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Nine things to expect if you move to rural Italy

Nine things to expect if you move to rural Italy
Is life in the italian countryside really as idyllic as you'd hope? Photo: Fabio Muzzi/AFP
For many people the dream is to escape the rat race and buy a remote Italian farmhouse, pick some olives and live happily ever after. But what's life in rural Italy really like?

1. Everything is closed

It can come as a bit of a shock to foreigners but traditional opening hours are still observed in many parts of Italy, especially rural ones.

This means that shops close for lunch around 1pm and don’t reopen until around 3.30pm – or even later, especially in the south. They will then stay open until the early evening.

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when you move to Tuscany

In many parts of the country, Sunday closing is still observed. In the bigger towns and cities this is starting to disappear and across the country many supermarkets now open on a Sunday, at least in the morning. 

While we may be used to restaurants and cafes closing on a Monday in some countries, many in Italy take this day off on a random weekday, such as a Wednesday, so always check the opening hours if you want to go somewhere in particular.

The Italian countryside may be beautiful, but how easy is it to live in? Photo: AFP

Speaking of timing, Italian restaurants (and Italians generally) also tend to be rigorous about “correct” mealtimes – you will often find restaurants are only open between around 12 and 3pm, and from 8pm for dinner.

This applies to most (non-tourist-oriented) restaurants in cities as well, but the countryside’s total lack of fast food or ‘non-stop’ eateries where they will serve food at any time means you can forget about eating outside the proper hours.

And of course don’t forget public holidays, when everything closes.

2. Your new best friends are the staff at Leroy Merlin and the discarica

If you’re doing any kind of house renovation, prepare to spend a lot of time in the nearest DIY store (bricolage or negozio fai-da-te) frowning over your translation app.

READ ALSO: Finding a home in the Italian countryside: A survivors’ guide 

Likewise you will probably also get to know the staff at your local discarica (rubbish tip) well. This will also provide a workout for your Italian language skills as they explain to you exactly what is allowed to go into each skip.

3. It’s really quiet – and look at those stars!

This is obviously not unique to Italian countryside, but Italy has some areas (like Molise, Basilicata, and parts of Sicily) that are very sparsely populated indeed. So if you like the quiet life, you know where to begin house-hunting.

READ ALSO: Searching for cheap Italian property online? Here’s what you need to watch out for

The countryside can be surprisingly noisy at times, with farm machinery whirring, dogs barking and cockerels crowing, but it’s still a world away from traffic noise and heavy-footed upstairs neighbours.

The other upside of being kilometres away from any source of light pollution is that the night skies are simply incredible.

4. Chatting is vital

But if you want some human contact and move to a village, you’re going to have to brush up on your Italian small-talk. The courtesies are important here and pausing to have a chat with your neighbour is absolutely expected.

In villages, a simple walk to the post office can take more than half an hour once you’ve paused to exchange greetings and gossip with various neighbours.

Don’t forget to wish them buon pranzo (have a nice lunch) if your interaction is just before lunchtime, buona domenica (have a nice Sunday) if you see them on a Saturday evening, or buon lavoro if they’re on their way to work. These aren’t always things we foreigners would think to say to one another, but in Italy these niceties are essential.

READ ALSO: 12 of the most useful Italian words you need to know

And, in the rural south especially, be prepared to give a description of your lunch to any neghbours you meet in the afternoon. They’re very likely to ask you what you’ve had to eat or, at the very least, if you’ve eaten well. (And they genuinely do want to know.)

If you’re new to an area with very few other foreigners around, some of these interactions might start to feel somewhat like an interrogation. Don’t worry – it is no doubt good-natured.

The upside to this is that it will help you get settled in no time. You’re likely to find your neighbours welcoming, and many residents of rural Italy say that the best thing about their life there is all the new friends they have made.

5. You’re eating very, very well

Of course, you’re unlikely to be underfed anywhere in food-obsessed Italy. But you’ll find that in the Italian countryside, you can barely go out without having to eat and drink something. (Yes, it’s a hard life.)

From Piedmont to Puglia, it’s very common for people in rural areas – and not just the grandparents – to make and grow a lot of their own food on their family’s land. As you can imagine, they’re proud of their home-grown produce and are always eager to share.

Photo: AFP

From leaving baskets of fruit and eggs on your doorstep, to being invited over for a five-course Sunday lunch, don’t be surprised if your new neighbours seem to want to feed you constantly.

In southern regions the food is especially plentiful, so make sure you arrive with a big appetite and an open mind – turning down food or being picky can cause offence, or at least concern about your health.

No doubt if you’re thinking of moving to the Italian countryside, all this good food is a major part of the attraction.

But don’t forget, it does mean you’ll also be expected to extend the same level of hospitality to any visitors you get – and shop-bought won’t impress. It’s time to brush up on your baking and limoncello-making skills.

6. You’re being shot at 

No, you haven’t accidentally strayed into a Deliverance-style scenario – if the air is suddenly full of the sound of gunfire it’s likely that people are hunting nearby.

Hunting, which generally means shooting, is popular in rural Italy and during the autumn/winter season people in rural areas around the country will regularly hunt game birds, deer and wild boar. 

READ ALSO: How likely are you to get shot in the Italian countryside during hunting season?

It’s fair to say that some hunters wouldn’t win any health and safety awards. Every year in Italy there are hunting accidents where hunters and passers-by get shot, sometimes fatally, so during the season it’s wise to check on which days people hunt in your area, and keep a sharp eye out for the signs that show you they are hunting nearby.

7. Your internet is buffering again

Some villages and even very rural areas have surprisingly great wifi connections, but others don’t, and if you’re moving to Italy to work from home then this is definitely something you should check out in advance.

There are now very few areas with no internet access at all, but consider that you could easily end up with a slow and unreliable signal that will leave you spending a lot of time staring at a spinning wheel.

Photo: AFP

8. You’re shopping at the weekly market

Every town in Italy has a weekly street market, where you can pick up bits and pieces for the home as well as fresh produce.

Larger towns host markets with huge selections of meats, cheeses, vegetables, fresh flowers and more taking over a couple of streets, but even small towns tend to have some sort of market and your neighbours will tell you which day it’s on.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about shopping at Italian food markets

And no doubt you’ll appreciate the seasonality, and learn to adapt your recipe plans to what’s on sale. One week there will be a stall selling nothing but freshly-picked figs, another time it’ll be porcini mushrooms or grapes.

With produce like this your cooking will effortlessly move up a notch, and stallholders will be more than happy to give recipe tips if they’re not busy.

9. You’ve relaxed

There are certainly challenges in moving to Italy (we haven’t even mentioned the famous bureaucracy) but in spite of that it’s hard not to adapt to the slower pace of life.

And if you don’t slow down automatically, you’ll probably find you don’t have a choice in the matter.

Whether it’s a walk in one of Italy’s famous beauty spots, an aperitivo with your new neighbours, or just taking 10 minutes to sit in your garden and eat a freshly-picked piece of fruit or drink a glass of wine, those tension knots should soon start to disappear from your shoulders.

Perhaps la dolce vita really does exist after all.


Member comments

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  1. .. always expect the unexpected. Italians tend not to plan ahead – things either happen straight away or not at all. So, you may be expecting a quiet day with no appointments, but suddenly a neighbour will drop in and invite you out, a lcal farmer will take you off to show you what you SHOULD be doing with those rees, the shop will be shut for no reason…. SOMETHING unexected will blow your timetable. But learn to live with it – it is part of the wonder of rural italian life.

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