When I tell people that I bought a house in Italy, the usual response is, “How fantastic! When I tell them it’s located in Basilicata, they get a blank look and say, “Where?”
Basilicata is possibly the least-known region in the peninsula. It is cuddled between Puglia, Calabria and Campania and is the most sparsely populated part of the country. Its ancient name is Lucania, and while it’s been renamed Basilicata, the inhabitants are still known as Lucani.
Little is written about the region, and what is published generally refers to it as “poverty-stricken” or “backwards.” Basilicata is misunderstood, underappreciated and overlooked.
Even among Italians it isn’t well-known.
Our first trip south was to explore my family heritage. We arrived in a remote mountain village expecting to find squalor based on the only English-language descriptions I could find at the time, but met instead with a well-kept town that clung desperately to its rocky peak. We meandered the insanely-steep streets and were greeted with smiles and stares. We discovered I still had familial ties there.
Those first forays into the Motherland garner us outright stares. Let’s face it, a little town of 2,000 souls that is perched on top of a mountainside at 1,000 meters surrounded by rural farms and sheep in southern Italy does not draw many Italian tourists, much less foreigners. We quickly came to realize that behind their curious smiles was a real desire to assist and a strong pride in their towns and traditions. Several trips and many wonderful, welcoming experiences tied up our heart-strings with a bow.
The more we explored Basilicata the more we were smitten. The natural beauty and the genuine warmth of the people completely won us over.
While she dips two toes into two seas, Basilicata does not embody the typical Mediterranean image one may have of Italy. The landscape is rocky and rugged, even primitive. It has a unique and raw beauty. From the plains of Puglia the earth turns wavy with billowing wheat. Then it ascends to rolling hills punctuated with olive groves and grape vines, where world-class wine is made from ancient Grecian grapes. Time-worn villages cling to ridges and hilltops. From there the region soars upwards into alpine mountains ribboned with rivers and sliced with gorges. In the high altitude the air is clear and millions of stars cast an amazing display. Butterflies dance in the sun, and eagles and falcons guard the skies. And the Lucani welcome visitors with curious glances and open smiles.
We knew we would always return to this fascinating, beautiful land, so it just made sense to buy a small place that we could call our own. Our little casa, at about 300-years old, has more time on it than our New World country.
Guidebooks call it poverty-stricken but we found there is a very rich culture there. They say it’s backwards, but we say it just clings to time-honored traditions. We love walking the medieval stone streets and feeling surrounded by hundreds of years of history and simplicity. Our neighbors have accepted us as ordinary villagers, we’ve made friends — we feel at home. And there is nothing backwards about that.
Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer and travel professional, a cappuccino addict, and a Lucana at heart. She writes about off-the-beaten-path Italy on the Web site, Italy Panorama. You can read more of her adventures at her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree.
Grazie mille Valerie!
Be sure to come back for tomorrow’s gita to Assisi!