Why I Love Southern Italy

Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with the modern

Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with modern

When I dream of Italy, i’m wandering along the shimmering Bay of Naples. The mountainous backdrop rises up to meet a baby blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. A faint smell of citrus drifts on the breeze and tugs at my hair as I watch several white boats skim the water’s surface, leaving a bubbling trail behind them. An old castle fortress stands high on a hilltop, its many levels adding dimension to the landscape.

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My life has been blessed with the good fortune to travel to Italy several times, and I am passionate about every region. Italy never ceases to fascinate me and each time I visit, I feel myself pulled deeper into its history, culture, exotic beauty and friendly people. A return visit is always on my mind.

Although the south of Italy is poorer than the north, to me it is the real Italy. It is true that transportation by train or bus is slower and sometimes undependable, but to really see Italy and experience the culture it is essential to leave oneself a bit vulnerable. Who knows what kind of adventures await you at a bus stop when the bus shows up late? A slow train provides the opportunity to meet the locals and strike up a conversation.

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It is the people who I have met along the way in the south that have put heart and soul into my experience in Italy. This young woman and her son run a tiny restaurant next to my hotel in Naples. The hotel manager personally walked me over to her and introduced us. She wined and dined us with delicious home-made food and charged only a couple of euros. Of course we couldn’t allow it, but she staunchly refused to take any more. After the meal, she took out a laptop and brought up her Facebook photos. We had a wonderful evening even though it wasn’t easy to communicate.

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This young lady is the educational director aboard the glass-bottom boat Cymba, which takes people out onto the shallow waters of the bay in Baia to see the underground ruins of the palatial palaces and statues of the rich and wealthy of the first centuries. When I arrived and found no excursion was leaving for the day due to murky water conditions, she brought me aboard and spent an hour educating me on the ancient luxury resort of Baia.

Happy Tummies, Great Company!
After we spend a morning walking through the wonder and grandeur of Naples, we stop for pizza. This young couple, who are attorneys in Naples, sat next to us. They encouraged us to order Margherita with extra cheese which we did. I never imagined pizza could be so delicious. As you can see by our plates, not much was left. They were delightful to meet and spend time with. Now, when I order pizza, it must have extra cheese!

Surrounded by Giovanni and his two brothers

 

Three brothers who own a cameo shop in San Martino, a neighborhood just above Naples, welcome me like I’m the Queen of Sheba. Warm and talkative, they graciously let me observe them hard at work bent over lovely pieces of mother-of-pearl while they carve them into delicate cameo’s.

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I love the passeggiata on the waterfront in Naples during the early evening hours. Families, friends, lovers, kids, all kinds of people from every walk of life enjoy themselves as they intermingle with the crowd. It is warm, friendly and full of life. It signifies the beginning of a slower pace before mealtime, which is typically after 7:30pm.

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Where else can you join a Sunday crowd of locals and take part in rooting for the teams playing water polo? The splashing and fast action is thrilling, and I am welcomed into the group. We all pack together tightly and cheer on the players.

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The shops and street markets are abundant and colorful

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Crazy street markets sell everything you can imagine….at the most amazing bargain prices. I bring my bag and fill it up with fruits and vegetables. I love learning the ropes of bargaining.

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Morning street below my hotel balcony in Naples

This next Spring of 2015 I plan to return to southern Italy and the culture I have come to understand and love. But this time I’m excited to push further south and discover the ancient regions of Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and forgotten Molise. They, too, have stories to tell, ones that go back to the early beginnings and developed a culture. Genuine, authentic travel among real people doing what they have done for centuries; simply live.



Categories: History

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73 replies

  1. Great slice of life post. Good to show that a great time can be had outside the 5-star locations lauded in glossy guidebooks and “informercial” newspaper and magazine articles.

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  2. What wonderful encounters with locals you had Susan. Loved your post.

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  3. You’re describing some of the ost amazing places in Italy. The South of Italy is charming even if sometimes strange for an “outsider”. Amazing post BTW!

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  4. I spent over two months in Puglia last winter. Trani and Polignano define picturesque. Never met a cranky person, love, love. I will be traveling with you vicariously! My sister Sylvia from Providence put me onto your blog, it’s great! I did one, suitcasemusings of my time there.

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    • Ciao Eileen! Thank you so much for your kind words. What a wonderful opportunity to be in Puglia for two months! I will be going to Puglia this may and Polignano is on the itinerary. I would love to read you posts about your time in Puglia.

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  5. What a lovely journey. It is so nice to meet people from the area and be introduced to their lives and different ways of thinking. Wish I was sitting with you at that table.:)

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  6. Really nice articles, Totally agree! South Italy is the real taste of Italy, a timeless experience!

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  7. We are landing in Fiumicino May 17 and travel to the South of Italy including Sicily.
    I know the impressions will be awesome. I will shoot a movie, as usual, which I am going to publish upon completion. Will share if interested.

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  8. We from Southern Italy are always interested to find out what visitors think. Please let us know. Thank you.

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  9. HI FIVE timelessitaly. I esp. love the part about being the real Italy. It’s true. They’re real. They have no qualms, no barriers, no filters. It’s detrimental and at large in a negative light, but they really are real… and I love it!

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  10. Hello Susan, if you ever decide to go further South , I would be more then pleased to tell you about Calabria.

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  11. My favorite picture is the one of the street market. It must be wonderful to walk through such a warm and charming atmosphere. In my hometown there were a lot of Italian families in my neighborhood. They tended to have the most gorgeous and meticulous vegetable gardens. I often think of them when I’s growing my own little garden. It was like a tiny piece of Italy on some of the streets I’d ride down.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

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  12. Great work capturing the aspects of Italian life that makes it great…strolls, markets, great food, conversations, but most of all just the people. Italians will give you the shirts off their backs to make you feel at home, and especially in the south, just as you say. Thanks for the reminder that this is such a great place.:)

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    • My pleasure. I love to expose the authentic aspects of Italy, especially the south. It is a very special place!

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      • Totally.:) One of my best friends is from Sardinia…It is my next stop but I don’t know when I’m going to have the time/money! Sigh.

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      • Do you live in Italy? I understand, I have to save very hard to make a trip from Portland, Oregon to Italy. It’s a long way, but so worth it!

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      • Yes, it sounds like a stupid thing to say being that I live in Italy. But salaries here are lower, and while the transportation cost is much cheaper, once I get there the cost is the same. I feel like I would rather go when I can afford to “do it right,” than go now and not really be able to do what I want on my current budget.

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      • I get that too. I remember when I was younger I would stay in hostels or just about anywhere just so I could be there. But not now. I don’t mind waiting and saving to, as you say, do it right.

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  13. Hi,
    Yes I have traveled a lot in Italy–14 times over 52 years since I first fell in love with the country on a tour. While I have kept journals of every trip, I can’t say I have written any memoirs. I have written several trip reports on the Independent Traveler website where I am known as Host Ciao and also answer questions about Italy when I can. If I can’t answer directly I try to come up with some suggestions for further research. I’m hoping to return in late 2015 and cover as many of my old favorites as I can.

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    • You must know Italy quite well. I always love your comments about where you have been and seen. I hope you do go back and revisit your old favorites. And that you write about them. We seem like kindred spirits in our love for Italy. Glad we have connected Joan!

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  14. I so enjoyed this post Susan as you described all your encounters with the local Italians in these southern cities and towns. I can’t wait to return and explore Napoli and some of these other places you have described so beautifully! I agree that the south of Italy is where you find many of the people who you never forget!

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    • Thank you Margie. Those I met impacted my life in a very positive way. They were each so warm, down to earth, and real. I must say this is where I have felt closest to the real Italy. I’m excited for you to visit and delve deeper into the ways of the south. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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  15. Susan — Lovely photos and interesting information about the people and their way of life. It looks so inviting and uncomplicated. I always enjoy going on excursions with you. It looks like a beautiful place. Wanted to ask how your move to the country went. Are you all settled in and do you like it?

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    • Hi Pat, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the post and reading about my passion for this country. Yes, we are all moved in now and I love it. Lots of wildlife…23 elk in the pasture, coyotes, bald eagles, birds of all kinds….I have found mouse poop in our kitchen drawers so we need to take action to get them out. Hope we find a way…how are you, Pat?

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      • I love your passion for Italy and journeys, Susan. I always feel like I’m embarking on an adventure when I go with you in these posts.

        Country living sounds exciting and wild with some adjustment. Is this your first time living this far out of city limits? Funny all the discoveries you make and how you feel so alive and vulnerable at the same time.

        I remember when we first moved from the city to the mountains some 30+ years ago. It was the silence that struck me but, now, I couldn’t imagine going back to the city.

        I’m well — thank you for asking — having some discoveries and adventures of my own. I love it. It’s great talking with you again and hearing how you’re settling in. Hope you have a blessed holiday weekend.:-)

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    • Hi Pat, thank you so much. You are such an ecourager and I’m always glad to have your company on my excursions!

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  16. Thank you for shining a light on Southern Italy. Although I do understand first time travellers feel compelled to do the usual Rome/Florence/Venice route, Southern Italy is so hospitable. I do like there are not that many foreign tourists…although, in the Summer, Italians are swarming the entire South!

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  17. Sounds so nice and hospitable. I hope I can go to Southern Italy soon too. People are so warm and generous. Wonderful post

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  18. We have visited Napoli, Benevento and family villages of Atripalda, San Bartolomeo in Galdo and Acri. Heading South again in Aug/Sept. One quick trip to Soverato ended up with us being “adopted” by the most amazing couple. We plan to visit them again. Truly it is the people who are the heart and soul of Italy.

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    • Bonnie, thank you for sharing. I would love to know more about your trip through southern Italy, as I am putting together an itinerary for next May 2015. Did you speak much Italian while down there?

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      • I’d be happy to discuss our southern travels by email if you would like. This will be our third trip to the mezzogiorno. I have studied Italian for 10 years and speak abbastanza bene but by no means proficient. People are very kind and constantly help correct my grammar. I love it!

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      • Your experience with the south sounds great! I’m treading into new territory when planning a visit to Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, and Molise. I’m looking for highlights to see/do, anything that you think expresses the real authentic Italy. My email is timelessitaly@gmail.com. I would love to converse with you to know more! Thank you, Bonnei

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  19. While I have been to Reggio di Calabria, it was only on an excursion from Messina with a tour I was on. We went to the museum to see the famous bronzes. And then I also took the train that went by ship from Sicily to the main land and then up to Naples. So I have not traveled in the south and at my age probably won’t. However, I do love Naples and hope to be able to visit there again in fall 2015. In a trip report I wrote I said that Naples can be an ugly city but you can go in a door and find great beauty. Its liveliness is catching. Also some of my best stories have come from visits to Naples.

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    • Hi Joan, you must have seen the Riace warriors! I would love to see them. I, too, see the charm of Naples. It surprises, even in the midst of the unattractive. Sounds like you have done a lot of traveling in Italy. Have you written any memoirs, Joan?

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  20. Southern Italy is very popular at the moment with us bloggers. It could be a good thing. I have enjoyed the parts of this area that I have visited. It is not always easy to travel to for most. I find it is always the people I meet that make the world of difference to a place. Lyn

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    • Hi Lyn, the south has so much beauty and I have enjoyed the authentic, genuine friendly people whom I have met. I agree with you, it’s the people who make a place memorable! Are you in Italy still?

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      • Hi. I fly out May 5 and arrive in Rome 6th. We travel to Bagni di lucca on May 10. I am getting excited

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      • Oh…you haven’t left yet. That’s even better. Half the fun is the anticipation. I hope you will keep us all informed with posts and photos, Lyn! How exciting…

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      • One of the most exciting part for me this visit is writing on my blog which I plan to do regularly. I did not have a blog on my previous trips to Italy. So yes. Lots of photos and stories to look forward to

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      • Wonderful! Last Sept. I took my Ipad and used that to post while in Italy. It worked great. I downloaded photos from my camera onto it and used them. How many weeks will you be gone? Are you going into the southern part?

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      • I have bought a very small laptop to take. We are not going south this trip. After the 4 weeks in Bagni di lucca we will probably head up to the lakes area (no set plans yet) and then we fly out of Milan

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      • Sounds wonderful, Lyn. I look forward to reading your posts!!

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  21. I lived in the south of Italy 41 years ago. My son was born in Sorrento and we lived in a small village between Sorrento and Positano. This is where my love of Italy started and it has continued to grow. We all know it has problems, but the sheer beauty of the place allows us to forgive the shortcomings.

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    • Hi Debra, how wonderful to have lived there. you would understand my fascination with the south. You have said it very well….the beauty and the people make us forget the unattractive things about it. And my heart goes out to them.

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