More Reasons Why Calabria is the Perfect Retirement Destination

Perfect coffee and cakes

Ciao again!

First off I want to thank you all for your interest in my article “Living in Paradise: Why Calabria, Italy is the Perfect Retirement Destination”  .

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!

Maratea borgo

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?

I gatti
I gatti

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!)

Festival
Photo credit Oleg Magni

The festivals!

Honestly Calabria needs no excuse to put on a festival. And why not? The Pepperoncino Festival in Diamante is a massive hit every September.

One of my favorites is the pastry festival in Santa Maria Del Cedro, featuring the knee weakening delights of Pasticceria Arrone (Here is yet another blog post all about their pastries to die for.)

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.

Fried chilis
Crunchy fried chilis with sale and olive oil. AMAZING!

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.

Ristorante di Aliga
Ristorante Di Aliga

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!

Castle in Calabria
Castle in Calabria

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.

Fresh mushrooms in Santa Domenica Talao
Fresh mushrooms in Santa Domenica Talao

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.

Market day
Market day

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.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.

The mountains

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.

Scalea stair case
Scalea, Staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absolutely Vital Steps to Purchasing Your Home in Italy

Belvedere Maritimo

Caio!

And thank you for helping to make our recent Youtube videos so popular.

We have also received lots of news from Santa Domenica Talao, Italy letting us know that the work on our home renovations are going swimmingly.

We really can’t wait to see the finished project. You can see our renovations in the “during” phase right here. 

Obviously before purchasing our house almost ten years ago, Pete and I did a lot of research on purchasing a home in Italy.

The housing market in Italy is totally different than in America. In my recent video I went over the differences between an American home and a centuries old home in an Italian village.

Please do your own research but ultimately you will take these steps.

1. Find the area you want to be

There are several very important things to consider when choosing the area where you want to land.

a) Proximity to medical care and hospitals is super important.

Understand that medical services in Italy are very different than they are here in the US. Here if  we have something wrong, we make an appointment with a doctor and see him or her before getting any kind of treatment.

In Italy the pharmacies have pharmacists who are highly trained in diagnosis and treatment of the vast majority of health problems you might have.

For example if you have a sinus infection, you can get antibiotics over the counter. I once had a rash on my face and the pharmacists diagnosed the issue and handled it with the correct ointment.

My son once had food poisoning that he picked up before he arrived in Italy. He was in rough shape. I went to the pharmacy and they prescribed electrolytes and probiotics. He was much better after starting that treatment.

I do not know where the line is medically beyond which you have to see a doctor but there is a lot you can handle with your local pharmacist.

b) Check into the availability of the services you need and want.

For example if you need a hairdresser close by, or a nail salon, factor that into your decision.

c) What is the character or your city, town or village? 

Make sure it matches your own. The most perfect house in a village where you have massively different realities with the people there will not work out well.

d) Are there other ex pats?

Depending on your independence and confidence in being able to learn the language and to fall in with the customs, this may or may not be important to you. I can say that it can be exhausting trying to speak Italian all the time when you are learning and having someone to speak English with is a blessing.

However once you are up and rolling, that all could change. It all depends on what is important to you. I do highly recommend folding yourself in with your village no matter the language and cultural differences. This will give you the richest life experience.

e) Language

In Southern Italy, English is not a prevalent as it is up north. Even in the North when you get out of the bigger cities, you may not find a lot of English spoken.

Obviously you will want to learn Italian and speak like a local but after days of listening and learning, you can get some pretty wild brain fatigue and it is very nice to hear your native language.

2. Choose your agent

I hate to say it but some real estate agents in Italy are not honest and I am not necessarily talking about the locals. I have heard some real horror stories so be on the lookout.

Additionally the standard of responsibility for an agent in Italy may not be the same as in the US. The packet of documents you receive when purchasing a house in the US is massive. In Italy it is pages.  I do not know if disclosures are even a thing in Italy.

That said we found a wonderful agent in Ivan De Luca at Immobiliare Casabella in Scalea, Italy. I will provide all the data at the end of this post.

3. Obtain your Codice Fiscale

The Codice Fiscale is the Italian tax ID number and every big purchase requires that you have one. I bought beds recently and had to show my Codice Fiscale. You can obtain them at your local Italian embassy and it is not difficult but if you want to get it in Italy your agent can assist you with the process.

4. Choose your property

Where do you see yourself? Do you want an ancient hilltop village or a beautiful beach town? Do you want a busy city or a place in the country? All of these options have pros and cons.

In hill towns you will likely need a car whereas if you get a place in a town along the train lines, you can avoid the cost and hassle of having a car.

On the other hand if you purchase something close to the beach, understand that July and August can get extremely crowded with tourists.

That said you may be right in the thick of all of the festivals and events that occur in Summer. The hill towns and villages also have their version of the events but they are not as big as the busier cities.

Do you want a renovated house or apartment? Do you want something habitable that needs some cosmetics or do you want a complete renovation? All of these are good options but do your homework and get the costs in advance for all renovations and fixtures before making an offer on your house. Again there is a lot of useful information in my recent video .

Are you thinking of purchasing something off plan or to-be-built? ok, do me a favor and DON’T!! EVER!! EVER!!! EVER!!!

When I was researching our home purchase the first thing I did was get on the local forums where ex pats discussed experiences and issues. I also got onto forums in Spain and other countries as well as in Italy to see what experiences might be similar.

What I saw shocked me. So many people had purchased off plan (or to-be-built) projects that were never built. The contractors and these peoples’ money just disappeared like breath off a razor blade.

In another forum I read the story of a couple who had put a good amount of retirement money into a new build in Spain. Due to local misrepresentations of zoning laws, their house was bull dozed and there was no recourse.

The legal machinery in Italy grinds exceedingly slowly and you may never see a cent back in the event that you have to litigate. And litigation presupposes that you have tracked down the culprits who scammed you because they could be long gone.

I recommend that you buy something that you see before you and do not purchase anything with a build contract as the renovations may never happen.

We were shown an off plan build in our area ten years ago that we could have purchased for $120,000 Guess what? It was never built.

If you are thinking of getting something that needs renovations or needs to be rebuilt (Like many of the 1 euro houses) make sure that you get to know your builder and your architect before hand and are very comfortable with them. Then get all estimates up front before making an offer on your property.

Once you have all that data, make an offer that makes sense and be prepared to walk away.

Also be aware that not everything we expect in the US to be included in the price, is in fact included. Kitchens in Italy may or may not be included. They are like Lego sets and can be assembled and disassembled quickly. Take nothing for granted and if you want the kitchen, ensure it is in included in the deed. The same goes for light fixtures and just about anything else.

Also be aware that sometimes a garage or room in a house may belong to someone else. Take nothing for granted and ensure you know EXACTLY what all is included.

5. The purchase and dealing with the Notaio (Notary)

Notaries in Italy are way different than notaries in the US. According to Ivan De Luca, a PHD in economics and real estate agent extraordinaire, here is an outline of the Notaio’s functions:

a) The Notaio acts in favor of both the buyer and seller and works for the state.

b) The Notaio is a neutral third part and ensures that all documents comply with Italian real estate law.

c) Whether the transaction is done person to person or through an agent, the Notaio is required to oversee the transaction

d) The Notaio may execute certain checks after the  purchaser has paid a deposit. These checks might include each party’s rights to buy or sell a property, Whether there are any third party claims on the property (liens), a search to identify the presence of possible mortgages, and verification of planning permission.  The Notaio does not verify the compliance with planning permission only that planning permission was given.

e) The Notaio draws up the deed of sale (Atto di Vendita) based on the input from the seller or real estate agent.

f) The Notaio verifies the identities of the parties involved in the transaction.

g) The Notaio attends signing of the final sales contract and reads it aloud to both parties.

h) The Notaio ensure that the new deeds of ownership are registered at the Land Registry.

i) After the deed is registered, the Notaio gives copies of the deed to both parties.

After all of this is complete, congratulations! You are the proud owner of your Italian property!

Obviously this is an overview and since we are not attorneys, We are not giving legal advice here. Check with your real estate professionals in Italy and you can even check with your Notaio if you have questions. Also, if your transaction is complex or if you simply feel more comfortable, hire an attorney to assist you with the transaction.

Pete and I highly recommend Ivan De Luca who has acted not only as a real estate agent for us but has assisted us in setting up our business in Italy, managed our bills and advised us in so many ways on so many issues.

Ivan De Luca
Immobiliare Casabella, Scalea, Calabria, Italy
Parco Centro Marina, Via Lauro, 159, 87029 Scalea CS, Italy
+39 0985 90923

We recommend Ivan for the following reasons:

a) We have used him on several property transactions and despite some pretty grave obstacles, he has always found a way to get things done.

b) Ivan manages our rental properties and bill payments.

c) He is organized and completely transparent. You see where every penny is going.

d) Every time he makes a recommendation he backs it up with good logic and judgement.

e) He has seen everything in the Italian property market and knows what to do in every circumstance.

f) He is fluent in both Italian and English.

g) He is a one stop shop.

In addition to the sales process Ivan can assist you with these issues:

Fully assisted viewings with English translations
Provides assistance obtaining your Codice Fiscale
Offers translation services at the closing meeting
Full before and after sales assistance.
Assistance wtih residency and/or business set up
Bill payment/management
Renovation management and rental services
He has a PHD in economics and knows the Italian system very well.

We have found Ivan to be a valuable partner in all of our property handlings.

I hope that this blog post and the accompanying videos have been helpful to you. Please continue to send me your feed back and any subjects you want to hear about or any questions you have.

Ciao for now!

 

 

1 Euro Italian Properties, Great Deal or Renovation Nightmare?

Santa Domenica Talao, Italy

Ciao!

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!

Is it?

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]

 

 

Ruin Flippers! How Our House Hunters International Dream is Coming True AGAIN!

The ruin from the side

 

 

If you are like me, you are hooked on House Hunters International. I watch every episode on Europe and I love trying to figure out which house the buyers  will get and what kind of life they will create there. The episodes on Italy are always my favorite.

Back in 2011, my husband Pete and I made our House Hunters International dream come true by purchasing a medieval house on the top of a 300 year old building in an ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.

Back then not many people had heard of Calabria. Guidebooks ignored it despite the fact that Calabria boasts of some of the most dramatic landscapes and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.

So we had very little competition buying our house with its sparking white tile and sweeping view of the sea.

Neighbors chatting in Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria. #santadomenicatalao #calabria #southernitaly #chasinglabellavitanow

And we have been visiting there as much as we possibly can since we bought it. We love it there and miss it sorely when we are away..

Last Summer I was there with a friend who was looking at purchasing a property there. As we wandered though the piazza toward the back of the village, my eyes fell on a ruin that Pete and I had fallen in love with when we were looking for our house.  It had been on the market then but was too expensive and needed extensive renovations.

The Pink House
The Pink House

This ruin, I had heard, had been purchased and yet here it was, still sitting in a state of partial renovation as it had for the last seven years.

So I asked my friend Antonello (Who you remember from my previous post about the ruined palace in the back of the village) about it.

Antonello told me that a lady had purchased the building with the intention of renovating it but that she had found another house and had moved in. He stated that the lady wanted to sell it and I asked him to find out how much.

In 2011 when we were initially looking to purchase, the property market was strong. People from America and various parts of the UK had come over and purchased holiday homes. Since then the market and gone pretty soft so the price was right and we are now in the process of purchasing the “Pink House” steps away from the piazza.

The Piazza
The Piazza

The house itself looks like a two story house from the front however it is built on a hill and all together it is four stories.

We have figured that if we are judicious with the space, we can create five studio apartments, a communal kitchen, communal laundry facilities and a huge roof terrace with sweeping views of the Pollino mountains and the Mediterranean.

A few months ago we agreed on the price and now we are waiting for the contracts to be translated and the date set with the notaio who will meet with us and go over the contract, line by line to ensure that all T’s are dotted and eyes crossed.

Then it will be ours.

Right now it is looking like early February 2019 and then the renovations can start.

The ruin from the side
The ruin from the side

This is going to be a magnificent project. the architect has an amazing sense of aesthetics and loves to make things beautiful.

From the back
From the back

 

We are so excited. The village has been changing and gearing up for tourism. The village leaders seem to want this beautiful place to be a destination for tourists rather than a place you stumble upon  if you are lucky.

And Pete and I have a purpose to introduce this amazing place to the people we come into contact with.

The grand opening for the BNB is tentatively set for May 2020. Please stay tuned here for updates, photos and announcements.

I will write more and post more photos when we visit in February.

Interview with an Expat: Can You Move to Italy?

Santa Domenica Talao

 

 

 

Santa Maria Del Cedro
Main church in Santa Maria Del Cedro

Ciao Italophiles!

Who has not dreamed of uprooting their life and starting completely fresh in a foreign land? Many people think and dream of this but how many really do it? How do you move to Italy?

Generally, one thinks about it, maybe researches a bit online and then gives up because between learning the language, learning an entirely new culture and completely undoing one’s life and redoing it elsewhere is just, well, overwhelming.

And one has no model to follow. One simply scrunches up one’s eyes and dives in hoping they can learn fast enough to avoid a major disaster. Or one just doesn’t do anything and regrets it.

Fruit Stand Napoli
Fruit Stand in Napoli

That is why, during my recent jaunt to Calabria, I asked my new neighbor and friend Bonnie Gale Oliver to sit down and let me interview her.

She graciously did and as soon as Pete has edited it to make me look thin, it will be up and available.

In the meantime, some of her tips were so important that I thought I would give you a brief preview.

Piazza Trastevere, Roma
Piazza in Travestevere, Roma

What makes one decide to pull up roots and start all over somewhere else?

In Bonnie’s case it was a love of travel and a love for Italy. For the last several decades she was a nurse and had limited time off. Travel to Europe takes a couple of days each way.  A week off is not enough time to see much of anything.  When you do, it is through a blur of jet lag so that you can barely remember what you did see.

If one really wants to spend a lot of time exploring Europe, it just makes sense to either live somewhere where travel to the rest of Europe is manageable, or to buy a place there.

Bonnie found what Pete and I found, that Calabria is the perfect jumping off point for all of Europe. The airport is a train ride away and all of Europe is a short flight away.

Is living in a medieval Italian hill town a hardship?

In America, when you mention hundred years old houses, people cringe. Pictures come to mind of money pits filled with termites, water damage and other costly nightmares.

Balcony view Santa Domenica Talao
View from our Balcony in Santa Domenica Talao

In our village, the houses are hundreds of years old. Pete and I recently found out that our house was built in 1642 and was part of one of the grand mansions in the village. It took up an entire city block.

There is very  little wood rot because there is very little wood. The massive walls are made of stone and leftover building materials from centuries ago. There is no earthquake damage where we are because the houses in the city center are like a honeycomb of dwellings that lean on each other for support.

During our renovations I asked our contractor about escape routes in case of fire. He looked at me like I was mad.

We don’t have house fires in our village. Everything is stone and brick, Ceilings are held up with metal beams.

Any time we leave our place there, we simply shut of the water and electrical and go. It is the easiest thing in the world.

In Summer the two feet thick walls hold in the cool and in Winter they hold in the heat.

Our village has a butcher, a pharmacy, a doctor, and two little grocery stores. Everything you need for every day life is there.

If you need or want more, there is a huge Conad market down the hill in Scalea that has more than what you would find in a supermarket here in California.

In addition to all the things you would expect in an American supermarket, they have varieties of fresh cheeses, beautiful produce, gluten free selections and a cafe with amazing food to eat in or take out.

Cristo Redentore, Maratea
Cristo Redentore, Maratea, Calabria. Christ the Redeemer of Maratea, at 21 meters high, is the third-tallest statue of Jesus in Europe. The statue was built of pure Carrara marble in 1965 by Bruno Innocenti, a sculptor from Florence.

If that were not enough, we have a bar in the piazza where you can buy a perfectly brewed cappuccino or espresso and a warm,  freshly baked croissant filled with cream or marmalade. Is the afternoons fresh gelato is served at the tables set outside in the shade of the church tower.

On the corner of our village sits a fabulous restaurant where you can watch the sun set over the Mediterranean while enjoying freshly made pasta dishes, oven fired pizzas with fragrant mozzarella di bufala and my favorite, impossibly light and delicious zucchini fritters that make my mouth water just thinking of them.

Lunch in Scalea
Lunch in Scalea, Italy

Is the language a problem?

In southern Italy not everyone speaks English. For that matter not everyone converses in Italian all the time. Many of the older residents in our village speak dialect which is a mix of Greek, French, Spanish and Italian thrown in for color.

That said, most of the younger residents speak pure Italian and recently I have met several young kids who learned English in school. They looked eager to try it out on us. It was nice to converse in either language with the idea that we are helping each other get to the point where conversation will someday flow easily.

In any case, when you need to communicate, there is a huge desire to understand you. Phone apps come out that translate in real time, Italian charades are performed, many times to gales of laughter and in the end, all is well.

In addition, you learn quickly if you open yourself up to it and make an effort.

Bonnies tells me that she and her sister Carolyn are going to be attending the free Italian classes offered to foreign residents. Our other friend Kathryn attended these classes and her Italian is flawless (In my opinion).

Diamante
Diamante

What about the Italian Bureaucracy?

There is no question that certain things in Italy are done a certain way. In our interview, Bonnie tells us about her adventures getting her residency status, registering her car and next she will get her Italian drivers’ license.

The beautiful thing is that many of the neighbors who know all the ins and outs, have given her advice and helped her in each of these endeavors.

Chris and the Loa Archeological site
Chris at the Lao Archeological site

What do you do for fun?

Bonnie and her sister Carolyn want to travel. the train station is just down the hill from our village and from there you can go pretty much anywhere in Italy, or even in Europe.

From where we are, Sicily is a hop and a skip, Reggio Calabria,  a much overlooked destination is half a day away. The ruins at Paestum, one of the most beautifully preserved ancient Greek cities is two hours. Naples is two hours on the train and Rome is five hours.

If you do not want a train ride, our area is studded with little jewel hill towns, each with its own character and charm. Take your camera and good walking shoes and you can discover some of the most beautiful views, stunning churches and picturesque villages. It is a photographer’s dream come true.

A lunch at one of the fabulous restaurants sets you up for another tour of a different glittering hill town. Each town has its rich history and its warm and wonderful people.

I can’t wait for Pete to put the finishing touches on our interview. I loved talking with Bonnie and I love watching it over and over because I get more great information every time.

Please watch for it and when you have seen it, send me a note letting me know what you think.

And, as always, if you want to plan a trip, let me know. I would love to put it together for you.

And if you want more reasons to retire in Calabria, read this blog post. See you there!

Living in Paradise: Why Calabria, Italy is the Perfect Retirement Destination