Roving Retirement, Italian Style

Bill and Carol Sansone are the envy of their friends. Acting on their passion for Italy they have gone back year after year to explore regions up and down the peninsula. Since 2005 they’ve taken six different destinations for a “test drive” in search of a future retirement home.

“We’ve rented in Tuscany, Umbria, northern Lazio, Lake Como and Torino, settling into life in each locale, opting to walk or take public transit rather than drive, preparing meals from local produce, and participating in the local life. Wherever we are, Italians always stop and talk—in the shops, at the bar, even in the middle of traffic! Our most memorable experiences revolve around the people we meet along the way,” says Bill.

The couple’s first experience with the Old Country was in 1974 when Bill was in the military and assigned to the NATO Headquarters in Naples. “During those first two years in Italy we didn’t really do much research on where to go. We had a car and a map and not much money, so we picked names of towns on the map and drove until our wallets and gas tank were almost empty,” says Bill.

After this assignment ended, they returned to the States and their respective career paths, Bill as an architect and project manager and Carol as a pastry chef. But the couple read voraciously about Italy—everything from travel memoirs to historical novels, as well as cookbooks and travel guides, and books by Italian-Americans seeking their roots and heritage. Both grandchildren of Italian immigrants they were keen to research their roots and Italy.

The Sansones returned to Italy with their young son in 1998, and started spending summers in Carol’s grandmother’s home in Calabria, exploring the southern regions, and watching as their son played with Italian kids and broke the ice with stoic elderly folks in the village.

In 2010 with early retirement finally a possibility they decided to settle into Soriano nel Cimino for seven months to try out life in Italy for a longer period of time. So far it’s the only destination they’ve returned to twice. “We found it charming, picturesque, and small enough to become familiar. It’s also close to Viterbo and Rome and within reasonable distance to every corner of Italy,” said Carol.

“We try to blend into local life as much as possible, enjoying our morning coffee and pastry at the bar, shopping in the markets and preparing meals from fresh seasonal produce. We like to be out and about when everyone else is, shopping and chatting and strolling. Aperitivo hour in the piazza is pretty important, too,” she says.

From here they gradually developed a mode of roving retirement, the culmination of their life-long love of Italian culture.

And they also found a means to help fund their travels. While in Soriano they did some work for a cultural tour company. “We taught regional cooking courses, led groups on photography outings and other cultural activities, and managed guest apartments,” Bill says. This led to other opportunities and most recently they spent three months in Torino, launching a trip-consulting Facebook page advising independent travelers to Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy.

They also find costs low. For instance, they usually find their rentals by word of mouth through friends or acquaintances. They say they’ve never paid more than $676 a month, including the utilities.

“Renting gives us the flexibility to explore various places, though our goal is to find a perennial post. There are about a dozen or so items on our wish list… We’d prefer a small furnished apartment with a terrace or balcony that we could rent every year from May through October. We want the piazza and shops, a coffee bar and weekly market to be in walking distance. We want to be locals rather than tourists,” Bill says.

“We try to keep all of our expenses to about $2,000 per month, including rent,” Carol said, but pointed out that they don’t skimp on the experiences. So far the best of their travels link them to their heritage: entering a home and smelling the aromas of their grandmothers’ kitchens from 50 years ago, and baking bread with Carol’s cousins in Calabria.

The couple plan to continue their roving retirement, renting in different towns while deciding on their permanent spot.

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