Life in the heel of the boot
It started in Las Vegas over a Fourth of July holiday weekend. My wife and I sat at a restaurant, shared a bottle of chilled white wine, and talked about the next chapter of our lives: retirement. The subject of the conversation was where we would live during our leisure years. I had actually been thinking about that quite a bit and took the leap.
“What about Italy?” I asked.
“I would love to move to Italy,” Jessica responded, with more enthusiasm than I expected.
Two months later we bought our house in Puglia, the heel of the boot that is the Italian peninsula.
Why Puglia? Two reasons: Quality of Life and Cost of Living.
A major contributor to that quality of life is the food and drink that abound in the area. Puglia is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Italy with 40% of the country’s olive oil and much of its wine originating in the area. It is estimated that there are 60 million olive trees in Puglia, one for every man, woman and child in Italy. And, where there are no olive trees growing, it seems that vines have been planted. The white wine of Locorotondo is developing quite a reputation and the big reds from the central part of Puglia—negroamaros, primitivos and salice salentinos—already have strong followings among oenophiles.
The Pugliese diet takes full advantage of the seas that surround the mini-peninsula, with the Adriatic on the east and the Ionian on the west. Mussels, squid and octopus, fresh from the water, are on the menu in every household, along with orecchiette (“little ears”), the pasta of Puglia. And, with a year-round growing season, fresh vegetables are always available. I recall our first trip to Puglia when, as we drove along the autostrade from Rome, we noticed a beautiful, anise fragrance that came and then disappeared. A bit later, we sensed it again and, again, it faded away. On the third occasion, we figured it out. Every time we got a whiff of the liquorice scent we had been passing a produce truck. It seemed that the fennel was in season and the harvest was in full-swing. In Puglia, something is always in season.
The weather in Puglia reflects its relationship with the Mediterranean Sea. Winters are cool, but rarely cold. Summers can be brutally hot with temperatures surging into the 40s. The rains start in October and fall until March, but the summers are typically dry. For locals, this is quite convenient since spending time at one of the many beaches in the region is a favourite pastime.
As for the cost of living in the heel of the boot, we found that housing and food are much less expensive than they are in our part of the US. Electricity, gas for cooking and heating and gasoline are higher, but these expenses can be managed. In all, we can live in Puglia for much less than we could in the States.
Not all is roses, however. Our home is in a village just outside the town of Cisternino and, typical of the South, no one in our village speaks a word of English. Our Italian is elementary, to say the least, and one flirts with danger in a language where “penne” means pens and “pene” is a naughty body part; where “anno” means year and “ano” is a naughty body part; and, where “fico” means fig and “fica” is a naughty body part. So far, though, we have been able to survive the challenges and we look forward to many more to come.
Life in the heel of the boot is, indeed, la dolce vita and, every morning that we awaken and see this old olive tree just outside of our kitchen door, we are reminded of how dolce it is.
About the author
Scott Bergstein is a writer and former real estate developer who, among other activities, maintains a blog that can be found at www.souloftheheel.com. Follow him @Pugliabound