Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing
Sulmo Mihi Patria Est. — Ovid, some time after 43 BC
OMG — we bought a place in Italy! — The four of us, May 2014
First, Hannibal devastated the region around Sulmona, a tidy historical community of some 20,000+ residents tucked into the center of Italy’s Abruzzo region. That was back in 211 BC. Now — not to bury the lead too much — we’re about to. Well, not devastate it so much as take up residence there for a few weeks every year.
Those of you who know us know that Tim and I have been making empty threats about moving to Italy for years. As a full-time move is in no way practical at this point in our lives, we did the next best thing: threw in with some good friends and bought an apartment in a small city that we have all come to love.
Gentle reader, it has taken me more time to buy shoes than it took me to consent to this purchase. The four of us went thinking that this was just a shopping trip. No way would we buy. Our specs were firm: 2 – 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, center of the city . . . And then our friend Novelia happened. In fact, it is Novelia’s fault that we ever came back to Sulmona.
We traveled together to the city of Ovid and confetti four years ago. Our host made some
suggestions about what to see in the region for a day trip and said we should go to the nearby Abbey (Badia Di S Spirito Al Morronese). And so we piled into three cars (there were 12 of us) and drove to the Abbey. Once there, I went to the office and asked for an English-speaking guide. She could just as easily have been on a coffee break, but out came the force of nature named Novelia Giannantonio and the rest, as they say, is history.
Novelia gave us an unbelievable tour of the Abbey and then she and I kept in touch via e-mail and telephone over the years. Something just struck between us and we both knew we’d be fast friends. But it was when she started to talk about her lasagna and her spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar”), a specialty of Abruzzo, that I started to yearn to go back.
Novelia rents out an apartment on the top floor of her palazzo, which is just on the edge of town behind the Cattedrale di San Panfilo. La Casa del Cuore is a comfortable two bedroom, two bath apartment with a good kitchen and lots of space for relaxing or for extra guests. So we stayed with her this Spring and she made some introductions to properties that were not broker-represented. For one insane moment, we considered buying two of them in the same building. Then, coming to our senses, we decided the next day that one (the larger of the two) was probably just fine for our first toe-dipping experience into the joys and responsibilities of foreign home ownership. It is a testament to the apartment’s owner and renovator — Novelia’s architect brother-in-law, Evangelista Carlo Alberto — that we bought something that did not exactly meet our specifications. But it was too beautifully finished, too finely crafted with local wood and stone — not to mention those vaulted ceilings and that great front door — that we decided to opt for quality and craftsmanship over the American ideal of what a two bedroom apartment should be. So, just one bathroom, and a “living room” that is not big enough to swing a cat in, but Italians live in their piazze, anyway, so we will adjust.
The main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, was actually restored by Carlo and was featured in
the George Clooney movie The American. In fact, the entire pivotal scene takes place there during Sulmona’s famous Easter event, La Madonna Che Scappa (the Madonna who runs, when she sees her risen son across the piazza). Lots of drama here, folks!
So I can hear you all now: why Sulmona? Why not Florence or Rome or Venice or Milan or Lake Como or . . . Well, because you did not contribute, my friends. No, seriously, prices in the north are much higher than in central or southern Italy, for one thing. But for another, we are on a mission to introduce Americans to Abruzzo and, therefore, to Sulmona. L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, was once a beautiful city and will, God willing, be resurrected by the promised contributions of the Italian government which to date have not been forthcoming. So Sulmona is, I believe, the premier city in the region for now.
The nearest beach is Pescara, on the Adriatic Coast and is reachable in 50 minutes. The nearest ski resort is Roccaraso, 25 minutes from the center of Sulmona. It is the largest ski resort in Italy outside of the Alps, with over 100 km of ski slopes. And how can you not love a city with a Roman aqueduct that dates back to 1256 running through it? Or that hosts a medieval Giostra (jousting competition) in the main square? There are music festivals year-round and in November, a film festival. They are famous for candy, for heaven’s sake. The Abruzzesse food is second to none. And the Wikitravel site says there are “plenty of shoe shops.” What’s not to love?
Better put Sulmona on your list. The Australians and New Zealanders have already discovered it and are moving in. The Dutch travel down the Adriatic Coast and both Le Marche and Abruzzo are regular destinations. We feel a bit like pioneers here, and are in incredibly good hands with Novelia and her family. We are lucky.
You’ll hear a lot more from me about Sulmona and its environs in these pages. We go back in a few months to close and get set up. I long to be there next Easter, too. In a few years maybe, we’ll make a plan to spend several months at a time there. For now, though, we’ll be offering it for rent when we’re not there. Stay tuned for details. And be prepared for something very special if you go.