Simple Pleasures and a Home for $32,000 in Southern Italy

Making the decision to transplant ourselves to Italy was easy. Making the move itself was painless. Making ourselves at home was smooth and immediate. We have a feeling of belonging that we’ve not known anywhere else, extraordinarily generous neighbors, and a whole village to greet us with a friendly buongiorno (good morning) when we go for our morning caffe.

We live in a tiny hamlet in the province of Potenza, in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Trivigno embodies the atmosphere you’ll find in most towns here: our neighbors bring us baskets of figs and pears; sack-loads of lettuce, beans, and tomatoes; and more courgettes than we know what to do with. They still jar their salsa for the year, and make their wine and salami. They cling to a way of life that is quickly fading in other regions.

We paid $32,000 for our house. It is a small but charming 300-year-old casa with a large open living and kitchen space, and a bedroom with exposed stone. And from our balcony, we enjoy the view of jagged mountain peaks, emerald pastures, and an enormous turquoise sky. We love that it is on the edge of the village so it feels a little secluded; it has a big terrace where we can eat outside. Our casa is overlooked by the Dolomiti Lucane mountains, and there are sheep bells and churches instead of horns and sirens.

And it really doesn’t cost that much to live here. Having bought our property outright, we don’t have a mortgage or rent payments, and overall living expenses are low: less than a buck for an excellent espresso, 60 cents for a package of pasta, and a whole brimming bagful of fresh fruit and veggies for less than $5.

Not that I have to go to the fruttivendolo (greengrocer) often—friends and neighbors share the bounty from their gardens with us. In return, we’ve helped harvest grapes, hunted asparagus, and assisted with English translations when needed.

Bryan and I are both captivated by the hospitality we found in these time-worn towns clinging to their hilltops, maintaining their traditions through the centuries. So much so that we visit the surrounding towns often.

Cradled among the peaks are the region’s two highest towns, Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, so hidden in the rocks that they remain isolated for centuries. Not so anymore; they now draw big crowds of adventurers to fly the Volo dell’Angelo zip-line, which connects them across a deep canyon. A thrilling ride if you’re up for it.

In Melfi, one of Basilicata’s small historic cities, the aroma of roasting chestnuts is too enticing to pass up. Their autumn festival attracts bus-loads of Italians and expats from neighboring regions who come to enjoy the street fair, with woodland goodies like mushrooms, chestnuts, and truffles headlining the food stalls. When we attended, we ordered a paper cone of chestnuts, scooped hot right out of the pan, along with glasses of the local red wine, and we sat in the shadow of the 12th-century castle to gobble them up. Afterwards, we danced our way through the crowd to the food stalls to partake of the mushroom-enhanced pasta, slow-roasted pork, and citrus-spiked chard, all for €10 ($11), including the wine.

This lovely town in the northern part of Basilicata bustles with life, but like most of the towns in this region, it is practically unknown. In fact, Basilicata is relatively undiscovered by even Italian tourists. Cradled between Puglia, Calabria, and Campania, it is at the geographic ankle of the boot, an area that has remained largely agricultural and holds tightly to its centuries-old traditions.

Yet it’s a breathtaking place. Rolling hills are staked out with vineyards that produce world-class wine, two slices of coast offer beaches and summer fun, and dramatic mountains make for beautiful backdrops and outdoor activities.

The glittery sun-drenched seaside of Maratea, on the west side, is as beautiful as the Amalfi Coast but without the crowds. Its old town has a carefree air while the black-sand beaches are kissed by turquoise waters; the ideal place to relax. Sunsets from here are spectacular. Over on the east side, in the low, rolling, arid hills near Puglia, is Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an ancient rock city like no other. Its jumble of houses are breathtaking and the scene for many period films, like the recent remake of Ben Hur.

It is the joy of simple pleasures, a laidback lifestyle, gorgeous scenery, and hospitable people that make Basilicata a great place.

Image: ©

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