Expat tales: Little Italy

SUMMER HOT SPOT: Most Italians holiday in July and August and Lerici's beaches can become overcrowded.
SUMMER HOT SPOT: Most Italians holiday in July and August and Lerici's beaches can become overcrowded.

Why did you move to Italy?

After a few years of working on cruise ships travelling extensively I felt it was time to start a life on "terra firma" and had loved the quaint town of Lerici, on the Ligurian coast, from the first moment I saw it.

What do you do there?

EXPAT: Melissa Farrell.
EXPAT: Melissa Farrell.

I have had my own business for the past 6 years. A small hair and nail salon called Antipodi in the heart of the town and footsteps from the sea. My husband and I have two holiday rental apartments and we enjoy being hosts. I am also actively involved in a local organisation to promote tourism in our area and we are dedicated to creating a better and more efficient way of living here.

What do you like and dislike about life in Italy?

Likes include picturesque scenery and awesome history wherever you go, the fact that children AND dogs are accepted and welcomed everywhere, and the food. By far my No 1 dislike is the way the country is run (better I don't elaborate). Also the amount of bureaucracy involved in EVERYTHING you do and the general lack of civil respect towards others and the environment.

How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?

Firstly, our personal income tax is rated second highest in the world, (unfortunately with little benefits in return to the tax payer) and wages are among the lowest of countries using the euro. This has an impact on the cost of living and meeting bill payments. Gas and electricity, along with other basic expenses, are comparable with New Zealand. Eating out is much cheaper . . . however running your car, no!

What do you do at the weekend?

During the summer we are often out on the boat. We are fortunate to have the famous Cinqueterre on our doorstep, which provide spectacular coastlines. Sunday, rain or shine, is lunch at the in-laws. My husband jokes about his father secretly breeding rabbits as it seems to be on the menu a little too often! We enjoy walking with our dog or for a bit of culture there is a never ending list of interesting places to visit. There is an abandoned village, Barbazzano, dated back pre-Christ and destroyed by pirates in 1553 just behind our house!

What do you think about the food?

Where to begin . . . I love the fact that even as close as a few kilometres the type of cuisine can vary. Italians embrace the history and culture that goes with typical dishes and by maintaining tradition and cooking with love they are able to produce outstanding food that is never dull and often overindulging.

What is the best way to get around?

In the Gulf of the Poets, where Lerici is located, you can travel by bus or ferry to see sights. The train is close by, and links to the rest of Italy and Europe are always available. I personally prefer to walk or use the scooter as parking will cause headaches.

What is the shopping like?

Most villages or towns have their own local market once a week where most items, from clothing to fresh produce, can be bought at good prices. Obviously Italy has no shortage of elegant shops and beautiful window displays which makes shopping very inviting.

What is the nightlife like?

Being a small coastal town the nightlife cannot be described as wild. However, we have some characteristic bars and restaurants around the piazza, dominated by the castle, that create good atmosphere, making them ideal places to meet friends and hang out. What is your favourite part of Italy?

After 10 years on Italian soil I, too, have become quite territorial and so my favourite part of Italy would be Tellaro, which is where my husband was born, where we got married, and recently voted one of Europe's most beautiful villages.

What time of the year is best to visit?

I would recommend May to July or September to October as the weather is at its best. However December is a special time and any tourist will get caught up in the fantasy of Christmas. Many towns recreate live nativity scenes with shopkeepers and residents participating. The illumination and various traditional ceremonies are captivating.

What is your must do thing for visitors?

Apart from Lerici and Tellaro to explore I would suggest a visit to the Cinqueterre to admire its extraordinary architectural design and incredible construction techniques. Also the sea and coastline views are outstanding. A trip to the marble mountains of Carrara is very interesting and is the site at which Michelangelo sourced marble for his masterpieces. Being on the border of Tuscany I would also suggest a drive through the stunning countryside to experience local cuisine and wine. Day trips to wonderful cities such as Sienna, Pisa and Genoa I would also recommend.

What are your top tips for tourists?

Try to avoid late July and August as most Italians are on holiday. So prices are higher and beaches are even more overcrowded. My husband would say "when in Rome do as the Romans do" - try to interact and connect with locals (hand gestures usually work) to gain useful information and to fully appreciate the Italian lifestyle. For further information on the area or accommodation please email me on mel_tour99@hotmail.com

How easy is it for you to get home?

Not as easy as I would like! Leaving my business for long periods can be difficult. I tend to get home once every two or three years and I miss my family constantly. However we are lucky to have many Kiwi visitors on a fairly regular basis. New Zealand will always to home to me.

This is the last Expat Tales for 2013. The column will return in January so if you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home in 2014, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Sunday Star Times