Have you seen every episode of House Hunters International the Best of Italy? I know I have! For Italophiles dreaming of la dolce vita, Italy is a patchwork of possibilities. Large cities, hillside hamlets and coastal towns, each boasting unique traditions, dialects, art, pasta and wine. Which is exactly what makes deciding where to move in Italy, so difficult.
Living in Italy for One Year
The beautiful complexity of deciding where to move in Italy is the inspiration behind my very first Stories of Moving to Italy Chat! Meet Ilene & Gary, the adventurous American Italian couple behind Our Italian Journey. Since 2010 Ilene and Gary have visited 81 towns and 14 regions in Italy!
Find out how Ilene and Gary planned a year-long trip to Italy. What they learned along the way and what advice they have for anyone dreaming of moving to Italy.
Q: Welcome to ALOR Ilene & Gary! Would you mind introducing yourselves and telling us a little about your connection to Italy?
Gary and I are both originally from New York. We will be married 40 years this November. How can that be? Time certainly flies by. In 2010 we took our first trip to Italy. We had not traveled much outside of the US but it was a country secretly calling us. Gary’s fathers’ side was full Italian and he always talked about Sunday dinners at his Nanny’s house.
It [our first trip to Italy] was a fast-paced two weeks as most Italian vacations try to see as much as possible in a short period of time. We were lovestruck. In love with the people, culture, countryside, and of course, the food.
We returned in 2012 for 3 weeks and it was on the plane trip home, Gary and I both agreed Italy should be our second home. Gary began researching to find out if he was eligible for Italian citizenship. When he found out he was, we began gathering documents needed for our initial appointment at the Consulate in Los Angeles.
Sounds crazy but in anticipation, we sold our home, cars, furniture, and 90% of our possessions. All we had left fit into four large green Rubbermaid tubs. It took us nine days short of three years to get the email that Gary was approved for citizenship. Because we were married before 1983, I was eligible to receive and got mine about a week later.
How to Plan a Year In Italy on Your Own
Q: You spent a year in Italy back in 2018 and 2019. How did you decide where to start your journey?
Because it was December, I really wanted to experience Christmas in Rome. Especially being in close proximity to the Vatican. We rented an apartment for three months which turned out to be two months too many. Rome was disappointing as there were few holiday decorations and events. From Rome, we went to Conversano in Puglia for two months. We had not visited this region before and loved it. We would have enjoyed the extra months taken from Rome to stay in this region longer.
Q: Did you have all the destinations you would explore planned ahead of time?
These first five months were all that we had planned prior to leaving the USA. We proceeded the rest of the year to book the next town two months ahead of time. We didn’t want to zig-zag across the peninsula so we tried to plan in a somewhat orderly fashion. Our next town had to have good public transportation, mainly a train line, as we did not rent a car the entire year.
Q: What resources or tools did you use to plan your next few months?
Gary used Trip Advisor as well as a good ol’ fashion map to get ideas for upcoming towns we might like to explore. Once he had a few, we would research what might be interesting in the surrounding areas of that town. Next, we would check Airbnb for availability on a place to stay. We would then contact the owners to find out more details. Priorities for us are wi-fi and a washing machine.
Deciding Where to Visit in Italy
Q: What qualities were you looking for in the towns you decided to visit?
We tend to like smaller towns and especially medieval ones. We also would check the town website to see if any festivals were going to be held during our stay. We were so fortunate while in Arezzo to attend the Giostra del Saracino.
Being part of the practices, whether it be the knights on their horses, flag throwers, or musicians, it was all magical and something we will never forget.
As we got to each town, we would begin to research for the next town and month. We stayed in seven towns during 2019 but visited 30 other towns. This doesn’t include our quick trip to Innsbruck, Austria or our amazing trip to Sicily.
While in Sicily, we actually went to the town of Licodia Eubea where Gary’s grandfather was born. Here we picked up our Italian birth and marriage certificates at the Commune. It was the highlight of our year in Italy.
Q: What surprised you most about the differences or similarities between the places you visited?
It’s funny but people do ask us, “Don’t all the towns start to look alike after a while?” The answer is “No, they really don’t.” Each town has its own charm and appeal. We liked many of the towns we visited some more than others. It has a great deal to do with the people, architecture, food, and location/region.
Of course, different regions in Italy have different foods. Everyone knows that. We both prefer southern cuisine and tend to enjoy the wines a bit better from the south. Generally speaking, another difference would be the amount of English spoken tends to be less in the south than in the north.
Deciding Where to Move in Italy
Q: What piece of advice would you give to anyone interested in moving to Italy?
The best advice we could give is not to move to Italy and purchase a home right away. Rent in several areas. Try different regions and at different times of the year. It is only then you will be able to get an idea of your perfect Italian town.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can stay in a town for a week or two and really get to know the town. Italy is quite diverse in its landscape and in order to even think of knowing where you might want to live, you will need to first explore different regions. The north, for example, is very different in its culture and food compared to the southern part of “the boot.” Sicily is a whole other ballgame.
We also recommend traveling by train. It is a fast and easy, relatively inexpensive and very relaxing way to get from city to city. Plus you won’t go crazy looking for parking spots which are very scarce in most cities.
To date, we have been to 81 towns and 14 regions in Italy. We have been traveling to Italy since 2010 and it is only recently that we know our top five towns. All of our top contenders are towns we spent living and exploring for 30-90 days. Although let’s face it, we could be happy almost anywhere in Italy!
If you can – do it. The quality of life is unmeasurable. I realize with small children it would be more difficult and that’s an entirely different story. But for a couple our age, in their retirement years, it’s slow-paced and enjoyable. Gary and I used to get up every morning and say to one another, “What shall we do today?” We always seem to know what we are going to do when here in the USA. Italy provides a different way of life—one that we truly have embraced.
Q: Can you talk a little about how you balance moving to Italy with having family in America?
Living in Italy in 2019 was a gift we gave to each other after obtaining our elusive maroon-colored Italian passports. We loved every moment of it. Except, one small little thing…
We have four children between us and nine young grandchildren. Any ALOR grandparents reading will understand the pull of the heartstrings when it comes to grandchildren. Our youngest grandchild is two while our oldest is now driving and is 17 years old. What is amazing is that our entire family all lives here in Phoenix, Arizona within about a 30-mile radius of each other.
We know we can’t retire permanently to Italy without spending time back in Phoenix. Currently, we are planning six months in each location.
Q: What’s next for you?
We return to Italy on March 31, 2021 for six months. We are considering purchasing a home or at least renting long-term there. Originally, we were going back to our beloved Arezzo, but we both seem to be missing the water. We have decided to change our plans and have begun researching apartments to rent in the coastal regions of Italy. This will determine for us once and for all if we really miss the water enough to find a town on the sea.
Thank you Ilene & Gary for sharing your insight after exploring so much of Italy!
Ilene & Gary post weekly on Our Italian Journey. Subscribe to their blog so you won’t miss their big upcoming announcement! You can also follow their journey on Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, Twitter and YouTube.
Are you an American Expat living in Italy? let me know! I’d love to connect and hear more about your story of moving to Italy. Share why you call your corner of Italy home in the comments.