Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Calabria? Why Santa Domenica Talao?

The Sea caught us in its net (Dino Island, Praia a Mare)
We were recently asked the following questions about our decision to retire in Calabria. I thought it would be a good time to combine the answers to these questions with some perspective from three years of experience:
  • How did you discover Calabria?
  • How did you first notice Santa Domenica Talao and what grabbed you about it? 
  • How did the two of you decide upon Calabria, and more specifically, Santa Domenica Talao? 
  • What was your process of settling in SDT? Did you start out somewhere else first?
How did you discover Calabria?
Our first trip to Italy started in the North and only got as far south as Rome.
When you come to Italy for the first time, it's hard not to focus on Rome, Venice, Florence, and Tuscany. We threw in Cinque Terre in Liguria thanks to recommendations from friends. Nevertheless, that trip in 2005 led us to Calabria in large part due to the contribution of Cinque Terre. We just loved it--the combination of picturesque small hill towns in the mountains overlooking the sea. Our whole trip gave us a very good impression of Italians and the culture.

I realized that if I didn't have to work, I wasn't going to live anywhere away from the sea. Doug was never a big fan of rolling hills--he's a mountain guy, and and I grew to hate, hate days of fog from living in Oregon. Thus, our search started out fairly rationally--find places to live by the sea without fog and with mountains for Doug. We were brought up in the US midwest suburbs and spent our working lives in the western mountains. We grew used to simple days and simple ways with work to add the stimulation of purpose surrounded by talented dedicated people. We thought about wanting to live where it was relatively quiet--we didn't factor in work or talented people--we were pretty innocent about retirement in those days.

Our town is at the foot of these mountains (Mt. Caccia)
We relied on the Internet to research places which met our criteria. In our minds, Calabria came out on top.
It was the quiet outback of Italy, not overly bothered by foreign tourists, it is basically all mountains surrounded by gorgeous beaches. We were next influenced by the available online real estate sites in Calabria. They were few. 

We stumbled on a site that not only had real estate listings, but a forum that let us get a view of what other people thought. We made an appointment for a viewing trip with an agent and combined that with a trip to Tropea for Italian language classes in 2007. 

We discussed living in Tropea, but the landscape did not take our breath away as it did in Cinque Terre, and Tropea is the one place in Calabria that is overpriced due to tourism. We have since found that Tropea closes up tighter than a drum in winter, with very little around to do.

We have been studying the history of this area in Italian class.  It is complicated to say the least.
How did you first notice Santa Domenica Talao and what grabbed you?  
During our weekends off from the Tropea language school, we took our house viewing trips with the estate agent, Tony, from Scalea. We told him we wanted a place either by the sea or in a centro storico--we had an historic building in mind. This meant we didn't see ANY modern apartments. Our trip was limited to seeing ruins and restorations other people (Tony's friends and/or previous clients) created from previously decadent properties. It was actually very comforting. We felt we would be helping to restore the area, and prices included an estimate of what restoration could cost. (I say could because we upped that quite a bit due to wanting a permanent residence--not a holiday house).

We like how casual the ruins are around here--collect time all alone
It was slow going at first.
I'm sure Tony thought we were never going to buy.
Then he took us to Santa Domenica Talao. What grabbed us? It was to us perfect in every way. It was not a "fake" tourist trap, it had a stupendous view overlooking the sea and mountains, it had the most friendly people we'd encountered in our lives, it had many small stores (you really would never NEED to go down the hill although we would end up doing it--sometimes 3 times a day).

The final grabber was a little ruin of a house with perfect views and spaces that seemed right--for example, no need for making a terrace on the roof, it is right off the kitchen. Icing on the cake was  next door neighbors who told us to hurry back.
With the perspective of three years, I can tell you that we still think what grabbed us was true and not mistaken.

What is behind the wall in our study?
We always know when our neighbor Pepina
is baking bread. We hear the unmistakeable sounds of her getting the bread oven ready.

There were things we didn't really know about or completely comprehend. There are problems like any other place one lives. We wanted to be part of a town after living in the outback, but the language barrier has slowed that down. Italian was harder to learn than we thought and we will probably never fully learn the dialect spoken here. Overall, all that brought us here still shines, we just have a whole lot more work to do than we thought. Life-building is not a snap anywhere you go. These grabbers will be different depending on who you are. Tuscany didn't move us at all--really, it looked boring to folks used to the mountains yet it attracts more retirees than any other place.

We are getting to know the neighbors as our Italian improves--pranzo at our house
(we are busy cooking or taking a picture)

You have to know who you are and what you like. We have friends who love the idea of Sardinia. We never considered it--island fever and all that.

How did the two of you decide upon Calabria, and more specifically, Santa Domenica Talao? 
I am sure we could have extended the hunt, found other charming towns, etc. However, it's like when you meet the right person, do you keep looking around? I guess we've never been big shoppers. We see what we like and go for it.

We never thought Doug would be on a wine tasting jury.
What was your process of settling in SDT? Did you start out somewhere else first?
The process was two viewing trips in September 2007 from Tropea, decide on house and contractor, go back to the states, come back in October to sign papers, pay and pick out things for the restoration, go back home to the states, give power of attorney to the estate agent so he can finish up payments to the contractor, come back for a summer trip in July 2008 to inspect progress. The apartment below us come up for sale and these trips involved buying that too. We moved into a Hood River apartment after selling the farm (just before the market crashed), sent the furniture on a boat to Italy where Doug met it in November 2008. We came back and unpacked for Christmas and then the house was left empty for a year until we moved in February 2010 after our retirement party in January. We never lived anywhere but our cute little casa in Santa Domenica Talao.

So we are learning how to taste the good life in Calabria--one day at a time


  1. What a wonderful post! Love your explanation about why Calabria and why your village. Cinqueterre in Liguria and Amalfi Coast are no doubt highlights of Italy. However, Calabria is more authentic, calm, less touristy and affordable. And no fog!

  2. Thanks, Suzie,
    I'm glad our thoughts can ring true for other seasoned adventurers!

  3. Hi Diana and Guido!
    This will make you laugh! I am preparing a Family Weekend at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and found your photo of fresco and wall on-line.
    I would love to use it as a backdrop to our display, as I have a sample of Roman roof tiles/fresco/ and brickwork.
    Was wondering if you could e-mail me a larger version of the one on the site that we can print it 3 ft. x 5 ft.
    Many thanks and love your blog!!!!!

  4. Hi Again- Its the photo of the wall with two small frescoes of reclining woman and male hippocamp underneath a very clear image of edge of roof tiles.
    Many thanks!
    Required by June 13th!!!
    Best- susan

  5. Avete mai frequentato la scuola: Conte Ruggiero? Quando ho letto un po' della scuola, ho cercato il voi paese? Mi sembra che sia moooolto carino. Come state questi giorni?

  6. Well, my last post didn't garner a response. C ould be a thousand reasons and one of them could be because I wrote my comment in Italian, soooo...I was wondering dear couple if you've ever attended the language school: conte ruggiero. I subscribe to an "language schools in Italy" site that sends me little snippets 'bout schools all over Italy. For some reason, I looked up Santa Dominica and in the process, found your very interesting contribution which has captured my imagination.How are things these days? Any new discoveries?

  7. Thank you! Can you comment on everyday life in Santa Domenica ,Talao? Is there a downtown, famers market, church, festivals, etc? What do you do every day there? I would appreciate some photos too. :)



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