Our Italian Adventure: Why choose Puglia over other regions?
PART 42: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: Where? When we started discussing moving to Italy five or six years ago, we were still determining where to base ourselves. We first went through a decision-making process since my partner, and I were on different pages regarding countries (see previous blog post). Once we both agreed on Italy, we needed to decide where.
Step 2: Exploration. We started to use our vacation time to explore different areas and towns in Italy. We both love Tuscany but ruled it out right away: too expensive for us. We then spent some time in Umbria; we liked Perugia as a base. But the prices exceeded our projected budget, so we put that one on hold.
Step 3: Near large cities. I used to live in Rome and remain very attached, but we could never afford to live there while keeping our home in California. So we explored outside the city; we had a friend who lived in Sermoneta, which has a beautiful medieval center and is easily commutable from Rome. We looked at houses and prices which could fit into our budget. But my partner wasn't ready, and I was unsure about taking that step, so we kept looking.
"Where can we live outside of Rome, on a major train route, and find affordable housing?" I asked one of my Italian friends. He recommended a town north of Rome with about a 30-minute train ride to the city. "That's perfect!" I responded. I decided to spend four nights there to find out if this was "the" place. I had a feeling we would be living in this town.
Step 4: Reality. I am so grateful for spending a few days in this beautiful town. It has an unspoiled historical center that oozes beauty. When I went, it was rainy weather; I remember watching the clouds drift by in the valley below. I sent photos to friends and relatives, who responded, "I wish I were there!" I even looked at several houses for sale.
But after the first day, reality set in. "Where is everyone?" I asked myself, wandering through the empty streets. I would find myself alone as I explored the alleys, roads, and vistas. There was no life in the town. On the third day, I called my friend in Rome. "Can you pick me up? I'm dying here!"
Don't get me wrong; I was not looking for a party city. But a beautiful historic town without any life wasn't speaking to me. After all the sacrifices in moving to Italy, I could imagine us watching TV every evening since there was nothing to do in the town. But we could watch TV in California.
Step 5: Looking further. We kept looking at Italian towns, contacting real estate agents, and focussing on affordable areas. But since we had no other criteria than wanting to be in Italy and wanting to be on a budget, we soon got lost and stopped looking.
Step 6: What is essential? After exploring several areas, we paused to ask ourselves the most critical question: What is important to us?
The answer came quickly enough; in the end, relationships matter most.
Step 7: Puglia. "Where are you from?" locals often ask us in our town. "California," we respond. Then, with a look of surprise, the comeback is almost always the same: "Then what are you doing here?" We laugh. Our Puglian town is not on the tourist radar; it is primarily working class. After laughing, we say the one word that makes sense: "Friendship."
Step 8: Relationships and Puglia. We were ultimately pulled into this beautiful area because of our friendships with some locals we befriended in Rome but originally from Puglia. They drew us into their lives, and them into ours, until we have become like family.
Of course, we moved to Puglia; it is our home, where we have a sense of belonging because of our relationships. Anywhere else, we would just be visiting outsiders.
But there were other factors that drew us to Puglia.
Step 9: Other factors that draw us to Puglia.
Weather. The winters can be cold but mild compared to other areas, and the summers draw us all to the beaches. Being from northern California, the rain in the winter and the hot summers in Puglia merit the name "the California of Italy."
History. Having been a history teacher for 25 years, I wanted to be where I could experience it, and Puglia does not disappoint. From the 1000-year-old designs on the floor of the cathedral of Otranto to the 16th-century guard towers along the coast to the ancient trulli in Alberobello, all the way to the historical center and tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari, Puglia has it all.
Culture and festivals. Greek and other historical influences permeate the people and culture of Puglia. This influence can also be seen in the Pizzica festivals, which celebrate a particular form of dance and music. There are also religious and regional festivals that we can experience throughout the year, especially in the summer months.
People. The people in Puglia have been welcoming, curious, and quick to offer friendship.
Diversity: We have encountered a great mix of gay/straight residents; in our experience, whether someone is gay or not isn't on anybody's radar.
Expat community. We have encountered many expats in Puglia who are willing to risk it all to have a bigger life, and I feel privileged to know them.
Beaches and nature. The bluest turquoise waters, the most beautiful sandy and rocky beaches, and the fantastic sunsets and panoramas are a few of the natural beauties in Puglia. For example, last Summer, a group of us went to the beach and watched the sunset from the water; we then gathered on the beach and shared the food we all brought. As the stars appeared and the city lights illuminated the coast in the distance, it seemed like a magical moment.
Affordability. We get more house for our money (purchasing or renting) than in many other areas and the general cost of living is lower.
Insights: We discovered that asking ourselves what is most important to us illuminated our search for our home base in Italy. We needed to ask that question to have a focus or guide.
After we realized that relationships in Puglia are our priority, we began to discover the other marvels of this land: the beaches, historical towers, architecture, food, festivals, and beautiful towns and cities.
We are so grateful for our life here in Puglia because of our friendships.
My book is now out: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649.
And NOW on Amazon Italy: https://www.amazon.it/gp/product/1913680649/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0.
More next time.