How to Make Your Trip to Italy Surpass All Expectations

Pieta
The Colosseum In Rome

Ciao!

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. 

Medieval Italian Home
Medieval Italian Home

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 found  a 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. 

Roma
Roma

1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D.

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. 

Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica, Roma

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. 

Happy Travels
Goofy Tourists in the Piazza Navona

3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses) 

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. 

Roman ruins
Roman ruins

4)  “The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.  (The Great Courses) 

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

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) 

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 Best Time to See Rome is After Dark!

With all of the art, architecture, and history to see in Rome, you could spend years looking at it 24-7 and still just scratch the surface of what’s there. But when to see Rome is just as important as what to see. Here are three reasons why after the best time to see Rome is after dark:

1. The Light

As the sun starts setting over Rome, ancient buildings and structures begin to glow, first from the orange rays of the setting sun, and then from artificial lighting.

Temple of Venus Genetrix and Church of Saints Luca and Martina
Temple of Venus Genetrix and Church of Saints Luca and Martina

Objects that might have appeared dull and lifeless during the day suddenly pop out in front of you under dramatic lighting.

Forum of Augustus
Forum of Augustus

The combination of white and warm yellow lighting in some areas of the Roman Forum creates some surreal views that you would never see during the day.

Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan
Forum of Trajan

Small works of art that you may miss during the day reveal themselves to you under directed light.

A Mural at Piazza Farnese
A Mural at Piazza Farnese

After dark, most of Ancient Rome is bathed in the warm glow from sodium-vapor lights. This lighting has been designed to mimic the glow from torches that originally lit the ancient parts of the city.  You can really imagine yourself in ancient times walking through the narrow cobblestone streets!

Street in Ancient Rome
Street in Ancient Rome

Many of the large ancient structures such as the Colosseum and the Castel Sant’Angelo dramatically come to life at night.

The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Castel Sant'Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo

2. The Cooler Temperatures

Many sights, especially with tour groups, can only be seen during the day, such as the Palatine Hill.  But being out in the hot sun, especially in the afternoon during the summer months, can be exhausting.

Palantine Hill Tour
Palantine Hill Tour

If you have a choice, why roast under the hot sun when you can experience most of Rome’s iconic sights under more comfortable conditions?

The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps

In general, the crowds will be smaller at night, so you can more intimately enjoy works of art like the Trevi Fountain or the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona.

The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain
The Fountain of the Four Rivers
The Fountain of the Four Rivers

In fact, during the winter months, you can enjoy many of Rome’s most popular sights without the large throngs of tourists that you might encounter during the summer.

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

3 . The Life

Rome really comes to life after dark. Because the lighting is more intimate, and the crowds are smaller, and you don’t have to constantly shade yourself from the hot glare of the summer sun, life becomes more enjoyable. You can be around people in a more relaxed setting, and also relax al fresco over dinner with your friends and family.

Street Near Campo dei Fiorii
Street Near Campo dei Fiorii
The Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto

Contact us for help and advice in planning your trip to Rome after dark!

Maratea – The Pearl of the Mediterranean

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro

On the Tyrrhenian coast and overlooking the Gulf of Policastro in Southern Italy,  Maratea is known as “The Pearl of the Mediterranean” in some of the guidebooks I’ve read. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem;  well-covered in many tourist guidebooks as a holiday spot, it’s much less visited compared to the popular mass-tourist destinations along the Amalfi Coast just a couple of hours north. Chris and I were both intrigued to learn more about Maratea and decided to check it out.

On a beautiful warm September morning, we left our apartment in Santa Domenica Talao to take the short 40-minute drive up the SS18 to Maratea.

Map of our trip to Maratea
Map of our trip to Maratea

Close to Maratea, we noticed an exit sign to a beach area, so we proceeded down to a small parking lot and took a short walk to a beautiful secluded beach.

We virtually had the entire beach to ourselves, and loved the crystal-clear waters and the surrounding vista of the Gulf of Policastro.

Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea

The SS18 then took us right to the Porto Turistico Maratea, or Maratea tourist port. We enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch on an uncrowded outdoor deck overlooking the tranquil marina.

Porto Turistico Maratea
Porto Turistico Maratea

We couldn’t help noticing a large white statue, with outstretched robed arms, high on a hilltop overlooking the marina. This is the Statue del Cristo Redentore, or statue of Christ the Redeemer. It’s 21 meters high,  and was created by the Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti out of Carrera marble in 1965. It’s the fifth-tallest Christ statue in the world.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Gazing at the statue over lunch, we decided we needed to get a closer look. From the marina, we followed the signs that eventually took us to the top of Mt. St. Biagio along an elevated serpentine road high above the coastline.

Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio
Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio

As we approached the statue from the front, it seemed to welcome us with outstretched arms.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Once we got close to the statue, we could see what a majestic work of art it is.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Walking along the path leading up to and around the statue, we treated ourselves to some breathtaking views of Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro far below us.

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
The Gulf of Policastro, looking south

Level with the clouds, we felt as if we were soaring above the Tyrrhenian coast below us. Indeed, far below us we noticed a paraglider truly flying over that coast!

Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast
Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast

Directly in front of the statue is the Basilica di San Biagio, named after Maratea’s patron saint that it’s dedicated to. This church is thought to stand on the site of an ancient Greek or Roman pagan temple.

Basilica di San Biagio
Basilica di San Biagio

There was one more part of Maratea that we needed to see and that was the borgo, or old village.  It’s a beautiful, colorful village, nestled up in the hills just above the marina.  It felt very peaceful and quiet there in the late afternoon.

Maratea borgo
Maratea borgo

Driving back to Santa Domenica Talao along the SS18, we stopped to take one more look at the Gulf of Policastro in the setting sun.

Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset
Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset

With its beautiful beaches, marina, old town, and a giant marble Christ statue towering over it all, Maratea is an impressive village that truly deserves its title of Pearl of the Mediterranean!

Your Bags Were Snatched in Rome? Don’t Panic! Do This!

Super Comfy Police Chairs
Super Comfy Police Chairs

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.

View from train
View from Train (Karen Murphy)

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.

Roman Police Station
Roman Police Station

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.

View from train
Bella Roma! (Karen Murphy)

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.

Gelato sundae
Gratuitous photo of ridiculously delicious gelato sundae

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.

(Photo credits Pete Sobolev and Karen Murphy)

 

Praia A Mare: The Gulf of Policastro’s Most Charming Seaside Town

Gulf of Policastro
Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Ciao Belli!

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.

Cotoletta
Cotoletta

So one bright morning I dragged my husband out for lunch and a stroll through the town.

Lunch!
Lunch!

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.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

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.

Winter in Praia a Mare
Winter in Praia a Mare

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.

Madonna Della Grotta
Madonna Della Grotta

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.

Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

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.

Apt Praia
Apartment in Praia A Mare

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.

 

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

Scalea at Sunset
Torre Talao, Scalea, Calabria. This tower was built in the 16th century as part of a system of 337 coastal towers constructed for deterring pirate attacks.

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

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. 

Umbrellas on the beach in Scalea
Colorful umbrellas on the beach in Scalea

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. 

Old Town Scalea
Old Town Scalea

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. 

Scalea stair case
Scalea, Staircase

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.

 

Scalea's Monday Market
Scalea’s Monday Market

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.

Monday Market Bargains
Monday Market Bargains

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. 

Orso Marso
Chris at the top of the hill Orso Marso

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. 

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao. 

Santa Domenica Talao
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
Calabrian Cuisine

Calabrian Cuisine

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. 

YUM!
YUM!

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. 

Calabrian Atmosphere
Calabrian Atmosphere

The Atmosphere

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. 

Lunch with Rosaria

CAKE!
Fusilli
Rosaria’s home made fusilli

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.

Valentine Cake
Valentine Cake

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.

Fusilli
Fussili

“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.

Cinghiale
Cinghiale

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.

Cinghiale with peppers
Cinghiale 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.

Lunch!
Lunch!

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.

CAKE!
CAKE!

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.

Friends
Friends

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.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending Love From California to Calabria

Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao

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.

My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

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.

Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime
Santa Domenica Talao in Springtime

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.

Santa Domenica Talao

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.

Our Beautiful Church
Our Beautiful Church

Even when we are in California we think of you often and always wish we could be with you, especially in the rough times.

We will be back among you soon.

XO Chris

Tortora – A Hidden Jewel High Above the Tyrrhenian Sea

Tortora

Italy is studded with many small towns and villages that are like hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler. One of those gems is the village of Tortora, the north-westernmost village in Calabria.

The village is divided into two main sections: The Marina, and the much more interesting Centro Storico (historic center), nestled in the mountains above the  Marina, about a 15 km drive from the sea.

Tortora
Tortora

It was the Centro Storico that our friend Giacomo, whom we met in the neighboring village of Aieta, introduced us to when he invited us for lunch with his wonderful family at the Ristorante Al Caminetto.

Ristorante Al Caminetto
At the Ristorante Al Caminetto

Al Caminetto serves delicious local Calabrian dishes, authentically prepared by Roseangela. We enjoyed our experience there so much that we end up returning to Al Caminetto with Giacomo and his family every time we visit Calabria. During one of our visits, Roseangela showed us how she prepares her superb ravioli and fusilli:

Tortora has a very rich history,  having been occupied since prehistoric times. Excavations that took place nearby revealed stone tools dating back to 35,000 years ago.

Since then, the area has been occupied by the Enotri (the early people of Italy) up through the 6th century BC, as well as by the Greeks, Romans, Lombards, and Burbons thereafter.

You can view a collection of local Enotri and Greek artifacts at the Museum of Blanda. The English-speaking guide did a wonderful job of revealing the history of the Tortora region to us:

In the Museum of Blanda
Greek pottery

Wander the narrow, winding streets and you’ll encounter a number of small shops and galleries. We met Giuseppe, a local ceramics artist, at a small art gallery, and he then took us to his ceramics shop a short distance away.

Chris and Giuseppe at a local art gallery
Giuseppe at his ceramics shop

Although a bit off the beaten path, the short drive up to the Tortora Centro Storico will reward you with beautiful mountain views, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and a superb museum. Be sure to make it your first stop on your trip down to Southern Italy!

Beautiful Tortora
Beautiful Tortora

Time to Make YOUR House Hunters International Dream Come True

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao

 

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao
Our Piazza in Santa Domenica Talao Photo by Karen Murphy

Happy New Year Bellisimi!

It is New Year’s eve and it is cold outside. The wind bit through my coat today making me long for warm Summer days and the sound of church bells in Santa Domenica Talao, Italy.

Pete and I have been wheeling and dealing lately and long story short, we are almost complete with our transaction of our future BNB just off the piazza.

Excitement is running so high. Our beloved mayor has been working feverishly on projects designed to make the village better and better and to attract tourists.

There is news of another very exciting project occurring there but I am sworn to secrecy otherwise I would blab it all over the internet.

Here is a hint: YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Gorgeous Building in Santa Domenica Talao
Gorgeous Building in the Back of the Village

All in all our beloved little village is growing and flourishing.

Hopefully by now you will have read my article “How to Buy a Property in Italy without Falling Into a Money Pit”

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.

Italian Architecture
Italian Architecture

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:

Cafe
Cafe

Or how about this?:

Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao
Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao

And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.

Mull it over then give me a shout.

You can reach me at [email protected] com