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

 

 

 

 

Pasticceria Arrone, Calabrian Pastries to Die For.

Perfect coffee and cakes
Pasticceria Arrone
Chris and Bonnie at Pasticceria Arrone

Ciao,

Ok so you have arrived in Italy and by some great good fortune you have found your way south.

You wake up hungry and decide that nothing would be quite so perfect as light, crispy, sweet Italian pastry and a perfect cappuccino as you soak in the bright Calabrian sun just as the day is warming up around you.

Down the Mediterranean coast, halfway to Reggio from Naples you come to where we live.

Just south of the Gulf of Policastro and a short hop from the border from Basilicata you enter Calabria and her gorgeous stretches of azure coastline, magnificent beaches, dramatic jutting mountains and a culture deep and rich as the Magne Grecia from which it was born.

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro

Little train stops dot the coastline, Maratea, Praia a Mare/Aieta, Scalea/Santa Domenica Talao, And Santa Maria Del Cedro. And here is where you will get off.

Pasticceria Arrone is located in Santa Maria del Cedro just along the train line heading down to Reggio Calabria. It is perfectly located to provide you with the perfect coffee and treat before or after your journey. But we have found that Pasticceria Arrone is a destination unto itself.

One early morning, my husband and I gathered our friends around us and made a  pilgrimage.

Heaven
Heaven! (Chris, Carolyn Oliver, Barbara Oliver and Bonnie Gale Oliver)

Happily our friends Bonnie and Carolyn Oliver had their other sister, Barbara visiting for Summer so we all headed down licking our lips along the way.

Those little red ones, tiny cakes covered with the lightest crispy sugar coating. Give me a moment.
Those little red ones, tiny cakes covered with the lightest crispy sugar coating. Give me a moment.

Pasticceria Arrone is the labor of love of two master confectioners, Adolfo Arrone and Luigi Barone. Together with a team which they consider more of a family, they are dedicated to creating master confections mostly with the local citrus, the cedro (which is like a Bergamo or a very delicately flavored lime.)

Treats Arrone
A selection of deliciousness at Arrone, pistachio creams, cedro creams, little tiramisu rectangles, each one a word of art.

Their dedication to quality transcends any wish to save money by using inferior ingredients and when you see, smell and taste the magnificent creations, you can tell that they have found their calling.

The best way to enjoy the creations is to go in the morning with friends, order a perfect cafe and a selection of cakes. Share them all so you get a variety of different flavors, fragrances and textures.

More treats at Arrone
Cakes and more treats, each one a bite of heaven.

Although everything you try there is amazing, my favorite was the light crunchy phyllo type pastry filled with pistachio cream. It is knee weakeningly delicious and you have to close your eyes and “have a moment” with every bite.

Perfect coffee and cakes
Perfect coffee and delicate cakes

Pasticceria Arrone makes cakes to order and every dinner that ends with a Pasticceria Arrone package coming out, suddenly becomes epic.

Pasticceria Arrone can be found at Via Orso Marso 3, Santa Maria Del Cedro. +39 0985 42577

 

 

 

 

Maratea – The Pearl of the Mediterranean

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro

On the Tyrrhenian coast and overlooking the Gulf of Policastro in Southern Italy,  Maratea is known as “The Pearl of the Mediterranean” in some of the guidebooks I’ve read. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem;  well-covered in many tourist guidebooks as a holiday spot, it’s much less visited compared to the popular mass-tourist destinations along the Amalfi Coast just a couple of hours north. Chris and I were both intrigued to learn more about Maratea and decided to check it out.

On a beautiful warm September morning, we left our apartment in Santa Domenica Talao to take the short 40-minute drive up the SS18 to Maratea.

Map of our trip to Maratea
Map of our trip to Maratea

Close to Maratea, we noticed an exit sign to a beach area, so we proceeded down to a small parking lot and took a short walk to a beautiful secluded beach.

We virtually had the entire beach to ourselves, and loved the crystal-clear waters and the surrounding vista of the Gulf of Policastro.

Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea
Beach in Maratea

The SS18 then took us right to the Porto Turistico Maratea, or Maratea tourist port. We enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch on an uncrowded outdoor deck overlooking the tranquil marina.

Porto Turistico Maratea
Porto Turistico Maratea

We couldn’t help noticing a large white statue, with outstretched robed arms, high on a hilltop overlooking the marina. This is the Statue del Cristo Redentore, or statue of Christ the Redeemer. It’s 21 meters high,  and was created by the Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti out of Carrera marble in 1965. It’s the fifth-tallest Christ statue in the world.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Gazing at the statue over lunch, we decided we needed to get a closer look. From the marina, we followed the signs that eventually took us to the top of Mt. St. Biagio along an elevated serpentine road high above the coastline.

Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio
Road to the top of Mt. St. Biagio

As we approached the statue from the front, it seemed to welcome us with outstretched arms.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Once we got close to the statue, we could see what a majestic work of art it is.

Statua del Cristo Redentore
Statua del Cristo Redentore

Walking along the path leading up to and around the statue, we treated ourselves to some breathtaking views of Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro far below us.

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
The Gulf of Policastro, looking south

Level with the clouds, we felt as if we were soaring above the Tyrrhenian coast below us. Indeed, far below us we noticed a paraglider truly flying over that coast!

Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast
Soaring over the Tyrrhenian coast

Directly in front of the statue is the Basilica di San Biagio, named after Maratea’s patron saint that it’s dedicated to. This church is thought to stand on the site of an ancient Greek or Roman pagan temple.

Basilica di San Biagio
Basilica di San Biagio

There was one more part of Maratea that we needed to see and that was the borgo, or old village.  It’s a beautiful, colorful village, nestled up in the hills just above the marina.  It felt very peaceful and quiet there in the late afternoon.

Maratea borgo
Maratea borgo

Driving back to Santa Domenica Talao along the SS18, we stopped to take one more look at the Gulf of Policastro in the setting sun.

Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset
Chris and the Gulf of Policastro at sunset

With its beautiful beaches, marina, old town, and a giant marble Christ statue towering over it all, Maratea is an impressive village that truly deserves its title of Pearl of the Mediterranean!

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

Scalea at Sunset
Torre Talao, Scalea, Calabria. This tower was built in the 16th century as part of a system of 337 coastal towers constructed for deterring pirate attacks.

Scalea, Italy; Europe’s Secret Paradise

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. 

Umbrellas on the beach in Scalea
Colorful umbrellas on the beach in Scalea

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. 

Old Town Scalea
Old Town Scalea

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. 

Scalea stair case
Scalea, Staircase

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.

 

Scalea's Monday Market
Scalea’s Monday Market

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.

Monday Market Bargains
Monday Market Bargains

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. 

Orso Marso
Chris at the top of the hill Orso Marso

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. 

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao. 

Santa Domenica Talao
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
Calabrian Cuisine

Calabrian Cuisine

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. 

YUM!
YUM!

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. 

Calabrian Atmosphere
Calabrian Atmosphere

The Atmosphere

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. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tortora – A Hidden Jewel High Above the Tyrrhenian Sea

Tortora

Italy is studded with many small towns and villages that are like hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler. One of those gems is the village of Tortora, the north-westernmost village in Calabria.

The village is divided into two main sections: The Marina, and the much more interesting Centro Storico (historic center), nestled in the mountains above the  Marina, about a 15 km drive from the sea.

Tortora
Tortora

It was the Centro Storico that our friend Giacomo, whom we met in the neighboring village of Aieta, introduced us to when he invited us for lunch with his wonderful family at the Ristorante Al Caminetto.

Ristorante Al Caminetto
At the Ristorante Al Caminetto

Al Caminetto serves delicious local Calabrian dishes, authentically prepared by Roseangela. We enjoyed our experience there so much that we end up returning to Al Caminetto with Giacomo and his family every time we visit Calabria. During one of our visits, Roseangela showed us how she prepares her superb ravioli and fusilli:

Tortora has a very rich history,  having been occupied since prehistoric times. Excavations that took place nearby revealed stone tools dating back to 35,000 years ago.

Since then, the area has been occupied by the Enotri (the early people of Italy) up through the 6th century BC, as well as by the Greeks, Romans, Lombards, and Burbons thereafter.

You can view a collection of local Enotri and Greek artifacts at the Museum of Blanda. The English-speaking guide did a wonderful job of revealing the history of the Tortora region to us:

In the Museum of Blanda
Greek pottery

Wander the narrow, winding streets and you’ll encounter a number of small shops and galleries. We met Giuseppe, a local ceramics artist, at a small art gallery, and he then took us to his ceramics shop a short distance away.

Chris and Giuseppe at a local art gallery
Giuseppe at his ceramics shop

Although a bit off the beaten path, the short drive up to the Tortora Centro Storico will reward you with beautiful mountain views, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and a superb museum. Be sure to make it your first stop on your trip down to Southern Italy!

Beautiful Tortora
Beautiful Tortora

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

Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy

Here’s an excellent full-length documentary by David Marker about Southern Italian culture told through its indigenous folk music. This film focuses on how these traditions have been affected by the rapid changes in the local economy and by the homogenizing effects of globalization.

Filmed by an Italian-American rediscovering his family’s roots, the film takes the viewer through remote regions in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Molise, introducing the people who carry on ancient traditions.

The Zampogna – the Italian bagpipe – is the physical manifestation of these traditions, its music representing the spirit and vitality of Southern Italy.

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

Calabria, Italy
Calabria, Italy

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. 

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

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. 

Diamante, Italy
Diamante, Italy

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. 

Roseangela
Chris, Giacomo and Roseangela in Tortora

The prices

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.

Lunch in Scalea
Lunch in Scalea, Italy

Healthy living

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. 

Santa Domenica Talco
Santa Domenica Talao, Italy

The community

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. 

Sicilian pastries
Sicilian pastries

The food is art

Calabrian cooking is becoming famous. Most Italian food you enjoy in the US has its roots in Calabria.

Many Calabrians came to America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s bringing their recipes with them. 

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.

Pizza Talao
Pizza Talao

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.

The pace

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. 

Lao River Valley
Lao River Valley

The landscape

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. 

My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

The people

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.

Pizzo
Pizzo, Calabria

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. 

Shopping in Diamante
Shopping in Diamante

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.

Christ Stopped at Eboli But You Should Go On to Matera, Italy

Matera
Matera Morning
Matera Morning

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.

 

Street sign in Aliano
Aliano street sign directing you to the house of Carlo Levy

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.

 

Matera in the evening
Matera in the evening

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.

 

Detail Church of the Pergatory, Matera
Detail Church of the Purgatory, Matera

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.

 

Street sign Aliano
Street sign Aliano

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.

 

The church Aliano
Even the church in Aliano had Gli Occhi (The eyes)

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.

 

View from Aliano
View from Aliano
The View from Aliano

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.

 

Carlo Levy's exile
Buildings of Carlo Levy’s exile

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.

 

Street scene in Matera
Street scene in Matera
Street Scene in Matera

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.

 

Street shops in Matera
Street shops in Matera
Street Shops in Matera

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 Sassi looking up to the shopping district
The Sassi looking up to the shopping district
Matera looking up to the shopping district

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.

 

Sassi of Matera
Sassi of Matera

Matera hosts many music festivals and events throughout the year as well.

As the sun set the music drifted out over the town and the Sassi. Matera has come into her own.

Matera is absolutely worth the time and effort to get there. It is not that difficult and the landscape on the drive over changes dramatically and is never boring.

Getting to Matera by car is easiest although you can get there on public transport.

The Hill Behind Me was Where Mel Gibson’s The Passion Was Filmed

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.

 

Gluten free pizza
Gluten Free Pizza

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.

Photo credits, Chris Ellis and Pete Sobolev