A little over 2 years ago, my husband and I purchased a home in an ancient hilltop village in Southern Italy. The village has been there for hundreds of years, before America even existed.(Yes, I know the land mass existed at that time. I am talking about America, the conceptual realization of the dream of our forefathers. You see, I may be blond but….).
This purchase which many tried to warn us against has been the best thing we have ever done. We have the most amazing friends there, we own a property in the most beautiful part of the world and we didn’t pay all that much for it considering the priceless experiences we enjoy.
Every time we go, we are amazed and delighted by the beauty of the place and the warmth of the people. It is nothing like anywhere else in the world. (For information and photos of the home, please surf on over to www.casabellavita.net).
I wrote the following article last summer and wanted to show it to you again.
“I have to state that when we purchased property here, we hoped beyond hope that we would be able to fold ourselves into this wonderful village and become part of it. The reception we got upon our arrival showed me that we have done exactly that.
My good friend Nunzia runs the little store in the piazza and her store is the center of all social activity, local news and commerce for everyone in the village.
While we are at her store, we get introduced to all of the villagers, their cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. We get hugs and kisses, questions about our health and advice on just about anything.
Yesterday we found beautiful pink beans that seem to only grow here. When we bought them, we received detailed instructions on how to cook them and what type of pasta to use for Pasta Fagiole ( Pasta with beans). We followed the recipe despite using new local ingredients and despite some fudging and errors here and there, it turned out beautifully. It seems that everything I eat in Southern Italy is one of the best things I have ever tried.
Upon our arrival back at the house we met up with our other neighbor. This lady looked upset so I talked to her a little bit. She went on and on about her husband and how he does not listen to her. This seemed to be a big button for her so I heard her out and then nodded sagely. I finally told her “E Uomo” (He is a man)! She laughed out loud exclaiming “E Uomo! Si E Uomo!”
I am not even sure why I said it as I don’t believe men are patterned creatures but it was apparently the correct thing to say to her at that time to alleviate her upset.
Later she arrived on our doorstep with a huge bag of fresh zucchini, basil, and cucumbers. I guess when people feel that they have been understood, they are quite happy.
I rubbed the zucchini with fresh garlic and ate it with a pinch of salt. I ate most of it raw. It is so delicious! Today she dropped off another huge bag of more zucchini, several small and tender eggplants and more basil. I am having a hard time cooking and eating all of it however Pete and I will try!
The last several times we have been here Pete and I have heard the local fish merchant driving through town with his loudspeaker saying “Pesche! Pesche Fresco!” (I hope I got the gender right on that!)
Every day he sells the fish that have been recently pulled out of the Mediterranean, placed on ice and paraded through the village.
To date we have not been brave enough to try to intercept this van and and attempt our rudimentary Italian to buy some fish of whatever description. Today, however, Pete got very brave and raced up to the piazza. A few minutes later he returned with “Filletto” I asked what kind of fish it was and he had no idea.
At first I thought it was red snapper or something like it but after I cooked it and tried it, we determined that it was probably sea bass. It was buttery and fell apart as you ate it. I have NEVER had such delicious fish even in the finest restaurants in San Francisco or even Hawaii. This was the BEST.
I simply cooked it in butter and lemon and let it steam. I served it up with our leftover fried potatoes and fagiolli and it was an amazing lunch. We still have more fish in the fridge that I will cook this evening along with more zucchini and peppers fried in garlic and butter. We will eat out on the balcony overlooking the sea, drinking light red wine out of our glass tumblers.
Honestly I don’t know how it happened or what made Pete and me purchase here other than love at first sight, but this place is the best thing that has ever happened to us.
Our cute neighbor who gave us massive amounts of fresh vegetables was adorable. I gave her some choclate truffles that I bring for gifts every time I come.(Travel tip: It pays to have small gifts that are representative of your part of the world when you travel. People LOVE it. It is such a small thing and the gesture means so much. I have purchased a bunch of little San Francisco cable cars that I will take with postcards of them on the hills in S.F. Although they were not expensive, they will create a huge stir amongst our friends who will then have things to show their friends with a little story to tell them. This has been the biggest creator of good will that I have found to date in my travels)
As I handed the chocolates to my neighbor, She said “No, you eat it, its for you!” I then told her that I bring chocolate over every time I come for our friends over here. This made a great impression on her. She took it gingerly and with great reverence.
Yesterday Pete and I were going to head over to Naples to see what we could see. My hip acted up so I bought a cane and I thought Napoli might be too much. Instead we went South to a little village named Paola and made our way up to the sanctuary there. It is a huge religious complex up in the hills overlooking a beautiful stream. There is a college there as well as a new church and parts of the old church that have been restored. We took our time winding our way through the various paths over waterfalls and bridges and through arches and trees.
It is spectaculary beautiful and well worth a visit. The view of the Mediterranean from that height on the hillside is worth the trip all by itself but coupled with the sanctuary, it is a wonderful place to spend a lot of time. we poked around and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
As we were seeing the inside of the church, suddenly some gorgeous organ music started playing. We looked around and found a young man playing the huge pipe organ there. He was playing what sounded like Bach or another Baroque composer. The music absolutely filled the church and when you listened and looked at the spectacular stained glass windows, well, you can see how somone could be completely overwhelmed with aesthetic. It was breathtaking. After he stopped playing, we chatted with him. He is the music director for a series of organ concerts that are presented in the regions starting in September. These are given at various churches (obviously only the ones with organs in them).
He said there were also singers and some stunning music for anyone who wanted to come. He invited all of us to visit www.culteralmente.com for more information. I plan on making a trip at a time when they have their organ festival. It coincides with opera season in Verona. Jus sayin!
After Paola, we got back in our car and headed South again. This time we ended up in the tiny seaside village of Pizzo. Pizzo sits on the Mediterannean sea and has little coves of completely clear, blue water for swimmers. Looking down to the sea from the castle You can see tiny people swimming. (The castle is Aragonese and saw the death of Napolean’s brother in law by shooting. It was used to house various prisoners of war. The castle prison cells have several extremely creepy looking mannequins wearing period garb with beard stubble Sharpied in to look like they have been there for some time.
It is a bit disconcerting coming face to face with these odd reminders of long dead prisoners but it gives you an idea of what they looked like.) Below the castle is a small cove where the water is so clear that the swimmers look like they are flying low over plain sand until someone splashes and you see drops. This little village clings to the side of the cliffs seperating the fields and slopes of green above it from the sea.
The piazza in Pizzo is immensely beautiful containing many statues, my favorite of which is the one that has stones with the names of the fallen from the village during WW1 and WW2. It is heartbreaking to see that many families lost more than one son or brother but sometimes as many as three or four and some in both wars. I can’t imagine the devastating impact that would have on a community as small as this one was at those times. These wars were betrayals of magnitude to all of the peoples of Earth. The statue has an inscription and (I am paraphrasing) it says that whoever you are, man, woman, child, student, businessman, there is only one thing you truly want and everyone truly wants and that is now and forever PEACE.
I have to think that this is true and despite the hard times we are experiencing even now and the times that were worse in the past, we will find it someday soon. There is an answer to madness and it will manifest.
On the way to Pizzo, Pete and I stopped at a little pizzeria. My experiences with these bar/pizzerie have been overwhelmingly good however I have to state that yesterday was not. I had a sandwich swimming in a vinegary mayo that had soaked through the bread and made everything in it taste hideous. Pete had a different sandwich with no mayo (Thank God) so I ate some of his. After that, we knew we were going to Pizzo which is known worldwide for it’s contribution to the dessert world everywhere by inventing THE TARTUFFO (The Truffle).
This is a concoction of chocolate gelato stuffed with chocolate goo and rolled in chocolate dust. Pete had the classic Tartuffo while I had “The Divine Comedy” (The name of the gelateria was Gelateria Artigianale Bar Dante and you could put your head through a hole in a bill board with a painting of Dante Alighiere on the front and it would look like he is feeding you a tartuffo. I had to laugh at that, I mean, who wouldn’t?) Mine had (get this!) hazlenut gelato covered with a layer of dark chocolate gelato, whipped cream and chocolate sauce and a small nugget of cherry cake inside. Ok, it was completely over the top and I LOVED IT!
It made up for the hideous sandwich nightmare and was worth the entire trip down south which took about 2 hours of drive time. The whole day was wonderful and we saw a lot of Southern Italy. Some of it looked like it could use a little bit of spit, shine and polish but the jeweled nuggets sprinkled here and there in the region are delightful. Overall, Southern Italy has a unique charm that you can’t find anywhere else.
You know, I have commented over and over about the lack of coverage given to Southern Italy by travel writers. They seem to think and push forward the idea that “Southern italy” is Naples and nothing exists between Napoli and Sicily AND they barely mention Sicily at that. If you are not interested in visiting only Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples, you are out of luck and on your own.
I would like to state that there is a huge amount of undiscovered paradise here in Southern Italy that is waiting for you to explore. There are many, many villages with great architecture and breathtaking churches.
There is history in every pore (Magna Grecia was Southern Italy, let’s not forget! Pathagorus made his home in Crotone which is a hop and a skip from here. Horace spent a lot of time in Puglia on the other coast of Southern Italy. There is a ton of culture here. ) Despite my hopes that this region maintains its charm and unspoiled beautiy, I also hope that travelers will give it some thought.
You all can contact me for advice and assistance in planning trips if you want to. We bought this place a little over two years ago and have not had one single moment of regret. There is still more to explore. I have another week here, Who knows what we will see although it may be the inside of someone’s kitchen or more of the sea and perhaps even the insides of my eyelids. I will write more though and please check out my albums. You can also go to www.casabellavita.net and look at the photos of the village and surrounding area. Hope to see you all here soon!