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Living in an Italian Village by the Sea – Pros and one Con
By: S Crosetto
Although I am only a quarter expat in Pizzo - if you can call it "expat" after all - I decided to
write about our European home base in the most southern region of the Italian mainland: Calabria.
Italian countrymen further north often look down on Calabria – unjustly, thinks the Calabrese. Calabria is indeed different from the North. In fact, every Italian region has its own characteristics. Even in one region you may find slightly different dialects, different characters, even different recipes and different customs. Despite globalisation. Thanks god, we still have places like this on our planet.
Why we have chosen Calabria? We did not choose it. It has chosen us. My husband was born on the hills of Vibo Valentia overlooking the sea. His parents, originally from Northern Italy, came to Calabria as expats for several years in the late sixties. They went to Pizzo for a passeggiata every now and then to enjoy the famous ice cream, il tartufo, invented in this village by the sea. Although his parents moved on, the love of the family for Calabria remained. When I met my husband I wanted to visit the region where he spent his early childhood. With my car we drove from Venice 11 hours non-stop. And I was enchanted by this slightly rough region that we reached after a long journey. Nature, food, people, history – with character, solid, humble, no fuzz.
Since our son was born, we return every summer – until we became “locals” by buying a house and starting a renovation project.
Don't ask for the top 10 hang outs for expats in Pizzo and surroundings. First of all, Pizzo has not more than 9,000 inhabitants - and second, there are not many expats. There are some “locals” who work in the north or abroad and come visiting "home" during summer. And there are some Northern Europeans, some Scandinavians, and even some Russians who have discovered the place and made it their second home. These are the other “locals”. There are no real “expats”, as expats move for work to another country. Calabria has not many jobs to offer. If you move here, you have to create your job. Those foreigners who come to Pizzo are either retired, work from home or start their own business. Like the young Irish couple that successfully opened a B&B. Or like the German couple which established the only hotel in the centro storico. And there is this British lady who started guided city tours and developed into a travel agent. And yet others have tried to launch a local magazine. There is no limit to your creativity.
If you still want to know about “expats” hang outs, then let me tell you, that usually expats are
keen to mix with the locals and try the local things. That's after all what makes expat life so
exciting! We are not tourists; we are living - almost - like the locals. We try to learn the
language. Most foreigners who come to Italy speak Italian or try to learn it as soon as they
arrive. My friendly Italian neighbour is a teacher and she loves to have some "international" crowd
around that she thinks spices up the everyday village life. So she offers help which comes in hourly Italian lessons at her home or in the local bar, with an espresso in the sunshine. And in return the new British friends help to correct the English translation of the village’s history in the local tourist information brochure. Together they sometimes meet in a local pub with other foreigners to speak English, and the Italian friends are invited to practice. If you want to know which of the around 20 bars in the village are trending, take your time, try one by one. And you will see, it is not about trends. It is about relationships. (Of course everyone makes a different tartufo and slightly different cappuccino). But if you don't like surprises and want to know something "top 10" in Calabria, get a guidebook, or check on tripadvisor what others say. For things to do in and around Pizzo, I may refer you also to my already published tips here and here.
But what is it that attracts people to settle in this village? I always ask the other foreigners this question.
Some drove along the coast and checked village by village to find an affordable place by the sea. And when they arrived in Pizzo, they saw the beauty - although sometimes it is more a sleeping beauty - but you can see the potential. The old town on a cliff, the Marina with its bay of crystal clear water in walking distance, the many simple, but good and inexpensive local restaurants. You feel like having discovered a hidden gem. There was a time, I think, some locals didn't get it. Maybe us foreigners contributed a tiny bit to open up their eyes. More and more locals understand it now. And they put together their effort to make Pizzo an even better place. Young families move back into the old town centre, after years of migration to new housing estates. Pizzitani use social media to express their love to their home town and Calabria. The young major of Pizzo has added to the spirit. Investments for renovation work in the centro storico are approved. Cultural events are supported. Artists are getting together. It’s trendy to rediscover old traditions and handcrafts.
Some other adventurers were looking for a sea side village in Europe that is not deserted in winter. Many picturesque sea side towns are too attractive. Too many people from outside came to buy summer homes, which resulted in locked window shutters during winter and deserted town centres. Locals depending on tourists have to move elsewhere, to find another seasonal job. This happened to Pizzo's Calabrian rival Tropea and many other tourist destinations in Sicily and Sardinia. But not in Pizzo. The restaurants and bars are frequented by locals all year round as they offer decent quality at fair prices. They may make less money in winter, but they are open and working. And people can afford to stay.
Other foreigners travelled through Pizzo years ago and now come back because they remember the taste of the simple life.
Southern Italy is one of the best options, you have in Europe. The weather is nicer. The food tastes better. The prices are fair. Pizzo is humble and peaceful, cosy and small. It is so different from the busy and hectic world most of us are living in....Pace of life is steady but slow. In Pizzo you need patience - but what you do not need is a car. Everything is within walking distance: bars, food, beach, churches, and a bookstore. Italian everyday life can be seen, heard, smelled, and tasted in the many ancient alleys, discovered with all your senses.
The drawback of Pizzo?
If you get a heart attack you might die.
I don’t think any ambulance would arrive on time or even pass through the narrow alleys. But you
also might die in Paris, Rome or Bangkok while stacked in traffic jam. In Pizzo, however, with the sea in front of you, calm and serene, you will know life was beautiful.
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Contest Comments » There are 7 comments
Antonio Montesanti wrote 9 years ago:
Molto interessante e ben fatto: aiuta a riscoprire realmente il valore del senso di identità nella valorizzazione di un paese!
Sue wrote 9 years ago:
Great article. I've always wanted to visit this part of Italy and it's good to get an "expat" take on it! Good to see how you're getting on with a renovation project here too in the blog. Useful! Thanks for stopping by my blog too :-)
Sarah wrote 9 years ago:
Ciao from Bologna! Your article has made me want to take a trip to Calabria this summer. Pizzo sounds like a really wonderful, authentic place. I’ve always thoughts that the small towns, off the beaten path are the best in Italy because you really get to know the people. "Bravo" from your fellow Italy expat!
Suzie wrote 9 years ago:
Hello dear all, this is Suzie, the contributor of this entry, so this comment will not count, but I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the organisers to have inspired and motivated so many expat writers to write some interesting posts on their adopted homes which are entertaining and might come in handy for readers. I also would like to thank Antonio, who is an artist with his own studio in Pizzo, to have taken his time to read my article and to comment on it. He basically says that seeing a village through the eyes of a 'foreigner' helps to re-discover the value of it. Many thanks also to my Italian fellow expats. Hope that Italy wins a country price! Forza Italia! And Merry Christmas to all of you! Hope to see you on my blog in 2014!
Greg wrote 9 years ago:
What a great post on such a wonderful part of the country. We haven't made it there yet, but my wife's nonno was from Calabria, so we definitely want to go. Thanks for writing such a wonderful article. Sincerely, Tall, Dark and Handsome :-)
Jennifer wrote 9 years ago:
This is an area I hope to explore more. I hope I don't have a heart attack while I am there. :-)
Alison Jackson wrote 9 years ago:
Not made it to Calabria since we moved to the Cilento yet, but you've painted an idyllic picture of Southern Italian life that I can so identify with