How to Make Your Trip to Italy Surpass All Expectations

Pieta
The Colosseum In Rome

Ciao!

So you are heading off to Italy! You researched flights online and got the best deal or you went with a travel agent. You have your hotels, your trains, your cars all figured out. It is going to be GREAT! 

And it will be. You almost cannot go to Italy and have it be anything other than great.

But Italy, with all its beautiful cities, amazing structures and fabulous art can be a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you look there is something spectacular to see. Italy is a giant art bath and it literally takes your breath away. 

So how do you somehow get everything in order in your mind so that you don’t see it all in a giant blur and then not remember any of it? 

My husband and I are avid Italophiles. We have a place in Calabria and get over there whenever we can. We always stop over in Rome and many times Florence before taking the train down south and every time we go we see new and exciting things. 

Florence is a very special city and the birth place of the Renaissance. 

Medieval Italian Home
Medieval Italian Home

But Rome and Florence can also be a giant blur unless you know the history and at least have an idea of the chronology of the events and the personalities that have shaped these cities and made them bright stars in Italy’s crown. 

Since we first realized that we needed proper context in order to really enjoy these cities on a deeper level, my husband and I started purchasing courses through The Great Courses. 

In addition we found  a great series on Youtube that anyone can view for free. There is so much available that it is difficult to pick out a few favorites. 

Roma
Roma

1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D.

In his course The Rise of Rome, Dr. Aldrete explains in entertaining detail how from the 8th century BC, Rome rose to a massive civilization that controlled the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond. 

Dr. Aldrete not only goes over the chronology of the rise of Rome but puts in perspective all of the main events and characters that shaped Rome as she rose and then started her demise. 

Dr Aldrete is as entertaining as he is brilliant sometimes giving his lecture in a Roman toga and inserting anecdotes that enlighten and add color. 

Many of the Great Courses lectures are offered in DVD format or you can stream them. They come with an accompanying text with pictures and important information but even if you simply watch the lectures you will gather tons of great data that will put the entire city in perspective for you. 

Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica, Roma

2) “Meet the Romans” series by Dame Mary Beard  (Youtube)

Dame Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge as well a a fellow of Newnham College and the Royal Academy of Arts. Honestly she has so many achievements that it would take pages to list them all, however despite her amazing depth of knowledge of all things Roman, Dame Mary Beard has managed to create a series that is intimate and understandable. 

The most fascinating part of her series is that she follows the steps of the Roman Empire and on the way, translates various monuments and grave stones from Latin to English and gives historical context to each one. 

Apparently back in ancient Rome, when someone died, a lot of information about them was written on their grave markers. Since these are in Latin, we pass them by in the streets, in alleyways and lining the Via Appia, and never know what secret treasures they contain. 

Dame Mary opens up this treasure trove of intimate information so we see how the inhabitants of Ancient Rome lived, from the emperors to the men and women in the streets. 

Happy Travels
Goofy Tourists in the Piazza Navona

3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses) 

The Prince is a lecture series that follows the life and downfall of Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact his book “The Prince” has had on society up to and including present day. 

Machiavelli lived in Florence during the Renaissance and is a contemporary of Michelangelo, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Rafael, Leonardo Da Vinci and the insane Franciscan monk, Savonarola. 

Political situations were volatile back then and one could be in a cushy government job one minute and hanging upside down in a bonfire in the piazza the next. 

This lecture series gives a close up look not only at the political situation and surrounding events during that incredibly active time, but also how the crucible of political upheaval helped create Machiavelli’s brilliant work and how his ideas have permeated our culture today. 

Walking the streets of Florence, you can’t help but understand better everything around you and to see the city in its ancient context bringing the Renaissance to life. 

Roman ruins
Roman ruins

4)  “The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.  (The Great Courses) 

Of all the courses my husband and I have studied, this is my favorite because I have a deep love and respect for the genius that is Michelangelo. 

Professor Wallace shares that love and respect and takes you through the journey of Michelangelo’s life from his relatively ignoble birth to his rise in Florence and to the associations with various popes who commissioned him to create some of the most beautiful art works ever created anywhere. 

Florence is a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s works and one of the homes he owned is now a museum dedicated to him where you can see up close and personal his early works like “The Madonna of the Stairs” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”. 

Walk in Michelangelo’s footsteps in both Florence and Rome and see where they cross those of Machiavelli and Leonard Da Vinci. Glimpse of the personality of the artist and understand the barriers he had to overcome to create everything he created in one short life time. 

This lecture series more than any other take both Rome and Florence from one dimensional tourist destinations to multi dimensional story tellers with every street, palace or museum contributing to the tale. 

5) “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” by Professor Steven L. Tuck

In the days of the Roman Empire, Pompeii was a thriving port city and a playground for the rich. That all changed in 79 AD when an explosion blew the entire top off the mountain of Vesuvius and created a pyroclastic flow that killed everything in its path and enshrouded the entire city and all its inhabitant in volcanic ash where they lay for centuries.

It was not until the 1700’s that Pompeii was properly discovered and excavations began uncovering a city almost perfectly preserved as if in amber right down to a loaf of bread that was cooking in a bakery as the eruption began. 

Walk with professor Tuck through the ancient city and get a taste of life on the Mediterranean in ancient times. 

6) The Life and Operas of Verdi” by Dr. Robert Greenberg (The Great Courses) 

In addition to being an Italophile and Renaissance addict I am also a musician. I have purchased and studied many of Dr. Greenberg’s lectures and find him uniquely understandable and highly entertaining. 

Travel with him through the life and the operas of Italy’s favorite musical son up through the Italian Risorgimento. 

Verdi’s operas are beautifully constructed and anyone who loves opera has seen one or more of them. 

Dr. Greenberg gives us a glimpse of Verdi’s character, his trials and tribulations as well as his resounding successes. This is all presented within a rich historical context giving us a unique slice of life in Verdi’s beloved Italy. 

If you love music, you will love this set of lectures. On another topic, Dr. Greenberg has similar lectures exploring the life and works of Beethoven and an all around favorite “How to Listen to and Understand great Music”

These lectures and other similar studies have deepened our understanding of these unique beautiful Italian cities and of Italy itself. 

Italy has the deepest and richest history of any European country. It boasts of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and gave birth to the most compelling and greatest artists, architects and statesmen the world has ever seen.

If you study even one on the above lecture series, you will have a depth of understanding that will allow you to remember your trip long after you return home and will also you to reignite your memories when you rewatch them. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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Wow! My friend Trish and I just came home from a whirlwind tour of several cities in Italy. Each one has its particular charm but Florence leaves me breathless every time.

Anyone who has been to Florence or who has an obsession for quality purses and handbags knows that Florentine leather products are world renown for their quality and  craftsmanship.

The reason for this is that the craftsmen who create these dreamy products have all been well trained and apprenticed and, many times, has family who have done this type of work for a long time.

Walter Moretti at Pelletteria Moretti in Florence is no exception.

Handbag Heaven
Handbag Heaven

When I first launched my website, Chasing La Bella Vita, I wanted to sell quality leather handbags online. I had come over to Florence to scout out a supplier so that I could get super high quality products for a good price.

Pelletteria Moretti
Pelletteria Moretti

I had been all over Florence on a bike and had talked to many people in the various shops. None of them were at all interested.

All colors
All colors

I was about to give up when I happened to ride by Signore Moretti’s shop just as he was going outside to get some air. He was wearing a leather apron which halted me in my tracks. It was a good sign.

All styles
All styles

I went in and and started looking around. The first thing I noticed was that the designs in this shop were different than the cookie cutter cutout designs I had seen in all the other shops. It was like they had all stuck to the same design for years. In fact, when I go back to Florence and see the stalls on the street or the shops near the monuments, I see the same designs I saw when I first visited Florence many years ago.

Bow bag
Bow Bag. I love it!

The second thing I noticed was the palpable quality of the leather that Signore Moretti uses. You could tell just by touching it that Signore Moretti used super high quality leather for his designs.

Classic shoulder bag
Classic shoulder bag

After having looked and liking what I saw, I asked Signore Moretti about selling his bags online. At that point he sat me down and gave me a whole lesson on how to find great quality in handbags.

He went over each handbag point by point and explained the work and the attention to detail that went into crafting such a beautiful work of art.

Top shelf
Top shelf

He then would not sell me any handbags until I promised to go out and about and really look at the handbags I found in the other shops and the stalls.

After my primer on handbags, I did not even have to look closely to see the obvious differences in quality.

Triangle shoulder bags
Triangle shoulder bags

Signore Moretti advised me that many of the products you find on the street in Florence are mass produced and the quality can be very poor. I observed this for myself by looking them over and finding blemishes and cuts in the leather that would never be found in a Moretti bag.

I came back to his shop and purchase a bunch of handbags to take home and sell.

In the end, I decided against selling the handbags on Chasing La Bella Vita and many of them became gifts for people in my life. Everyone I have ever given one of these bags to has been overjoyed to get it and have ended up loving it for years.

And of course, I kept a lot of them. I mean how can you give the best ones away?

I have one of his adorable little round bags with a bow on it in gray. It goes beautifully with a black dress and breaks up the too much blackness problem with a slight change in color. Very classy!

Jewel box bags
Jewel box bags

I also have one of his little jewel box bags with the toggle on the front. Mine is in red and black and is perfect for evenings out. Again, it pairs beautifully with black dresses of which I own many.

This time, I did buy gifts for friends and family members. And of course I bought gifts for myself because why would I not?

Fine quality
Fine quality

I got a beautiful perfectly crafted square bag in bright orange and a gorgeous purse in teal with stunning details.

I just can’t help myself! I love his bags so much that I am like a kid in a candy store.  Even with my giant suitcase full, I was thinking about the little bright green bag with the bow on it and trying to figure out how I could squeeze another trip to Moretti’s before my train left. Obsessive? absolutely!

Stunning craftsmenship
Stunning craftsmanship

Confession time! My friend and I had to purchase a huge wheelie suitcase we named Big Red just for all the gifts to ourselves and others we brought home. Happily she was booked into first class and was able to check Big Red for free. Big Red is now available for future trips to Florence and this is a good thing.

Gorgeous
Gorgeous

When you go to Florence, do yourself a favor and go see Walter Moretti and his wonderful family. They are lovely people and you will be dazzled by his works of art. And his prices are really super reasonable considering the passion, attention to detail and quality that goes into every handbag.

Oh and buy yourself a Big Red, you are going to need it.

Happy shopping!

 

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

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.

Why the Calabrian Coast is the New Amalfi

Maratea_coast
Why Calabria is the New Amalfi
Why Calabria is the New Amalfi

Remember when Amalfi was the cool place to visit? The highbrow travelers flocked there to see and be seen.

The Amalfi coast and Positano in particular have reached truly Disneyesque status as tourist destinations.

The Disney phenomenon seems prevalent in the areas that cater to tourists. As more and more tourists descend on a town or a province, the mom and pop shops sell out to trinket shops and high end designer fashion stores.

Many times the beauty of the old architecture is destroyed and turned into a sterile new “modern” look that defeats the entire purpose of visiting a small Italian fishing village.

You could go visit Amalfi and pay way too much for a meal at one of the restaurants there but your travel dollar is way better spent a little further south.

Most guidebooks featuring Italy stop at Naples and claim to have reached “The South”.

They completely ignore the fact that there is almost half of Italy further south and that, to have a true Italian holiday immersed in the food, customs and community, you have to venture further.

Italy is a glorious country but there are reasons to avoid the crowds and tourists of the Rome, Venice, Florence trifecta.

Calabrian Antipasti
Calabrian Antipasti

1) The food

Calabria has its own cuisine. In fact most of what Americans know as “Italian food” is Calabrian cooking.

Starting in the late 1800’s and continuing through two world wars, Calabrians emigrated in great numbers to America, mostly New York.

Much of Calabria at that time was a brutal place to farm and farming was the sole subsistence of most of the people.

The Calabrian Diaspora (Emigration) continued over decades and ultimately Calabrian influence could be seen everywhere in the US.

Your pizzas and pasta ragouts are from Calabria and Naples.

A walking tour through any Calabrian village finds hand made fresh pastas, home made breads and a complete array of delicious pastries.

My two favorite restaurants in Calabria are the Bella Vista in Santa Domenica Talao where my husband and have a place, and Al Caminetto in Tortora which is another beautiful Calabrian hilltown.

Order anything off the menu at any one of these two places and you are in for a treat.

Calabrian Views
Calabrian Views

2) The Scenery

The Calabrian coast or The Riviera Dei Cedri is not only bristling with picturesque little fishing villages but also has spectacular mountain ranges jutting up into the sky in a myriad of colors.

Beautiful Tortora
Beautiful Tortora

Add to this the little medieval hilltop villages clinging the rocky crags like mushrooms on a tree trunk and you have an enchanting vacation destination.

Calabria is a photographer’s dream. Around every corner is another jaw dropping view that stops you in your tracks.

Shopping in Diamante
Shopping in Diamante

3) The shopping

Calabria and Southern Italy in general is known for their markets. The Monday market in Scalea is a shopper’s paradise. The marketplace is lined with stalls selling anything from lingerie to housewares to cheeses.

Every little village has a market once a week and the downtown areas all have shops that sell products unique to their specific regions.

Many of these products like Cedro cookies and jellies, fiercely hot N’Duja and chile peppers are unique to the region.

My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

4) The people

When my husband and I first purchased our home in Santa Domenica, we barely spoke Italian and worried whether we would fit in.

Somehow, between then and now we have become fast friends with our Italian neighbors.

Nunzia who runs the market in the village took us under her wing and from that point on we were part of the community.

Giacomo and his Lovely Family
Giacomo and his Lovely Family

One day while visiting the little hill town of Aieta, close by our place, a man came running out, brought us in for coffee and introduced himself.

Since then Giacomo and his family have been good friends and they are always up for a day or a dinner out when we are there. (On the right is Roseangela who is an amazing chef. Check out our video as she tries really hard to teach me how to make pasta.)

We have made so many great friends there despite our halting Italian and funny California ways.

Giuseppe
Guiseppe the Artist. He has a Lovely Soul.

They happily look the other way when they see us eating dinner at 6:oo and drinking cafe latte in the afternoon. Any time we need anything they are there to help us out.

5) La Pausa

The afternoons in Calabria are set aside to recover from a big Calabrian lunch. Everything shuts down at 1:00 and everyone snoozes.

At first this bugged me. Where was everyone? I had to plan my day around La Pausa (The pause) but more and more I fell into the habit of reading and taking a short snooze in the afternoon.

It is a lovely custom. You feel so refreshed after a pause and you can then stay up late and enjoy the festivals into the evening.

6) Everything is inexpensive

At my favorite restaurant, I can get an oven fired pizza for eight Euros. The homemade red wine there which is fabulous by the way, is also about eight euros for a liter.

The food is fresh and many times it comes to you without you having to go out shopping.

Several times a week we hear the voice of our fish man broadcasting through the village “Peschi! Peschi fresci” and a huge filet from an unfortunate seabass who was just pulled from the sea, is yours for ten euros.

The Sassi, Matera
The Sassi in Matera, Basilicata, Italy

7) It is the perfect home base for an exploratory trip

From most Southern Italian towns, everything is accessible by rail. You can go North to Paestum for the best preserved Greek city still in existence.

You can head south to the fishing village of Scilla for seafood, or to Paola to visit the extraordinary sanctuario there.

You can head further South to Reggio Calabria and see the promenade and the beautiful museums and shops.

You can go further south to Sicily over the Straits of Messina and arrive in Taormina. Everything is a short hop.

Or you can stay in one area and explore the many hilltowns that dot the region. Each one has its own beauty and charm and the people love tourists who interact with them.

Passegiata
The Passegiata

8) The passagiata

Every evening and especially in weekends, everyone in the village dresses up and performs the passagiata or “The walk”. They leave their housework, their TV’s and telephones and they walk around the village.

They touch bases with their neighbors, have an ice cream and kiss new babies. The men play cards at the tables left out for them by the shop proprietors. The woman walk arm in arm and talk about their lives.

In my village I see no one with mental health issues and I think that the simple act of walking with another person arm in arm and talking to them goes a long way in preventing depression and loneliness.

The people of the village belong to the family that is the entire village. It is a powerful support group.

Bella Nunzia
Bella Nunzia

9) Calabria is Magical

While walking in the alleys of Diamante one day I heard a gasp. I looked up and a tiny lady was running toward me with her arms outstretched. “Che Bella Duona!” (What a beautiful lady!) she said and fell into my arms.

I looked up at my husband and friend who were as surprised as I was and said “I love this place!”

And who could not love a place that raises its children with the idea that these spontaneous outbursts of love and admiration are perfectly ok?

If you love life, all the joy it brings, all the sights, smells, and sensations, you will love Southern Italy.

Calabrian Magic Peppers
Calabrian Magic Peppers

When you go, visit my friend Clive and Cathryn at Casa Cielo, in Scalea. They are the number one BNB there and are English so language is never a problem.

Additionally Clive is a fantastic chef and at the slightest prompting he will make you a meal you will you will never forget.

And if you happen to pass by Santa Domenica Talao in Summer, look for me. I will be at a table at the cafe or walking around the village. We can have a coffee and a chat.

If you like this article and want to read a story about our village festival, check out San Giuseppe and Dog the Blasphemer .

If we have whetted your appetite for all the magic that is Calabria,  contact us. We will put together an unforgettable trip for you.

Take Rome Off Your Bucket List and Put It On Your To Do List

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

Why is Bella Roma so internationally loved?

Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.

Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites. 

Michelangelo's Pieta, Rome, Italy
Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

1) The Vatican Art Museums

Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere. 

A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.

The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.

At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.

Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.

Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.

Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.

A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.

Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life. 

Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.

Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.

The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.

The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.

Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.

Cafe in Rome's Jewish Quarter Super Savvy Travelers
Cafe in Rome’s Jewish Quarter

2) Café

Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.

When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.

The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.

If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte.  Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.

Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate. 

Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.

Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.

My friends and I  entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.

My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.

She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.

A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still  strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.

If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.

The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.

The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.

Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.

Order a cafe,  dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.

You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours. 

Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

3) Shopping

Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.

It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.

Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries. 

The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.

Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.

Rome Outdoor Market
Rome Outdoor Market

Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori  (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.

Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Cornetto with Friends
Cornetto with Friends

 4) The Food!

The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.

I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal. 

Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable. 

Gluten Free Pizza in Rome
Gluten Free Pizza in Rome

Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.

Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.

It was sad.

Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.

If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.

In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists. 

Roman Ruins
Roman Ruins

5) The history!

Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.

Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.

Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.

Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Wonderful Romans

6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!

I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.

The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people. 

But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?

Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.

Start planning your trip to Rome.  Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you. 

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.