in our village. And our village has embraced every last one of us.

Summer is a blast. My friend Bonnie gets everyone together for parties. Occasionally we get invited to Peppino and Rosaria’s for Sunday lunch (Which is an occasion to die for. (Read about our epic meal here!)

Festival
Photo credit Oleg Magni

The festivals!

Honestly Calabria needs no excuse to put on a festival. And why not? The Pepperoncino Festival in Diamante is a massive hit every September.

One of my favorites is the pastry festival in Santa Maria Del Cedro, featuring the knee weakening delights of Pasticceria Arrone (Here is yet another blog post all about their pastries to die for.)

Add to that, festivals for wild mushrooms, pasta, sausages, swordfish, chocolate, red onions and a seemingly endless parade of religions festivals which are so fun and amazing, and you have something going on all the time.

Fried chilis
Crunchy fried chilis with sale and olive oil. AMAZING!

Every day I find another amazing restaurant.

When I am in San Jose, California there are one or two really good restaurants near me and you have to look for them. Most of the restaurants I have visited in California have been ok but not stellar.

Where we are in Calabria we have some really top notch chefs who get up every day and cook for the masses possibly without realizing how spectacularly talented they are.

In previous posts I have sung the praises of The Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao, Al Caminetto in Tortora, and Ristorante di Aliga in Maeira.

Ristorante di Aliga
Ristorante Di Aliga

But last Summer,  Bonnie and I grabbed our friends Sarah and Andy and we headed down to Scalea to La Perla del Terreno.

La Perla is a lovely restaurant on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Scalea. You can sit outside and let the sea breezes caress you while dining on amazing seafood pasta, Freshly caught and grilled sea bream, fries, gorgeous grilled vegetables and fruity white wine.

An afternoon spent gazing at the endless, deep blue sea, laughing with friends and eating heavenly food is the best reason to retire in Calabria.

For a Siciilian twist, head into the down town area of Scalea and visit Vulare Sicilane. 

This family owned restaurant boasts a compete menu ranging from swordfish served in a crust of pistachios to the Il Completo sandwich, served on a twisted home made roll topped with nuts and stuffed with sweet sausage, onion relish and delicious friend fries. It is my favorite sandwich ever created and as soon as I arrive in Calabria I head directly to Vulare for an Il Completo.

The first time my son visited us, he ordered the hambugerazzo at Vulare. Be prepared, this thing is massive. I saw the waiter emerge from the kitchen, his knees buckling and his muscles and sinews straining under the weight of the plate he was carrying.

I swear it was so big that  it blocked out the sun for a moment and my son with his back to the kitchen had no idea what was in store for him.

The waiter shoveled it onto the table and backed away saying over and over “piano piano!” Urging my son to take his time or he could hurt himself.

As it was, my son ate part of it and we all ate the rest of it for dinner that night. It was great both times.

After lunch you HAVE to have a canollo. Vulare makes their own and they are like milky heaven. Fresh ricotta is perfectly sweetened and sprinkled with choclolate chips then pressed into perfectly crafted pastry horn. No matter how much you have eaten, you will find that you still have room for a canollo and a cafe.

And unlike some restaurants in Italy, Vulare will give you a doggie bag!

Castle in Calabria
Castle in Calabria

There are secret treasures!

Word on the Strada, mostly from my friend Sarah, is that there is a little farm down the hill from us where the ladies craft their own ricotta cheese. I understand you can go and see how it is done. I have net yet been but plan to soon.

Fresh mushrooms in Santa Domenica Talao
Fresh mushrooms in Santa Domenica Talao

In addition there is a thrift type store where you can buy anything second hand. Due to the many renovations happening in Calabria, you can find some amazing hardware, furniture and light fixtures that you would never find anywhere else.

And as I have previously discussed, the market in Scalea is way too much fun. You can purchase anything from freshly made cheeses, to housewares to jewelry and clothing. It is never the same market twice and I always spend however much money I bring with me.

Market day
Market day

Each village has its own market day. Some are better than others. In Santa Domenica we have a smallish one but Tony from Morocco always has beautiful things for sale.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.

The mountains

I know we have the sea and we all love our sea views but the mountains rising up along the spine of Southern Italy are truly spectacular.

The first time we visited, I looked out the window of the plane and saw the magnificent jutting mountains rising up out of the clear blue sea and I could not contain my awe.

Of all the places God created, I think he must be proudest of Calabria. There is no other place like it.

And when you live there you get to experience these and so many other wonders every day.

Honestly, there are so many reasons to love Calabria. These are just a few. The best way to discover them is to come and see them for yourself.

Come to Santa Domenica Talao and look for us in the piazza. We will be having a gelato on a bench next to the church. We will look for you.

Scalea stair case
Scalea, Staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absolutely Vital Steps to Purchasing Your Home in Italy

Belvedere Maritimo
What you need to know to purchase your home in Italy

Caio!

And thank you for helping to make our recent Youtube videos so popular.

We have also received lots of news from Santa Domenica Talao, Italy letting us know that the work on our home renovations are going swimmingly.

We really can’t wait to see the finished project. You can see our renovations in the “during” phase right here. 

Obviously before purchasing our house almost ten years ago, Pete and I did a lot of research on purchasing a home in Italy.

The housing market in Italy is totally different than in America. In my recent video I went over the differences between an American home and a centuries old home in an Italian village.

Please do your own research but ultimately you will take these steps.

1. Find the area you want to be

There are several very important things to consider when choosing the area where you want to land.

a) Proximity to medical care and hospitals is super important.

Understand that medical services in Italy are very different than they are here in the US. Here if  we have something wrong, we make an appointment with a doctor and see him or her before getting any kind of treatment.

In Italy the pharmacies have pharmacists who are highly trained in diagnosis and treatment of the vast majority of health problems you might have.

For example if you have a sinus infection, you can get antibiotics over the counter. I once had a rash on my face and the pharmacists diagnosed the issue and handled it with the correct ointment.

My son once had food poisoning that he picked up before he arrived in Italy. He was in rough shape. I went to the pharmacy and they prescribed electrolytes and probiotics. He was much better after starting that treatment.

I do not know where the line is medically beyond which you have to see a doctor but there is a lot you can handle with your local pharmacist.

b) Check into the availability of the services you need and want.

For example if you need a hairdresser close by, or a nail salon, factor that into your decision.

c) What is the character or your city, town or village? 

Make sure it matches your own. The most perfect house in a village where you have massively different realities with the people there will not work out well.

d) Are there other ex pats?

Depending on your independence and confidence in being able to learn the language and to fall in with the customs, this may or may not be important to you. I can say that it can be exhausting trying to speak Italian all the time when you are learning and having someone to speak English with is a blessing.

However once you are up and rolling, that all could change. It all depends on what is important to you. I do highly recommend folding yourself in with your village no matter the language and cultural differences. This will give you the richest life experience.

e) Language

In Southern Italy, English is not a prevalent as it is up north. Even in the North when you get out of the bigger cities, you may not find a lot of English spoken.

Obviously you will want to learn Italian and speak like a local but after days of listening and learning, you can get some pretty wild brain fatigue and it is very nice to hear your native language.

2. Choose your agent

I hate to say it but some real estate agents in Italy are not honest and I am not necessarily talking about the locals. I have heard some real horror stories so be on the lookout.

Additionally the standard of responsibility for an agent in Italy may not be the same as in the US. The packet of documents you receive when purchasing a house in the US is massive. In Italy it is pages.  I do not know if disclosures are even a thing in Italy.

That said we found a wonderful agent in Ivan De Luca at Immobiliare Casabella in Scalea, Italy. I will provide all the data at the end of this post.

3. Obtain your Codice Fiscale

The Codice Fiscale is the Italian tax ID number and every big purchase requires that you have one. I bought beds recently and had to show my Codice Fiscale. You can obtain them at your local Italian embassy and it is not difficult but if you want to get it in Italy your agent can assist you with the process.

4. Choose your property

Where do you see yourself? Do you want an ancient hilltop village or a beautiful beach town? Do you want a busy city or a place in the country? All of these options have pros and cons.

In hill towns you will likely need a car whereas if you get a place in a town along the train lines, you can avoid the cost and hassle of having a car.

On the other hand if you purchase something close to the beach, understand that July and August can get extremely crowded with tourists.

That said you may be right in the thick of all of the festivals and events that occur in Summer. The hill towns and villages also have their version of the events but they are not as big as the busier cities.

Do you want a renovated house or apartment? Do you want something habitable that needs some cosmetics or do you want a complete renovation? All of these are good options but do your homework and get the costs in advance for all renovations and fixtures before making an offer on your house. Again there is a lot of useful information in my recent video .

Are you thinking of purchasing something off plan or to-be-built? ok, do me a favor and DON’T!! EVER!! EVER!!! EVER!!!

When I was researching our home purchase the first thing I did was get on the local forums where ex pats discussed experiences and issues. I also got onto forums in Spain and other countries as well as in Italy to see what experiences might be similar.

What I saw shocked me. So many people had purchased off plan (or to-be-built) projects that were never built. The contractors and these peoples’ money just disappeared like breath off a razor blade.

In another forum I read the story of a couple who had put a good amount of retirement money into a new build in Spain. Due to local misrepresentations of zoning laws, their house was bull dozed and there was no recourse.

The legal machinery in Italy grinds exceedingly slowly and you may never see a cent back in the event that you have to litigate. And litigation presupposes that you have tracked down the culprits who scammed you because they could be long gone.

I recommend that you buy something that you see before you and do not purchase anything with a build contract as the renovations may never happen.

We were shown an off plan build in our area ten years ago that we could have purchased for $120,000 Guess what? It was never built.

If you are thinking of getting something that needs renovations or needs to be rebuilt (Like many of the 1 euro houses) make sure that you get to know your builder and your architect before hand and are very comfortable with them. Then get all estimates up front before making an offer on your property.

Once you have all that data, make an offer that makes sense and be prepared to walk away.

Also be aware that not everything we expect in the US to be included in the price, is in fact included. Kitchens in Italy may or may not be included. They are like Lego sets and can be assembled and disassembled quickly. Take nothing for granted and if you want the kitchen, ensure it is in included in the deed. The same goes for light fixtures and just about anything else.

Also be aware that sometimes a garage or room in a house may belong to someone else. Take nothing for granted and ensure you know EXACTLY what all is included.

5. The purchase and dealing with the Notaio (Notary)

Notaries in Italy are way different than notaries in the US. According to Ivan De Luca, a PHD in economics and real estate agent extraordinaire, here is an outline of the Notaio’s functions:

a) The Notaio acts in favor of both the buyer and seller and works for the state.

b) The Notaio is a neutral third part and ensures that all documents comply with Italian real estate law.

c) Whether the transaction is done person to person or through an agent, the Notaio is required to oversee the transaction

d) The Notaio may execute certain checks after the  purchaser has paid a deposit. These checks might include each party’s rights to buy or sell a property, Whether there are any third party claims on the property (liens), a search to identify the presence of possible mortgages, and verification of planning permission.  The Notaio does not verify the compliance with planning permission only that planning permission was given.

e) The Notaio draws up the deed of sale (Atto di Vendita) based on the input from the seller or real estate agent.

f) The Notaio verifies the identities of the parties involved in the transaction.

g) The Notaio attends signing of the final sales contract and reads it aloud to both parties.

h) The Notaio ensure that the new deeds of ownership are registered at the Land Registry.

i) After the deed is registered, the Notaio gives copies of the deed to both parties.

After all of this is complete, congratulations! You are the proud owner of your Italian property!

Obviously this is an overview and since we are not attorneys, We are not giving legal advice here. Check with your real estate professionals in Italy and you can even check with your Notaio if you have questions. Also, if your transaction is complex or if you simply feel more comfortable, hire an attorney to assist you with the transaction.

Pete and I highly recommend Ivan De Luca who has acted not only as a real estate agent for us but has assisted us in setting up our business in Italy, managed our bills and advised us in so many ways on so many issues.

Ivan De Luca
Immobiliare Casabella, Scalea, Calabria, Italy
Parco Centro Marina, Via Lauro, 159, 87029 Scalea CS, Italy
+39 0985 90923

We recommend Ivan for the following reasons:

a) We have used him on several property transactions and despite some pretty grave obstacles, he has always found a way to get things done.

b) Ivan manages our rental properties and bill payments.

c) He is organized and completely transparent. You see where every penny is going.

d) Every time he makes a recommendation he backs it up with good logic and judgement.

e) He has seen everything in the Italian property market and knows what to do in every circumstance.

f) He is fluent in both Italian and English.

g) He is a one stop shop.

In addition to the sales process Ivan can assist you with these issues:

Fully assisted viewings with English translations
Provides assistance obtaining your Codice Fiscale
Offers translation services at the closing meeting
Full before and after sales assistance.
Assistance wtih residency and/or business set up
Bill payment/management
Renovation management and rental services
He has a PHD in economics and knows the Italian system very well.

We have found Ivan to be a valuable partner in all of our property handlings.

I hope that this blog post and the accompanying videos have been helpful to you. Please continue to send me your feed back and any subjects you want to hear about or any questions you have.

Ciao for now!

 

 

1 Euro Italian Properties, Great Deal or Renovation Nightmare?

Santa Domenica Talao, Italy
Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria, at sunset. #santadomenicatalao, #calabria, #southernitaly, #noeffect #chasinglabellavitanow

Ciao!

Southern Italy has really started booming lately. Tourists who are tired of the Italian Trifecta (Rome, Florence and Venice) are discovering a whole new Italy, or should I say an old Italy where Italian traditions are still intact and the local mom and pop establishments have not sold out to Starbuck’s and believe it or not, Dominos Pizza.

Southern Italy is a charmer and is luring more and more people looking to retire or to purchase a dream home to run away to when life gets to be too much.

And, if you are savvy, you can make a great purchase, find exactly what you want and not break the bank.

So that brings up the question, What about those 1 Euro houses that are all the rage in Southern Italy and especially Sicily? It sounds like a fabulous deal!

Is it?

Having purchased several properties in Calabria and having discovered honest real estate agents, architects and builders, I can see at a glance several problem areas with what I have researched on these 1 euro homes.

Why are they selling these homes for so cheap?

To answer that questions I have to delve a bit into Southern Italian history.

Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, much of Southern Italy survived mostly on hunting, agriculture and fishing. Southern Italy is also known as the Mezzogiorno region which means “midday” in Italian. The name evokes images of intense heat and sun in the Summer months creating an environment that can burn plants right out of the ground and starve grazing animals when conditions turn inhospitable.

Life in Southern Italy was hard to say the least. For that reason, when news came that America was the land of opportunity and where survival was not nearly as difficult, a huge number of Southern Italians jumped on boats and headed over. Many simply abandoned their houses. Some had the idea of returning but never did, so once the family died out, the houses were, again abandoned.

Every village in Southern Italy has abandoned properties and the villages who have not reinvented themselves and drawn people to them are, in fact, dying out.

Clever mayors are looking for ways to attract new people to these villages and to create new life and a future for their beloved paese. The Italian government having recently handled a huge Mafia problem in our area is now giving grants to the hill towns of Southern Italy to help them promote themselves and new marketing campaigns are rolling out touting the beauty and products of Calabria.

And one of the methods of stoking interest is to offer these abandoned properties for so cheap that you simply must come over and check them out.

That said, there are some things you need to know about this “deal”.

Houses in Italian Historical Centers are way older than any house in the US and some give new meaning to the term “crumbling ruin”

Many of these villages are medieval and some even pre-medieval. This means that these houses are several hundred years old. Most often abandoned properties have been abandoned since the Italian Diaspora in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This means they can have been standing vacant and neglected for over a hundred years. This also means that roofs may have fallen in and once that occurs, water gets into the ancient walls created out of stones, ceramic roof tiles an any flotsam and jetsam that is lying around, and they start to crumble taking the entire structure with them.

And finally this means that although you are purchasing a “house”, you may end up taking it down and completely rebuilding it.

Most of these deals come with conditions

One of the condition is that you have to agree to renovate within a certain period. In addition to that there may be conditions on who you can use in your village as far as work goes. I know that certain villages frown on you bringing workers in from somewhere else to do your work and this can cause friction in a village. You might end up renovating your dream home and living with the fact that you have inadvertently created antagonism with your fellow villagers.

On the other hand, the renovation contracts accompanying these “deals”may be ridiculously expensive for the area or even in general making it a very bad deal indeed.

Sometimes the locals put up the prices for foreigners

Pete and I were discussing where to purchase finishes and supplies for the renovation of our BNB. Our close friend insisted that our builder accompany us to make the purchase because she knew that the vendor might put the prices up when they saw us. Our builder came with us and was able to negotiate a fair price for everything we needed.

Recently Pete and I also received an estimate for the refinishing of some stucco on our rental apartment and it was over 8,000 euros. Obviously that was way too much. We will use someone we trust instead.

Renovation costs can be huge

I recently read interviews with people who had purchased a ruin for a euro and then spent over 250,000 Euros to renovate it.

With housing prices as they are, they could have purchased a completely new or renovated mansion for 250K. I cannot imagine paying that for renovations for a house or apartment of 1,000 or even 2,000 square feet when you can buy one completely done up for less than $100,000. It makes zero sense and if you had to sell for whatever reason you would lose a ton of cash.

Renovation in the Historic Centers is also difficult. Many times there is no road leading to your new house or apartment so the supplies might have to be brought up stairs or ramps in wheelbarrows. Giant scaffolds may be required because many of these villages are in hill towns. All of these things drive up the costs of renovating.

Property purchases in Italy are not legally the same as they are in the states

Recently in our village there was a situation where our builder was frankly, ripped off. I asked him why he didn’t sue and the fact was that despite the gorgeous work he did on the house in question, the real estate market simply did not support a price that would make lawyer fees sensible. Lawyers in Europe are as expensive as they are here. Getting into a legal battle takes forever and will cost you way more than you ever thought.

It is best to avoid resorting to legal remedies in Italy if at all possible. Get everything in writing, ask all the questions you need to ask and don’t be afraid to walk away from a purchase if your gut tells you it’s not right.

So with all that said, does it still make sense to purchase an ancient house in Italy?

The answer is yes but only if you are smart about it,

Every hilltop village in our area has properties available in various stages of construction or deconstruction. The prices in Southern Italy are the lowest I have seen in 10 years. I believe that this is because of the uncertainty in the political and economic situations in the EU and the UK.

Many English and Europeans are hunkering down and sitting tight to see what will happen.

Others are up and selling because they are scared. The prices dropped to almost half of what we saw when we first purchased our house in Santa Domenica Talao.

With this going on, there is a fantastic opportunity to buy your dream home in Italy, especially in the South.

If you are dreaming of a home in Italy here is how I recommend you proceed.

Decide where you want to be

This may be a multi trip project. Go to Italy, find some villages and stay awhile in the ones you find attractive. What are the people like? Each village has a character and it must match yours to some degree if you are to be happy there.

Decide what your ideal scene is with regard to your property

Every property purchase comes with a list of must haves, wants and things you don’t want. Make a list of all of these and assign priorities to each item. Understand that you may completely toss your list if you find a place you fall in love with but at least you will have considered everything.

Get to know your architect and builder if you are planning on renovating

In small villages there is normally one builder and one architect. Be sure you are comfortable with them before doing anything with them. If you aren’t, get something that is already renovated.

If you are planning on renovating, get the prices for EVERYTHING before you make an offer

Sit down and tot up the cost of the house, closing costs, architect costs, and renovation costs down to the last toilet. Get this all in writing and see if the deal makes sense. If not, offer what does make sense. You may do this more than once before you settle on the right house and situation.

If the house needs a new roof, you may want to put on a roof terrace. A roof terrace adds so much to your lifestyle that any place that needs a new roof should be evaluated for a roof terrace, but that is my own personal preference.

Do not over renovate for the area

The property values in any given area are what they are. Putting in $2500,00 in renovations in a house that will maybe sell for $80,000 is fine if you really want it, have the money to support it and don’t plan on recouping all of it if you ever sell.

If you have all of the above covered, go nuts. If not, consider carefully how you plan to renovate.

Understand that you may not be equipped to do the work yourself

Ancient houses are NOT the same as houses here in the US. See our Super Savvy Travelers Youtube video below where I describe them. Any improvements you might make yourself will come with a learning curve. If you are ok with that, proceed.

Budget for more than what you think it will cost

In any renovation, you never know what the final cost will be. Things turn up when moving walls or fixing plumbing, especially in an ancient village. Be prepared.

Purchase something that does not require any structural repairs

New walls, new ceilings and floors are expensive. Avoid all that and get something that is in good shape structurally but just needs some cosmetics. Prices are so low in Southern Italy now that you will be amazed at what you can get.

If you are hell bent on a renovation project CONTACT ME!

Pete and I have a ton of experience purchasing and renovating properties in Calabria. We have discovered and vetted reliable estate agents, property managers, builders and architects. In short we have put the infrastructure there for you to enter into a renovation project eyes wide open. We can walk you through the process.

If you are planning to come to Italy to look at property or to just have a great vacation, we can help you put together a fabulous trip. Send us an email at [email protected]

 

 

VITAL INFORMATION for First Time Cruisers!

Cruise to Venice on Azamara or Royal Caribbean

Ciao everyone!

As you know, Pete, Andy and I here at Super Savvy Travelers, are masters and booking cruises and finding the best travel deals and experiences.

Whether you are interested in rock bottom pricing or loading up as many amenities as you can for a fair price, we are the truffle pigs of the cruising world and we can root out the best of the best for you.

That said, I spend a lot of time with first time cruisers explaining some basics about what to expect when you are cruising. Here are some points that you will want to remember when you call to book your first cruise.

cruisers
Cruising sights

The price you see on almost any website is not what you will be paying

The price you see on pretty much all web sites that offer cruises is called the lead in price. This is only the base price for the cabin per person. This DOES NOT include taxes and port fees which depending on the sailing can vary. Call us and we will get you the real price for comparison purposes.

Gratuities ARE NOT included 

Gratuities in cruising lingo are basically tips and they cover everything from waiters and waitresses, to cabin stewards to bar tenders. In short it covers anyone you would normally tip. Gratuities vary based on cruise line and cabin type. They are normally around $13.50-$17.50 per person per day.

You can pay the gratuities up front or pay them on the last day of your cruise.

If you had fantastic service from someone, please feel free to tip them in addition. On Azamara and Royal Caribbean Pete and I had amazing service from our cabin stewards so we gave them an extra tip. You don’t have to tip extra but you can.

Map
Photo credit Element 5 digital

Travel documents and your cruise account

Things have changed a lot since the early days of travel. We used to receive tickets and boarding passes in the mail or via Fed Ex.

This is no longer the case. Most cruise lines have websites set up to make it easy for you to check in (provide vital information the cruise line will need), down load your travel documents and purchase dining and beverage packages and shore excursions.

The websites are well set up and easy to manage. Pete, Andy and I are always ready to assist you to negotiate these sites if you need help.

The check in process requires that you enter credit card information. The reason for this is that when you board, you will receive a cruising card. With this card you will purchase everything that you purchase onboard the ship.

The cruise card is also vital as you will need it to get on and off the ship. The cruise lines keep close track of everyone so they don’t lose you. Make sure you keep your card in a safe place!

At the end of your cruise you will visit accounts on the ship and settle up for any extras you purchased while on the cruise. It is wise to keep track of what you are spending on board so that you are not surprised with a big bill at the end of you cruise.

Map
Photo credit Element5 Digital

Passports

Many closed loop cruise itineraries (Closed loop means it begins and ends in the same cruise port) do not require passports but you will need accurate travel documentation when you travel so it is best to check, check, double check before sailing and passports are the best documentation.

Your passport must valid for 6 months beyond your travel dates. Make sure you don’t need to renew before traveling.

Allianz who we use for travel insurance has a great blog post that goes over this. However if you are in doubt check with your travel professional. It would be extremely disappointing to arrive at your cruise port and not be allowed to board because your travel documents are not in order.

In addition, if you are not a US citizen, there may be certain visa requirements. Check with your embassy to ensure that you have what you need to travel.

Traveling With Children

If you are traveling with children or minors who are not your own, you will need special documentation (normally a notarized letter of authorization form the parents) stating that they are allowing you to take the child with you on the cruise. This is true even if you are the grand parent. Check with your travel pro again to ensure that you have everything you need to travel with the littles.

Element5digital
Thank you Element5 Digital

Traveling While Pregnant

If you are pregnant or planning to be while you cruise, be aware that certain airlines will not allow you to fly if you are in the final stages of your pregnancy. If there is a chance that you will get pregnant and your cruise is booked many months out, ensure that you get refundable deposits and trip insurance that will cover this if it occurs.

DUI’s and Felonies

If you have a DUI or a felony you may not be able to cruise to certain places. Canada has strict rules against allowing people with certain infractions into the country. Always check with your travel professional if you have DUI or felony on your record.

Pixabay
Photo credit Pixabay

Travel Insurance

I know that many people do not elect to purchase travel insurance as they have not factored that in as an expense.

I always carry travel insurance when I travel. Even if you are a lucky person or do not have many health issues, if something comes up in terms of accident or illness, it is INSANELY expensive to be air lifted off a ship. In addition the airlines may insist that you have a full time nurse with you if they fly you home. These costs can add up very rapidly and end you up with a huge bill.

I had a friend who went for a few days long cruise and ended up with a $10,000 bill because something happened. In addition he had to cut his trip short and was not compensated for this either.

Food Allergies and Mobility Impaired

Almost all cruise ships in this day and age have facilities for mobility impaired passengers. The staterooms are specially equipped so you should book in advance if you need one to ensure that you get what you need.

In addition, food preferences and allergies can also be accomodated.

Last year I had a family cruise for the first time. Their son had some severe allergies, so severe that they had to bring all of his food onboard.

The cruise line not only allowed them to bring the food onboard but they also had their chefs thaw and heat it for them so that they could all have family dinners together. they were so happy because this was the first vacation they had ever taken as a family and now it opened the door to more wonderful family memories for them.

Chris in Ostia Antica, Rome

Get a Taste of Where You Want to Spend More Time

Cruising is such a great option for travelers. I love it because while you don’t get a lot of time in the ports, you can get a taste of which areas and cities you might want to spend more time in.

Pete and I cruised to the Greek Islands last September and we fell in love with Corfu and decided to plan a trip there for a week. The other areas were nice but Corfu was extra special. Had we not cruised, we would not have known where we would like to spend more time.

Fish plate ceramics
Gorgeous ceramic fish plate

Cruising is Great Value

Pete and I are constantly amazed at some of the cruising values we can find. Our hosting agency, Avoya, reserves group space on selected sailings and we as independent agents get to sell them for the group price and with all the amenities. Essentially we are leveraging buying power when we do this and we get to pass the savings on to you.

You can cruise for less (and sometimes way less) than $200 per night. And when you consider that this includes all of your food and all of your travel from place to place, most of your entertainment and the fact that you only have to unpack once and you do not waste valuable vacation time traveling from place to place, you can see the cruising is a spectacular deal.

Check out our Youtube videos on our favorite ships and itineraries here and here.

Pete, Andy and I have access to the best booking engines ever and the best rates through Avoya. We can also sometimes sweeten the deal in other ways as well.

Give us a call and let’s book our first cruise!

Why I will Never Fly American Airlines Again Until They Get a Big, Fat Clue and What They Can Do About it.

Airlines
Photo credit: Vincen Rivaud via Pexel

Ok so those who know me know that I never trash any service provider unless I really get that they just don’t give a care about their customers or unless (as in the case of a restaurant) they are what I deem dangerous and likely to make people sick.

That said I am hereby trashing American Airlines.

I also never present a gripe without solution so I have provided them solutions for their flat out crappy customer service and if they ever decide that they want to fix their lousy reputation with their customers, they can take a look…..or not.

Here is my rant:

Last Monday I needed to book a one way ticket from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles to San Francisco International which is home.

First off my ONE WAY ticket cost me almost $1,000. ONE WAY!

Ok, I figured that I had the choice to take it or not and there was not much else available so I booked it.

The flight from Curacao to Miami was ok. I was happy that I was going through Miami because there had been some Winter  storms but even those appeared to be almost over.

We arrived in  Miami and the flight was delayed but not my much so that was ok. But then I noticed that the flight to SFO, instead of being five plus hours, was now showing almost eight hours.

The agent at the desk told us that the plane was going to stop in Dallas to refuel because with the winds, one tank would not get us all the way to SFO (Really? Never heard that before? Were all other planes flying across the country doing that?!) Ok, so I thought that was annoying but given the circumstances I was ok with it.

So we fy from Miami to Dallas and it is very smooth. Despite being told that the winds were making us stop in Dallas, I did not feel any wind at all.

When we were landing however, the plane slammed down on the runway so hard that my knee went into the edge of the seat in front of me and was very painful to where I had trouble walking for awhile after that. .

In addition, we landed so hard that a ceiling panel came off in the cabin. Nonetheless we were more or less ok and they started refueling.

Meanwhile maintenance comes aboard to fix the ceiling panel. This takes awhile because they have to go across the airport to get a replacement.

Just as that was finishing up the pilot advises us that he and the crew have timed out and are no longer legally allowed to fly us home in the time that we had left. Really? We had only been in the air a little over three hours.

So we were shuffled off the plane with all our stuff and into Dallas Fort Worth airport.

Then we are advised that the new crew will not be arriving until 4:30 AM. It was 1:30 AM at that time and that was a couple of hours before the time we were supposed to be arriving in SFO.

Not. Happy. At. All.

So they tell us that they will make sandwiches available and other snacks. Ok. I thought, at least we will get a meal of sorts and carry on with our journey. I went up to the snack area and no sandwiches. They had chips, cookies and fruit along with other high sugar stuff with no nutritional value, and water.  So we were stuck in the airport for four hours with no meal. I had a banana and a bag of chips.

We were offered a hotel room if we wanted to rebook but according to their snippy agent, (Yes snippy!) there were no flights out for 2 days and the best they could offer was standby until then. Obviously that was no alternative at all.

In an effort to try and make the best of it, I laid myself out on the floor in a small carpeted section to see if I could get some shut eye.

Three very chilly hours later, someone came through with blankets. Ok, so it would have been nice if he had been handing them out when we first arrived.

So 4:30 AM comes around and we are not boarding. The agent at the desk makes an announcement that they are still waiting for the other pilot and that they have called him and he has not responded. So what does THAT mean? Is he still in bed? Is he in the shower? Where is this guy?

Finally the other pilot shows up. We were supposed to fly out again at 5:00 AM and we did not leave until at least 5:30 AM.

By that time I had a headache, was beyond tired and somewhat dehydrated. I sorely needed some coffee and some of these mystical sandwiches we had been promised.

So we board. The flight had some bumps in it but not the entire way and I have been on bumpier flights. Certainly it was not bumpy enough to warrant no cabin service.

But here is the absolute kicker: No service on the flight AT ALL. Not once did anyone come through the cabin on a four hour plus flight after a four hour wait  and offer us anything at all, not even food to purchase, No drinks were offered at all not even water. They had told us at the airport that there would be catering so I did not take the extra crap snacks that they had at DFW for later. Had I known I would have grabbed another bag of chips and a bottle of water.

So here we were on a four plus hour flight after being stuck in an chilly airport for over four hours with no real food with actual protein in it and no coffee or hot beverages at all, on plane with nothing offered, not even for purchase.

Over Eight Hours.

While we were in the airport, every restaurant and coffee shop was closed so there was no possibility of getting any even if we wanted to pay for it.

When I arrived in SFO I had a massive headache, was dehydrated, frustrated and absolutely determined never to fly American again and never to book any clients on American until I told them this nightmare story.

Another point of irritation was that the agent in Dallas had a canned response to all complaints and questions. This is it verbatim: “Our goal is to get you rebooked as soon as possible.” I heard her say that to every person who came up and asked any question. What is that besides a canned and vague response that completely dodges any responsibility, does not answer anyone’s question and just  upsets everyone ten times more?

Now by this point, people were getting irate. Several people were expressing their dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms. And that canned answer, delivered in a brush off manner was the only forthcoming response.

In short, this was a screw up and PR disaster of massive proportions.

So American Airlines, if you really give a care about your customers, listen up. Here are the solutions to all of this horrible nightmare and how you could have turned it around:

  1. You know stuff is going to happen occasionally so put a back up flight crew on stand by in every airport. The wait for 4 hours was absolutely unnecessary and yes, unacceptable because it did not have to happen.
  2. Make a decision to  bring these back up guys in as soon as you think there might be a problem. If you suspect that this might happen, start notifying them immediately so they can get their showers and what not handled in less time.
  3. If people have to be stuck in an airport over night, give them yoga mats to sleep on, pillows and blankets IMMEDIATELY, not three hours later. There was precious little carpet in the airport and what was there was insanely hard to sleep on.
  4. FEED US something that will handle our hunger.  Frustrated passengers who are stuck somewhere get more and more angry when they are hungry, dehydrated , lacking their coffee and sleep deprived. We spent almost 8 hours with just water and chips. Think about it people! GEEZE!
  5. Give us COFFEE! For God’s sake!
  6. If you cannot get us on a flight very soon, book us on another airline. I have had flights cancelled and delayed and when they could not book me on their own airline, they booked me on a competitor. But then again these were airlines who cared about their customers.
  7. Look at things from your customer’s point of view and actually give a care for them. From the agents to the new flight attendants, we were treated like unwelcome intruders even if we were not complaining. I had asked a benign question and was given a hostile look and a clipped and terse reply by the agents at the desk.

It was beyond obvious that American Airlines has not given a thought to anything happening that is out of the ordinary. They have NO back up plans, NO systems in place to ensure smooth transitions in all circumstances.

It is funny that airline pilots have to have checklists and back up plans for any remotely possible situation while flying but American has ZERO plans in place to guard their reputation and keep their customers happy. Do they go by the motto that if you arrive alive you have nothing to complain about? One wonders. And if they do subscribe to that view,  NEWS FLASH! their customers do not.

Ok so there is my rant. As a travel professional, I will never book a client on American and I will never fly with them again until they get their poop together and start giving a poop about their customers and quit viewing us as annoying and vocal jerks that must be barely tolerated.

That said I have had great experiences in many, many other airlines and I do recommend Copa when flying into the Caribbean. They were inexpensive and super pro with nice new planes. They had great customer service. In fact, if I had been able to fly out of Aruba the day before, the flight would have cost me just over $200 on Copa.

For Europe, I love Lufthansa, Swiss air, and Alitalia (Party plane!!!)

Have you had experiences either good or bad? Write me and let me know!

Maybe if we get loud, American or other airlines will have a wakie wake up moment and save themselves.

Airlines
Photo credit: Vincen Rivaud via Pexel

 

Southern Italy’s Most Instagrammable Places

Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea

Ciao!

Who doesn’t love Instagram? If you are dreaming of travel or just adding to your bucket list, Instagram is a great place to go to escape even for a short while.

It is lovely to take out your computer on a cold and rainy Sunday, and look at photos of bright sunshine, blue skies and fabulous crystal blue seas.

And for all of the above, there is no place better than Southern Italy for snap after snap of impossibly beautiful images whether in your mind or in your camera.

Diamante
Diamante, Calabria

Diamante, Calabria

Diamante means “diamond” in Italian and a diamond it is.

Diamante rides atop a point that juts out into the Mediterranean and curves inland creating white sand beaches and gorgeous seascapes.

The historic center of Diamante (Centro Storico) is a beautiful blend of ancient Italian houses and tiny cobbled vias interspersed with spectacular views of the sea.

Diamante promenade
The lungomare (promenade) in Diamante

Diamante is also known for its murals which present themselves around corners and tucked into alleyways. A morning spent on a hunt for each mural is so fun as you wind your way through the town taking picture after picture to put on Instagram.

Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare, Calabria

Pete and I just love Praia a Mare. On a Summer afternoon, Praia’s shady, tree lined promenade down the center of town is a treasure chest of Instagrammable snapshots.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

Praia a Mare is so spectacular that Pete and I recently purchased a property that we are now renting out on Air BNB

View from Casa Gorasole
View from the wraparound terrace of Casa Girasole
Tortora Calabria
The beautiful hill town of Tortora, Calabria Italy

Tortora, Calabria

Calabria is studded with gorgeous little hill towns that take your breath away. each one has its own personality and charm however Tortora is one of our all time favorites for billions of Instagrammable views and sights.

Another reason to love Tortora is that our great friend Giacomo and his family live there and they have introduced us to their friends and family.

Roseangela PAsta demo
Roseangela pasta making demo

Any trip to Tortora must include lunch at Al Caminetto, a restaurant in the Centro Storico that is run by the extremely talented Roseangela and her family.

Roseangela is royalty in terms of Calabrian cooking. A meal with her is a feast of traditional Calabrian appetizers, freshly made pasta dishes featuring Chinguale or local wild boar, and freshly made ravioli with ricotta from the local farms.

Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
Pasta with Wild Boar at A; Caminetto in Tortora, Italy

While we were there, Roseangela gave us a pasta making demo which you can see here. Enjoy watching me mangle a fusilli. It is quite entertaining how she whips them out perfectly while I struggle trying to make something that might pass for a fusilli noodle if it is buried at the bottom of the dish.

Fusilli at Al Caminetto
Fusilli at Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria, Italy

I recommend visiting Al Caminetto with a big group and ordering a selection of traditional Calabrian dishes. You wil be amazed at the variety and how delicious it all is.

Ancient Greek vase Tortora
Ancient Greek vase in the museum in Tortora

Tortora also has a beautiful museum where you can see artifacts that have been dug up in recent local excavations, including Etruscan and Ancient Greek artifacts that date back to the era of the Magna Grecia which encompassed Southern Italy.

Tortora is also one of those villages packed to the brim with Instagrammable images. Everywhere you look is something beautiful.

Maratea_coast
Sweeping Mediterranean views from Maratea

Maratea, Basilicata

There is portion of Italy where you can see three different regions, Calabria, Compania and Basilicata. You can see them all from our Air BNB apartment on the terrace.  In fact the sunsets from our balcony are all Instagrammable and they are different every night.

View from the terrace
View from the wraparound terrace I Casa Girasole

Maratea is just north of Calabria along the coast. Maratea is known for the giant white marble statue of Christ the Redeemer similar to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

This statue is perched high atop the hill in Maratea. A drive up there affords you the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean found anywhere.

Cristo Redentore, Maratea
Cristo Redentore, Maratea, Calabria. Christ the Redeemer of Maratea, at 21 meters high, is the third-tallest statue of Jesus in Europe. The statue was built of pure Carrara marble in 1965 by Bruno Innocenti, a sculptor from Florence.

The beaches in Maratea are also stunning as are most beaches in Southern Italy. The Mediterranean turns crystal blue as you journey down South.

Beach Near Maratea
Beach near Maratea

Matera, Basilicata

Matera used to be called the Shame of Italy. Back in the 1950’s starvation was rampant as was malaria. Many of the people in Matera lived in caves in the rock walls bringing their animals inside with them in Winter for warmth. Carlo Levy, in his book,  “Christ Stopped at Eboli” was the first to shine the light on the deplorable conditions in Matera and this caused the Italian government to come in, repatriate the people in better housing and to care for them.

Matera Morning
Matera Morning

In recent years however, Matera has become an artist’s Mecca with art and music schools popping up, and festivals in Summer. When we visited, we heard music around every corner from opera to jazz to pop. It was quite extraordinary.

Aside from the art aspect however, Matera is, itself a work of art. Made from the local white stone, Matera gleams in the sunlight and glows in the evening as the golden town lights come up.

Matera evening
Matera evening

Most recently, Matera has been the perfect location for movies. The new James Bond movie “A Time to Die” was partially filmed in Matera. (Click here for some awesome footage.)

Church in Matera
Church of the Purgatory in Matera

Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria

Of all of the Instagrammable places I have presented here, my heart belongs to Santa Domenica Talao which is my home.

The Piazza
Our Piazza

When Pete and I first looked for property in Calabria, we saw Santa Domenica Talao and that was it. We knew this was where we belonged.

Every day that I walk around the village I see new and beautiful instagrammable views, from the sweeping views of the sea and the mountains to the fruit laid out at my friend Nunzia’s store and the kids playing soccer in the parking lot. There is so much to take in.

Nunzia's store
Nunzia’s store

We love Santa Domenica Talao so much that Pete and I have purchased a ruin just up from the piazza and a few steps from Nunzia’s store. It is a ruin and we are renovating it and turning it into a BNB so that others can come and enjoy our beautiful village. Check out our renovation project and follow us as we complete it.  Then make sure you are there for the grand opening!

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.

Santa Domenica is infinitely Instagrammable but beyond that, when you come you will fall in love with the people. We have so many warm friends there and have been welcomed from the beginning.

As you can see, Southern Italy is a photographer’s paradise. Start planning your trip down. Pete and I are experts in the region and can help you plan the perfect visit. Contact us and we can get you started.

What to See on a One Day Trip to Corfu, Greece

Achilion view
View of Corfu from the garden of the Achillion Palace

Ciao!

A few weeks ago, Pete and I boarded the Azamara Pursuit (A cruise ship with the Azamara cruise line, and yes they are Azamazing!)  and set off on a fabulous journey to the Greek islands.

This was our first visit to anywhere in Greece and we have to say we loved it. And our favorite place? You guessed it! Corfu!

Of all the islands we visited, we found Corfu the most enchanting.

Of course one day in Corfu is never enough however, if you choose a tour in the morning you still have all afternoon to do a ton of other fun things. Here is what we loved.

Achillion Palace
Achillion Palace

The Achillion Palace

Prior to coming to Corfu, Neither Pete nor I had ever heard of the Achillion Palace, nor had we heard about the lady who had it built, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, nicknamed Sisi.

Sisi, a young, shy girl from Bavaria first visited the home of the 23 year of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria  in 1853 after his overbearing and oppressive mother had decided that he should marry Sisi’s sister.

This marriage was not to be however, as once Franz Joseph laid eyes on Sisi, he fell in love and defied his mother’s wishes stating that he would marry Sisi or not marry at all.

Sisi Statue
Statue of Empress Sisi

The two were married in April of 1854 and Sisi went from a relatively unstructured life in Bavaria to the highly regimented and suffocating life of the Hapsburg court.

Sisi was never allowed to raise her children as they were taken from her by her mother in law at their birth.

On a visit to Hungary in 1857, Sisi lost her daughter Sophie to illness. This caused even more stress and depression as she was then blamed for her daughter’s death by her mother in law who, by all accounts appears to have been a throughly hateful creature (my two cents).  Sisi never recovered from her grief.

Later Sisi gave birth to her only son Rudolf. Years later in what appeared to be a murder suicide, Rudolf and his lover were killed. This was a crushing blow to Sisi and left her in even deeper melancholy for the rest of her days.

Garden of Achillion
Garden of Achillion

According to our tour guide, Sisi’s health had never been good but after the severe oppression of her narcissistic mother in law and the loss of her children, Sisi’s physical and mental health declined further.

At the advice of her physician, Sisi came to Corfu for the climate which proved to be beneficial to her health.

Enchanted by the island, Sisi had the Achillion Palace built in 1890.

The palace is built on a hilltop and has sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

Statue in Achillion garden
Statues in the Achillion Garden

Achillion became her refuge from the court and her unhappy life.

The Palace itself is a whimsical blend of mythologies. It’s interior is richly painted with murals and decorated with cupids and other motifs.

The garden is small but lovely and has sitting areas where one can contemplate the sea, the mountains and the trees.

Sisi in mourning
Sisi in mourning dress

After a sad life, Sisi was murdered by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni who had decided that in order to be famous he would have to kill someone famous. Unfortunately the original target of his murderous plot was absent from Geneva the day he exercised his insane plan and he noticed Sisi and her entourage. Our tour guide told us that at that point he did not even know who she was, only that she was famous. He approached her in a friendly fashion and stabbed her garnering fame for a short time and becoming famous solely as a poster boy for Bedlam (Ok, I made that Bedlam part up but seriously, What a jerk!)

For awhile after the stabbing, Sisi appeared unharmed as the black garments that she wore since the death of her son hid the blood.

A short time later she fainted and a doctor was called. He arrived too late to save her.

Sisi's murderer
Sisi’s murderer, a ridiculous man known only for being a cowardly shit head

The palace itself is a thing of beauty and a snapshot into a long gone era.

The drive to the Achillion Palace is also very beautiful in that it winds around clusters of pine trees and sweeps of crystal blue Mediterranean.

It is a lovely tour and a beautiful way to spend a morning.

Fish plate ceramics
Gorgeous ceramic fish plate

Shopping in the City Center

Corfu’s old town/city center is beyond charming. The shops seem to burst their seams and spill their contents out into the streets. The street themselves are lined with marble stones creating an almost dreamlike beauty that leads you forward to the next little via or street filled with color and excitement.

Corfu old town
The Old Town of Corfu is beyond charming

Throughout the old town, look for fruit and vegetable markets. Follow your nose and the scent of lavender, it grows profusely in Greece and all kinds of lavender products are available. I picked up a couple of tiny bottles of lavender oil for relaxation. Ironically I paid over $50 for some scented oil on the ship but the little bottles I bought were 2 Euros each. Ok, now I know.

Fruit and vegetable market; Corfu
A fruit and vegetable market in Corfu
Fruit and vegetable market
More fruit. It is gorgeous here!

A great gift idea for all those people back home is packaged spices. They are authentic and take up very little room in your luggage. If you have people who love to cook, these little treasures are like bringing them an authentic Greek meal. I always pick up several packages of various spices when I go anywhere.

EAT

Greek food, I have discovered is one of my all time favorite cuisines. The rice dishes, the seasoned and grilled meats, the chick peas, cheeses and pastries Oh  My!

Chicken Souvlaki Spears
Chicken Souvlaki spears! YUM!

One of the signature dishes in Greece is Souvlaki which is another name for Shish Kabob. These are spiced perfectly and grilled to deliciousness over an open flame. To top it off they give you an aromatic rice dish or fries.

After a warm day of sight seeing, salty fries are the best.

Seasoned sausages
Deliciously seasoned sausages

I loved the food all over Greece. I had some of the most memorable meals there. Everything was fresh, creative and delicious. I think I might have to create a restaurant tour of Greece soon.

Hop On Hop Off
Hop On Hop Off Buses are so handy!

The Hop On Hop Off Bus

Corfu is lovely but if you only have a day, use the Hop On Hop Off buses. I love these buses. When new to a city I like to take this bus on a complete tour of the city to see what sites I might want to visit more closely later.

Then when you have determined what you want to see more of, board the bus and get off at the stops you want. When you are done, wait for the next bus and hop back on. This is an ingenious way to see so many things in a short time and it saves lots of wear and tear on the feet.

Mediterranean Corfu
Crystal blue Mediterranean

Swim

Corfu has a stunning coastline and spectacular beaches. If you go to the West side of the island you will find beautiful sandy beaches and if you go east, you will find pebbled beaches. Either way the water is crystal clear and impossibly blue.

Honestly there is so much to see in Corfu that a day is not enough. Pete and I do want to go back soon and spend more time.

However when you are on a cruise and only have a day, we found  this one to be really enjoyable.

So when you are ready to plan your cruise to Greece, Contact us! We found an amazing deal with Avoya Travel and Royal Caribbean and are going back next Summer. Perhaps you want to join us?  [email protected]

 

 

 

 

How to Navigate Tricky Venice and Bathe Yourself in Beauty

Little Bridges
Little Bridges

 

Venice is magic!
Venice is Magic!

Ciao Everyone!

Wow! Pete and I just returned from an incredible cruise on Azamara to the Greek Islands, ending up in Venice.

I was unfamiliar with Venice, all of my knowledge being stories I have read and beautiful photos in travel magazines. Seeing Venice up close and personal was a gift that I hope you all receive. In short Venice is spectacular .

That said, Venice, being built on stilts in a swampy lagoon and being a spot that tourists are drawn to like Winnie the Pooh to honey pots,  has her challenges. Pete and I very sneakily discovered some ways to get around them and to have a beautiful time in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Water taxis and busses are the only way to get around
Water taxis and water busses are the only way to get around.
  1. Make sure your hotel is close to the water taxis

If you have never been to Venice, be aware that it is not a city for the severely mobility impaired. Venice is a series of islands close together with canals running betwixt and between them. They are held together by beautiful little bridges that connect each island to the ones next to it forming a an interconnected archipelago.

There are no cars in the center of Venice so no taxis to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.  The water buses are great but let me tell you that if you have walking, standing or balance issues they can be intimidating.

There are no cars in the old town, Venice

I have had three hip replacements so in big cities, I walk with a cane and have some balance issues. I had to use great care getting on and off these boats and sometimes the only way on and off was over a skinny plank.

In addition we had luggage. We pack pretty light but those who do not will have the massive task of heaving a huge suitcase onto and off of a water taxi then dragging all their luggage to whatever accommodations they are planning to use while there.

When you look at it, it can be a long walk to your hotel if it is far from the  Grand Canal.

Tiny vias in Venice
Tiny vias in Venice

While in Venice we stayed at the Hotel Lux. It is close to the water taxi stations, close to the Piazza San Marco and had some stellar restaurants nearby. Hotel Lux is a three star hotel. The room was small but it was inexpensive and clean and you get breakfast. We would definitely stay there again, especially since hotels in Venice can be extremely pricey.

While we were on board the Azamara ship, Pete had overheard an unfortunate young woman who had reservations at a hotel in Venice. Her mother was confined to a wheelchair and she had no idea how she was going to get her mom, their luggage and herself to her hotel and around Venice. I felt bad for her. It was a thorny problem.

Venice cistern
Venice had cisterns to gather water and provide It to the residents

2. Buy quality luggage and pack as lightly as you can.

I have found recently that quality luggage is the difference between breezing through airports and over cobbled historical centers, and dragging, sweating and possibly even swearing (under your breath of course) trying to get your stuff from one location to the next.

Prior to leaving for this trip, I went and bought a rolly bag made by Swiss Gear. I paid more but after rolling all the bags around the store I decided it was worth is and it really was! This thing is a dream. I walk through the airport barely pushing it. It is light and easy to hoist onto trains. Even over cobble stones it was great.

Venetian Canal
Venetian Canal

3. Check to see what floor you will be staying on because there are very few lifts in Venice.

The only drawback to the Hotel Lux was that it was a tall and skinny hotel. We were on the “third” floor (really the fourth because that is how they are counted in Europe) and there was a stair case that you had to climb to get to reception. Happily we packed relatively light but we still had to schlepp all our bags up the stairs to our room and back down again when we left.

I had a conversation with the hotel manager and he advised me that the building codes are very strict in Venice to the point where inside or outside, you cannot move the ancient walls or take them down. This severely limits building owners and as there are few locations that can actually accommodate a lift, there are very few.

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

4. Don’t spend all your time at the main attractions.

Sure St. Mark’s Square is stunningly beautiful and you should see it. Go at night, most of the tourists are gone and several restaurants feature beautiful orchestras playing classical music. Sitting at a table in a square surrounded by some of the most beautiful architecture ever created  drinking a Prosecco while listening to Antonio Vivaldi, Venice’s favored son, is a treat you won’t want to miss.

St, Mark’s during the day is choked with people as is the Rialto Bridge. See these places after dark.

Venice at night
Venice at night

Meanwhile Pete and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day running around Venice with our cameras looking for the prettiest corners, the most interesting reflections and watching the beautifully crafted gondolas glide soundlessly through the tiny waters with their passengers.

Venice is one of those rare cities that is beautiful through and through. Around every corner is another amazing sight. From the mask maker’s shops to the glass shops, there is so much to delight your eyes that is not shown in guide books.

Little Bridges
Little Bridges

5. Understand that most of the bridges have stairs.

Again if you are in a wheelchair, you will not see a lot of Venice. Along the Grand  Canal the city has provided ramps for those with mobility issues but that is the only place I saw them. The rest of the lanes are held together with little arched bridges with stairs.

Murano Glassworks
Murano Glass Works

6. DO go see the glass works in Murano

While we were there Pete and I took a boat tour to Murano and Burano.

Murano is the island where Venetian glass is made. Since glassmaking is an inherently dangerous activity due to the high temperature fires needed to melt silica and make glass, all of the glassmaking has been restricted to the island of Murano.

Once we alighted on the island, we were treated to a short glass making demonstration during which we watched in fascination as a master glass craftsman took a bubble of glass and create a rearing horse in seconds.

After the demonstration we toured the showroom. We were not allowed to take photos and it is unfortunate because I cannot describe how beautiful these works were.

 Check out this website however for some idea. The picture may or may not due them all justice. The works were nothing short of specatacular.

Burano umbrellas
Pretty umbrellas in Burano

7.  Take a guided tour

Our tour of Murano and Burano was with City Wonders. Our tour guide is a Venice resident and had an incredibly rich knowledge of the city’s history. She answered every question we threw at her including the significances of certain statues, what a normal Venetian would have for dinner and what products we should order this season in the restaurants. On top of that she was immensely entertaining and funny. Her name was Francesca A and we highly recommend her.

Seeing any city with a tour guide is the best way to go. The experience is so much richer when you know what you are looking at.

If you don’t want to do that check out some of the Great Courses. Either way your experience will be much richer when you know the stories behind the magnificent things you are seeing.

Venice is a city full of challenges but also full to the brim of wonder. She is a challenge to negotiate but when you do you will be treated to an experience like no other.

This beautiful little island built on a lagoon to thwart invaders ended up dominating all the cities in terms of trade and drew to herself, architectural and artistic elements from everywhere.

She is a sparkling jewel in a stunning Byzantine jewel box just waiting to be explored,

 

 

 

 

 

 

#calabriaisbooming!

View from the terrace
Sun
Orso Marso
Chris at the top of the hill Orso Marso

Ciao Belli!

If you are in any way, shape or form an Italophile, I am sure you are always on the lookout for hidden treasures and tucked away gems. You are interested in tiny hill towns bursting with culture and community and perhaps you have even thought about purchasing a property in one of these little pockets of beauty, tight knit community, culture and history.

Pete and I have been drawn to Italy since we were both teens and young adults when we visited Italy and each made a decision that some day we would make it a huge part of our lives.

That day came in 2011 when we purchased our house in the little Calabrian hill town of Santa Domenica Talao.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

At that time we saw the treasure that was this town and all the other hill towns and seaside villages that dotted the mountains and shores of Calabria. And we could not believe that they were not overrun with tourists breathlessly discovering the spectacular mountains, the freshest air, the beautiful crystal-blue waters that make swimming a joy and the food, wine, community and culture that are the most valuable hidden treasures here.

Calabria has always been off the beaten path for travelers, in fact a very famous guide book publisher told us that “Americans don’t go to Calabria”. Well, that may have been true at one time but it is not true now.

In fact, I get a lot of emails from people looking to purchase property in Calabria and researching retiring there.

Calabria is an excellent tourist destination and retirement destination for so many reasons.

Calabrian Atmosphere
Calabrian Atmosphere
Pizza Bella Vista
Pizza at the Bella Vista

It is inexpensive.

Properties here are so amazingly affordable. Apartments can be found in the 30,000 Euro range. And with them you have proximity to the beast beaches in the world. In Amalfi, these places would be unaffordable. In addition, a fabulous wood fired pizza in our village costs as little as 6.00 Euros. The cost of living is a whole lot less than just about anywhere.

YUM!
YUM!

The food is unparalleled

We have dishes in Calabria that are now setting the world on fire with their uniqueness and flavors.

Recently there was a festival in our village where we had speakers and cooking demos using the products unique to Calabria. I learned that there are 380 food products unique to Calabria. The cedro and the Calabrian Black Truffle are only two of the products that grow only in Calabria and famous chefs who love Italy are discovering the food treasures found only here.

Scalea
Scalea

Calabria has some of the most spectacular landscape on the planet.

Our village of Santa Domenica Talao is between the mountains and the sea and you get spectacular views of both. The Pollino Mountains rise up forming a rocky spine just inland. In one sweeping view from our terrace you can see the most spectacular mountains anywhere and the endless Mediterranean.

Anywhere in Calabria you are close to a spectacular beach, a beautiful town or village and art and architecture that takes your breath away.

Roseangela at Al Caminetto
Roseangela at Al Caminetto
My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

There is a special culture unique to Calabria.

You see, Calabria is the REAL Italy. Now this is no dis to Rome or Florence or Venice who all have their charm but they are big famous celebrities while Calabria is, well, its home.

I love my friends there. They made us feel welcome from the very beginning and we are a part of something bigger than ourselves or our families. We are part of a village with all its joys and sorrows, all its trials and triumphs.

I feel that much of this feeling of belonging is missing for a large number of Americans. Depression and loneliness are almost foreign here, Since my husband is still working in America, I spend a lot of time solo. When I get lonely I simply go up to the piazza and see all of my friends.

We are parts of their lives and they are part of ours.

Most recently I have seen a huge interest in Calabria not only from our website but from many sources.

Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun just wrote an article in National Geographic Magazine all about the cultural and culinary riches of Calabria,

In addition, Air BNB’s recent magazine prominently featured Calabria as a tourist destination.

In short, Savvy Travelers everywhere are finally discovering Calabria and the Italian government and the local towns and villages are all aligning in the same direction,

Last Summer while I was there, our village featured  a major culinary festival spanning two days. A famous local chef was invited and a panel discussion was held and later cooking demonstrations featuring typical Calabrian products.

A week later, I was honored to speak at Santa Domenica Talao’s 350th anniversary. All of the mayors of the local towns and villages were there and wanted to know what it was about Santa Domenica that drew Pete and me there and made us decide to invest in a business there.

They listened intently as I told them how much we felt loved and welcomed into this amazing village and how it gives us things we have not found at home, things like a real sense of community, and a feeling of being a part of something important. We are now a part of this Italian village and we could not be prouder or more humbled.

Happily a local reporter was there who interviewed me and wrote a nice article on the event.

Here is an exerpt in English:

Great astonishment was aroused by the testimony of Chis, a naturalized Cristina, a middle-aged woman from California, who found her dimension in Santa Domenica Talao. The American citizen explained how after a trip she fell in love with this place, even coming to buy a house in the middle of the historic center, where she now spends five or six months a year. The passion for this land has also infected his sister, who has become her neighbor. And that's not all, because a year ago Cristina decided to buy a second building, this time to turn it into a b & b. To make it known to overseas tourists, Chris writes about it on his blog, which can be found on the website www.supersavvytravelers.com, in which he describes, in detail, what comes in the small community that overlooks the Tyrrhenian coast at an altitude of 304 meters. Between thunderous applause and great enthusiasm, the evening ended with the cake cutting tradition.

 

In addition many of the mayors who attended stood up and spoke. I learned that the Italian government has provided certain grants to these villages and towns in Calabria to assist them in promoting themselves.

As a result we have seen a lot of new interest in Calabria by travel magazines, famous chefs, and travel writers. All of this has created the beginnings of a boom in our beloved part of Italy.

Nunzia's Store
Local Calabrian products

There has also been a surge of new businesses, including a gorgeous new BNB in Praia a Mare owned by our friend Giacomo’s son and his two friends. Together they purchased a crumbling ruin in the historic center of Praia a Mare and renovated it into a high end luxury BNB called Praja Vecchia.

Their message to the young people of Calabria is that you don’t have to go away to find work in Rome, Milan or London. You can create your own work where you are. You can stay with your families and in the place you grew up.

And this is what they have done.

Pete and I have also purchased a ruin to renovate and turn into a BNB in our village. While I was meeting with Antonello, our amazing architect, and designing our new BNB, he told me that this last Summer, every BNB, every room in a house and every apartment in Santa Domenica Talao was full all Summer.

And that makes me tremendously happy.

Since #calabriaisbooming, perhaps you want to come and be the first among your friends to discover its charms.

Chris in Santa Domenica Talao
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao

Pete and I can help you arrange you trip. Recently we have purchased a rental property in Praia a Mare with sweeping views of the Mediterranean from your private terrace and private patio.

We can help you arrange all of your travel to get here and a property manager will be there on scene to ensure that you have everything you need.

Your morning view
View from Casa Gorasole
View from the wraparound terrace of Casa Girasole

 

Autumn in Calabria, Food, Culture and Wine

AUTUMN IN CALABRIA
Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao
AUTUMN IN CALABRIA
Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao

There is something uniquely magic about Autumn in Calabria.

Gone is the white hot afternoon where La Pausa, our afternoon siesta, rescues us from the brutal sun of the Mezzogiorno creating a womb of dark, relative cool where no one expects you until evening.

In its place is the honey colored light that slants in sideways and bathes everything in a golden glow which gives our hilltop village an air of peace and magic around every corner.

Our village, Santa Domenica Talao goes from the quasi frenetic July/August tourist/service pace to instantly more relaxed as though life moved from Allegro to Andante the minute the calendar page turned over.

Santa Domenica Flower Shop
Santa Domenica Talao Flower Shop

The village is turned back over to its residents while the evenings remain warm and long, and the magic light turns its houses gold.

After a long flight from San Francisco then a direct jump onto the train and a stop in Praia Mare to pick up my rental car, I finally alighted in Santa Domenica Talao.

Normally I stop off in Rome for a night to catch my breath but just prior to booking I had received an email from our architect, Antonello advising me that there was a grand festa happening which included several days of discussion about how to spread the beauty and flavors of Calabrian cooking far and wide. This news propelled me to Santa Domenica in record time as I am never one to miss a spectacular meal.

Santa Domenica in Autumn
Santa Domenica in Autumn

 

Calabria has really been moving forward in its quest to become an actual destination rather than a foot note in a guidebook which skips Southern Italy with barely a mention and takes up again in Sicily as though almost half of Italy, with all its culture, cuisine, wine and Produtti Tipici don’t even exist.

And one of the speakers last night brought up the fact that the fault of this has been lack of PR and marketing. He was right, How could you have all this wealth of amazing products including the freshest and most amazing seafood, the cedro, that misshapen citrus fruit which only grows here, and the Calabrian black truffles, and still go unnoticed.

In any case, the region has made a decision that the world needs to know about Calabria and her treasures and they have set out with a vengeance to ensure that the world is brought to our door.

Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

Calabria has 380 unique products typical to the region. And its cuisine is second to none in terms of creativity and sheer deliciousness. Cucina Povera (Poor cuisine) originated here and celebrates the creativity needed to create the nourishing and delicious dishes with only a handful of the ingredients that they had available at the time.

You see, Calabria, despite her wealth of typical products, has not been considered a wealthy region for a very long time. Long ago Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia or Great Greece. It was a region of learning and culture before the days of the Roman Empire.

Somewhere between then and now, her grand Greek heritage had become somewhat lost and poverty took over.

Many Americans don’t realize it but the majority of Italian dishes that we consider “Italian food” originated here in Calabria. It was the Southern Italians who fled their homelands back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to find a life where survival was easier and where one did not have to battle the environmental extremes in order to eke out a living. And they brought their recipes with them.

Lunch!
Lunch!

The first night before I arrived in Santa Domenica Talao, there was a cooking competition. The judge was a local chef, Vincenzo Grisolia who has made a name for himself with his restaurant, Vigri, down in Scalea.

Scalea is right on the coast and perfectly perched to pull the freshest of fish from the sea and serve it to you immediately. Vncenzo’s restaurant, Vigri. is well known for local seafood and it is the place that I first tasted the most perfectly prepared, fat, sweet shrimp that I have ever experienced.

Chef Vincenzo Grisolia has spent his career presenting Calabrian cuisine to the world and had come to our beautiful village to work with others to spread the word.

During the forum held last night on our communal terrace that overlooks the Lao plain and the Mediterranean, we were treated to discussion about all the cuisine of Calabria and exhortations to not only preserve these amazing dishes, many of which are unique to each tiny hill town that grace the mountain crest of the region, but to disseminate them.

Calabria is a rich cornucopia of natural resources. Wild fennel grows everywhere, Cedros are plentiful and ONLY grow here, and the aforementioned black truffles fetch a fierce price in the markets all across Europe.

Antipasti
Antipasti

There was much discussion among the panel about the famous Pepperoncini festival in Diamante where you can buy peppers that are said to cure anxiety, cancer and even impotence.

The pepperoncino festival is one of the most widely attended in Europe and is a local success story that could be duplicated with other products and in other areas.

When Pete and I first started looking at property here in 2010, things were very different. There were relatively few public works that ever got started much less completed. Some of the areas around our village had an air of seediness to it that try as they might, the locals could not overcome.

Most recently the Italian government has seen the potential of this and other Southern Italian regions as a tourist destinations and has decided to handle the barriers that stood in the way. As a result, our mayor has been able to secure funding for projects that will create a demand for everything Calabria has to offer and it is all starting.

And Pete and I are so lucky to be in on the ground floor and see it all roll out before our eyes.

Our BNB
Our BNB

Last Winter we purchased a grand old building in our village just up from the piazza.  We are working with the architect and builder here to turn it into a spectacular and luxurious BNB. From the moment we arrived here the first time we looked at Calabria and our village and decided it was a no-brainer to invest time and treasure to help push this vision forward.

This afternoon, I met my friend Bonnie for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant. I ordered my favorite, Antipasti di Stagione (Antipasti of the season) which means you never know what treats will show up on your table.

Plate after plate arrived with fresh vegetable dishes, Patate e Pippi (potatoes and peppers), Fritatta, and lots of little stuffed and baked or fried things that I cannot name but are delicious little surprises that explode in your mouth with a flood of flavors.

For 12 Euros, we ate our fill and we both took the rest home for dinner.

It was a tiny microcosm, an analogy of our beautiful region and all that it has to offer.

Watch this site for culinary, wine and  photography tours of the Riviera Dei Cedri, our beautiful area of Calabria. Pete and I can’t wait to take you round to all the best restaurants and wineries and for you to sit out on the roof terrace with your glass of Ciro watching while the village goes from gold to the pink of sunset and back to gold as the lights come up illuminating this amazing little place that is somehow stopped in time.

It is a place whose time has come.

And you will want to be the first to experience it.