In 2006, my husband, Bryan, and I decided we wanted a different lifestyle in a different locale. Italy had long been a favorite holiday spot and with each visit we imagined what it would be like to live there.
We’d return home after a visit longing for the piazzas where people gathered just for the joy of being together; the leisurely meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients; the cascading flower boxes outside centuries-old windows; and the beautiful rhythms of life being carried on from long ago, which are still a part of daily Italian culture.
After much thought and debate, we decided that the fear of change was outweighed by the fear of complacency. We didn’t want to put off the living part of “making a living” so we sold the house, ditched our steady jobs, unloaded a lot of belongings, and set about planting ourselves in the Old World.
We settled into a relaxed routine in the elegant, but little-known, city of Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region. After several weeks of language school, we got to know our new community by visiting local cafes and shops and making friends with other regulars and our neighbors.
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. 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 relatives and felt the sensation of “home” in this mountainous land.
Basilicata is a hidden gem tucked into the ankle of Italy’s “boot,” speckled with verdant valleys, deep forests, rolling hills, and alpine peaks. 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.
My husband, who loves the mountains and outdoor activities, started talking about buying a small place. This notion was fueled by relatives and friends telling us how low prices were, so we started to look at homes.
We finally found our little 300-year-old casa in the village of Trivigno. We paid just $44,000 for the habitable house with three separate stone-hewn cantinas, used to store firewood and wine.
We moved to Basilicata in 2011 and were immediately made to feel part of the community and quickly discovered that the lifestyle is relaxed and focused on the seasons. 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 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 doesn’t cost the earth; I pay less than $1 for an excellent espresso, 70 cents for a package of pasta, and can pick up a whole bag full of fruits and veggies for around $3.
Not that I have to shop very 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. We are gifted with all the pork products we want, such as salami and pancetta, all made by our neighbors’ hands.
They also give us their homemade wine, which is, honestly, 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. Bryan has taken up beer-making in one of our cantinas to share in exchange, which has further endeared him to his group of friends.
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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