It was on a trip to the central Italian region of Abruzzo in late autumn that David and Sharyn Collins stumbled upon their new home.
“We stopped in Sulmona and fell in love with it. It is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Sulmona is right in the centre of a valley with lots of beautiful towns, unspoiled villages, castles and wineries scattered all around it in the mountains,” the couple say.
Quintessentially Italian, Sulmona offers everything you would expect in Bel Paese (a poetic name for Italy translated as “beautiful country”): history, good food and wine, friendly locals and a slow pace of life. “The church at the end of our street has a glass floor where you can see Roman ruins and beautiful mosaics. You have that feeling of history in the town and we love that,” says David. And it is only a two-hour drive from the Italian capital, Rome.
“This is the best time of our life, we are free to do what we like and Sulmona in Abruzzo is a wonderful place to be”, says the couple in their 60s. “We spend spring and summer in Italy and get the best of the seasons in both countries.”
Their house is almost 300 years old, with lovely vaulted ceilings and some original features. David and Sharyn bought it renovated as taking on a big job was not part of their plan. They love being based in the old historic part of town and having a bit of movement and life about them. “The size of Sulmona is perfect, not too big, not too small. You have all the facilities and you can walk everywhere,” says Sharyn.
“It is a completely different way of living from Australia. It is much more about community living and we have terrific neighbours,” adds David. The couple have made many friends with locals and expats from different countries and feel that that they are surrounded by like-minded people.
“Overwhelmingly all of them are very positive about their life in Sulmona, some of them have been around Italy many times but have chosen this town to settle down,” says David.
Both agree that life in Sulmona is very affordable. “Food and restaurants are no more than two thirds of what it costs in Australia, so it is a big discount on the cost of living. It is nice when you go to the supermarket and carry a lot of stuff out without having paid much.” A large meal in a local restaurant can cost as little as $50 although in some fancier places you might pay about $90 in total.
Renting a car costs only about $30 per day and gives David and Sharyn the freedom to discover Abruzzo and beyond.
“We often go up to one of the towns in the mountains, have a light lunch there, pasta with a glass of wine. Or we might go to the coast, within an hour from us. Our favourite ristorante is Aldebaran in San Vito Chietino. Fantastic spot. We usually have the degustation menu—around 12 dishes that are each of good size for $62 per person.
The variety of fish and crustaceans from the Adriatic is incredible, and all excellent. And sometimes we have the whole restaurant to ourselves. It is a delight!” says Sharyn.
Sharyn and David, as pensioners and homeowners, have an elective residency visa (given to those who can afford to reside in the country without working) in Italy. They admit that it took them numerous trips to the police station to get it sorted but they persevered. The couple took out travel medical insurance and are very happy with the local healthcare system. “We both have had small health issues and never had any trouble accessing doctors. In Melbourne, you are just a number, in Sulmona you are a person,” says David.
The couple do their best to learn Italian. “Neither of us is very adept at Italian but it keeps you on your toes trying to speak. It is a completely different world here and that is what we find very stimulating in our old age, it keeps us going; we always look forward to arriving in Sulmona. As we drive down from Rome and see the town, it makes our hearts lift and brings a smile to our face,” says David.
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