Southern Italy’s Most Instagrammable Places

Beach in Maratea

Ciao!

Who doesn’t love Instagram? If you are dreaming of travel or just adding to your bucket list, Instagram is a great place to go to escape even for a short while.

It is lovely to take out your computer on a cold and rainy Sunday, and look at photos of bright sunshine, blue skies and fabulous crystal blue seas.

And for all of the above, there is no place better than Southern Italy for snap after snap of impossibly beautiful images whether in your mind or in your camera.

Diamante
Diamante, Calabria

Diamante, Calabria

Diamante means “diamond” in Italian and a diamond it is.

Diamante rides atop a point that juts out into the Mediterranean and curves inland creating white sand beaches and gorgeous seascapes.

The historic center of Diamante (Centro Storico) is a beautiful blend of ancient Italian houses and tiny cobbled vias interspersed with spectacular views of the sea.

Diamante promenade
The lungomare (promenade) in Diamante

Diamante is also known for its murals which present themselves around corners and tucked into alleyways. A morning spent on a hunt for each mural is so fun as you wind your way through the town taking picture after picture to put on Instagram.

Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare, Calabria

Pete and I just love Praia a Mare. On a Summer afternoon, Praia’s shady, tree lined promenade down the center of town is a treasure chest of Instagrammable snapshots.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

Praia a Mare is so spectacular that Pete and I recently purchased a property that we are now renting out on Air BNB

View from Casa Gorasole
View from the wraparound terrace of Casa Girasole
Tortora Calabria
The beautiful hill town of Tortora, Calabria Italy

Tortora, Calabria

Calabria is studded with gorgeous little hill towns that take your breath away. each one has its own personality and charm however Tortora is one of our all time favorites for billions of Instagrammable views and sights.

Another reason to love Tortora is that our great friend Giacomo and his family live there and they have introduced us to their friends and family.

Roseangela PAsta demo
Roseangela pasta making demo

Any trip to Tortora must include lunch at Al Caminetto, a restaurant in the Centro Storico that is run by the extremely talented Roseangela and her family.

Roseangela is royalty in terms of Calabrian cooking. A meal with her is a feast of traditional Calabrian appetizers, freshly made pasta dishes featuring Chinguale or local wild boar, and freshly made ravioli with ricotta from the local farms.

Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
Pasta with Wild Boar at A; Caminetto in Tortora, Italy

While we were there, Roseangela gave us a pasta making demo which you can see here. Enjoy watching me mangle a fusilli. It is quite entertaining how she whips them out perfectly while I struggle trying to make something that might pass for a fusilli noodle if it is buried at the bottom of the dish.

Fusilli at Al Caminetto
Fusilli at Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria, Italy

I recommend visiting Al Caminetto with a big group and ordering a selection of traditional Calabrian dishes. You wil be amazed at the variety and how delicious it all is.

Ancient Greek vase Tortora
Ancient Greek vase in the museum in Tortora

Tortora also has a beautiful museum where you can see artifacts that have been dug up in recent local excavations, including Etruscan and Ancient Greek artifacts that date back to the era of the Magna Grecia which encompassed Southern Italy.

Tortora is also one of those villages packed to the brim with Instagrammable images. Everywhere you look is something beautiful.

Maratea_coast
Sweeping Mediterranean views from Maratea

Maratea, Basilicata

There is portion of Italy where you can see three different regions, Calabria, Compania and Basilicata. You can see them all from our Air BNB apartment on the terrace.  In fact the sunsets from our balcony are all Instagrammable and they are different every night.

View from the terrace
View from the wraparound terrace I Casa Girasole

Maratea is just north of Calabria along the coast. Maratea is known for the giant white marble statue of Christ the Redeemer similar to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

This statue is perched high atop the hill in Maratea. A drive up there affords you the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean found anywhere.

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

The beaches in Maratea are also stunning as are most beaches in Southern Italy. The Mediterranean turns crystal blue as you journey down South.

Beach Near Maratea
Beach near Maratea

Matera, Basilicata

Matera used to be called the Shame of Italy. Back in the 1950’s starvation was rampant as was malaria. Many of the people in Matera lived in caves in the rock walls bringing their animals inside with them in Winter for warmth. Carlo Levy, in his book,  “Christ Stopped at Eboli” was the first to shine the light on the deplorable conditions in Matera and this caused the Italian government to come in, repatriate the people in better housing and to care for them.

Matera Morning
Matera Morning

In recent years however, Matera has become an artist’s Mecca with art and music schools popping up, and festivals in Summer. When we visited, we heard music around every corner from opera to jazz to pop. It was quite extraordinary.

Aside from the art aspect however, Matera is, itself a work of art. Made from the local white stone, Matera gleams in the sunlight and glows in the evening as the golden town lights come up.

Matera evening
Matera evening

Most recently, Matera has been the perfect location for movies. The new James Bond movie “A Time to Die” was partially filmed in Matera. (Click here for some awesome footage.)

Church in Matera
Church of the Purgatory in Matera

Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria

Of all of the Instagrammable places I have presented here, my heart belongs to Santa Domenica Talao which is my home.

The Piazza
Our Piazza

When Pete and I first looked for property in Calabria, we saw Santa Domenica Talao and that was it. We knew this was where we belonged.

Every day that I walk around the village I see new and beautiful instagrammable views, from the sweeping views of the sea and the mountains to the fruit laid out at my friend Nunzia’s store and the kids playing soccer in the parking lot. There is so much to take in.

Nunzia's store
Nunzia’s store

We love Santa Domenica Talao so much that Pete and I have purchased a ruin just up from the piazza and a few steps from Nunzia’s store. It is a ruin and we are renovating it and turning it into a BNB so that others can come and enjoy our beautiful village. Check out our renovation project and follow us as we complete it.  Then make sure you are there for the grand opening!

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.

Santa Domenica is infinitely Instagrammable but beyond that, when you come you will fall in love with the people. We have so many warm friends there and have been welcomed from the beginning.

As you can see, Southern Italy is a photographer’s paradise. Start planning your trip down. Pete and I are experts in the region and can help you plan the perfect visit. Contact us and we can get you started.

How to Navigate Tricky Venice and Bathe Yourself in Beauty

Little Bridges

 

Venice is magic!
Venice is Magic!

Ciao Everyone!

Wow! Pete and I just returned from an incredible cruise on Azamara to the Greek Islands, ending up in Venice.

I was unfamiliar with Venice, all of my knowledge being stories I have read and beautiful photos in travel magazines. Seeing Venice up close and personal was a gift that I hope you all receive. In short Venice is spectacular .

That said, Venice, being built on stilts in a swampy lagoon and being a spot that tourists are drawn to like Winnie the Pooh to honey pots,  has her challenges. Pete and I very sneakily discovered some ways to get around them and to have a beautiful time in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Water taxis and busses are the only way to get around
Water taxis and water busses are the only way to get around.
  1. Make sure your hotel is close to the water taxis

If you have never been to Venice, be aware that it is not a city for the severely mobility impaired. Venice is a series of islands close together with canals running betwixt and between them. They are held together by beautiful little bridges that connect each island to the ones next to it forming a an interconnected archipelago.

There are no cars in the center of Venice so no taxis to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.  The water buses are great but let me tell you that if you have walking, standing or balance issues they can be intimidating.

There are no cars in the old town, Venice

I have had three hip replacements so in big cities, I walk with a cane and have some balance issues. I had to use great care getting on and off these boats and sometimes the only way on and off was over a skinny plank.

In addition we had luggage. We pack pretty light but those who do not will have the massive task of heaving a huge suitcase onto and off of a water taxi then dragging all their luggage to whatever accommodations they are planning to use while there.

When you look at it, it can be a long walk to your hotel if it is far from the  Grand Canal.

Tiny vias in Venice
Tiny vias in Venice

While in Venice we stayed at the Hotel Lux. It is close to the water taxi stations, close to the Piazza San Marco and had some stellar restaurants nearby. Hotel Lux is a three star hotel. The room was small but it was inexpensive and clean and you get breakfast. We would definitely stay there again, especially since hotels in Venice can be extremely pricey.

While we were on board the Azamara ship, Pete had overheard an unfortunate young woman who had reservations at a hotel in Venice. Her mother was confined to a wheelchair and she had no idea how she was going to get her mom, their luggage and herself to her hotel and around Venice. I felt bad for her. It was a thorny problem.

Venice cistern
Venice had cisterns to gather water and provide It to the residents

2. Buy quality luggage and pack as lightly as you can.

I have found recently that quality luggage is the difference between breezing through airports and over cobbled historical centers, and dragging, sweating and possibly even swearing (under your breath of course) trying to get your stuff from one location to the next.

Prior to leaving for this trip, I went and bought a rolly bag made by Swiss Gear. I paid more but after rolling all the bags around the store I decided it was worth is and it really was! This thing is a dream. I walk through the airport barely pushing it. It is light and easy to hoist onto trains. Even over cobble stones it was great.

Venetian Canal
Venetian Canal

3. Check to see what floor you will be staying on because there are very few lifts in Venice.

The only drawback to the Hotel Lux was that it was a tall and skinny hotel. We were on the “third” floor (really the fourth because that is how they are counted in Europe) and there was a stair case that you had to climb to get to reception. Happily we packed relatively light but we still had to schlepp all our bags up the stairs to our room and back down again when we left.

I had a conversation with the hotel manager and he advised me that the building codes are very strict in Venice to the point where inside or outside, you cannot move the ancient walls or take them down. This severely limits building owners and as there are few locations that can actually accommodate a lift, there are very few.

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

4. Don’t spend all your time at the main attractions.

Sure St. Mark’s Square is stunningly beautiful and you should see it. Go at night, most of the tourists are gone and several restaurants feature beautiful orchestras playing classical music. Sitting at a table in a square surrounded by some of the most beautiful architecture ever created  drinking a Prosecco while listening to Antonio Vivaldi, Venice’s favored son, is a treat you won’t want to miss.

St, Mark’s during the day is choked with people as is the Rialto Bridge. See these places after dark.

Venice at night
Venice at night

Meanwhile Pete and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day running around Venice with our cameras looking for the prettiest corners, the most interesting reflections and watching the beautifully crafted gondolas glide soundlessly through the tiny waters with their passengers.

Venice is one of those rare cities that is beautiful through and through. Around every corner is another amazing sight. From the mask maker’s shops to the glass shops, there is so much to delight your eyes that is not shown in guide books.

Little Bridges
Little Bridges

5. Understand that most of the bridges have stairs.

Again if you are in a wheelchair, you will not see a lot of Venice. Along the Grand  Canal the city has provided ramps for those with mobility issues but that is the only place I saw them. The rest of the lanes are held together with little arched bridges with stairs.

Murano Glassworks
Murano Glass Works

6. DO go see the glass works in Murano

While we were there Pete and I took a boat tour to Murano and Burano.

Murano is the island where Venetian glass is made. Since glassmaking is an inherently dangerous activity due to the high temperature fires needed to melt silica and make glass, all of the glassmaking has been restricted to the island of Murano.

Once we alighted on the island, we were treated to a short glass making demonstration during which we watched in fascination as a master glass craftsman took a bubble of glass and create a rearing horse in seconds.

After the demonstration we toured the showroom. We were not allowed to take photos and it is unfortunate because I cannot describe how beautiful these works were.

 Check out this website however for some idea. The picture may or may not due them all justice. The works were nothing short of specatacular.

Burano umbrellas
Pretty umbrellas in Burano

7.  Take a guided tour

Our tour of Murano and Burano was with City Wonders. Our tour guide is a Venice resident and had an incredibly rich knowledge of the city’s history. She answered every question we threw at her including the significances of certain statues, what a normal Venetian would have for dinner and what products we should order this season in the restaurants. On top of that she was immensely entertaining and funny. Her name was Francesca A and we highly recommend her.

Seeing any city with a tour guide is the best way to go. The experience is so much richer when you know what you are looking at.

If you don’t want to do that check out some of the Great Courses. Either way your experience will be much richer when you know the stories behind the magnificent things you are seeing.

Venice is a city full of challenges but also full to the brim of wonder. She is a challenge to negotiate but when you do you will be treated to an experience like no other.

This beautiful little island built on a lagoon to thwart invaders ended up dominating all the cities in terms of trade and drew to herself, architectural and artistic elements from everywhere.

She is a sparkling jewel in a stunning Byzantine jewel box just waiting to be explored,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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. (The Great Courses Plus)

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 Plus) 

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 Plus) 

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 (The Great Courses Plus)

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 Plus) 

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. 

The Great Courses offers the courses we referenced above and much more through the Great Courses Plus video-on-demand service  offering over 8,000 engaging video courses taught by university professors from top schools. We have viewed many of their courses and recommend them without hesitation. The Great Courses Plus has a free 30-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking on the banner link below. We do receive a commission from signups through this link, but it’s at no extra cost to you and helps us fund additional content for this site.

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

Where to Buy the BEST Italian Leather Handbags in Florence, Italy

Stunning craftsmenship

Pelletteria Moretti
Pelletteria Moretti

Hey everyone!

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