For my husband, Bryan, and I, Italy had long been a favorite vacation spot of ours. And with each visit, we imagined what it would be like to live there.
We’d return home after our two-week vacation longing for the piazzas (public squares) where folks gathered and enjoyed each other’s company…the leisurely meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients…the cascading flower boxes outside centuries-old windows. And real cappuccino.
After much thought and debate, we decided that the fear of change was outweighed by the fear of complacency. We sold the house, ditched our steady jobs, unloaded a lot of belongings, and made a plan to live in Italy for one year.
We settled into a relaxed routine in the elegant but little-known city of Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region. I have Italian heritage so in my spare time I researched my family’s genealogy and discovered my grandmother’s parents were from a small region in the far south called Basilicata.
Basilicata is a hidden gem tucked into the ankle of Italy‘s “boot,” speckled with verdant valleys, deep forests, rolling hills, and alpine peaks. The first time we arrived in the region we didn’t know what to expect, we certainly didn’t anticipate the stunning scenery and incredible hospitality that we found. Nor did we dream of finding family, but we were soon embraced by our distant relatives and felt the sensation of “home” in this mountainous land. My family ties and the alluring landscapes drew us in and we decided that when it came to investing in a house, we wanted it to be here where my roots are.
Finding a house is easier said than done in many parts of the south. There are no real estate agents in the smaller towns, so we enlisted family and friends to help because it’s a word-of-mouth endeavor. We finally found our little 300-year-old casa in the rustic village of Trivigno. We paid just $44,000 for the house with three separate stone-hewn cellars, used to store firewood and wine.
We moved to Basilicata in 2011 and were immediately made to feel part of the community. There is a history of hospitality here; in fact, they have a saying that l’ospitalita’ e’ sacre (hospitality is sacred). The Lucani, as the people of Basilicata are called, exude genuine warm welcomes and a local pride that is contagious.
It’s the kind of place where people leave their car doors unlocked and keys dangling from their front doors. There is no haughtiness or pretentiousness here; just normal, neighborly folks who look out for each other. There are delectable regional foods and world-class wines as well as timeless traditions that take place throughout the year.
And the amazing food is affordable to boot. I pay about 75 cents for an excellent espresso, 70 cents for a package of pasta, and can pick up a whole bag full of fruit and veg for around $3. Not that I even need to shop all that often—friends and neighbors share the bounty from their gardens with us: fresh figs, peaches, apples, and pears have been left on our doorstep, along with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more zucchini than we can handle. And we’re gifted with all the pork products we want, such as salami, pancetta, and soppressata, all made by our neighbors’ hands. They also give us their homemade wine, which can be a bit “rough” but when we buy the regional vintage of incredibly complex Aglianico del Vulture, it only sets us back only around $5.
Here in Basilicata, we’ve found a sense of community that we never had before. Friends are always willing to lend a hand—with bureaucracy, advice on where to find things, and cat-sitting when we’re away. They invite us for meals and to celebrations. In return, we’ve helped harvest grapes and hunted asparagus. And Bryan has taken up beer-making in one of our cellars to share with our neighbors.
I smile when I think about that “one-year plan” we had 10 years ago and am so glad that following our hearts gave us a new life in my ancestral land.
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