I have written much about our magical village of Santa Domenica Talao and its warm and loving people. When we arrived there we suddenly became a part of something much bigger than ourselves and our world expanded greatly.
We were now a part of this beautiful place and part of the lives of our neighbors. We love them and we feel loved very much in return.
And this creates a bit of a double edged sword personally speaking, especially when we are so far away for so much of the time.
When you love someone, you feel their joys, their wonders, their loves and their losses. You feel their pain every bit as intensely as if it were your own.
I have noticed this as I have gotten closer to our neighbors in Santa Domenica Talao. This has been a very tough year for some of our closest friends.
And it takes a bit to understand all that that entails. We now have a sense of responsibility for each one of them and for their happiness and protection. We have a responsibility to promote our beautiful village and its people. We have a responsibility to stand up for it when someone might say something mean against it. It is a part of us and we are a part of it now and forever.
And with that knowledge is the certainty that when we lose someone, we will feel it keenly and we will grieve with the families and the loved ones left behind.
That said, we want to send our special love and care to our friends in Santa Domenica who have suffered recent losses.
Even when we are in California we think of you often and always wish we could be with you, especially in the rough times.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
If you are like me, you are hooked on House Hunters International. I watch every episode on Europe and I love trying to figure out which house the buyers will get and what kind of life they will create there. The episodes on Italy are always my favorite.
Back in 2011, my husband Pete and I made our House Hunters International dream come true by purchasing a medieval house on the top of a 300 year old building in an ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.
Back then not many people had heard of Calabria. Guidebooks ignored it despite the fact that Calabria boasts of some of the most dramatic landscapes and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.
So we had very little competition buying our house with its sparking white tile and sweeping view of the sea.
And we have been visiting there as much as we possibly can since we bought it. We love it there and miss it sorely when we are away..
Last Summer I was there with a friend who was looking at purchasing a property there. As we wandered though the piazza toward the back of the village, my eyes fell on a ruin that Pete and I had fallen in love with when we were looking for our house. It had been on the market then but was too expensive and needed extensive renovations.
This ruin, I had heard, had been purchased and yet here it was, still sitting in a state of partial renovation as it had for the last seven years.
So I asked my friend Antonello (Who you remember from my previous post about the ruined palace in the back of the village) about it.
Antonello told me that a lady had purchased the building with the intention of renovating it but that she had found another house and had moved in. He stated that the lady wanted to sell it and I asked him to find out how much.
In 2011 when we were initially looking to purchase, the property market was strong. People from America and various parts of the UK had come over and purchased holiday homes. Since then the market and gone pretty soft so the price was right and we are now in the process of purchasing the “Pink House” steps away from the piazza.
The house itself looks like a two story house from the front however it is built on a hill and all together it is four stories.
We have figured that if we are judicious with the space, we can create five studio apartments, a communal kitchen, communal laundry facilities and a huge roof terrace with sweeping views of the Pollino mountains and the Mediterranean.
A few months ago we agreed on the price and now we are waiting for the contracts to be translated and the date set with the notaio who will meet with us and go over the contract, line by line to ensure that all T’s are dotted and eyes crossed.
Then it will be ours.
Right now it is looking like early February 2019 and then the renovations can start.
This is going to be a magnificent project. the architect has an amazing sense of aesthetics and loves to make things beautiful.
We are so excited. The village has been changing and gearing up for tourism. The village leaders seem to want this beautiful place to be a destination for tourists rather than a place you stumble upon if you are lucky.
And Pete and I have a purpose to introduce this amazing place to the people we come into contact with.
The grand opening for the BNB is tentatively set for May 2020. Please stay tuned here for updates, photos and announcements.
I will write more and post more photos when we visit in February.
It is with light hearted and educated finger that I take to my keyboard today to tell you I have been taking a class on essay writing through The Great Courses.
I love these courses and I can study everything from mental math (Still haven’t cracked the cellophane on that one) to Latin 101 (Its coming along but I have a ways to go) and Renaissance Italy which I lap up like a St. Bernard with a bowl of ice cream.
Our first assignment is to write about a place we know intimately.
Of course our village, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria comes instantly to mind.
Our village, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean has been, until recently, somewhat sequestered.
Back in the day when it was not as easy to get around, most everyone stuck around the villages and unique personalities and cultures emerged in the minds and lives of the people.
When you go to Southern Italy and visit the hill towns, you will be struck by the fact that each one has its own unique character.
Maiera, which is close by, clinging to the hilltop like mushrooms on a tree trunk, is humble and reverent.
Grisolia, high above the clouds overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean is warm and friendly.
The beach resort of Scalea is untamed and a mix of cultures and colors, and our village is aesthetically beautiful, loving and playful.
One thing however, that is taken seriously by all of these different villages, is faith.
As any Italophile can tell you, the predominant religion in Italy is Catholicism. And although it is one religion, it has many expressions and runs deep in the culture of the tiny towns and villages all over Italy.
Our village piazza is dominated by a thirteenth century stone church that rises up in the middle of the village and, like a pin, holds the village together.
Babies are blessed there, young couples are married there and when someone’s journey ends for whatever reason, they are given over to God there in a solemn ceremony and then a sad procession up the steep road to the cemetery that overlooks the village on the hill just above it.
A villager has perished and the village is sadly diminished by one.
In the church, from a special niche, the patron saint of the village, San Giuseppe, watches over his flock.
Every year, in celebration of his day, the statue of San Giuseppe is taken from the church and in a loving procession is carried through the tiny vias and alleyways of the village.
The villagers hang their best linens out the window as he passes and the medieval windows are dressed up in their finest clothes for a celebration.
The statue of San Giuseppe is quite heavy and although he is carried by several strong men and jostled about as they make their way up and down stairs and steep alleys, winding through the village, he remains calm and unmolested.
He seems grateful that they are willing to take him out on a tour so he can see what has elapsed since his last sojourn, and happy despite the villagers thwarted best efforts to carry him gracefully.
When I arrived to Santa Domenica this trip, I had no idea it was patron saint day.
Nonetheless, my beautiful house looked pretty neglected when I first walked up after a year of being gone. So I got out a broom and a trash bag and started cleaning her up.
After much sweeping and digging the weeds out of the cracks in the stairs, I had her looking pretty spiffy. She looked like someone cared about her again and we were both happy.
My neighbor, a sweet lady, paid me a compliment about what a nice job I had done on the walkway, porch and stairs.
I accepted it and apparently had unthinkingly ingratiated myself to her as she thought I was doing it for San Giuseppe.
Later that day I was on my balcony breathing in the crystal blue Mediterranean when I heard someone yelling.
This person was obviously outraged and I wondered what could make any of our peaceful, loving neighbors so angry.
I came out on the porch and looked. The medieval houses across the via from me rose up to the sky.
The windows thrust open and heads thrust themselves out like a giant advent calendar.
I looked at the stair leading to my house and there, perched on the top one was a perfectly shaped dog turd.
Not just any dog turd this, but obviously one that this particular dog had put some thought into.
Not a dog to just crank out something and call it art, he went the extra mile.
It looked more like a perfect chocolate custard than a real turd but its placement gave away its true identity.
Yep, It was a turd, still wet and stinky in its freshness and it had been just recently been deposited
My neighbor was livid and I secretly felt that she was vindicating me. How dare this dog defile my perfectly manicured steps! How dare he thumb his nose at my back breaking labor!
Although, I thought, she is being a little excessive. I mean, I could just get a dustpan and handle it right there.
Every head that was thrust out of a window had something vital to add to the conversation.
My tiny neighbor stood yelling in outraged Italian, her shawl shaking in indignation and the Greek chorus of disembodied heads from the advent calendar were all singing in unison that yes, indeed it was a disgrace! Yes, an outrage even and how could anyone, even a dog (vile beast that this one obviously was) be so disrespectful?
The cacophony went on for quite a while and finally died down. The advent calendar lost interest and one by one the windows closed against the heat of the Calabrian sun.
My neighbor, still muttering went inside to nurse her grievance.
I snuck out and retrieved the turd and relegated it to the trash.
As I was idly chatting with Nunzia who holds court from her little market in the piazza, I learned that today was San Giuseppe’s day.
A tiny lady in the doorway took my hand in both of hers and talked excitedly about the procession, the music and the lights. Her eyes lit up like a child’s talking about an upcoming birthday party.
I had seen the procession of the Madonna Festival in Scalea just the week before and I learned that it was out of respect that you hung your prettiest linens out of the window as she passed, in her honor.
Later in the day I went onto the trunk of linens that had come with the house. The lady who sold it to us had left us all the bedding and linens when we bought the place.
I found a pretty bedspread and hung it from my kitchen window which could be seen by the villagers and San Giuseppe as they walked by.
As the procession began my husband and I went up to the church to watch the faithful spill out. The villagers had spent hours making special baskets with flowers and ribbons that they carried on their heads in front of San Giuseppe as he made his way through the village.
Then we raced back to our house and met our neighbors who were sitting on their porch watching the parade as it looped and wound its way through every tiny or forgotten via in Santa Domenica.
The women were crying with love and gratitude. It was quite moving.
And then I understood why my neighbor was so upset.
This was her saint, the one who watched over the village and whom every villager loved with all their hearts. This calm and beautiful wooden statue was a symbol of perfect love, peace and harmony. And they adored him.
Later there was music. Men, women and children were dancing the Tarantella in the piazza, the giant flowered tiles under their feet acting as their dance floor.
The steps of the church became seating for those watching the spectacle and the giant bell tower that wakes me every morning to the heavenly sounds of church bells watched over the village while San Giuseppe watched over the church once again from his perch.
I am sure he was smiling calmly as he always does.
I have been in Santa Domenica Talao all week and if you have been following me on Facebook and Youtube, you know I have been up to some really fun and cool things and I am designating a portion of this blog “Ruin Flippers”.
To start off with, I have been working with our village architect and contractor on renovations for the house my husband and I purchased in 2011.
When we bought our place here in Santa Domenica, it was a good sized apartment but we needed more bedrooms. So we purchased the ruin that is attached to our place with the idea that one day we would fix it up.
Initially we were thinking of making the ruin into a separate apartment but then we decided that it would be much more practical if we opened up the wall between our living room and the ruin and expanded our current living space.
This gives us an open plan living area and a new kitchen while freeing up the existing kitchen to be a good sized bedroom. Ultimately we will have two more bedrooms, another bathroom and another balcony with sweeping views of the sea.
Soooo I met with Antonello the architect and one thing led to another. In the end we are getting a roof terrace as well and another storage and laundry room up top.
For a better picture of how this will roll out, please see my Youtube video as I walk you through the house and explain the changes.
Knowing that we are renovating our house, Antonello, the village architect and incredibly smart historian insisted that I see the inside of the massive ruined palace that sits at the top of the village overlooking what used to be the original piazza.
Our village is actually upside down from what it used to be. The old piazza used to be at the top back of the village and overlooked the mountains. The newer one is in the front and overlooks the Mediterranean.
In its heyday, the ruined palace overlooked the piazza and the little alleyway that ran down from the upper piazza to the church. The alleyway was filled with shops and stalls all the way down and as you walk down from the top today following it, you can see how it might have looked.
The front door of this ruin is actually located on the opposite side from the road leading up to it and half way down a little alleyway.
The palace is a block long, multiple levels and God knows how many square meters.
Antonello took us in through the locked door that opened onto a small courtyard. On your right were the old stables (The stables were placed under the residences so that the body heat from the animals rose and helped keep the upper floors warm in Winter. One can imagine that the smell also rose with it which gives you a slightly unwelcome glimpse into what life there might have been like back then)
Going up the from steps, the front door opened into a large entryway with a huge hallway/living space beyond it. And as you walk in, you step back in time to the late 1890’s when this palace was in its original grandeur.
For now, the beautiful terrazzo floors are covered with dust. The original furniture remains along with the teapots and dishes.
A sofa that was new in the 1950;s looks oddly out of place next to the walls that have been standing since the medieval period.
As you walk through the grand hall to the front of the house, you enter a huge drawing room big enough to be a ball room.
In front are two large balconies overlooking what used to the the main piazza and the center point of the village.
The walls are covered with bright red wallpaper which, upon close inspection of the newspaper backing it, reveals a date of 1960’s when the wall paper was added to dress up the space.
The floors however were the most beautiful part of this huge room. Again covered with decades of dust, the tile floor is a complex pattern of painted tiled put together to look like a fine carpet.
Although the floor is covered with dust, you can look at the walls, the furniture left in the other rooms, the chandelier that has been promised to the church in the new piazza, and see exactly what this room once looked like. It was grand and beautiful.
As Antonello took us on a walking tour through the house he pointed out pictures on the wall.
One picture was a daughter of the owner. Antonello told us her sad history and her photo shows a sadness that is frozen in time here on a wall in the corner of the hallway.
As we made our way through, more photos were revealed, again frozen in time and miraculously still attached to the walls waiting for someone to collect them.
According to Antonello, the owners of the house want to sell it and sell it for cheap. They understand the amount of work it would take to repair and restore this beauty and it is a labor of love that Antonello showed it to me in the hopes that I might help him find the perfect someone who wants to restore a beautiful place in the a perfect little hill town in Santa Domenica Talao, Italy and live there.
This place would make a stunningly beautiful home for someone who wants to live in a place where life is piano, piano, love and community are still important and where food, art, architecture and beauty reign supreme.
If you are that special person, please contact me. The asking price is peanuts and I know the local builder. Antonello would love to set his considerable talents to work redesigning the spaces so that they work for a modern lifestyle.
In the end you could own a palace that takes up an entire block at the top of a stunningly beautiful village in Calabria for less than you would pay for a crappy condo in San Jose, California.
And if you want to join the ranks of Ruin Flippers, you could live here in Santa Domenica Talao, in the most beautiful village in the world.
For detailed video descriptions of the village and the ruin click here and here.
If you are interested in purchasing any property (And there are many) I am offering a consulting package. Your flight, your accommodations, your train tickets, your rental car, your real estate agents and tours and translation in Calabria with architects, builders and legal counsel will be included. I will personally show you around and arrange everything. Most of the amazing properties I have seen recently in our village are not on the Italian multiple listing service
If ruins do not appeal to you, there are renovated properties available that are so cheap you could almost put them on a credit card. .
They are very affordable and have magnificent views of mountains or the sea. It is a buyer’a market right now so a great time to buy.
For advice on moving to Italy, please check out my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver. She gives you a glimpse of life in the village and valuable advice on how to make the move.
And stay tuned for detailed pictures and videos of our own renovation projects. We are renovating our house and eyeing a property that would make fabulous BNB. We are ironing out the details right now but we will soon be in full swing.
See you there!
PS for more photos and reasons to chuck your life and move to Italy, check out my blog post on why Calabria is such a great retirement destination.
If you are reading this then you are likely a foodie, not just any foodie but a real true believer, a foodie who would move heaven and earth for a great meal. You plan your trips around the meals you foresee. In Winter you pore over glossy food porn magazines anticipating your Summer trips because you, like every Italian, know that life affords you a certain set number of meals before you die and that to waste even one of them would be a sin.
You have come to the right place. Pete and I love to eat. We love great food and understand it as an art form. We don’t eat to plug ourselves up or to keep going. We eat because it is a religious experience.
This is one of the reasons we chose Calabria as our second home. The food here is unrivaled anywhere even, dare I say it, in the North.
Calabrian food is strong. The flavors meld perfectly and it is the last word in comfort food.
I could wax lyrical all day about it but it is best to show you. And what better way than over lunch?
Il Ristorante Di Aligia, Maiera, Calabria, Italy
Pete and I are starting the renovation process for our ruin in Santa Domenica Talao. When we purchased the house here, we bought the ruin next door and are finally ready to fix it up.
After an exhausting morning of trying to translate plumbers, electricians, general contractors and tile vendors, we took off up the hill from the main drag along the coast and headed to Maiera.
Il Ristorante Di Aligia is a bit of a trek but once you get there, you know you have entered paradise.
The restaurant is set mid a beautiful sculpture garden with flowers and plants everywhere.
The Summer heat can be oppressive in Calabria but up on the hill, on a verandah shaded by trees and plants, the breeze is gorgeous.
I ordered grilled chicken. The waiter told me that it would take awhile so he started us out with zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese, fish and some other heavenly substance all lightly floured and fried. These were accompanied by magical little loaves of vegetable “polpetti” which, God knows how they are cooked but they are magnificent.
Since no one wanted us to go hungry even for a little bit, slices of home made toasts covered with tomatoes came to keep us company along with their best friends, spicy Nduja which also my new best friend.
Shortly thereafter Pete’s plate of fusilli with goat arrived along with my grilled chicken, fries and grilled vegetables.
And the fun began!
Restaurante Di Aligia is a true find. It rivals top notch restaurants anywhere in the world and the bill including everything we had, home made cedrocello and my espresso was all of 29 Euros.
Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria
I have to admit that I am biased. The restaurant is owned by the cousin of our great friend Giacomo and I have fallen in love with Roseangela and her family. She is an angel in a white apron who cooks like one imbued with divine grace.
Our first visit there, Giacomo ordered traditional Calabrian dishes for us to sample.
This was the first time I had tasted Baccala, the dried cod that is magically rehydrated into the most amazing dish anyone could ever experience. The dish consists of the baccala, capers, olives, something magic, something else magic and something else magic.
This is also where I fell in love with Arancini, seasoned red rice, stuffed with meat, formed into a ball or a pear shape (oddly “arancini” means “oranges” in Italian and they look like pears) and (get this!) rolled in seasoned bread crumbs and fried.
When these little monsters are made correctly they transport you immediately to heaven where angels sing and play on their harps. Crispy, crunchy, soft, aromatic and filled with magic.
Additionally Roseangela creates her own pasta and for a fun filled video of Chris making a mess with a fusilli, check out the video below.
Al Caminetto is also a bit of a climb but if you could climb to Heaven why would you not?
The Bella Vista, Santa Domencia Talao, Calabria, Italy
Again, I write about this place a lot because I go there a lot.
From Scalea on the coast, you have to climb the hill to Santa Domenica Talao which is where we hang out. On the corner of the village is the Bella Vista. You can’t miss it because there is always a table out front and several people congregating there.
The Bella Vista fare is simple but fabulous. The pizzas are authentic Southern Italian pizzas, the pasta is home made and if you want something light you can get panini and appetizers.
The magic of the Bella Vista is in the location. Perched as it is on top of the hill and in front of the village, you get a 360 degree view of the most magnificent mountains ever created by any deity, the impossibly blue Mediterranean and the village behind you. As the sun goes down, the gold lights in the village come up bathing it in a golden glow and imparting a fairy tale magic that will stay with you forever.
The last time I was there, I asked the owner where she bought the house wine. It was so fresh and light. I wanted to see if I could get it in the states. She told me they make it themselves. There is nothing artificial in it, just the ingredients God gifted to this area. It is seriously good and no snobby half glasses here like you may get in Rome. They fill a juice glass to the brim.
So, Foodies! What are you waiting for? A true foodie goes to the ends of the earth to find the best food. I think this is the best so come here and decide for yourselves.
During our first trip to Calabria, Chris and I stayed at the Casa Cielo Scalea B&B in Scalea. This fabulous B&B is owned and operated by Clive and Kathryn Bayton.
Along with being a gourmet cook, accomplished artist, and photographer, Clive is a historian of the region and has gleaned much knowledge of the origins of Calabria. He has graciously provided us with his account of the history of Calabria:
A Brief Ancient History of the Original Land of the Italians
Before the recorded civilisation of the mainland of North and West Europe, the Greeks had established an empire of culture and learning around the coastlines and islands of the Mediterranean Sea.
From their established bases in Sicily they gradually moved to the mainland into what is known today as Calabria, the first tribe they encountered were the Itali and they named the land ‘Italia’. So it is always with a smirk while defending my adopted people that I proudly tell the modern day inhabitants of places such as Milan, Rome and Venice who tend to look down their noses a little at the poor people of the south, that no matter how they view the Calabrese, they are the original Italians.
While the hills on which Rome would one day be built were frequented by no more than wildlife, sheep and the occasional shepherd, Calabria already had great towns built by the Greeks. As the Greeks established themselves, cities such as Sybaris (founded 720BC) were built. So rich was this city that the inhabitants’ opulent lifestyle would put the word ‘sybaritic’ into the English language to describe a person of luxurious living and outrageous pleasure seeking.
Many famous Greeks walked or established themselves in this land, Pythagoras set up home and a school here, while ancient Olympic heroes such as Philippus of Croton were born here, their taste for the local wine ‘Ciro’ which is still made here today was so great that it was sent back to Greece as a reward for other victorious Olympic athletes.
While Calabria and Greece were living in relative peace with class, civilisation and culture, a new force was growing in the north apparently with its origins in two human baby boys suckled by a she wolf (c.753BC)! Guess those shepherds didn’t do their job that well, but all the same Rome grew.
The first republic was established in 509BC and thus started the road to an Empire. But before the republic could conquer the rest of the known world, first it had to conquer or unite the tribes of Italy. Calabria was then as is now, almost an island from the rest of the Italian peninsula with sea on three sides and a range of mountains blocking easy passage from or to the North. It is said of those days that some of the fiercest opposition to Rome was here, as the different tribes battled for their lands, the Greeks on the other hand made an organized withdrawal…. and as we know, Rome eventually became the master.
Throughout Rome’s history as an empire it has had its fair share of enemies on its homelands. When first trying to establish itself around the Mediterranean, Carthage of North Africa was ahead of the game with Sicily, parts of Spain and other lands already under its laws.
We have all heard of Hannibal (Born 247BC) the Carthaginian and his epic journey over the Alps with his army and war elephants but few know that he kept Rome in fear for eight years by stationing himself and his army in Italy. His base was in Calabria close enough to Sicily for passage to Africa if his country should recall him, and on Rome’s doorstep keeping them busy at home and their ideas off of a march on Carthage.
So strong were Hannibal and his army that even the politicians of his homelands feared that if he returned he may take power and so they decided to keep him in Calabria. It was only when Rome was knocking on the city gates that he was recalled, but with Rome already having a firm foothold on the continent it was all too late. Carthage and its empire were torn down to its very roots and Europe started to be taken into Roman occupation.
A thought for the modern world is that these were two great nations of equal strength struggling for power, the victor would one day influence the known world with its rules, laws and religion. That victor was Rome which many years later would convert to Christianity and spread its beliefs to all. The vanquished, or the lands in which they once lived turned to Islam, one wonders what the prominent religion of the world would have been today if Hannibal had been victorious.
And so it came to pass that the Roman Empire became rich, powerful and looking at the facts, a little stupid. Slaves from all its conquered territories were shipped to Italy to entertain and do all the work. So many slaves were brought in that they outnumbered Roman citizens and so the story of Spartacus (born c. 109BC) and the slave uprising can now be told (which is not necessary as we have all seen the movie when all the captured slaves after the final battle claim to be Kirk Douglas!)
But again one of the Empire’s enemies and general pain in the butt travelled to Calabria with his army and settled in what is now the area around the city of Reggio Calabria. When Rome finally caught up with him they built a huge containing defensive wall around him from coast to coast, and with the sea to his back Spartacus and his troops were surrounded. A great battle took place and miraculously the slave army broke free and headed north and out of Calabria. However, weakened and in disarray, once the Roman army again caught up with them in which is now the region of Campania, the revolt was finally quashed.
The final enemy of Rome to visit us here in Calabria was Alaric the king of the Visigoths (born 370AD). Alaric and his armies were the first to sack the city of Rome. By this time the empire had been split into two, the western empire with Rome its capital, and the eastern empire ruled from Constantinople, so I suppose we can say he only defeated one half of the Romans, but he did give the city a bashing and emptied it of all its gold and treasures.
With this little bundle well wrapped up, instead of heading north towards home he came South and camped outside what is now the city of Cosenza in Calabria. Here he died of a fever and was buried with all the treasures he had taken from Rome. It has never been found as the slaves that buried him were all put to the sword in order to keep the location secret. It is out there somewhere, but before you all buy a metal detector and jump in a car or jump on a plane, you should be told of the method of the burial. It took place at a point where two rivers met, both were diverted while the grave was dug and the burial could take place, and when done the rivers were again put on their natural course, so unless you can walk on water…forget it!
So there it is a little bit of Italian history that many know of but few associate with Calabria … Calabria the birthplace of Italian civilisation, the very first Italy that hardly gets a mention in modern travel guides.
Today Italy’s tourist trade is enticed over by the images of wonderful places like Venice, Pisa, Florence and Rome. Its history is shown through museums and historical sites such as the ruined cities of ancient Rome and Pompeii, while the very roots of its existence are ignored, yet still await discovery under the fields of my adopted homeland … can someone lend me a shovel?”
It is 7:00 AM and I am so comfortable. The antique bed holds me in its arms and refuses to let me go. The sun slants in my window tickling me awake.
From the edges of my consciousness I hear the sounds of the church bells reminding the faithful that it is time to get up and come to the church in the piazza. It is time come together to start a new day.
With my eyes still closed I smile because I am waking up knowing I am still in Italy.
The weather is warm and moist in my village, just up the hill from the seaside town of Scalea.
I toss on a light dress and head up to the piazza. I sit at a table just outside the little bar while the owner brings me a cappuccino and a freshly baked croissant filled with sweet cream, still warm from the oven.
The people buzz in and out of the bar tossing back bitter, black espresso and shouting to each other as they head off to work.
The lady who owns the flower shop across the piazza opens her doors and brings out her flowers. She stops and smiles, and we wave.
Seven years ago, my husband and I purchased a house on the top floor of an ancient building in the hilltop town of Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria, Italy.
After a short visit we decided that this is where we wanted to spend our best years. We wanted to wake up to the church bells, gaze at the sea from our balcony and laugh as the swifts dip, dive and buzz our heads.
And we have never looked back.
When travel guidebooks talk of Italy, they rhapsodize about the regions north of Naples. They completely ignore the South of Italy and in doing so, do a grave disservice to their readers.
There are so many reasons that Calabria is the dream destination not only for travelers but also for expats. It is tough to list just a few.
Southern Italy traditionally was considered the poor region. While this was true before the 1950’s it is not true now.
Nonetheless, the prices are ridiculously inexpensive compared to Rome or anywhere in Tuscany.
A cappuccino in Rome costs about three euros whereas a cappuccino and pastry costs one euro thirty in my village.
Hotel accommodations are almost half what you would pay for similar accommodations further north.
Most mornings I visit my friend Nunzia who owns the store in the piazza. Parked nearby is an ape, the little three wheeled truck that is ubiquitous in Italy. It is filled with whatever produce is leftover from family farms for Nunzia to sell.
Today it is peaches, still fresh and fragrant with their leaves still clinging to them. Tomorrow it will be tomatoes as big as your head, sweet and juicy from the Calabrian sun.
Every Tuesday the fish man comes through the village with his loudspeaker announcing the fresh catch of the morning.
Your dinner has just been pulled from the Mediterranean.
Olive oil is a staple and the Mediterranean diet has been touted as one of the healthiest diets one could adopt. Italy as a country ranks among the highest for longevity.
When my husband and I first arrived in our village we must have been a sight. I am a tall blonde lady with wildly curly hair. My husband is of Northern European descent. In short, we are very different than the average villager.
Nonetheless we are accepted with open arms by everyone.
Our village is a giant family, I witnessed this one night as Nunzia and I took the passagiata (the evening walk). We stopped and kissed all the babies. We chatted with neighbors. We celebrated their joys and mourned their losses.
Throughout the piazza women walked arm in arm. Men played cards at tables outside the bar and everyone belonged. They are part of something bigger than just themselves or their nuclear families. They are part of the village.
I truly believe that the absence of mental health issues in our village stems from this vital fact. They all belong and everyone is loved and accepted, even a lanky blonde with faulty Italian.
The food is art
Calabrian cooking is becoming famous. Most Italian food you enjoy in the US has its roots in Calabria.
Since we are right next to the Mediterranean, seafood is king. Tiny anchovies dressed in lemon grace our plates while calamari, fried with impossibly light breadcrumbs, come next. Octopus, swordfish, cuttlefish, giant prawns, clams and other shellfish are plentiful.
Most of the restaurants in the hill towns serve house made products. The pasta is hand made, the sauces are crafted from old family recipes and the bread is as fresh as it can be, having come out of the oven that morning.
Traditional pizzas are baked in brick ovens and topped with a perfect sphere of mozzerella di bufula.
The wine is amazing
Most of the wines in Calabrian restaurants are locally created. Calabria is known as the Mezzogiorno or the “midday” region. The sun shines most of the year and the mix of sea air, bright sunshine and rich soil seems to be the perfect environment for wine grapes.
The wine is light enough to avoid interfering with the cuisine and you taste the fruit rather than just the alcohol. It pairs perfectly with Calabrian specialties.
It’s rare to see a Calabrian rushing off somewhere. The pace of life is softer and gentler than I am used to.
The focus in life is life. The joys and sorrows, the family times together and views of the sea are vital to my neighbors. Work gets done but it is given its proper importance.
Calabria is home to miles upon miles of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The stretch of seaside from Scalea down to Reggio Calabria boasts of stunning beaches and picturesque seaside fishing villages.
Looking inland you see the dramatic, jutting mountains that turn from pink in the morning to grey to purple as the day progresses. The mountain ridges carry tiny hill towns on their backs while little farm houses dot the fields below.
My favorite pastime is sitting at the restaurant at the edge of my village, gazing at the 360 degree view first of the mountains, then the sun setting over the Mediterranean and finally the village glowing gold and looking so much like a fairyland that you have to look twice.
Everywhere you look in Calabria there is something jaw droppingly beautiful. The sea is crystal blue and warm, magnificent art and architecture are everywhere, and the people, so willing to smile and hug you are the most beautiful sight of all.
Calabria is home to some of the toughest and yet most warm and loving people I have ever met.
Not so long ago, these people eked out a living from farms and the sea. They withstood the horrors of two world wars, and yet when you approach them, they smile.
It is so easy to make friends. There are several expats in our village.We all get along and we all fit into this little village of disparate personalities and backgrounds.
Calabria is a great jumping off point for travelers
A short trip south on the train is Lemezia Terme airport. From there you can catch cheap flights to anywhere in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
From Santa Domenica Talao you can drive east to Bari, Puglia and take a ferry to Greece.
Or you can drive south to Reggio Calabria and take the ferry across the Straits of Messina and over to Sicily.
The travel possibilities are endless.
We are there
And we want to share this idyllic life with everyone we know.
Book your flight and head over. You too can wake up to the church bells and enjoy the healthy and beautiful Italian lifestyle. Your best years are ahead of you. Give yourself the gift of Calabria. You will never want to leave.
Call us. We can help you plan the perfect trip. Don’t miss this perfect destination.
Admit it. You have been watching House Hunters International and a part of you is yearning for the golden hills, the ecstasy-inducing food and the and glorious beaches of Italy.
And you feel yourself inching closer to the big plunge but are afraid because you could make a huge and costly mistake.
If you have mentioned this idea to friends or relatives, I am sure you have been told that you are crazy to even think about it.
And yet you continue to dream.
Seven years ago my husband and I bought a house in a small medieval hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.
An entire year before we purchased, I researched the crap out of the project and the result was a smooth transition of property and good feelings on all sides.
And we have been loving it beyond our wildest dreams each time we go.
There is nothing like the sound of church bells waking you up in the morning with the sun slanting in your window and the smell of cafe coming from the bar in the piazza to make you realize how lucky you are to be in Italy.
But there are several things you should know and do before taking diving in.
Additionally I sought out and got onto several forums written and administered by people who had purchased in Italy and many of whom also lived there full time.
The forum was the most important research tool. I learned about some shady deals that I was able to steer clear of because I read the unfortunate stories about people who had purchased off plan houses (to be built) and once the money was paid, no work was ever done.
One off plan project that was offered to us when we were looking to purchase seven years ago still has not been built. Had I trusted someone and bought one I would have sunk a lot of money and likely never had anything to show for it but expensive legal bills.
I have read horror stories not only about property purchases in Italy but also Spain that would curl your toes.
My most important piece of advice is never buy anything that you can’t see in front of you. If is to be built or is a ruin with a renovation package, don’t buy it.
2. Visit different areas before you make your choice
Unless you have already visited a town or village and fallen in love with it, I recommend that you visit several areas and rent Air BNB’s there for a few weeks.
Fall into the rhythm of the town and decide whether you can see yourself living there.
3. Once you have found your dream town, research the crap out of that too
There is so much you have to find out. Our trash pickup is so complicated we need a special calendar to keep track of what is picked up when.
Additionally Italy has earthquakes as we have seen recently. Research where the faults are and find data on the strength of your building.
Ironically, in the 1980’s when there was a massive earthquake in Southern Italy, the newer buildings fell down and the medieval buildings are still standing.
The buildings in the historic centers are built all shoved together so they support each other.
The buildings that fell had large parking structures underneath and therefore were not structurally sound in an earthquake zone which much of Italy is.
Our area near Scalea, Calabria, Italy is one of the few areas that is between faults so the danger of a catastrophic earthquake is relatively small.
4. Understand that property purchases there are not like they are here
It is not unheard of to make an offer, have it accepted and then find out that the downstairs storage area is actually owned by someone else or that the fixtures are not included.
Many times in Italy, the kitchen is considered personal property and does not stay when you purchase. The owners simply pack it up and take it with them.
In Italy the inheritences are such that you may want to buy a property that is listed for sale but then have to convince 20 cousins that they want to sell.
This can make certain properties almost impossible to purchase and you may not know that until you have fallen in love with it.
5. Know that there will be delays
Purchasing property in Italy is a process and it goes how it goes. That said, I was very impressed by the time and care the local Notiao took to ensure that everything was fair and equitable.
The Notaio is charged with the task of ensuring that no one is getting hoodwinked. Ours was extremely careful and took great pains to ensure that we understood everything about the contract.
However an illness may cause delays as your Notaio may be the only one for miles.
6. Understand that renovation estimates can be wild guesses
My friend Clive who owns Casa Cielo BnB in Scalea, Italy has become the resident counselor to those who have purchased and seen their renovations go wrong and spiral out of control.
A ruin in Italy is likely several centuries old and those of us who live in America which has very few old buildings don’t always understand the true meaning of the word “ruin”.
I have heard of properties having to be taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt.
My advice if you don’t know a contractor, is to purchase something habitable that perhaps needs floors and finishes.
We purchased our house and the attached ruin. We are willing to take it on as we have worked with the builder on several other house projects and he is good and trustworthy.
Additionally the structural work had already been done so it is just the interior that needs finishing.
Meanwhile, we have the house which is habitable and very nice and were able to enjoy it right away without waiting for renovations.
If you have your heart set on a total ruin renovation project, go ahead but budget twice the amount you are quoted.
7. Treat everyone with courtesy and respect
There is no nightmare quite as complete as buying a property somewhere and being ostrasized by everyone in the town.
These villages and towns have survived because they are like a large family. Courtesy goes a very long way and an effort to get along and become a part of the community is well rewarded with true and loyal friends.
Additionally, when you make the effort to speak and be understood in their language, you earn the respect of your new neighbors. They are way more willing to overlook any social gaffs made out of ignorance of local customs.
8. Don’t consider it an investment in anything but experience
When I was getting ready to make my purchase, several people asked me with horror in their voices, “Aren’t you afraid you will lose money?” as if that were the greatest sin I could ever commit.
The answer was, who cares what the market does after I buy? If I buy a property and I love it and it gives me joy and I can afford it, it is a good purchase. End of story. The property market gyrations would never make it worth any less in my eyes.
You are buying a dream. Dreams do not come with a price tag. It is whatever you are willing to pay for it that gives it its value.
There is a person who was looking at buying at the same time we were. She asked me all manner of questions like the above. She had so many “What if’s” that I gave up answering them.
Needless to say, she has not purchased and we have been enjoying our property for seven years now.
9. Once you have purchased don’t let anyone kill the love you have for your beautiful new home.
I don’t know why people do this but some have to tell you what a huge mistake you have made.
They have to prove to you that you have been foolish and normally it comes down to money that in their opinion you should not have spent.
These are the people who never do anything big in their lives. Listening to them is destructive.
In the end you will have done your homework, you will have experienced the ins and outs of a foreign property purchase and will have many, many years of beautiful experiences to enjoy as a result.
Buying property in Italy is absolutely worth the effort and the money.
If money is tight, look in Southern Italy. Calabria is stunning and the prices are so good you could almost put it on a credit card.
Remember when Amalfi was the cool place to visit? The highbrow travelers flocked there to see and be seen.
The Amalfi coast and Positano in particular have reached truly Disneyesque status as tourist destinations.
The Disney phenomenon seems prevalent in the areas that cater to tourists. As more and more tourists descend on a town or a province, the mom and pop shops sell out to trinket shops and high end designer fashion stores.
Many times the beauty of the old architecture is destroyed and turned into a sterile new “modern” look that defeats the entire purpose of visiting a small Italian fishing village.
You could go visit Amalfi and pay way too much for a meal at one of the restaurants there but your travel dollar is way better spent a little further south.
Most guidebooks featuring Italy stop at Naples and claim to have reached “The South”.
They completely ignore the fact that there is almost half of Italy further south and that, to have a true Italian holiday immersed in the food, customs and community, you have to venture further.
Italy is a glorious country but there are reasons to avoid the crowds and tourists of the Rome, Venice, Florence trifecta.
1) The food
Calabria has its own cuisine. In fact most of what Americans know as “Italian food” is Calabrian cooking.
Starting in the late 1800’s and continuing through two world wars, Calabrians emigrated in great numbers to America, mostly New York.
Much of Calabria at that time was a brutal place to farm and farming was the sole subsistence of most of the people.
The Calabrian Diaspora (Emigration) continued over decades and ultimately Calabrian influence could be seen everywhere in the US.
Your pizzas and pasta ragouts are from Calabria and Naples.
A walking tour through any Calabrian village finds hand made fresh pastas, home made breads and a complete array of delicious pastries.
My two favorite restaurants in Calabria are the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao where my husband and have a place, and Al Caminetto in Tortora which is another beautiful Calabrian hilltown.
Order anything off the menu at any one of these two places and you are in for a treat.
2) The Scenery
The Calabrian coast or The Riviera Dei Cedri is not only bristling with picturesque little fishing villages but also has spectacular mountain ranges jutting up into the sky in a myriad of colors.
Add to this the little medieval hilltop villages clinging the rocky crags like mushrooms on a tree trunk and you have an enchanting vacation destination.
Calabria is a photographer’s dream. Around every corner is another jaw dropping view that stops you in your tracks.
3) The shopping
Calabria and Southern Italy in general is known for their markets. The Monday market in Scalea is a shopper’s paradise. The marketplace is lined with stalls selling anything from lingerie to housewares to cheeses.
Every little village has a market once a week and the downtown areas all have shops that sell products unique to their specific regions.
Many of these products like Cedro cookies and jellies, fiercely hot N’Duja and chile peppers are unique to the region.
4) The people
When my husband and I first purchased our home in Santa Domenica, we barely spoke Italian and worried whether we would fit in.
Somehow, between then and now we have become fast friends with our Italian neighbors.
Nunzia who runs the market in the village took us under her wing and from that point on we were part of the community.
One day while visiting the little hill town of Aieta, close by our place, a man came running out, brought us in for coffee and introduced himself.
Since then Giacomo and his family have been good friends and they are always up for a day or a dinner out when we are there. (On the right is Roseangela who is an amazing chef. Check out our video as she tries really hard to teach me how to make pasta.)
We have made so many great friends there despite our halting Italian and funny California ways.
They happily look the other way when they see us eating dinner at 6:oo and drinking cafe latte in the afternoon. Any time we need anything they are there to help us out.
5) La Pausa
The afternoons in Calabria are set aside to recover from a big Calabrian lunch. Everything shuts down at 1:00 and everyone snoozes.
At first this bugged me. Where was everyone? I had to plan my day around La Pausa (The pause) but more and more I fell into the habit of reading and taking a short snooze in the afternoon.
It is a lovely custom. You feel so refreshed after a pause and you can then stay up late and enjoy the festivals into the evening.
6) Everything is inexpensive
At my favorite restaurant, I can get an oven fired pizza for eight Euros. The homemade red wine there which is fabulous by the way, is also about eight euros for a liter.
The food is fresh and many times it comes to you without you having to go out shopping.
Several times a week we hear the voice of our fish man broadcasting through the village “Peschi! Peschi fresci” and a huge filet from an unfortunate seabass who was just pulled from the sea, is yours for ten euros.
7) It is the perfect home base for an exploratory trip
From most Southern Italian towns, everything is accessible by rail. You can go North to Paestum for the best preserved Greek city still in existence.
You can head south to the fishing village of Scilla for seafood, or to Paola to visit the extraordinary sanctuario there.
You can head further South to Reggio Calabria and see the promenade and the beautiful museums and shops.
You can go further south to Sicily over the Straits of Messina and arrive in Taormina. Everything is a short hop.
Or you can stay in one area and explore the many hilltowns that dot the region. Each one has its own beauty and charm and the people love tourists who interact with them.
8) The passagiata
Every evening and especially in weekends, everyone in the village dresses up and performs the passagiata or “The walk”. They leave their housework, their TV’s and telephones and they walk around the village.
They touch bases with their neighbors, have an ice cream and kiss new babies. The men play cards at the tables left out for them by the shop proprietors. The woman walk arm in arm and talk about their lives.
In my village I see no one with mental health issues and I think that the simple act of walking with another person arm in arm and talking to them goes a long way in preventing depression and loneliness.
The people of the village belong to the family that is the entire village. It is a powerful support group.
9) Calabria is Magical
While walking in the alleys of Diamante one day I heard a gasp. I looked up and a tiny lady was running toward me with her arms outstretched. “Che Bella Duona!” (What a beautiful lady!) she said and fell into my arms.
I looked up at my husband and friend who were as surprised as I was and said “I love this place!”
And who could not love a place that raises its children with the idea that these spontaneous outbursts of love and admiration are perfectly ok?
If you love life, all the joy it brings, all the sights, smells, and sensations, you will love Southern Italy.
When you go, visit my friend Clive and Cathryn at Casa Cielo, in Scalea. They are the number one BNB there and are English so language is never a problem.
Additionally Clive is a fantastic chef and at the slightest prompting he will make you a meal you will you will never forget.
And if you happen to pass by Santa Domenica Talao in Summer, look for me. I will be at a table at the cafe or walking around the village. We can have a coffee and a chat.