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