Ok so you have arrived in Italy and by some great good fortune you have found your way south.
You wake up hungry and decide that nothing would be quite so perfect as light, crispy, sweet Italian pastry and a perfect cappuccino as you soak in the bright Calabrian sun just as the day is warming up around you.
Down the Mediterranean coast, halfway to Reggio from Naples you come to where we live.
Just south of the Gulf of Policastro and a short hop from the border from Basilicata you enter Calabria and her gorgeous stretches of azure coastline, magnificent beaches, dramatic jutting mountains and a culture deep and rich as the Magne Grecia from which it was born.
Little train stops dot the coastline, Maratea, Praia a Mare/Aieta, Scalea/Santa Domenica Talao, And Santa Maria Del Cedro. And here is where you will get off.
Pasticceria Arrone is located in Santa Maria del Cedro just along the train line heading down to Reggio Calabria. It is perfectly located to provide you with the perfect coffee and treat before or after your journey. But we have found that Pasticceria Arrone is a destination unto itself.
One early morning, my husband and I gathered our friends around us and made pilgrimage.
Happily our friends Bonnie and Carolyn Oliver had their other sister, Barbara visiting for Summer so we all headed down licking our lips along the way.
Pasticceria Arrone is the labor of love of two master confectioners, Adolfo Arrone and Luigi Barone. Together with a team which they consider more of a family, they are dedicated to creating master confections mostly with the local citrus, the cedro (which is like a Bergamo or a very delicately flavored lime.)
Their dedication to quality transcends any wish to save money by using inferior ingredients and when you see, smell and taste the magnificent creations, you can tell that they have found their calling.
The best way to enjoy the creations is to go in the morning with friends, order a perfect cafe and a selection of cakes. Share them all so you get a variety of different flavors, fragrances and textures.
Although everything you try there is amazing, my favorite was the light crunchy phyllo type pastry filled with pistachio cream. It is knee weakeningly delicious and you have to close your eyes and “have a moment” with every bite.
Pasticceria Arrone makes cakes to order and every dinner that ends with a Pasticceria Arrone package coming out, suddenly becomes epic.
Pasticceria Arrone can be found at Via Orso Marso 3, Santa Maria Del Cedro. +39 0985 42577
Last Winter my husband and I were lucky enough to run across the pond and spend a couple of weeks in our village, Santa Domenica Talao in Calabria.
It was a bit chilly and downright cold at night but we did have some glorious days of almost warm and sharp, bright sunshine to explore the towns and villages near us.
On a previous property scouting trip with a friend who was looking for a house, I had had an opportunity to explore Praia a Mare a little bit and discovered just how beautiful it was.
So one bright morning I dragged my husband out for lunch and a stroll through the town.
Praia a Mare is located on the southern end of the Gulf of Policastro which is one of the most stunning sweeps of Mediterranean coastline in the world.
The Gulf runs its fingers through three regions of Italy, Basilicata, Campagnia and Calabria.
The main downtown street in Praia a Mare features a beautiful tree lined promenade which runs the length of downtown. Both sides of the street are lined with shops and apartment buildings decorated with beautiful wrought iron railings.
Behind the town the Pollino Mountains jut up wildly creating a magnificent backdrop to the charming downtown area.
A couple of blocks from downtown lies the crystal blue Mediterranean, her beaches lined with row after row of brightly colored umbrellas and lidos featuring some pretty spectacular restaurants.
All across Southern Italy one stumbles across grottos or sacred caves. Praia a Mare boasts of their own. Il Santuario Santa Maria Della Grotta is featured in the photo below. One has to peek between the buildings to see it as you perform your giro (tour) of the town.
In addition to the sacred grotto, Praia also has the Grotta Azurra or the Blue Grotto much like the one in Capri on the Amalfi Coast. The Blue Grotto is on the side of Praia A Mare’s spectacular little island, the Isola di Dino facing out to sea. You can hire one of the local boats to take you out or you can rent a peddle boat and peddle there yourself.
You can visit both caves and swim in the bright blue water surrounded by fish.
After your boat tour you will be hungry. In Italy the restaurants don’t open until about 7:00 at night and even if you go then you will be the first ones there.
So in the meantime, stop and have a gelato at one of the shops that line the main drag in Praia.
The you are ready for dinner, stop for a fabulous pizza, or delicious pasta or seafood at Ristorante Pizzeria Rinaldi da Vittorio.
Happily Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio offers gluten free options including some fo the best gluten free pizza I have ever had. In a side by side taste test, my husband could barely tell the difference.
To see Praia a Mare at her best, go in Spring or in Fall. The weather is gorgeous, the trees are filled with shady leaves and the people are all out and about. Shops spill their wares out into the street adding more color and fun and there is a happy buzz of activity going on until late at night.
Pete and I are managing an apartment just up the hill from the down town area in Praia a Mare. It is far enough away from the beaches so that you will not be kept awake by the late night beach partiers but close enough to get there in a short 5 minute ride.
The apartment has sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the wrap around balcony/terrace and a large private patio just below.
Stay tuned as we are still finalizing the purchase but we will be renting it out for the Summer and Fall months when Praia is at her prettiest.
Big Italian cities in Summer are lovely however if you go in August, you will notice that things are a little different. Shops are shuttered, restaurants would be empty if not for the tourists and the traffic dies down to a dull roar leaving you wondering where the heck is everyone?
Most Europeans have all of August off. As soon as vacay time rolls around, they are off and heading to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Where do Europeans go on Vacation?
Since August is pretty warm most everywhere in Europe, they naturally head to the beaches and the best beaches are along the Calabrian coast in Italy.
As you take the train south from Naples, you wind down along the shore past Salerno, through the Gulf of Policastro and if you are a European tourist, you very likely end up in Scalea.
Scalea lies about halfway between Napoli to the North and Reggio Calabria to the South. As you drive or taxi from the train station to your destination, you look up and see the picturesque Centro Storico (Historic Center) with its tiny houses clustered together on the hilltop like shy children, rising above while the more modern area pedonale (pedestrian area)with its shops and cafes, stretches out before it like Mama’s apron.
The large street, the Corso Mediterraneo winds up and down the coast to neighboring resort towns with hotels lining the shore and shops and apartments rising up on both sides. Beyond the Corso Mediterraneo lies the crystal blue Mediterranean reaching open armed out to embrace the horizon.
Here and there rocky outcroppings drop into water so clear and blue that swimmers look like they are flying and boats appear suspended in midair over the sea floor.
And those are only a few of the myriad of reasons Scalea is Europe’s favorite holiday spot.
Calabria is the epitome of Southern Italian culture and charm but it was not always a well known tourist destination. In fact much of Calabria was very poor until recently.
If you chat awhile with the elderly people in the hill towns, you will still hear stories about days of hunger when the harvests were scarce or the hunting was unsuccessful.
Those days have happily passed and Calabria is starting to boom as a tourist destination not only for Europeans but also Americans as we discover the unspoiled beauty of the region, the unrivaled Calabrian cuisine and the warmth of the people.
The Old Town
Back in 2010, my husband and I decided to go to Calabria and look for a house. We wanted to retire in a little house overlooking the Mediterranean where we could immerse ourselves into a village and become a part of it.
We contacted a real estate agent who recommended that we stay at Casa Cielo BnB. I remember his words clearly “Clive is a great cook”, and that sealed the deal.
Casa Cielo is not currently taking new clients as Clive and his wife Kathryn have retired and are traveling and blogging. However our agent was absolutely correct, Clive is a great cook.
Casa Cielo is situated right in the middle of the Centro Storico Scalea just off the famous main stair case that everyone photographs when they go.
The little medieval houses huddle together and spill down the hill to the sea creating a gorgeous village filled with vias and alleyways that duck under houses and turn off into tiny stairs that wind through dark tunnels only to end with a splash of sunlight in a completely different part of the village.
Walking down any staircase leads to the foot of the village and, across the Corso Medterraneo, the beautiful deep blue sea.
Restaurants and shops peek out from corners in the Centro Storico inviting you in.
And when you get to the beach, the lidos lined up dotting the beach with different colored umbrellas, beckon you to grab a resting place and perhaps bob in the sea for awhile.
The Monday Market
One of my favorite things to do in Scalea is to go to the Monday Market. Scalea generally has a fruit and vegetable market daily and there are any number of produce trucks lining the streets at any given time selling fresh produce. From Tropea onions, potatoes to fruits and chili peppers, all the produce is freshly picked and brightly colored.
These you can purchase for pennies and create a magnificent dish with just a few of these fresh ingredients.
However the Monday Market is something else. It takes up a couple of blocks and is stall after stall featuring everything you would ever need for life in Calabria.
I love the One Euro tables where you can find great T shirts and even dresses for almost nothing. The jewelry stands are likewise filled with treasures that you can purchase for a few cents.
Bright shawls from Africa billow in the breeze and bathing suit and underwear stalls are set up next to hunting goods. It is a free for all and way too much fun.
Every time I go to the Monday market, I meet several of my friends there. We stop and catch up promising to meet for coffee or lunch soon.
The Surrounding Towns and Villages
Scalea is a large resort town but some of its charm is the proximity to other hill and resort towns. Seemingly every mountain top in the area is crested with a little hill town. Each one has its own character and charm.
Maiera is quiet and reverent. Grisolia is bubbly and welcoming. Diamante is well named as it is truly a diamond set next to the sea. Its beautiful promenade is home to fun shops and gelaterias. Its old town hides beautiful murals and mosaics.
And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Sweeping green of the Lao plain and the Mediterranean beyond that, Santa Domenica Talao is an artist’s Mecca where seemingly every villager is a master of some form of art.
Our architect, Antonello Lucchesi recently unveiled his spectacular terrace just off the piazza with an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains beyond.
Under the terrace is a stunningly beautiful loggia with different levels and perfect stairs that open up the lower village and make it accessible as the stairs prior to this were pretty brutal to navigate.
Our neighbor Rosaria is a master chef and we have been beyond lucky to have been invited several times to one of her spectacular lunches.
Several villagers knit or crochet. After lunch one day Rosaria brought out her tiny crocheted teacups that were so small and delicate that I was afraid to pick them up.
I could go on and on bragging about the amazing people in Santa Domenica but I digress.
When you come to Scalea, give yourself time to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Each is a jewel in a perfect Mediterranean setting.
Calabrian cuisine is just now being discovered by the foodies of the world. America has known Calabrian cuisine of a sort since the late 1800’s when the Italian diaspora brought an influx of Italian immigrants to the US mostly from Calabria.
Once they arrived, pizzas pastas, breads and other Italian staples appeared on American tables but they were adapted to America palates.
The cuisine in Calabria is unique. At lunch recently Rosaria told me that some of the dishes she was creating (I should say “crafting” because that is what she was doing) were specific to Santa Domenica Talao and that each individual hill town had its own recipes.
This is a treasure trove of magnificent new food treats for us to explore and enjoy.
From the Arancini (little rice balls, filled, rolled in bread crumbs and fried) to the ragu to the bacalao (salt cod rehydrated and cooked to perfection) Calabria has something new for every day of the year and I have not even touched on the desserts.
Calabria also has many immigrants from Sicily who have brought their amazing cuisine and especially fabulous desserts. Our favorite restaurant in Scalea is Vulare Sicillienne where we find pistachio encrusted sword fish, beautiful seafood pastas and the world’s most perfect cannoli.
The first time I arrived in Calabria our plane slanted in over the Mediterranean and I saw the stretch of magnificent coastline. I suddenly felt like I was home.
I felt like I had been on a long muliti life time journey looking for who knows what and that I had finally found it.
Then when I came to Scalea and finally to Santa Domenica Talao, I knew that I was where I belonged.
In our city of San Jose, California, there is a spiritual hecticness, an anxiety that I can feel in the air. Wherever I go in San Jose, it is there.
When I reached Calabria, it disappeared. And truthfully, until I visited Calabria, I did not know that it even existed and that I had grown so accustomed to it.
It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was there in the moment to enjoy all the gifts that Calabria was giving me.
I cannot describe it other than to tell you to come and experience it for yourself.
I am the luckiest person alive, I mean along with my husband, our friends Bonnie and Carolyn, and Father Ernesto.
Why you ask? Well, not to brag but I had been invited to the lunch table of one of the master chefs of Calabria and right now I can barely put my arms around my massive belly to type this to you and that, my friends, is lucky.
No, this master chef doesn’t have a syndicated TV show, nor does she even own a restaurant. She has a beautiful kitchen lovingly crafted by her adoring husband Peppino and a kitchen garden where they grow everything from tomatoes to mushrooms, to herbs and a gaggle of happy chickens.
And happily she and Peppino have chosen us as friends.
A few days ago was Valentine’s Day so my husband invited our friends to dine at the Bella Vista here in Santa Domenica Talao to celebrate. That was a fabulous meal as Michelle of Bella Vista fame is another mistress of the kitchen and her pizzas and pastas are top notch.
As we ate and the wine flowed, Peppino leaned in and told me that this Sunday, we were all having lunch at his house.
I didn’t stand up and clap my hands although I wanted to, but even though I was mid a perfect pizza, I started thinking about what magic Rosaria might have up her sleeve this time.
The last time we visited was Summer and we were invited for lunch. Rosaria allowed Pete to take video of her making tagliatelle.
And I do not exaggerate when I say, this was one of the very best meals I have ever had and I have had some epic ones.
As she cooks so also does Rosaria instruct. “These are the dishes not only of Calabria but specific to this village, Santa Domenica Talao.”
And as she moves gracefully from the stove to the cutting board to the sink, some of the most amazing smells start to emerge. Her braided Calabrian loaves of the softest white bread filled with cheese and salami are almost perfectly browned in her counter top oven and they fill the house with a yeasty goodness.
A pan lid on the stove slides to the side revealing potatoes perfectly browned, frying in a deep pan, crackling and sizzling as Rosaria turns them over and over.
Another pan lid allows one to peek inside and see wild boar cooked with peppers in an impossibly delicious sauce.
And on the bureau in the dining room lie perfect fusilli, hand made that morning and resting before their hot bath and dressing with Rosaria’s famous sugu.
We breathe in filling our noses with the hope that the smell will make us less hungry because one cannot be exposed to this kitchen without becoming ravenous.
We sit at the already set dining table catching up on the latest news from the village. Peppino tells us that the village is a grand family and the joys and losses of everyone in the village are shared. He lists some of the events and we laugh and cheer at the successes and shake our heads in sorrow at the losses.
We chat while listening for the doorbell because lunch cannot start without Father Ernesto who has raced over after saying mass in Santa Maria Del Cedro to join us.
Finally the doorbell rings and Father Ernesto appears talking in rapid Italian and filling the room with his laughter and benevolence.
Bonnie and Carolyn tell him how much the villagers miss him. He was transferred to a nearby village for some reason and it has left a giant hole in the church and in the hearts of the villagers.
But finally we are all together again and Rosaria is at her finest,
Despite wild pleas for “piccolo, piccolo!” (only a small helping please) big bowls of home made fusilli pasta appear topped with sugu (sauce) made from tomatoes and an unfortunate, though tasty wild boar who was shot by Peppino’s friend and sold off in bits to whoever is lucky enough to hear about it.
“This boar is a young one” Peppino tells us as we savor the fusilli and slurp up the sugo.
Home made fusilli is the perfect pasta. It has a hole in the middle made by rolling it over a thin piece of metal such as an umbrella spine and stretching it out sideways until it forms a hollow tube.
Rosaria cooks hers perfectly al dente creating a delightful mouth feel in addition to the super fresh flavors.
Father Ernesto says grace and with a flourish and a giant Buon Apetito! he finishes and we dive in.
The table falls uncharacteristically silent as we focus full attention on the fusilli.
From nowhere bowls of bread appear just in time to sop up the sauce and clean our plates for the next course.
With the first dish handled, we sit back and in our chairs. Our stomachs that have been torturing us all morning are happy but we still feel the tug of hunger as we know round two is on its way.
Rosaria appears again with two dishes of wild boar. The first is a stew of tomatoes and cinghiale (wild boar) and the second, cinghiale roasted with peppers.
Again silence falls with only the sounds of happy sighs and wine glasses being refilled breaking the hushed reverence.
We are full and somewhat worried because we hear a clattering of dishes in the kitchen that portends another course. We think we cannot eat another bite until Rosaria appears again, this time with plates filled with fried potatoes, thinly sliced pork sautéed in white wine and a hint of lemon, vegetable frittata and sweet chili peppers fried up to a crisp like potato chips.
I pick up a chili to try it and it crumbles in my mouth filling my tongue with sweet peppery deliciousness and a perfect blend of salt and olive oil.
Suddenly despite the first two courses I am hungry again.
And again silence falls.
Rosaria disappears once again and emerges with a platter filled with individual rectangles of orange sponge cake filled with orange pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. it is impossibly light and so freshly orangy that I have to help myself to a big slice instead of “being good” and sticking to a small one.
Finally Rosaria emerges once again this time with tiny coffee cups and thick, powerful coffee perfectly sweetened to end the meal.
In case you have not divined this yet, lunch with Rosaria is a work of loving art unequalled by anything anywhere.
And the company is also unequalled.
Although we live far away and are gone for months at a time and although Father Ernesto is now watching over a new flock in another village, it is as though we were never apart. The Winter sun shines in Rosaria’s dining room and we are all together loving each other and enjoying Rosaria’s works of culinary art. It is a moment that seems like it will last forever.
And I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”
And no matter what happens in the future and where I might find myself, I will hold this feeling close to me and never lose it.
Tomorrow I will go to the flower shop in the piazza, I will climb the steps filled with flower pots and plants next to the little fountain the runs all year round, and I will chose something very special for Rosaria.
To repay love with love.
As you may know from reading previous posts, Pete and I are opening a BNB here in Santa Domenica Talao. I have asked Rosaria if she would be willing to teach our clients how to cook her amazing Calabrian dishes and she is ready to roll. If you are interested in joining us in a Calabrian culinary experience, please write to me.
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.