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.
So! If you have a thought about purchasing property in Italy, how about our little village?
On my last visit, our village architect, Antonello gave me a gorgeous tour of several properties because my friend was looking to buy there. And honestly there is so much available.
If you have ever thought of moving to Italy but wondered how to do it, go see my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver, an expat in our village.
At the top of the village is a gorgeous two bedroom apartment that has recently been fully restored. Everything has been removed and replaced down to the windows. It features a cute little terrace where you can have coffee or hang your clothes.
It also has large windows that open to sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the lounge area and the bedroom. The asking prices was $80,000
Another apartment featured a one bedroom, one bath apartment above and another bed and small bath below. This was listed at $55,000
And yet another was a cute one bed one bath with views of the sea for $40,000.
In addition to these finished apartments, there is a seemingly endless supply of ruins that could be renovated to your specifications. Some are pretty crumbly but others only need finishes to be beautiful and very comfortable once again.
Pete and I have gotten to know the village architect very well and he loves designing spaces in keeping with the Italian flair and making them stunningly pretty.
If you are interested in our little corner of paradise, please let me know. I can line up a trip for you and assist in the translation and introductions.
Lining up your future home and dreaming about your own personal House Hunters International success is something to think about on these long, cold evenings while we wait for the sun.
So what do you think? Maybe this will change your mind:
Or how about this?:
And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.
Wow! My friend Trish and I just came home from a whirlwind tour of several cities in Italy. Each one has its particular charm but Florence leaves me breathless every time.
Anyone who has been to Florence or who has an obsession for quality purses and handbags knows that Florentine leather products are world renown for their quality and craftsmanship.
The reason for this is that the craftsmen who create these dreamy products have all been well trained and apprenticed and, many times, has family who have done this type of work for a long time.
Walter Moretti at Pelletteria Moretti in Florence is no exception.
When I first launched my website, Chasing La Bella Vita, I wanted to sell quality leather handbags online. I had come over to Florence to scout out a supplier so that I could get super high quality products for a good price.
I had been all over Florence on a bike and had talked to many people in the various shops. None of them were at all interested.
I was about to give up when I happened to ride by Signore Moretti’s shop just as he was going outside to get some air. He was wearing a leather apron which halted me in my tracks. It was a good sign.
I went in and and started looking around. The first thing I noticed was that the designs in this shop were different than the cookie cutter cutout designs I had seen in all the other shops. It was like they had all stuck to the same design for years. In fact, when I go back to Florence and see the stalls on the street or the shops near the monuments, I see the same designs I saw when I first visited Florence many years ago.
The second thing I noticed was the palpable quality of the leather that Signore Moretti uses. You could tell just by touching it that Signore Moretti used super high quality leather for his designs.
After having looked and liking what I saw, I asked Signore Moretti about selling his bags online. At that point he sat me down and gave me a whole lesson on how to find great quality in handbags.
He went over each handbag point by point and explained the work and the attention to detail that went into crafting such a beautiful work of art.
He then would not sell me any handbags until I promised to go out and about and really look at the handbags I found in the other shops and the stalls.
After my primer on handbags, I did not even have to look closely to see the obvious differences in quality.
Signore Moretti advised me that many of the products you find on the street in Florence are mass produced and the quality can be very poor. I observed this for myself by looking them over and finding blemishes and cuts in the leather that would never be found in a Moretti bag.
I came back to his shop and purchase a bunch of handbags to take home and sell.
In the end, I decided against selling the handbags on Chasing La Bella Vita and many of them became gifts for people in my life. Everyone I have ever given one of these bags to has been overjoyed to get it and have ended up loving it for years.
And of course, I kept a lot of them. I mean how can you give the best ones away?
I have one of his adorable little round bags with a bow on it in gray. It goes beautifully with a black dress and breaks up the too much blackness problem with a slight change in color. Very classy!
I also have one of his little jewel box bags with the toggle on the front. Mine is in red and black and is perfect for evenings out. Again, it pairs beautifully with black dresses of which I own many.
This time, I did buy gifts for friends and family members. And of course I bought gifts for myself because why would I not?
I got a beautiful perfectly crafted square bag in bright orange and a gorgeous purse in teal with stunning details.
I just can’t help myself! I love his bags so much that I am like a kid in a candy store. Even with my giant suitcase full, I was thinking about the little bright green bag with the bow on it and trying to figure out how I could squeeze another trip to Moretti’s before my train left. Obsessive? absolutely!
Confession time! My friend and I had to purchase a huge wheelie suitcase we named Big Red just for all the gifts to ourselves and others we brought home. Happily she was booked into first class and was able to check Big Red for free. Big Red is now available for future trips to Florence and this is a good thing.
When you go to Florence, do yourself a favor and go see Walter Moretti and his wonderful family. They are lovely people and you will be dazzled by his works of art. And his prices are really super reasonable considering the passion, attention to detail and quality that goes into every handbag.
Oh and buy yourself a Big Red, you are going to need it.
It is 7:00 AM and I am so comfortable. The antique bed holds me in its arms and refuses to let me go. The sun slants in my window tickling me awake.
From the edges of my consciousness I hear the sounds of the church bells reminding the faithful that it is time to get up and come to the church in the piazza. It is time come together to start a new day.
With my eyes still closed I smile because I am waking up knowing I am still in Italy.
The weather is warm and moist in my village, just up the hill from the seaside town of Scalea.
I toss on a light dress and head up to the piazza. I sit at a table just outside the little bar while the owner brings me a cappuccino and a freshly baked croissant filled with sweet cream, still warm from the oven.
The people buzz in and out of the bar tossing back bitter, black espresso and shouting to each other as they head off to work.
The lady who owns the flower shop across the piazza opens her doors and brings out her flowers. She stops and smiles, and we wave.
Seven years ago, my husband and I purchased a house on the top floor of an ancient building in the hilltop town of Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria, Italy.
After a short visit we decided that this is where we wanted to spend our best years. We wanted to wake up to the church bells, gaze at the sea from our balcony and laugh as the swifts dip, dive and buzz our heads.
And we have never looked back.
When travel guidebooks talk of Italy, they rhapsodize about the regions north of Naples. They completely ignore the South of Italy and in doing so, do a grave disservice to their readers.
There are so many reasons that Calabria is the dream destination not only for travelers but also for expats. It is tough to list just a few.
Southern Italy traditionally was considered the poor region. While this was true before the 1950’s it is not true now.
Nonetheless, the prices are ridiculously inexpensive compared to Rome or anywhere in Tuscany.
A cappuccino in Rome costs about three euros whereas a cappuccino and pastry costs one euro thirty in my village.
Hotel accommodations are almost half what you would pay for similar accommodations further north.
Most mornings I visit my friend Nunzia who owns the store in the piazza. Parked nearby is an ape, the little three wheeled truck that is ubiquitous in Italy. It is filled with whatever produce is leftover from family farms for Nunzia to sell.
Today it is peaches, still fresh and fragrant with their leaves still clinging to them. Tomorrow it will be tomatoes as big as your head, sweet and juicy from the Calabrian sun.
Every Tuesday the fish man comes through the village with his loudspeaker announcing the fresh catch of the morning.
Your dinner has just been pulled from the Mediterranean.
Olive oil is a staple and the Mediterranean diet has been touted as one of the healthiest diets one could adopt. Italy as a country ranks among the highest for longevity.
When my husband and I first arrived in our village we must have been a sight. I am a tall blonde lady with wildly curly hair. My husband is of Northern European descent. In short, we are very different than the average villager.
Nonetheless we are accepted with open arms by everyone.
Our village is a giant family, I witnessed this one night as Nunzia and I took the passagiata (the evening walk). We stopped and kissed all the babies. We chatted with neighbors. We celebrated their joys and mourned their losses.
Throughout the piazza women walked arm in arm. Men played cards at tables outside the bar and everyone belonged. They are part of something bigger than just themselves or their nuclear families. They are part of the village.
I truly believe that the absence of mental health issues in our village stems from this vital fact. They all belong and everyone is loved and accepted, even a lanky blonde with faulty Italian.
The food is art
Calabrian cooking is becoming famous. Most Italian food you enjoy in the US has its roots in Calabria.
Since we are right next to the Mediterranean, seafood is king. Tiny anchovies dressed in lemon grace our plates while calamari, fried with impossibly light breadcrumbs, come next. Octopus, swordfish, cuttlefish, giant prawns, clams and other shellfish are plentiful.
Most of the restaurants in the hill towns serve house made products. The pasta is hand made, the sauces are crafted from old family recipes and the bread is as fresh as it can be, having come out of the oven that morning.
Traditional pizzas are baked in brick ovens and topped with a perfect sphere of mozzerella di bufula.
The wine is amazing
Most of the wines in Calabrian restaurants are locally created. Calabria is known as the Mezzogiorno or the “midday” region. The sun shines most of the year and the mix of sea air, bright sunshine and rich soil seems to be the perfect environment for wine grapes.
The wine is light enough to avoid interfering with the cuisine and you taste the fruit rather than just the alcohol. It pairs perfectly with Calabrian specialties.
It’s rare to see a Calabrian rushing off somewhere. The pace of life is softer and gentler than I am used to.
The focus in life is life. The joys and sorrows, the family times together and views of the sea are vital to my neighbors. Work gets done but it is given its proper importance.
Calabria is home to miles upon miles of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The stretch of seaside from Scalea down to Reggio Calabria boasts of stunning beaches and picturesque seaside fishing villages.
Looking inland you see the dramatic, jutting mountains that turn from pink in the morning to grey to purple as the day progresses. The mountain ridges carry tiny hill towns on their backs while little farm houses dot the fields below.
My favorite pastime is sitting at the restaurant at the edge of my village, gazing at the 360 degree view first of the mountains, then the sun setting over the Mediterranean and finally the village glowing gold and looking so much like a fairyland that you have to look twice.
Everywhere you look in Calabria there is something jaw droppingly beautiful. The sea is crystal blue and warm, magnificent art and architecture are everywhere, and the people, so willing to smile and hug you are the most beautiful sight of all.
Calabria is home to some of the toughest and yet most warm and loving people I have ever met.
Not so long ago, these people eked out a living from farms and the sea. They withstood the horrors of two world wars, and yet when you approach them, they smile.
It is so easy to make friends. There are several expats in our village.We all get along and we all fit into this little village of disparate personalities and backgrounds.
Calabria is a great jumping off point for travelers
A short trip south on the train is Lemezia Terme airport. From there you can catch cheap flights to anywhere in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
From Santa Domenica Talao you can drive east to Bari, Puglia and take a ferry to Greece.
Or you can drive south to Reggio Calabria and take the ferry across the Straits of Messina and over to Sicily.
The travel possibilities are endless.
We are there
And we want to share this idyllic life with everyone we know.
Book your flight and head over. You too can wake up to the church bells and enjoy the healthy and beautiful Italian lifestyle. Your best years are ahead of you. Give yourself the gift of Calabria. You will never want to leave.
Call us. We can help you plan the perfect trip. Don’t miss this perfect destination.
Every Italian schooled in Italy has read Carlo Levy’s book Christ Stopped at Eboli.
Eboli is a town just south of Salerno in Southern Italy. Once you go south past Amalfi, you enter the REAL Italy.
Carlo Levy was a doctor, a writer and painter who originally lived in Turin in the northern province of Piedmonte.
He was an outspoken opponent to the creeping Fascism during the time that Hitler and Mousellini were teaming up to unleash hell on the entire planet.
Because he was not quiet about his beliefs, he was sent into exile for two years to a tiny southern Italian hill town in the southern province of Lucania called Aliano.
It was not unusual at that time for people to be exiled. In Aliano there were a few exiles, They had strict rules of conduct that they had to adhere to.
The reason Levy’s book is so significant is that his writings went on to shed light on what was later called the Shame of Italy.
The Shame of Italy was the fact that the people of the nearby hill town of Matera lived in abject squalor. They had dug caves out of the rock and lived in medieval houses made from the white stone that is ubiquitous in that region.
Because the landscape in Southern Italy is arid, in the days before large scale irrigation, people lived on the meager fare they could scratch out on the farms and their livestock.
Many times the animals would live in the houses with the families for warmth in Winter.
Malaria was rampant throughout Matera and the conditions made it hell.
For these reasons the locals told Levy that “Cristo si e Fermata A Eboli”, Christ stopped at Eboli, north of them and not even Christ himself had cared to come this far south.
Levy’s book caused an uproar and finally the people of Matera were moved out and into government built houses. They were provided food and medicine and Matera sat lonely and vacant for awhile.
Finally in recent years, the beauty and history of Matera has drawn new interest and people have moved back and created a new and vibrant Matera.
Matera is now a cultural Mecca drawing not only tourists but musicians, artists and film makers.
Some of the scenes from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ were filmed here.
Last Fall my husband and I visited Matera and Aliano. We had read and reread Levy’s book and we wanted to see where this intriguing story had played out.
Aliano was fascinating to us as we coud see the actual location where Levy had experienced his exile. We watch his story spring to life.
Although being exiled there today would not be much of a hardship, back then it was a rough existence filled with illness, hopelessness, superstition and endless arbitrary bureaucratic red tape that made the smallest effort to make things better suddenly illegal.
Today Aliano is a lovely hill town springing up in the middle of arid land. It is sleepy and unhurried. Businesses thrive and the restaurants are good, even great.
Buses filled with school children file into the town and later, out again because the students are still studying Christ Stopped at Eboli and probably will for a very long time to come.
But superstition still dips its hat there as the restaurant we had lunch in was called “La Laconda Con Gli Occhi” or the “Inn of the eyes”.
The building itself sports the architectural design that when you look at it from the front, looks like a face with eyes. It is said that the eyes keep evil spirits away.
This seems to work fabulously as the food and service were amazing and we highly recommend it.
As we later arrived in Matera, we were taken aback by the modern buildings and streets. It was teeming with tourists despite the fact that it is a bit of a trek to get to.
We had booked an AIR BNB there overlooking the Sassi de Matera (the old town). This is where the people lived as illustrated in Levy’s book. Our balcony overlooked the Sassi and in the evening the gold lights came up making it look like a fairy town.
As dinner time approached we walked to the town center. Matera is a vision of white stone streets and houses.
The people were out taking the passagiata, the charming custom of walking and talking to each other that happens every night, eveywhere in Italy.
As you wander through the town you hear music everywhere. Matera, having elected itself a cultural center has several music academies there. On our walk we alternately heard jazz, opera and rock music filtering through the Sassi.
Matera has done a lot to cater to tourists. I had no trouble finding several gluten free restaurants and vegetarian dishes are available at many places. In fact the gluten free pizza and beer I had was way better than any GF pizza here in the states.
Before you go, read Levy’s book. Although his book paints a dreary but true picture of what Matera was like, you will see a true life happy ending when you arrive
The best time to go is during shoulder season. The weather can be brutally hot in Summer and cold in Winter. Spring and Fall are magnificent.
If you are interested in visiting Matera or anywhere in Italy, contact me.
IF you have seen Matera, please leave a comment about your experiences there.
Remember when Amalfi was the cool place to visit? The highbrow travelers flocked there to see and be seen.
The Amalfi coast and Positano in particular have reached truly Disneyesque status as tourist destinations.
The Disney phenomenon seems prevalent in the areas that cater to tourists. As more and more tourists descend on a town or a province, the mom and pop shops sell out to trinket shops and high end designer fashion stores.
Many times the beauty of the old architecture is destroyed and turned into a sterile new “modern” look that defeats the entire purpose of visiting a small Italian fishing village.
You could go visit Amalfi and pay way too much for a meal at one of the restaurants there but your travel dollar is way better spent a little further south.
Most guidebooks featuring Italy stop at Naples and claim to have reached “The South”.
They completely ignore the fact that there is almost half of Italy further south and that, to have a true Italian holiday immersed in the food, customs and community, you have to venture further.
Italy is a glorious country but there are reasons to avoid the crowds and tourists of the Rome, Venice, Florence trifecta.
1) The food
Calabria has its own cuisine. In fact most of what Americans know as “Italian food” is Calabrian cooking.
Starting in the late 1800’s and continuing through two world wars, Calabrians emigrated in great numbers to America, mostly New York.
Much of Calabria at that time was a brutal place to farm and farming was the sole subsistence of most of the people.
The Calabrian Diaspora (Emigration) continued over decades and ultimately Calabrian influence could be seen everywhere in the US.
Your pizzas and pasta ragouts are from Calabria and Naples.
A walking tour through any Calabrian village finds hand made fresh pastas, home made breads and a complete array of delicious pastries.
My two favorite restaurants in Calabria are the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao where my husband and have a place, and Al Caminetto in Tortora which is another beautiful Calabrian hilltown.
Order anything off the menu at any one of these two places and you are in for a treat.
2) The Scenery
The Calabrian coast or The Riviera Dei Cedri is not only bristling with picturesque little fishing villages but also has spectacular mountain ranges jutting up into the sky in a myriad of colors.
Add to this the little medieval hilltop villages clinging the rocky crags like mushrooms on a tree trunk and you have an enchanting vacation destination.
Calabria is a photographer’s dream. Around every corner is another jaw dropping view that stops you in your tracks.
3) The shopping
Calabria and Southern Italy in general is known for their markets. The Monday market in Scalea is a shopper’s paradise. The marketplace is lined with stalls selling anything from lingerie to housewares to cheeses.
Every little village has a market once a week and the downtown areas all have shops that sell products unique to their specific regions.
Many of these products like Cedro cookies and jellies, fiercely hot N’Duja and chile peppers are unique to the region.
4) The people
When my husband and I first purchased our home in Santa Domenica, we barely spoke Italian and worried whether we would fit in.
Somehow, between then and now we have become fast friends with our Italian neighbors.
Nunzia who runs the market in the village took us under her wing and from that point on we were part of the community.
One day while visiting the little hill town of Aieta, close by our place, a man came running out, brought us in for coffee and introduced himself.
Since then Giacomo and his family have been good friends and they are always up for a day or a dinner out when we are there. (On the right is Roseangela who is an amazing chef. Check out our video as she tries really hard to teach me how to make pasta.)
We have made so many great friends there despite our halting Italian and funny California ways.
They happily look the other way when they see us eating dinner at 6:oo and drinking cafe latte in the afternoon. Any time we need anything they are there to help us out.
5) La Pausa
The afternoons in Calabria are set aside to recover from a big Calabrian lunch. Everything shuts down at 1:00 and everyone snoozes.
At first this bugged me. Where was everyone? I had to plan my day around La Pausa (The pause) but more and more I fell into the habit of reading and taking a short snooze in the afternoon.
It is a lovely custom. You feel so refreshed after a pause and you can then stay up late and enjoy the festivals into the evening.
6) Everything is inexpensive
At my favorite restaurant, I can get an oven fired pizza for eight Euros. The homemade red wine there which is fabulous by the way, is also about eight euros for a liter.
The food is fresh and many times it comes to you without you having to go out shopping.
Several times a week we hear the voice of our fish man broadcasting through the village “Peschi! Peschi fresci” and a huge filet from an unfortunate seabass who was just pulled from the sea, is yours for ten euros.
7) It is the perfect home base for an exploratory trip
From most Southern Italian towns, everything is accessible by rail. You can go North to Paestum for the best preserved Greek city still in existence.
You can head south to the fishing village of Scilla for seafood, or to Paola to visit the extraordinary sanctuario there.
You can head further South to Reggio Calabria and see the promenade and the beautiful museums and shops.
You can go further south to Sicily over the Straits of Messina and arrive in Taormina. Everything is a short hop.
Or you can stay in one area and explore the many hilltowns that dot the region. Each one has its own beauty and charm and the people love tourists who interact with them.
8) The passagiata
Every evening and especially in weekends, everyone in the village dresses up and performs the passagiata or “The walk”. They leave their housework, their TV’s and telephones and they walk around the village.
They touch bases with their neighbors, have an ice cream and kiss new babies. The men play cards at the tables left out for them by the shop proprietors. The woman walk arm in arm and talk about their lives.
In my village I see no one with mental health issues and I think that the simple act of walking with another person arm in arm and talking to them goes a long way in preventing depression and loneliness.
The people of the village belong to the family that is the entire village. It is a powerful support group.
9) Calabria is Magical
While walking in the alleys of Diamante one day I heard a gasp. I looked up and a tiny lady was running toward me with her arms outstretched. “Che Bella Duona!” (What a beautiful lady!) she said and fell into my arms.
I looked up at my husband and friend who were as surprised as I was and said “I love this place!”
And who could not love a place that raises its children with the idea that these spontaneous outbursts of love and admiration are perfectly ok?
If you love life, all the joy it brings, all the sights, smells, and sensations, you will love Southern Italy.
When you go, visit my friend Clive and Cathryn at Casa Cielo, in Scalea. They are the number one BNB there and are English so language is never a problem.
Additionally Clive is a fantastic chef and at the slightest prompting he will make you a meal you will you will never forget.
And if you happen to pass by Santa Domenica Talao in Summer, look for me. I will be at a table at the cafe or walking around the village. We can have a coffee and a chat.
Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.
Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites.
1) The Vatican Art Museums
Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere.
A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.
The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.
At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.
Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.
Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.
Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.
A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.
Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life.
Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.
Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.
The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.
The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.
Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.
Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.
When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.
The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.
If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte. Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.
Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate.
Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.
Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.
My friends and I entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.
My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.
She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.
A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.
If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.
The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.
The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.
Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.
Order a cafe, dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.
You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours.
Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.
It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.
Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries.
The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.
Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.
Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.
4) The Food!
The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.
I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal.
Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable.
Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.
Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.
It was sad.
Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.
If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.
In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists.
5) The history!
Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.
Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.
Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.
Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.
6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!
I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.
The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people.
But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?
Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.
Start planning your trip to Rome. Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you.