I have to say that I woke up sad today. It is very unlike me to wake up sad so it took awhile for me to really analyze why I was feeling this way and once I identified it, I felt a lot better.
Here it is:
Easter has been cancelled this year for all intents and purpose. We are all on lock down and there are no big meals prepared with and for our loved ones.
There are no Easter egg hunts, no beautiful Easter dresses on the ladies at Easter mass.
There are no flowers and no music. There is no feeling of renewed life that we can share with each other.
There is no thanking God with all of our loved ones present that Winter is over and a new beginning has arrived in all its glory.
I know enforced isolation is necessary in these highly unusual circumstances but it can be very damaging to us spiritually if we do not know how to combat it.
People are all different but two of the most important things we have in common are communication with each other, with life, with the world around us, and aesthetics, a love of all things beautiful.
And everyone I know who travels does so for these two reasons.
Think about it. When we travel somewhere to see the brightly colored markets in Turkey or when we head to Italy to taste the amazing cuisine, we are looking forward to communication to this new (to us) world around us.
When we walk in the evening Passegiatta we look at each other and smile. We are communicating. When we order our dinner in faulty Italian and laugh at our pronunciation and grammar mistakes, we are communicating. When we study history, we are communicating with the past. It is all about communication.
We also look to the aesthetics, the stunning buildings, the amazing art work, and the cultural rituals and practices that we find beautiful. We pay more in hotels for a room with a beautiful view. Again, it is all about communication and aesthetics; communication and beauty.
So it is no surprise that we become edgy and upset when we are denied communication with each other and the world. We also get upset when we are denied the opportunity to see or even create beauty.
So cancelling a holiday such as Easter can give us this reaction of sadness and upset.
So what do we do about it?
Create something beautiful
One of my favorite ways of fighting the blues is to create something beautiful. In my case I have spent a lot of time creating our new Facebook group “All About Italy” which is a group of people who love Italy. It is a great group who freely share beautiful photos and videos, recipes, thoughts and ideas.
For this reason the page itself is very aesthetic and the group is in really nice communication with each other.
If you love Italy feel free to go and join.
Really work to stay in communication with your friends and family.
When we start to feel down, we tend to with draw. This just makes the problem worse. Pick up the phone or better yet, schedule a FaceTime session with your kids. Write letters and emails just to stay in touch. Check on your relatives. You will feel better.
Plan something great for the future
Our village in Italy is in lock down right now but soon Summer will come and the sharp sunlight will creep through our windows in the morning, waking us up with the promise of so many fun and exciting things.
There will be coffees and cornetti in the piazza with friends.
There will be parties on the roof terraces overlooking the sea where we laugh together and share stories while sipping perfect Prosecco and munching on Italian snacks.
There will be exciting days spent designing and starting on our new BNB in the piazza.
There will be endless opportunities to discover new treasures. I hear that there is a specialty farm that creates the most perfect ricotta near our village. We need to explore this!
I also found that there is an olive farm below us turning out highly crafted olive oil for us to explore and enjoy.
Pete and I have so many projects in the works and it does make us feel happy and excited to talk to each other about them and create them day after day.
If you need some ideas go check out the Super Savvy Youtube channel. We have some very cool content there and I am sure you will find some ideas to jump start your creative flows.
I know this is a tough time but I also hear great news for the coming weeks. This will not last forever and we will come out of it stronger with a renewed love of the things we might have taken for granted at some point.
Meanwhile Hang On! and work to create opportunities for beauty and more communication. This will make you feel better and it also helps those around you more than you can possibly imagine.
Of all the articles, this one has generated the most interest and motivated you to put pencil to paper and send me a note and I love that.
Since I wrote that article a lot has happened in our little corner of the Gulf of Policastro and Riviera de Cedri in Calabria (Cedro is a citrus fruit only found in Calabria)
Last Summer while I was there I was privileged to be invited to attend and speak at an event presented by our mayor with all the other local mayors in attendance.
This forum was designed to pull everyone together from the various villages and towns and to coordinate efforts to really promote the beauty and the products of Calabria.
After all Calabria has EVERYTHING!
And the Italian government is now making a concerted effort to open the area up for tourism, not only for the Europeans who tend to descend on Calabria every Summer and enjoy her beautiful beaches, but to the world at large.
For far too long, Calabria has been Europe’s best kept secret and the secret is out.
So aside from the points in my first post, what other possible reasons could there be to retire in Calabria?
There is an amazing group of people there
During the event last Summer, our mayor got up and spoke about how proud he and the entire village was that so many people of different nationalities called Santa Domenica Talao home. We have Americans, English, Irish, Russian, Swedes and Finns in our village. And our village has embraced every last one of us.
Summer is a blast. My friend Bonnie gets everyone together for parties. Occasionally we get invited to Peppino and Rosaria’s for Sunday lunch (Which is an occasion to die for. (Read about our epic meal here!)
Honestly Calabria needs no excuse to put on a festival. And why not? The Pepperoncino Festival in Diamante is a massive hit every September.
Add to that, festivals for wild mushrooms, pasta, sausages, swordfish, chocolate, red onions and a seemingly endless parade of religions festivals which are so fun and amazing, and you have something going on all the time.
Every day I find another amazing restaurant.
When I am in San Jose, California there are one or two really good restaurants near me and you have to look for them. Most of the restaurants I have visited in California have been ok but not stellar.
Where we are in Calabria we have some really top notch chefs who get up every day and cook for the masses possibly without realizing how spectacularly talented they are.
In previous posts I have sung the praises of The Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao, Al Caminetto in Tortora, and Ristorante di Aliga in Maeira.
But last Summer, Bonnie and I grabbed our friends Sarah and Andy and we headed down to Scalea to La Perla del Terreno.
La Perla is a lovely restaurant on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Scalea. You can sit outside and let the sea breezes caress you while dining on amazing seafood pasta, Freshly caught and grilled sea bream, fries, gorgeous grilled vegetables and fruity white wine.
An afternoon spent gazing at the endless, deep blue sea, laughing with friends and eating heavenly food is the best reason to retire in Calabria.
For a Siciilian twist, head into the down town area of Scalea and visit Vulare Sicilane.
This family owned restaurant boasts a compete menu ranging from swordfish served in a crust of pistachios to the Il Completo sandwich, served on a twisted home made roll topped with nuts and stuffed with sweet sausage, onion relish and delicious friend fries. It is my favorite sandwich ever created and as soon as I arrive in Calabria I head directly to Vulare for an Il Completo.
The first time my son visited us, he ordered the hambugerazzo at Vulare. Be prepared, this thing is massive. I saw the waiter emerge from the kitchen, his knees buckling and his muscles and sinews straining under the weight of the plate he was carrying.
I swear it was so big that it blocked out the sun for a moment and my son with his back to the kitchen had no idea what was in store for him.
The waiter shoveled it onto the table and backed away saying over and over “piano piano!” Urging my son to take his time or he could hurt himself.
As it was, my son ate part of it and we all ate the rest of it for dinner that night. It was great both times.
After lunch you HAVE to have a canollo. Vulare makes their own and they are like milky heaven. Fresh ricotta is perfectly sweetened and sprinkled with choclolate chips then pressed into perfectly crafted pastry horn. No matter how much you have eaten, you will find that you still have room for a canollo and a cafe.
And unlike some restaurants in Italy, Vulare will give you a doggie bag!
There are secret treasures!
Word on the Strada, mostly from my friend Sarah, is that there is a little farm down the hill from us where the ladies craft their own ricotta cheese. I understand you can go and see how it is done. I have net yet been but plan to soon.
In addition there is a thrift type store where you can buy anything second hand. Due to the many renovations happening in Calabria, you can find some amazing hardware, furniture and light fixtures that you would never find anywhere else.
And as I have previously discussed, the market in Scalea is way too much fun. You can purchase anything from freshly made cheeses, to housewares to jewelry and clothing. It is never the same market twice and I always spend however much money I bring with me.
Each village has its own market day. Some are better than others. In Santa Domenica we have a smallish one but Tony from Morocco always has beautiful things for sale.
I know we have the sea and we all love our sea views but the mountains rising up along the spine of Southern Italy are truly spectacular.
The first time we visited, I looked out the window of the plane and saw the magnificent jutting mountains rising up out of the clear blue sea and I could not contain my awe.
Of all the places God created, I think he must be proudest of Calabria. There is no other place like it.
And when you live there you get to experience these and so many other wonders every day.
Honestly, there are so many reasons to love Calabria. These are just a few. The best way to discover them is to come and see them for yourself.
Come to Santa Domenica Talao and look for us in the piazza. We will be having a gelato on a bench next to the church. We will look for you.
Southern Italy has really started booming lately. Tourists who are tired of the Italian Trifecta (Rome, Florence and Venice) are discovering a whole new Italy, or should I say an old Italy where Italian traditions are still intact and the local mom and pop establishments have not sold out to Starbuck’s and believe it or not, Dominos Pizza.
Southern Italy is a charmer and is luring more and more people looking to retire or to purchase a dream home to run away to when life gets to be too much.
And, if you are savvy, you can make a great purchase, find exactly what you want and not break the bank.
So that brings up the question, What about those 1 Euro houses that are all the rage in Southern Italy and especially Sicily? It sounds like a fabulous deal!
Having purchased several properties in Calabria and having discovered honest real estate agents, architects and builders, I can see at a glance several problem areas with what I have researched on these 1 euro homes.
Why are they selling these homes for so cheap?
To answer that questions I have to delve a bit into Southern Italian history.
Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, much of Southern Italy survived mostly on hunting, agriculture and fishing. Southern Italy is also known as the Mezzogiorno region which means “midday” in Italian. The name evokes images of intense heat and sun in the Summer months creating an environment that can burn plants right out of the ground and starve grazing animals when conditions turn inhospitable.
Life in Southern Italy was hard to say the least. For that reason, when news came that America was the land of opportunity and where survival was not nearly as difficult, a huge number of Southern Italians jumped on boats and headed over. Many simply abandoned their houses. Some had the idea of returning but never did, so once the family died out, the houses were, again abandoned.
Every village in Southern Italy has abandoned properties and the villages who have not reinvented themselves and drawn people to them are, in fact, dying out.
Clever mayors are looking for ways to attract new people to these villages and to create new life and a future for their beloved paese. The Italian government having recently handled a huge Mafia problem in our area is now giving grants to the hill towns of Southern Italy to help them promote themselves and new marketing campaigns are rolling out touting the beauty and products of Calabria.
And one of the methods of stoking interest is to offer these abandoned properties for so cheap that you simply must come over and check them out.
That said, there are some things you need to know about this “deal”.
Houses in Italian Historical Centers are way older than any house in the US and some give new meaning to the term “crumbling ruin”
Many of these villages are medieval and some even pre-medieval. This means that these houses are several hundred years old. Most often abandoned properties have been abandoned since the Italian Diaspora in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This means they can have been standing vacant and neglected for over a hundred years. This also means that roofs may have fallen in and once that occurs, water gets into the ancient walls created out of stones, ceramic roof tiles an any flotsam and jetsam that is lying around, and they start to crumble taking the entire structure with them.
And finally this means that although you are purchasing a “house”, you may end up taking it down and completely rebuilding it.
Most of these deals come with conditions
One of the condition is that you have to agree to renovate within a certain period. In addition to that there may be conditions on who you can use in your village as far as work goes. I know that certain villages frown on you bringing workers in from somewhere else to do your work and this can cause friction in a village. You might end up renovating your dream home and living with the fact that you have inadvertently created antagonism with your fellow villagers.
On the other hand, the renovation contracts accompanying these “deals”may be ridiculously expensive for the area or even in general making it a very bad deal indeed.
Sometimes the locals put up the prices for foreigners
Pete and I were discussing where to purchase finishes and supplies for the renovation of our BNB. Our close friend insisted that our builder accompany us to make the purchase because she knew that the vendor might put the prices up when they saw us. Our builder came with us and was able to negotiate a fair price for everything we needed.
Recently Pete and I also received an estimate for the refinishing of some stucco on our rental apartment and it was over 8,000 euros. Obviously that was way too much. We will use someone we trust instead.
Renovation costs can be huge
I recently read interviews with people who had purchased a ruin for a euro and then spent over 250,000 Euros to renovate it.
With housing prices as they are, they could have purchased a completely new or renovated mansion for 250K. I cannot imagine paying that for renovations for a house or apartment of 1,000 or even 2,000 square feet when you can buy one completely done up for less than $100,000. It makes zero sense and if you had to sell for whatever reason you would lose a ton of cash.
Renovation in the Historic Centers is also difficult. Many times there is no road leading to your new house or apartment so the supplies might have to be brought up stairs or ramps in wheelbarrows. Giant scaffolds may be required because many of these villages are in hill towns. All of these things drive up the costs of renovating.
Property purchases in Italy are not legally the same as they are in the states
Recently in our village there was a situation where our builder was frankly, ripped off. I asked him why he didn’t sue and the fact was that despite the gorgeous work he did on the house in question, the real estate market simply did not support a price that would make lawyer fees sensible. Lawyers in Europe are as expensive as they are here. Getting into a legal battle takes forever and will cost you way more than you ever thought.
It is best to avoid resorting to legal remedies in Italy if at all possible. Get everything in writing, ask all the questions you need to ask and don’t be afraid to walk away from a purchase if your gut tells you it’s not right.
So with all that said, does it still make sense to purchase an ancient house in Italy?
The answer is yes but only if you are smart about it,
Every hilltop village in our area has properties available in various stages of construction or deconstruction. The prices in Southern Italy are the lowest I have seen in 10 years. I believe that this is because of the uncertainty in the political and economic situations in the EU and the UK.
Many English and Europeans are hunkering down and sitting tight to see what will happen.
Others are up and selling because they are scared. The prices dropped to almost half of what we saw when we first purchased our house in Santa Domenica Talao.
With this going on, there is a fantastic opportunity to buy your dream home in Italy, especially in the South.
If you are dreaming of a home in Italy here is how I recommend you proceed.
Decide where you want to be
This may be a multi trip project. Go to Italy, find some villages and stay awhile in the ones you find attractive. What are the people like? Each village has a character and it must match yours to some degree if you are to be happy there.
Decide what your ideal scene is with regard to your property
Every property purchase comes with a list of must haves, wants and things you don’t want. Make a list of all of these and assign priorities to each item. Understand that you may completely toss your list if you find a place you fall in love with but at least you will have considered everything.
Get to know your architect and builder if you are planning on renovating
In small villages there is normally one builder and one architect. Be sure you are comfortable with them before doing anything with them. If you aren’t, get something that is already renovated.
If you are planning on renovating, get the prices for EVERYTHING before you make an offer
Sit down and tot up the cost of the house, closing costs, architect costs, and renovation costs down to the last toilet. Get this all in writing and see if the deal makes sense. If not, offer what does make sense. You may do this more than once before you settle on the right house and situation.
If the house needs a new roof, you may want to put on a roof terrace. A roof terrace adds so much to your lifestyle that any place that needs a new roof should be evaluated for a roof terrace, but that is my own personal preference.
Do not over renovate for the area
The property values in any given area are what they are. Putting in $2500,00 in renovations in a house that will maybe sell for $80,000 is fine if you really want it, have the money to support it and don’t plan on recouping all of it if you ever sell.
If you have all of the above covered, go nuts. If not, consider carefully how you plan to renovate.
Understand that you may not be equipped to do the work yourself
Ancient houses are NOT the same as houses here in the US. See our Super Savvy Travelers Youtube video below where I describe them. Any improvements you might make yourself will come with a learning curve. If you are ok with that, proceed.
Budget for more than what you think it will cost
In any renovation, you never know what the final cost will be. Things turn up when moving walls or fixing plumbing, especially in an ancient village. Be prepared.
Purchase something that does not require any structural repairs
New walls, new ceilings and floors are expensive. Avoid all that and get something that is in good shape structurally but just needs some cosmetics. Prices are so low in Southern Italy now that you will be amazed at what you can get.
If you are hell bent on a renovation project CONTACT ME!
Pete and I have a ton of experience purchasing and renovating properties in Calabria. We have discovered and vetted reliable estate agents, property managers, builders and architects. In short we have put the infrastructure there for you to enter into a renovation project eyes wide open. We can walk you through the process.
If you are planning to come to Italy to look at property or to just have a great vacation, we can help you put together a fabulous trip. Send us an email at [email protected]
Who doesn’t love Instagram? If you are dreaming of travel or just adding to your bucket list, Instagram is a great place to go to escape even for a short while.
It is lovely to take out your computer on a cold and rainy Sunday, and look at photos of bright sunshine, blue skies and fabulous crystal blue seas.
And for all of the above, there is no place better than Southern Italy for snap after snap of impossibly beautiful images whether in your mind or in your camera.
Diamante means “diamond” in Italian and a diamond it is.
Diamante rides atop a point that juts out into the Mediterranean and curves inland creating white sand beaches and gorgeous seascapes.
The historic center of Diamante (Centro Storico) is a beautiful blend of ancient Italian houses and tiny cobbled vias interspersed with spectacular views of the sea.
Diamante is also known for its murals which present themselves around corners and tucked into alleyways. A morning spent on a hunt for each mural is so fun as you wind your way through the town taking picture after picture to put on Instagram.
Praia a Mare, Calabria
Pete and I just love Praia a Mare. On a Summer afternoon, Praia’s shady, tree lined promenade down the center of town is a treasure chest of Instagrammable snapshots.
Praia a Mare is so spectacular that Pete and I recently purchased a property that we are now renting out on Air BNB
Calabria is studded with gorgeous little hill towns that take your breath away. each one has its own personality and charm however Tortora is one of our all time favorites for billions of Instagrammable views and sights.
Another reason to love Tortora is that our great friend Giacomo and his family live there and they have introduced us to their friends and family.
Any trip to Tortora must include lunch at Al Caminetto, a restaurant in the Centro Storico that is run by the extremely talented Roseangela and her family.
Roseangela is royalty in terms of Calabrian cooking. A meal with her is a feast of traditional Calabrian appetizers, freshly made pasta dishes featuring Chinguale or local wild boar, and freshly made ravioli with ricotta from the local farms.
While we were there, Roseangela gave us a pasta making demo which you can see here. Enjoy watching me mangle a fusilli. It is quite entertaining how she whips them out perfectly while I struggle trying to make something that might pass for a fusilli noodle if it is buried at the bottom of the dish.
I recommend visiting Al Caminetto with a big group and ordering a selection of traditional Calabrian dishes. You wil be amazed at the variety and how delicious it all is.
Tortora also has a beautiful museum where you can see artifacts that have been dug up in recent local excavations, including Etruscan and Ancient Greek artifacts that date back to the era of the Magna Grecia which encompassed Southern Italy.
Tortora is also one of those villages packed to the brim with Instagrammable images. Everywhere you look is something beautiful.
There is portion of Italy where you can see three different regions, Calabria, Compania and Basilicata. You can see them all from our Air BNB apartment on the terrace. In fact the sunsets from our balcony are all Instagrammable and they are different every night.
Maratea is just north of Calabria along the coast. Maratea is known for the giant white marble statue of Christ the Redeemer similar to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
This statue is perched high atop the hill in Maratea. A drive up there affords you the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean found anywhere.
The beaches in Maratea are also stunning as are most beaches in Southern Italy. The Mediterranean turns crystal blue as you journey down South.
Matera used to be called the Shame of Italy. Back in the 1950’s starvation was rampant as was malaria. Many of the people in Matera lived in caves in the rock walls bringing their animals inside with them in Winter for warmth. Carlo Levy, in his book, “Christ Stopped at Eboli” was the first to shine the light on the deplorable conditions in Matera and this caused the Italian government to come in, repatriate the people in better housing and to care for them.
In recent years however, Matera has become an artist’s Mecca with art and music schools popping up, and festivals in Summer. When we visited, we heard music around every corner from opera to jazz to pop. It was quite extraordinary.
Aside from the art aspect however, Matera is, itself a work of art. Made from the local white stone, Matera gleams in the sunlight and glows in the evening as the golden town lights come up.
Of all of the Instagrammable places I have presented here, my heart belongs to Santa Domenica Talao which is my home.
When Pete and I first looked for property in Calabria, we saw Santa Domenica Talao and that was it. We knew this was where we belonged.
Every day that I walk around the village I see new and beautiful instagrammable views, from the sweeping views of the sea and the mountains to the fruit laid out at my friend Nunzia’s store and the kids playing soccer in the parking lot. There is so much to take in.
We love Santa Domenica Talao so much that Pete and I have purchased a ruin just up from the piazza and a few steps from Nunzia’s store. It is a ruin and we are renovating it and turning it into a BNB so that others can come and enjoy our beautiful village. Check out our renovation project and follow us as we complete it. Then make sure you are there for the grand opening!
Santa Domenica is infinitely Instagrammable but beyond that, when you come you will fall in love with the people. We have so many warm friends there and have been welcomed from the beginning.
As you can see, Southern Italy is a photographer’s paradise. Start planning your trip down. Pete and I are experts in the region and can help you plan the perfect visit. Contact us and we can get you started.
There is something uniquely magic about Autumn in Calabria.
Gone is the white hot afternoon where La Pausa, our afternoon siesta, rescues us from the brutal sun of the Mezzogiorno creating a womb of dark, relative cool where no one expects you until evening.
In its place is the honey colored light that slants in sideways and bathes everything in a golden glow which gives our hilltop village an air of peace and magic around every corner.
Our village, Santa Domenica Talao goes from the quasi frenetic July/August tourist/service pace to instantly more relaxed as though life moved from Allegro to Andante the minute the calendar page turned over.
The village is turned back over to its residents while the evenings remain warm and long, and the magic light turns its houses gold.
After a long flight from San Francisco then a direct jump onto the train and a stop in Praia Mare to pick up my rental car, I finally alighted in Santa Domenica Talao.
Normally I stop off in Rome for a night to catch my breath but just prior to booking I had received an email from our architect, Antonello advising me that there was a grand festa happening which included several days of discussion about how to spread the beauty and flavors of Calabrian cooking far and wide. This news propelled me to Santa Domenica in record time as I am never one to miss a spectacular meal.
Calabria has really been moving forward in its quest to become an actual destination rather than a foot note in a guidebook which skips Southern Italy with barely a mention and takes up again in Sicily as though almost half of Italy, with all its culture, cuisine, wine and Produtti Tipici don’t even exist.
And one of the speakers last night brought up the fact that the fault of this has been lack of PR and marketing. He was right, How could you have all this wealth of amazing products including the freshest and most amazing seafood, the cedro, that misshapen citrus fruit which only grows here, and the Calabrian black truffles, and still go unnoticed.
In any case, the region has made a decision that the world needs to know about Calabria and her treasures and they have set out with a vengeance to ensure that the world is brought to our door.
Calabria has 380 unique products typical to the region. And its cuisine is second to none in terms of creativity and sheer deliciousness. Cucina Povera (Poor cuisine) originated here and celebrates the creativity needed to create the nourishing and delicious dishes with only a handful of the ingredients that they had available at the time.
You see, Calabria, despite her wealth of typical products, has not been considered a wealthy region for a very long time. Long ago Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia or Great Greece. It was a region of learning and culture before the days of the Roman Empire.
Somewhere between then and now, her grand Greek heritage had become somewhat lost and poverty took over.
Many Americans don’t realize it but the majority of Italian dishes that we consider “Italian food” originated here in Calabria. It was the Southern Italians who fled their homelands back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to find a life where survival was easier and where one did not have to battle the environmental extremes in order to eke out a living. And they brought their recipes with them.
The first night before I arrived in Santa Domenica Talao, there was a cooking competition. The judge was a local chef, Vincenzo Grisolia who has made a name for himself with his restaurant, Vigri, down in Scalea.
Scalea is right on the coast and perfectly perched to pull the freshest of fish from the sea and serve it to you immediately. Vncenzo’s restaurant, Vigri. is well known for local seafood and it is the place that I first tasted the most perfectly prepared, fat, sweet shrimp that I have ever experienced.
Chef Vincenzo Grisolia has spent his career presenting Calabrian cuisine to the world and had come to our beautiful village to work with others to spread the word.
During the forum held last night on our communal terrace that overlooks the Lao plain and the Mediterranean, we were treated to discussion about all the cuisine of Calabria and exhortations to not only preserve these amazing dishes, many of which are unique to each tiny hill town that grace the mountain crest of the region, but to disseminate them.
Calabria is a rich cornucopia of natural resources. Wild fennel grows everywhere, Cedros are plentiful and ONLY grow here, and the aforementioned black truffles fetch a fierce price in the markets all across Europe.
There was much discussion among the panel about the famous Pepperoncini festival in Diamante where you can buy peppers that are said to cure anxiety, cancer and even impotence.
The pepperoncino festival is one of the most widely attended in Europe and is a local success story that could be duplicated with other products and in other areas.
When Pete and I first started looking at property here in 2010, things were very different. There were relatively few public works that ever got started much less completed. Some of the areas around our village had an air of seediness to it that try as they might, the locals could not overcome.
Most recently the Italian government has seen the potential of this and other Southern Italian regions as a tourist destinations and has decided to handle the barriers that stood in the way. As a result, our mayor has been able to secure funding for projects that will create a demand for everything Calabria has to offer and it is all starting.
And Pete and I are so lucky to be in on the ground floor and see it all roll out before our eyes.
Last Winter we purchased a grand old building in our village just up from the piazza. We are working with the architect and builder here to turn it into a spectacular and luxurious BNB. From the moment we arrived here the first time we looked at Calabria and our village and decided it was a no-brainer to invest time and treasure to help push this vision forward.
This afternoon, I met my friend Bonnie for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant. I ordered my favorite, Antipasti di Stagione (Antipasti of the season) which means you never know what treats will show up on your table.
Plate after plate arrived with fresh vegetable dishes, Patate e Pippi (potatoes and peppers), Fritatta, and lots of little stuffed and baked or fried things that I cannot name but are delicious little surprises that explode in your mouth with a flood of flavors.
For 12 Euros, we ate our fill and we both took the rest home for dinner.
It was a tiny microcosm, an analogy of our beautiful region and all that it has to offer.
Watch this site for culinary, wine and photography tours of the Riviera Dei Cedri, our beautiful area of Calabria. Pete and I can’t wait to take you round to all the best restaurants and wineries and for you to sit out on the roof terrace with your glass of Ciro watching while the village goes from gold to the pink of sunset and back to gold as the lights come up illuminating this amazing little place that is somehow stopped in time.
It is a place whose time has come.
And you will want to be the first to experience it.
You have been to Rome and seen the ruins and remnants of ancient Roman civilizations piled bit by bit on top of each other until they sometimes seem to blur into a vague category in your consciousness entitled “Ancient Roman History”.
As you whiz through Rome amongst the crazy traffic and high speed buzzing scooters, you can get lost in a world dating back to before Christ when gladiators were rock stars and Roman emperors and their courts were living, breathing reality shows.
You love history but it gets a bit crazed and overwhelming at times doesn’t it?
This is why you need to visit Paestum.
Nestled along the coast among farmlands sprouting olives, artichokes and the famous buffalo (mothers of the creamy delightful mozzarella da bufala that gracefully crowns the best pizzas on the planet) you will find an ancient archeological treasure containing the best preserved Greek ruins in the world.
Paestum not only features miraculously preserved Greek temples (The temples of Hera, Athena and Neptune) but is an entire ancient Greek city laid out exactly as it was 500 years before Christ.
As you wander this ancient city looking at the temples, the marketplace, the gymnasium with its grand pool, and the houses still containing the mosaic tiled floors, you can blink and suddenly find yourself back in that time period.
You can see the columns and loggia (columned walkways) bordering the government buildings and marketplace. You can hear the voices of the vendors in the market selling wine, fruits and vegetables cultivated nearby, and fish just pulled from the sea. You can smell the food being cooked to purchase and take away and the bread baked in the early morning hours in time to be sold fresh at the market later in the day.
It is a perfect snapshot of history still fresh although it existed almost 2,500 years ago.
Paestum was founded at the mouth of the Sele River by the Achaeans (from Achaea in the area of the Peloponnese in Greece) who had originally landed in Sybaris (across the Italian boot on the coast of the Ionian Sea) but fled from there in about 600 B.C and found their way here. *
Before the Roman Empire took over the vast majority of Europe and ultimately parts of Africa and Egypt, the Magna Grecia was in full flower.
The Magna Grecia started in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and covered much of the southern areas of Italy’s famous boot including areas in Campania, Baslilcata, Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.
Settlers from Greece began arriving on these coasts bringing with them the Hellenic culture, philosophies, agriculture and the basics of Greek civilization.
And Paestum was one of the beautiful Magna Grecian cities that was born at that time nestled within its defensive stone walls running along the banks of the Sele River and the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
A visit to Paestum today is a short and beautiful train ride south from Naples or north from Reggio Calabria.
From our village of Santa Domenica Talao, it is an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery as you wind your way along the glorious coast to the shady avenue that leads you directly from the Paestum train station into the archeological park.
As soon as you arrive within the walls that protected this ancient Greek city, you can see outlines of walkways and buildings and in one glorious sweep you take in the magnificent temple of Neptune (or Poseidon if you are an ancient Roman) rising up and glowing pinkish gold in the Tyrrhenian sunshine.
How to Best Explore Paestum
Most visitors see Paestum in Spring, Summer or Fall. At any of these times the weather can be quite hot and humid making it challenging to see all of the park and the museum.
The best way to see Paestum is to arrive as early in the morning as you can and explore the city before the heat of the afternoon sun chases you inside.
Take a break at lunch and have a fantastic meal at the Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose which is on the corner of the tree lined street filled with gift shops that runs the length of the park.
Normally I do not recommend eating anywhere near monuments and attractions but Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose seems to be an exception to that rule. We had an amazing meal with fresh pasta and fish dishes at a great price. The service despite the busy lunch crowd, was warm and efficient.
After your refreshing lunch, head over to the air conditioned museum to see the myriad of artifacts that have been unearthed and put on display.
It is amazing that these every day items are so perfectly preserved giving us a glimpse of a long ago civilization as though we were looking in the shop windows alongside the people who lived there at that time.
Beyond the miraculously preserved Greek temples and the historical snapshot of a bustling city, Paestum is a place that has a very special feel. It is a place of unrivaled aesthetic and spiritual expansion that mortal words cannot really describe.
In short, Paestum has to be experienced to fully understand the inherent beauty, not only of the remnants of a magnificent civilization but of the very civilization that sired it.
Southern Italy, the home of the Magna Grecia is a treasure chest of Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations and artifacts. It is also home to some of the most magnificent beaches and glorious stretches of coastline on the planet.
Super Savvy Travelers are Southern Italy experts. We have a home here and spend our waking hours exploring and learning about all aspects of this spectacular region that has been completely ignored by travel guidebooks and is only now being discovered by Savvy Travelers and culinary experts.
Call us if you want to visit this dazzling region. We will set up a trip that you will never forget.
* Historical data gleaned from Guide Arte”m Paestum The archaeological park, the museum/temple of Hera Argiva” and Wikipedia
Who hasn’t wanted to rescue an ancient house that was once filled with families, honor, fine food and love?
Millions of us have watched “Under the Tuscan Sun”, some of us many times (that would be me!) and as we did so we dreamed of perhaps one day, finding a house that speaks to us and begs us to give it a second chance at glory.
As you may know, my husband and I purchased a house in the Calabrian hill town of Santa Domenica Talao, Italy. Our village, like so many others in the area, has a lot of abandoned ruins.
Back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s many Italians fled Italy to America looking for a better life. Most of them were from Calabria and, although they have made great contributions to us in America in terms of food, family and culture, they left holes in their villages. As a result the abandoned homes have been left to degenerate into a sad state of disrepair.
As you wander through our village you see these empty old beauties and you can’t help but think about how they might look all done up like new. But many of them have been salvaged and brought back to life, once again filled with love and family.
The street leading to the piazza is lined with beautifully renovated houses, all except for the ancient beauty that rises up over the street like a grand old lady, the only house on the block that needs a redo.
And, ever since my husband and I looked at her when we were in the market for our current house, we have never gotten free of her mysterious pull and finally after 9 years, we decided to purchase her and turn her into a BNB.
This lovely lady standing at Via XXIV Maggio, is ours at last.
This was not a simple Italian property transaction. My husband and I decided to use some retirement money to set up a self directed IRA and purchase, renovate and run the BNB through this company. This means that we had to set up a separate company and deal with all of the tax and bureaucratic infrastructure that goes along with it.
Add to that the trouble we ran into getting the tax ID number and some other assorted bits of trouble and, well it took a bit to get it done.
Happily we had some big hitters and “get it done” people on our side. I want to take the opportunity to send out massive kudos to Antonello Lucchesi, our architect and Ivan De Luca, our estate agent and all around get it done guy. These two ran into so many obstacles and found ways around them all. It was really epic!
I also have to thank our seller Anne for being to gosh darned patient with our bits of trouble and hanging in with it all.
At Last it is Time to Renovate!
While Pete and I were in Santa Domenica last time, we had the opportunity to sit down with Antonello and his staff and go over the layout of all the rooms.
From the front, the house looks a lot smaller than it is. She has a ground floor and another floor above it however her generous backside rolls down the hill giving two more good sized floors that can be turned into accommodations.
In the end we will have four “studiette” apartments with ensuite bath and coffee and fridge facilities and a full sized, one bedroom apartment.
Most of the apartments will have views of the mountains and the sea and one will have a balcony overlooking the street. We also have a large roof terrace where residents can enjoy sweeping views of the mountains and the sea from high above the village.
We have decided that we wanted a communal kitchen and eating area where breakfast will be served daily and where we can have events and classes.
And the best news we received while we were there? The cooking school that our mayor has been wooing is finally going to arrive!
As our renovations progress we plan to be in conversations with the cooking school to see about putting together vacation packages for those who want to learn real Calabrian cooking from the masters. In addition we will have ladies from our village teaching classes on everything from pasta making to meats to all of the seemingly millions of appetizers that one finds here.
We will have morning field trips down to the world famous Pasticceria Arrone for coffee and to die for cakes, beach trips, photography tours and whatever else we can think of.
So with the final signatures on all the documents and the money having changed hands, we are ready to start phase 2, renovations!
Stay with us along the way and watch as this beauty regains her past glory and takes her rightful place as one of Santa Domenica’s leading ladies of the piazza.
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 a 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.