In 2012 Benjamin North Spencer and Nadine Guarrera Spencer, both 41, moved to the historic, coastal town of Riposto. Here, the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean are just a short stroll away, while Mount Etna, Sicily’s active volcano, provides a magnificent backdrop.
And it’s here that the couple enjoy a rural Mediterranean lifestyle for half the cost of life back home.
Riposto lies at the heart of an area famous for its heroic wines; they are so called because of the extreme conditions the vineyards thrive in. Wine production in this part of Sicily dates back more than 3,000 years, and Riposto played an important role in its history. Here wines were blended, barrelled and shipped to northern Italy, France and Greece.
Given this heritage, Riposto is the perfect place for a wine connoisseur to call home. Benjamin has put his passion and knowledge of the industry to practice: He consults to small craft wineries and runs a wine school that offers customised wine courses for wine lovers, gastronomic adventurers, sommeliers and journalists. He loves living and working in a wine-growing region and participating in grape harvests.
“Being this close to Etna makes it possible to get involved in the process.
It is an incredible, tangible experience; you see how humans and nature work together. I enjoy the harvest and following the evolution of the wines, experiencing the wines as they age and seeing how the producers progress.”
The couple has come a long way from their old life. Prior to moving to Sicily, Benjamin worked in the restaurant and wine industry and Nadine in publishing. Both of them wanted a different life.
One Sunday, they started talking about where they wanted to be one year down the line. “We decided to make some fun of it and speak our heart on the count of three,” says Benjamin. “When the count came, she said, ‘Sicily.’ I said, ‘With you.’
We stopped there, on that dirt road, and made a pact.” One year later, Benjamin, Nadine, their dog and two cats started a new life in Italy.
The couple now rent a beautiful, three-bedroom villa surrounded by citrus and palm trees, less than 213 metres from the beach, for less than $1,350 a month.
“We enjoy walking to our favourite bar, with our dog, where we have breakfast most mornings,” says Benjamin of their easy-going daily routine. “Your days can be filled with simple pleasures. A relaxing morning, a slow-cooked lunch, a long nap and coffee at the bar when you wake, followed by a light dinner and a leisurely stroll before bed.
“Our monthly living expenses are roughly half of what they were back home,” he says. “Taking into account our lifestyle choices—diet, walking, using trains, buying local and only what’s in season—we were able to reduce our costs while raising our quality of life.”
The couple spends about $88 a week on groceries, buying the best produce from local suppliers. “Our local vegetable gardens are close by. We go there, order what we want and they cut it for us.
The taste is completely different from what you get in supermarkets. The volcano gives a special flavour to everything that grows here.”
There is no racing around in this small Sicilian town. Life moves at a slower pace here. And that’s just the way the couple like it. “It is romantic, in a way,” says Benjamin. “The pace in Sicily is what I would call rural Mediterranean. Here, domani (“tomorrow” in Italian) is a common answer for many questions.”
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