Paestum; The Magic and Magnificence of the Magna Grecia.

Temple of Neptune
Guide book at the ready! We bought these fab hats at the gift shop! Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

 

You have been to Rome and seen the ruins and remnants of ancient Roman civilizations piled bit by bit on top of each other until they sometimes seem to blur into a vague category in your consciousness entitled “Ancient Roman History”.

As you whiz through Rome amongst the crazy traffic and high speed buzzing scooters, you can get lost in a world dating back to before Christ when gladiators were rock stars and Roman emperors and their courts were living, breathing reality shows.

You love history but it gets a bit crazed and overwhelming at times doesn’t it?

Chris at the Temple of Athena
Chris at the Temple of Athena. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

This is why you need to visit Paestum.

Nestled along the coast among farmlands sprouting olives, artichokes and the famous buffalo (mothers of the creamy delightful mozzarella da bufala that gracefully crowns the best pizzas on the planet) you will find an ancient archeological treasure containing the best preserved Greek ruins in the world.

Paestum not only features miraculously preserved Greek temples (The temples of Hera, Athena and Neptune) but is an entire ancient Greek city laid out exactly as it was 500 years before Christ.

Ancient Road
Ancient Road in Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

As you wander this ancient city looking at the temples, the marketplace, the gymnasium with its grand pool, and the houses still containing the mosaic tiled floors, you can blink and suddenly find yourself back in that time period.

You can see the columns and loggia (columned walkways) bordering the government buildings and marketplace. You can hear the voices of the vendors in the market selling wine, fruits and vegetables cultivated nearby, and fish just pulled from the sea. You can smell the food being cooked to purchase and take away and the bread baked in the early morning hours in time to be sold fresh at the market later in the day.

Ancient loggia
Ancient columns. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

It is a perfect snapshot of history still fresh although it existed almost 2,500 years ago.

Bonnie Chris and Barbara
A perfect morning walk through Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Paestum was founded at the mouth of the Sele River by the Achaeans (from Achaea in the area of the Peloponnese in Greece) who had originally landed in Sybaris  (across the Italian boot on the coast of the Ionian Sea) but fled from there in about 600 B.C and found their way here. *

Before the Roman Empire took over the vast majority of Europe and ultimately parts of Africa and Egypt, the Magna Grecia was in full flower.

The Magna Grecia started in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and covered much of the southern areas of Italy’s famous boot including areas in Campania, Baslilcata, Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.

Wild flowers
Spring flowers and Greek temples. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Settlers from Greece began arriving on these coasts bringing with them the Hellenic culture, philosophies, agriculture and the basics of Greek civilization.

And Paestum was one of the beautiful Magna Grecian cities that was born at that time nestled within its defensive stone walls running along the banks of the Sele River and the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea.

A visit to Paestum today is a short and beautiful train ride south from Naples or north from Reggio Calabria.

Swimming pool
The community swimming pool at Paestum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

From our village of Santa Domenica Talao, it is an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery as you wind your way along the glorious coast to the shady avenue that leads you directly from the Paestum train station into the archeological park.

Trip hazards
Watch for falling Chrises! Beware trip hazards! Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

As soon as you arrive within the walls that protected this ancient Greek city, you can see outlines of walkways and buildings and in one glorious sweep you take in the magnificent temple of Neptune (or Poseidon if you are an ancient Roman) rising up and glowing pinkish gold in the Tyrrhenian sunshine.

Temple of Neptune
Interior of the magnificent Temple of Neptune. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

How to Best Explore Paestum

Most visitors see Paestum in Spring, Summer or Fall. At any of these times the weather can be quite hot and humid making it challenging to see all of the park and the museum.

Paestum museum
Paestum museum with Bonnie, Chris and Barbara. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

The best way to see Paestum is to arrive as early in the morning as you can and explore the city before the heat of the afternoon sun chases you inside.

Delle Rose
Ristorante Delle Rose. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Take a break at lunch and have a fantastic meal at the Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose which is on the corner of the tree lined street filled with gift shops that runs the length of the park.

Normally I do not recommend eating anywhere near monuments and attractions but Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose seems to be an exception to that rule. We had an amazing meal with fresh pasta and fish dishes at a great price. The service despite the busy lunch crowd, was warm and efficient.

artifact lion bowl
Lion miniature Paestum Museum. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

After your refreshing lunch, head over to the air conditioned museum to see the myriad of artifacts that have been unearthed and put on display.

It is amazing that these every day items are so perfectly preserved giving us a glimpse of a long ago civilization as though we were looking in the shop windows alongside the people who lived there at that time.

rain gutter Paestum
Ancient Greek rain gutter. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Beyond the miraculously preserved Greek temples and the historical snapshot of a bustling city, Paestum is a place that has a very special feel. It is a place of unrivaled aesthetic and spiritual expansion that mortal words cannot really describe.

In short, Paestum has to be experienced to fully understand the inherent beauty, not only of the remnants of a magnificent civilization but of the very civilization that sired it.

Chris Paestum
Chris on the road to ruins. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Southern Italy, the home of the Magna Grecia is a treasure chest of Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations and artifacts. It is also home to some of the most magnificent beaches and glorious stretches of coastline on the planet.

Super Savvy Travelers are Southern Italy experts. We have a home here and spend our waking hours exploring and learning about all aspects of this spectacular region that has been completely ignored by travel guidebooks and is only now being discovered by Savvy Travelers and culinary experts.

The diver
Paestum The Diver. Photo credit: Pete Sobolev

Call us if you want to visit this dazzling region. We will set up a trip that you will never forget.

* Historical data gleaned from Guide Arte”m Paestum The archaeological park, the museum/temple of Hera Argiva” and Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Praia A Mare: The Gulf of Policastro’s Most Charming Seaside Town

Gulf of Policastro
Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Ciao Belli!

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.

Cotoletta
Cotoletta

So one bright morning I dragged my husband out for lunch and a stroll through the town.

Lunch!
Lunch!

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.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

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.

Winter in Praia a Mare
Winter in Praia a Mare

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.

Madonna Della Grotta
Madonna Della Grotta

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.

Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Gelateria in Praia a Mare
Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

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.

Apt Praia
Apartment in Praia A Mare

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.

 

Lunch with Rosaria

CAKE!
Fusilli
Rosaria’s home made fusilli

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.

Valentine Cake
Valentine Cake

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.

Fusilli
Fussili

“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.

Cinghiale
Cinghiale

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.

Cinghiale with peppers
Cinghiale 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.

Lunch!
Lunch!

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.

CAKE!
CAKE!

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.

Friends
Friends

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.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Make YOUR House Hunters International Dream Come True

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao

 

Staircase in Santa Domenica Talao
Our Piazza in Santa Domenica Talao Photo by Karen Murphy

Happy New Year Bellisimi!

It is New Year’s eve and it is cold outside. The wind bit through my coat today making me long for warm Summer days and the sound of church bells in Santa Domenica Talao, Italy.

Pete and I have been wheeling and dealing lately and long story short, we are almost complete with our transaction of our future BNB just off the piazza.

Excitement is running so high. Our beloved mayor has been working feverishly on projects designed to make the village better and better and to attract tourists.

There is news of another very exciting project occurring there but I am sworn to secrecy otherwise I would blab it all over the internet.

Here is a hint: YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Gorgeous Building in Santa Domenica Talao
Gorgeous Building in the Back of the Village

All in all our beloved little village is growing and flourishing.

Hopefully by now you will have read my article “How to Buy a Property in Italy without Falling Into a Money Pit”

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.

Italian Architecture
Italian Architecture

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:

Cafe
Cafe

Or how about this?:

Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao
Antipasti at the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao

And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.

Mull it over then give me a shout.

You can reach me at [email protected] com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

San Giuseppe and Dog the Blasphemer

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domanica Talao, Calabria, Italy

 It is with light hearted and educated finger that I take to my keyboard today to tell you I have been taking a class on essay writing through The Great Courses.

I love these courses and I can study everything from mental math (Still haven’t cracked the cellophane on that one) to Latin 101 (Its coming along but I have a ways to go) and Renaissance Italy which I lap up like a St. Bernard with a bowl of ice cream.

Our first assignment is to write about a place we know intimately.

Of course our village, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria comes instantly to mind.

Our village, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean has been, until recently, somewhat sequestered.

Piazza Santa Domenica talco
The Piazza, Santa Domenica Talao

Back in the day when it was not as easy to get around, most everyone stuck around the villages and unique personalities and cultures emerged in the minds and lives of the people.

When you go to Southern Italy and visit the hill towns, you will be struck by the fact that each one has its own unique character.

Maiera, which is close by, clinging to the hilltop like mushrooms on a tree trunk, is humble and reverent.

Grisolia, high above the clouds overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean is warm and friendly.

The beach resort of Scalea is untamed and a mix of cultures and colors, and our village is aesthetically beautiful, loving and playful.

One thing however, that is taken seriously by all of these different villages, is faith.

As any Italophile can tell you, the predominant religion in Italy is Catholicism. And although it is one religion, it has many expressions and runs deep in the culture of the tiny towns and villages all over Italy.

Our village piazza is dominated by a thirteenth century stone church that rises up in the middle of the village and, like a pin, holds the village together.

Babies are blessed there, young couples are married there and when someone’s journey ends for whatever reason, they are given over to God there in a solemn ceremony and then a sad procession up the steep road to the cemetery that overlooks the village on the hill just above it.

A villager has perished and the village is sadly diminished by one.

In the church, from a special niche, the patron saint of the village, San Giuseppe, watches over his flock.

Every year, in celebration of his day, the statue of San Giuseppe is taken from the church and in a loving procession is carried through the tiny vias and alleyways of the village.

The villagers hang their best linens out the window as he passes and the medieval windows are dressed up in their finest clothes for a celebration.

The statue of San Giuseppe is quite heavy and although he is carried by several strong men and jostled about as they make their way up and down stairs and steep alleys, winding through the village, he remains calm and unmolested.

He seems grateful that they are willing to take him out on a tour so he can see what has elapsed since his last sojourn, and happy despite the villagers thwarted best efforts to carry him gracefully.

When I arrived to Santa Domenica this trip, I had no idea it was patron saint day.

Nonetheless, my beautiful house looked pretty neglected when I first walked up after a year of being gone. So I got out a broom and a trash bag and started cleaning her up.

After much sweeping and digging the weeds out of the cracks in the stairs, I had her looking pretty spiffy. She looked like someone cared about her again and we were both happy.

My neighbor, a sweet lady, paid me a compliment about what a nice job I had done on the walkway, porch and stairs.

I accepted it and apparently had unthinkingly ingratiated myself to her as she thought I was doing it for San Giuseppe.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

Later that day I was on my balcony breathing in the crystal blue Mediterranean when I heard someone yelling.

This person was obviously outraged and I wondered what could make any of our peaceful, loving neighbors so angry.

I came out on the porch and looked. The medieval houses across the via from me rose up to the sky.

The windows thrust open and heads thrust themselves out like a giant advent calendar.

I looked at the stair leading to my house and there, perched on the top one was a perfectly shaped dog turd.

Not just any dog turd this, but obviously one that this particular dog had put some thought into.

Not a dog to just crank out something and call it art, he went the extra mile.

It looked more like a perfect chocolate custard than a real turd but its placement gave away its true identity.

Yep, It was a turd, still wet and stinky in its freshness and it had been just recently been deposited

My neighbor was livid and I secretly felt that she was vindicating me. How dare this dog defile my perfectly manicured steps! How dare he thumb his nose at my back breaking labor!

Although, I thought, she is being a little excessive. I mean, I could just get a dustpan and handle it right there.

Every head that was thrust out of a window had something vital to add to the conversation.

My tiny neighbor stood yelling in outraged Italian, her shawl shaking in indignation and the Greek chorus of disembodied heads from the advent calendar were all singing in unison that yes, indeed it was a disgrace! Yes, an outrage even and how could anyone, even a dog (vile beast that this one obviously was) be so disrespectful?

The cacophony went on for quite a while and finally died down. The advent calendar lost interest and one by one the windows closed against the heat of the Calabrian sun.

My neighbor, still muttering went inside to nurse her grievance.

I snuck out and retrieved the turd and relegated it to the trash.

As I was idly chatting with Nunzia who holds court from her little market in the piazza, I learned that today was San Giuseppe’s day.

A tiny lady in the doorway took my hand in both of hers and talked excitedly about the procession, the music and the lights. Her eyes lit up like a child’s talking about an upcoming birthday party.

I had seen the procession of the Madonna Festival in Scalea just the week before and I learned that it was out of respect that you hung your prettiest linens out of the window as she passed, in her honor.

Later in the day I went onto the trunk of linens that had come with the house. The lady who sold it to us had left us all the bedding and linens when we bought the place.

I found a pretty bedspread and hung it from my kitchen window which could be seen by the villagers and San Giuseppe as they walked by.

Piazza Santa Domenica Talao
Piazza Santa Domenica Talao

As the procession began my husband and I went up to the church to watch the faithful spill out. The villagers had spent hours making special baskets with flowers and ribbons that they carried on their heads in front of San Giuseppe as he made his way through the village.

Then we raced  back to our house and met our neighbors who were sitting on their porch watching the parade as it looped and wound its way through every tiny or forgotten via in Santa Domenica.

The women were crying with love and gratitude. It was quite moving.

And then I understood why my neighbor was so upset.

This was her saint, the one who watched over the village and whom every villager loved with all their hearts. This calm and beautiful wooden statue was a symbol of perfect love, peace and harmony. And they adored him.

Later there was music. Men, women and children were dancing the Tarantella in the piazza, the giant flowered tiles under their feet acting as their dance floor.

The steps of the church became seating for those watching the spectacle and the giant bell tower that wakes me every morning to the heavenly sounds of church bells watched over the village while San Giuseppe watched over the church once again from his perch.

I am sure he was smiling calmly as he always does.

Our village at night
Our village at night

How to Buy a Property in Italy Without Diving into a Money Pit

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

Admit it. You have been watching House Hunters International and a part of you is yearning for the golden hills, the ecstasy-inducing food and the and glorious beaches of Italy.

And you feel yourself inching closer to the big plunge but are afraid because you could make a huge and costly mistake.

If you have mentioned this idea to friends or relatives, I am sure you have been told that you are crazy to even think about it.

And yet you continue to dream.

Seven years ago my husband and I bought a house in a small medieval hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.

An entire year before we purchased, I researched the crap out of the project and the result was a smooth transition of property and good feelings on all sides.

And we have been loving it beyond our wildest dreams each time we go.

house hunters international
Pete capturing the surreal Calabrian sunset from our balcony

There is nothing like the sound of church bells waking you up in the morning with the sun slanting in your window and the smell of cafe coming from the bar in the piazza to make you realize how lucky you are to be in Italy.

But there are several things you should know and do before taking diving in.

1. Research the heck out of it

I was lucky to find a great book that covered everything I had questions about. It is called Buying a House in Italy by Gordon Neale.

Additionally I sought out and got onto several forums written and administered by people who had purchased in Italy and many of whom also lived there full time.

The forum was the most important research tool. I learned about some shady deals that I was able to steer clear of because I read the unfortunate stories about people who had purchased off plan houses (to be built) and once the money was paid, no work was ever done.

One off plan project that was offered to us when we were looking to purchase seven years ago still has not been built. Had I trusted someone and bought one I would have sunk a lot of money and likely never had anything to show for it but expensive legal bills.

I have read horror stories not only about property purchases in Italy but also Spain that would curl your toes.

My most important piece of advice is never buy anything that you can’t see in front of you. If is to be built or is a ruin with a renovation package, don’t buy it.

Rome Market
Roman Marketplace

2. Visit different areas before you make your choice

Unless you have already visited a town or village and fallen in love with it, I recommend that you visit several areas and rent Air BNB’s there for a few weeks.

Fall into the rhythm of the town and decide whether you can see yourself living there.

3. Once you have found your dream town, research the heck out of that too

There is so much you have to find out. Our trash pickup is so complicated we need a special calendar to keep track of what is picked up when.

Additionally Italy has earthquakes as we have seen recently. Research where the faults are and find data on the strength of your building.

Ironically, in the 1980’s when there was a massive earthquake in Southern Italy, the newer buildings fell down and the medieval buildings are still standing.

The buildings in the historic centers are built all shoved together so they support each other.

The buildings that fell had large parking structures underneath and therefore were not structurally sound in an earthquake zone which much of Italy is.

Our area near Scalea, Calabria, Italy is one of the few areas that is between faults so the danger of a catastrophic earthquake is relatively small.

Piazza in Santa domenica Talao

4. Understand that property purchases there are not like they are here

It is not unheard of to make an offer, have it accepted and then find out that the downstairs storage area is actually owned by someone else or that the fixtures are not included.

Many times in Italy, the kitchen is considered personal property and does not stay when you purchase. The owners simply pack it up and take it with them.

In Italy the inheritences are such that you may want to buy a property that is listed for sale but then have to convince 20 cousins that they want to sell.

This can make certain properties almost impossible to purchase and you may not know that until you have fallen in love with it.

5. Know that there will be delays

Purchasing property in Italy is a process and it goes how it goes. That said, I was very impressed by the time and care the local Notiao took to ensure that everything was fair and equitable.

The Notaio is charged with the task of ensuring that no one is getting hoodwinked. Ours was extremely careful and took great pains to ensure that we understood everything about the contract.

However an illness may cause delays as your Notaio may be the only one for miles.

6. Understand that renovation estimates can be wild guesses

My friend Clive who owns Casa Cielo BnB in Scalea, Italy has become the resident counselor to those who have purchased and seen their renovations go wrong and spiral out of control.

A ruin in Italy is likely several centuries old and those of us who live in America which has very few old buildings don’t always understand the true meaning of the word “ruin”.

I have heard of properties having to be taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt.

My advice if you don’t know a contractor, is to purchase something habitable that perhaps needs floors and finishes.

We purchased our house and the attached ruin. We are willing to take it on as we have worked with the builder on several other house projects and he is good and trustworthy.

Additionally the structural work had already been done so it is just the interior that needs finishing.

Meanwhile, we have the house which is habitable and very nice and were able to enjoy it right away without waiting for renovations.

If you have your heart set on a total ruin renovation project, go ahead but budget twice the amount you are quoted.

7. Treat everyone with courtesy and respect

There is no nightmare quite as complete as buying a property somewhere and being ostrasized by everyone in the town.

These villages and towns have survived because they are like a large family. Courtesy goes a very long way and an effort to get along and become a part of the community is well rewarded with true and loyal friends.

Additionally, when you make the effort to speak and be understood in their language, you earn the respect of your new neighbors. They are way more willing to overlook any social gaffs made out of ignorance of local customs.

Super Savvy
Priceless experience

8. Don’t consider it an investment in anything but experience

When I was getting ready to make my purchase, several people asked me with horror in their voices, “Aren’t you afraid you will lose money?” as if that were the greatest sin I could ever commit.

The answer was, who cares what the market does after I buy? If I buy a property and I love it and it gives me joy and I can afford it, it is a good purchase. End of story. The property market gyrations would never make it worth any less in my eyes.

You are buying a dream. Dreams do not come with a price tag. It is whatever you are willing to pay for it that gives it its value.

There is a person who was looking at buying at the same time we were. She asked me all manner of questions like the above. She had so many “What if’s” that I gave up answering them.

Needless to say, she has not purchased and we have been enjoying our property for seven years now.

9. Once you have purchased don’t let anyone kill the love you have for your beautiful new home.

I don’t know why people do this but some have to tell you what a huge mistake you have made.

They have to prove to you that you have been foolish and normally it comes down to money that in their opinion you should not have spent.

These are the people who never do anything big in their lives. Listening to them is destructive.

In the end you will have done your homework, you will have experienced the ins and outs of a foreign property purchase and will have many, many years of beautiful experiences to enjoy as a result.

Buying property in Italy is absolutely worth the effort and the money.

If money is tight, look in Southern Italy. Calabria is stunning and the prices are so good you could almost put it on a credit card.

I’ll see you in Italy!

If you are interested in tips on making your whole life more beautiful, check out www.chasinglabellavita.com.

Leaving Home; Why So Many Italians Left Italy

Leaving Home

A couple of years ago Chris and I were walking through our hilltop village of Santa Domenica Talao in Calabria.

Across from our favorite market we saw a group of students and adults crowded around the bottom of a set of stairs leading up to an apartment.

At the top of the stairs was a group of students dressed in early 20th-century outfits.

The students appeared to be rehearsing a play showing the father of a family with packed suitcases getting ready to leave his village. He was probably headed for the United States.

America was the main destination for Italians leaving Italy from the late 19th century until the 1930’s.

This must have been a very familiar scene to many Italians in Italy between 1876 and 1915 when 14 million Italians left their homes seeking a better life.

Between 1876 and 1930, five million Italians immigrated to the United States (shown in dark green in the graph below). Most were coming from the southern regions including Calabria.

These people left because of poverty, political hardship, and the desire to earn enough money abroad to return home and buy land.

Most Calabrians at that time farmed for a living, and they lacked modern technology to farm efficiently.

Moreover, landlords charged high rents and provided low pay and harsh living conditions for the farmers.

After the reunification of Italy in 1861, repressive measures by the government through WWII caused more Italians to leave.

Many people of Italian heritage are now returning to Italy to rediscover their own roots and also to buy properties to renovate.

In many cases, they return to small villages such as Santa Domenica Talao.

Chris and I don’t have Italian roots that we know of (although we haven’t done a genealogy search yet!). But we bought our own property in Santa Domenica Talao.

We fell in love with its natural beauty and its warm and friendly residents.

Renovating an apartment in Santa Domenica Talao

Calabria is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. The region is sprinkled with charming little hilltop towns and seaside fishing villages, each one having its own character and personality.

The landscape is breathtaking, the people are wonderful and the food is, well, Calabrian food is legendary.

Let us know if you are interested in learning more about the wonders of Calabria!

For a lighthearted look at Santa Domenica Talao, check out this article.

What’s it All About Ape?

Red Ape Piaggio

What is an Ape?

Ape means “bee” in Italian and an Ape (pronounced Ah-pay) is one of those little trucks that come in various colors and that you see chugging slowly up the winding hill roads and motorways all over Italy.

Red Ape Piaggio
Oh Look! A matching red ape!

They seem to be especially prevalent in the South where the high pitched whining of a two stroke motor is almost as ubiquitous as the incessant chirping of the cicadas.

You see them as you drive past, loaded with fruits, vegetables or farm tools on their way somewhere important.

Don’t confuse the Ape with the Vespa as “Vespa” means “Wasp” and the scooter that it is named for.

Powder blue ape
Powder blue? Of course!

The reason I bring this up is that I ran into what a paranoid person might have thought was an alarming trend.

Seemingly every time I went out wearing a different outfit, I ran into an ape that matched.

Teal ape
Seriously, did someone watch me getting dressed?

Secretly I am highly flattered that someone somewhere placed these  iconic little trucks all over Santa Domenica Talao Just to match my outfits.

I love Apes! They scream Italy even as they are screaming up the hills.

There is so much to love about Italy. Apes are only one small part.

Contact me to plan your next trip in Super Savvy Style.

Also check out these tips on what to pack when traveling overseas.