The Lay of the Land in Calabria

The physical layout of life in a medieval hilltop village in southern Italy is often hard to grasp — especially for people who haven’t been here — so I’m going to try to explain it.

As I’ve written before, many medieval villages up on the hills have counterpart towns on the sea; we’re up on the hill, where houses are very close to one another, often touching. This is about a quarter of Badolato (our quarter, as it were) with the Ionian Sea in the background:

Around the outskirts of town, there are small green patches where people have their gardens, even animals. Most of them are places where houses used to be but have fallen or otherwise been compromised, but any time you can get just a little “orto” near your house, you’ve scored.

Last year, P and I secured a small chunk of land very close to our house (it’s about a 30 second walk), but it’s not like a “yard” that some might imagine.

There are actually two levels to it; one you can see below and the other is just off to the side of this, a few steps down to the right, and is where we plant veggies. You can see the chicken coop and goat pen on the left. The house with the big hole in it? Not ours. You can actually see our bedroom window, though…that brown squarish thing just to the left of the whitish house? I have it in a note on Flickr if you click through:

To give you an idea of the distance, here is a photo taken about half way between our house and the entrance to orto, looking toward the house (the last house on the right — it’s on a corner, and yes I know it needs paint, badly):

This photo overlooks the beginning of the garden (you can see the tops of our trees just past the iron railing), although the entrance is another twenty or so paces away:

And here is a photo from the outside looking in; I’ve labeled it on Flickr with notes (click on the photo to go there) so you can see where we live compared to where the goats live in our orto:

We also keep some chickens and hens there:

Our orto has a lemon tree, a couple mandarin trees, a nespole tree, a fig tree, a small grapevine, and we also plant various crops there, including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peas, peperoncini, basil, and this year…strawberries!

And here is the view from our orto (from inside the goat pen):

This was taken a couple months ago, so those branches you see on the right are now full of fig leaves and the beginnings of some fruit.

So as you can see, it’s a nice little space that produces plenty for the two of us — actually way more than we need so we end up giving to friends and neighbors, and often get things in return that we haven’t grown yet, like zucchini and eggplants and also all kinds of pork products since we don’t have a pig. Yet.

Are you wondering about olives and olive oil? Well, there’s also some unofficial news on that, but it’s going to have to wait for another post.

Phew. Any questions?

22 Beans of Wisdom to “The Lay of the Land in Calabria”
  1. 05.17.2010

    While I get that you’d like to paint your house, I always find newly painted old Italian houses really sad, like they have to wait all over again to be beautiful! Mine is in grezzo for that reason, but sort of covered here and there with roses.
    Have you ever heard that the hilltop village was to escape to when pirates raided for slaves? That’s what I was told in Monterosso at Cinque Terre. It was, they said, the biggest danger.
    Thanks for the chicken porn.

    I hear you on the houses, Judith; I rather like the old stone/cement look and color, but ours also has weird red paint towards the bottom and needs some serious hole-patching up too…so it’s going to have to get a paint job too at some point. Don’t worry; it won’t be soon πŸ˜‰

    Regarding the pirates, yes! The whole village had a wall encircling it that closed it in (a lot of it is still there) and a big old gate at the beginning of it; there’s only a little part of the old gate that remains. We had three watchtowers in the village (one is still mostly standing, but not as high as it used to be), and when they’d see a ship coming ashore, they’d ring the bells in the towers so everyone in the fields knew to run home before the gates closed. Sounds stressful!

    And you’re welcome for the hen…wait till you see our new couple…some bantams! *So* pretty!

    .-= Judith in Umbria´s last blog ..Risotto with toasted leeks and Pecorino =-.

  2. Gil

    Thank for posting, it is great to get such a detailed tour of your village. Now I don’t have to visit any medieval villages!

    Don’t tell the tourism board on me, please!

  3. Your village is beautiful. Those views are sick.

    Is it very quiet or do you have some loud neighbors?

    Super quiet but for animals (hens, goats, sheep, etc.). The only time it’s loud for a sustained period of time is in August when the tourists invade…and this year P and I are already talking about going up into the campagna and hiding out! πŸ˜‰

    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..Sigh…Inter wins the Serie A Italian League, again =-.

  4. 05.17.2010

    Such beautiful photos, Michelle. Our house doesn’t have a painted faΓ§ade either so I was quite pleased to see yours with its exposed stone.

    There is a gorgeous exposed stone building on our piazza…ours is more exposed sand I think πŸ˜‰

    .-= KC´s last blog ..Biblia Pauperum =-.

  5. Jill

    What a lovely way to start the day today, with a guided tour of your lovely village! I think your unpainted home shows so much character and history, I quite like it as is!

    Thanks Jill! There are cracks and whatnot that need to be filled in…we’ll see what we end up doing to the outside.

  6. That’s the most insane view from the orto. Actually, every picture is insane in their beauty. COMING TO VISIT NOW K THANKS.

    Haha…the goats would *love* a sleeping buddy πŸ˜‰

    .-= Christine at WhyGo France´s last blog ..Plan Your Summer Trip to France =-.

  7. 05.17.2010

    Your home looks great!! Looking at the pictures makes me miss Calabria soo much!! I can’t wait to get there in 10 weeks! I don’t know if I ever told you, but I will be getting married in Calabria on August 10th! I’m very excited but a little nervous because of the unknown! Anything I should look out for?? hihi

    I didn’t realize! Anything to look out for…the freaking heat! Buy some heat/sweat resistant make-up and hair spray!!!!

  8. This is such a great post, Michelle! Thanks for sharing your gorgeous village with us!

    Glad you liked it, Jenn!

  9. 05.17.2010

    So beautiful. I also love being able to orient myself in the place where you live, and I can better imagine how life is for you. It’s very different then here, where the villages are spit shined in comparison. I look at your village and can see the Italy that must have been here as well at one time, but which has been erased to some degree by progress, for better or worse. I imagine there are pros and cons to both. In any event, thank you for sharing, dear Michelle.

    Thanks Diana; it’s very easy to imagine how things might have been once upon a time, indeed…that’s definitely a huge part of what drew me here as I could clearly see my great-great-grandfather walking around the streets and in the fields as a young man πŸ™‚

    .-= Diana Strinati Baur´s last blog ..Elderflower Champagne =-.

  10. Pam

    I loved this post! It’s so interesting about you and Italy…enjoyed seeing where you live and your life…thank you so much for sharing! Hello (xoxo) to Pinta and Pasqualina!


    Have given them head scratches for you, Pam, thanks!

  11. 05.17.2010

    Thanks for sharing your village with us, what a fantastic view from your orto. I would never get any work done!

    Let’s just say our back is to the view most of the time…that helps πŸ˜‰

    .-= LindyLouMac´s last blog ..Festa della Madonna del Monte – 14 Maggio 2010 =-.

  12. 05.17.2010

    I loved seeing these photos, Michelle. When my husband and i re-visit Calabria in a few years Badolato is one of the places we want to see. You know how we are attached to the name! ‘-) I have romantic visions of what it must have looked like in Medieval times..probably not much different than it looks today except fro earthquake damage that destroyed some structure. Do you know how old your house is? How long does it take to drive down to the marina? I’m also curious as to whether the marina beach is full of pebbles instead of sand and if there is a lot of sea glass? Last time we visited we stayed in my sister-in-law’s husband’s home town of Siderno and the beach there was full of beautiful sea glass! It was my favorite souvenir –I bought pounds of it home!

    Your orto looks so nice and close to your house! It must be so wonderful to have fresh eggs and goat milk and vegetables. Enjoy it all!


    Let’s see: I don’t know how old the house is (Paolo insists his parents wouldn’t know either, but I’ll have to ask them); the Marina is about a five to ten minute drive, depending on who’s driving; the beach is pebbly, although not *as* rocky as some others on the coast; lots of sea glass (I love it too…nature’s recycling!) πŸ™‚

    .-= PAT´s last blog .."Into the Heart of L.A." Culinary Tour — Part One =-.

  13. 05.17.2010

    Great pictures. Plus to let you know, I made the crustini on Saturday. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

    So happy you liked them! Thanks for letting me know πŸ™‚

    .-= running42k´s last blog ..Overall good weekend =-.

  14. 05.17.2010

    It looks like you are living a fantastic life in Calabria! Removed from the stress of city living…

    The stress of city living never did appeal to me, Jen; I know some people love it, though, so it’s a good thing there are different types of places in the world πŸ™‚

    .-= jen laceda´s last blog ..Top 10 Sporting Events To See Live & Have An Excuse To Travel =-.

  15. 05.18.2010

    I stumbled upon your blog somehow and I love it! Very nice photos. I’ve only ever been to Rome but I plan to make a trek around Italy someday. Now that I’m in the UK it’s much more feasible.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for stopping by, Paige! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay — both here and Italy — and hopefully you’ll be back soon (to both places) πŸ˜€

    .-= Paige´s last blog ..names, part two =-.

  16. 05.18.2010

    Oh Wow! What a beautiful place and an inspiring view! You’re making this converted city dweller long for something a little more rural πŸ™‚

    Haha, I think a true city type would go absolutely batty here after a week or so, but it would be a nice break…come on down πŸ™‚

    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Brussels Accessible Art Fair – Ave. Louise =-.

  17. I just found your blog by chance and I’m so excited! My family is also from Calabria originally (still some there!) and I’m looking forward to reading more about what it’s like to live there in the 21st century.

    I’m happy you found me too, Nancy! Looking forward to seeing more of you around here πŸ™‚

  18. 05.18.2010

    Cool photos and so fun to get an idea of your surroundings, your life!! When you talk about seeing your great-great-grandfather there in your mind’s eye . . .now that’s something.

    Great that you and P. were able to get ahold of that land. Now the idea that you want to go up into the countryside to get away from the tourists in August makes me laugh.

    Thanks for sharing!

    It’s safe to say neither of us are the “life of the party” type πŸ˜‰

    .-= Kim B.´s last blog ..A New Chapter =-.

  19. Sergio

    My wife’s grandmother who was born, lived and has relatives in Badolato comes by my place and we visit your site to view all your pics of the town and stories you have to share. It brings back memories of how pleasent life was in the town.

    Thank you so much for visiting and for sharing this, Sergio…perhaps we’re related?! πŸ˜‰

  20. 05.22.2010

    It’s just so beautiful. I don’t know how you stand it! πŸ˜‰

    Haha, I can’t argue with you πŸ™‚

  21. 05.24.2010

    Just found your website. It’s fun to hear about americans who actually try to live in Calabria, and then you’re even enjoying it. I have read too many blogs about people who feel marooned there.
    I have friends and family in Calabria too. (I have to figure out where your town in)

    Mimi, Badolato is about a half hour from Catanzaro on the Ionian coast; thanks for coming by!

    .-= mimi´s last blog ..Tom from a reference =-.

  22. Mary Amabile Palmer

    Dear Michele,

    I hope your followers appreciate the excellent articles you write about life in Italy,
    especially in Southern Italy. I was fortunate to have met you via the internet when you first moved to Italy. I was impressed by your spirit, energy, and devotion to exploring a new way of life in Badolato, Calabria. You remained focused on bringing much to that
    area and spreading the word! I am so proud to call you my friend.

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Mary xoxo
    Much love,

    Mary Amabile Palmer

    PS Thank you for citing my cookbook “Cucina di Calabria” in your write-ups.



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake