Basilicata is an unusual region in Italy for foreigners to live, how did you end up there?
It is very unusual for foreigners to move here! I have roots in the region by way of my grandmother. While she was born in the US, her older brothers were born in a town about 15 minutes away from where we live, so our first visit was a journey of discovery, so to speak, to see the towns that my greatgrandparents came from. We were immediately captured by the landscapes and the incredible welcome we received. I also learned that we have relatives here, which made us return often, until we finally decided to buy a house and live here full time.
Is it as off-the-beaten track as everyone imagines?
Yes and no. It is “down south,” so for those who are travelling in central or northern Italy, it might seem quite far or remote. But if you’re in the south, say Naples, Puglia, or the Amalfi Coast, Basilicata is a short trip inland from there. We’re about an hour east of Salerno and about two hours from both Bari and Naples. But it can seem more remote by virtue of the absolute lack of decent rail service. It’s usually faster to take a bus than a train in these parts! I’d say it’s “off-the-beaten track” in the sense of tourism, in that it is still very much to be discovered by tourists.
What's different about living in Basilicata, compared to other parts of Italy?
Its landscapes are varied and dramatic – not just rolling hills; there are some of those around the wine country, but there are also cliffs, fantastical erosion formations, rocky peaks and alpine mountains. It’s beautiful, and in places reminds us of New Mexico. It’s nice because being among the few foreigners here, people have been very welcoming; there is a genuine sense of hospitality in the culture here. We’ve become part of the community.
Are there any downsides to living there?
Life is still quite traditional here - which is great in terms of carrying on the rhythms and festivals and traditions of the past. But it can impede new opportunities and entrepreneurial development (“That’s not how we do things here,” they’ll say.) Regional politics, like most of Italy, is dismal. In a town as small as ours, everyone pretty much knows everyone’s business – but the upside is that they’re also immediately available to lend a hand when you need it.
Did you speak Italian beforehand? If not, how did you learn it...is there a local dialect?
We did speak Italian beforehand, as we had previously lived in Ascoli Piceno (Le Marche). Good thing, too, because there are precious few English speakers around here! The local dialect is very much used and very incomprehensible to us. To confuse issues, it differs from the dialect spoken in my ancestral village, just a few miles away.
What do you do for work?
I do a bit of everything! I’m a freelance writer first and foremost. I also do translations and teach English to a few children in the village. We have a tourism business called My Bella Basilicata, which assists in travel planning. I also wanted to help others find their roots here and discover the towns their families came from, so a big part of our business is genealogy journeys. My husband teaches English in a private language school in Potenza. It wasn’t that difficult; in fact, we’ve found more success here than we did in Ascoli Piceno, which is more “developed” and centrally located.
So you help sell property too. Are there lots of bargains in Basilicata...what was the cheapest property sold?
There are big bargains here! People have moved away for university or work and as the older people die, residents find themselves with more than one house. We’ve added property listings to our site as a kind of community service, to help them potentially find buyers from outside the area. So far we’ve not sold anything, but there are some great houses for those wanting to live here or have a vacation home. An example is Casa Rocco, an apartment with a large garden for just €37,500. Our neighbour’s house, Casa Valerio, is adorable, in perfect condition, comes fully furnished and costs just €48,000. I know of another apartment for sale for just €25,000 (in good shape and habitable, no less!)
Are there many other foreigners living in your town?
Nope. In the region in general there aren’t many foreigners. There is a small international community in Matera, and a handful of expats in Potenza, mostly here because they married locals. In our village, there are maybe five other foreigners, who came here from eastern Europe for work.
What would you advise others seeking to move to Italy?
Maintain a sense of humor and a lot of patience! The bureaucracy is infamous, but doable if you’re patient. Spend some time in one place to determine what it’s really like to live in Italy because vacationing here and living here can be very different experiences. More importantly, follow your heart when making the decision; we chucked it all to live in a village of 600 people in the mountains of southern Italy - and couldn’t be happier!
To discover more about Valerie's Basilica lifestyle, visit www.mybellabasilicata.com