I’m talking about the sweet spot between romanticism and practicality.
Many people coming to live in Italy are swept away by the former while not giving ample attention to the latter. I was one of those people. I started out with a pastoral dream. You know, the renovated farmhouse with verdant views of the surrounding Italian hills. And don’t forget quaint villages and small, historic cities a stone’s throw away.
My vision was that I’d be drunk on peaceful, stunning landscapes. I’d be sipping local wines and partaking of rustic Umbrian foods. Much of my time would be spent painting in my light-filled studio, especially during the winters with a fire in the wood-burning stove crackling nearby.
That was the romanticism that largely fueled my efforts to make Italy my home. However, I never slowed myself down to also weigh the practicalities in choosing my place of residence. I didn’t project myself into the future to see how I might be feeling about my Italian life in its totality. I didn’t properly consider giving attention to ALL of my essential needs.
It has taken me almost ten years to perfect the right balance in Italy.
Trial and error, right? I am a big believer in getting started with something, even if it isn’t perfect, rather than being immobilized by fear of making a wrong choice. But, If I had a do-over, I would have given more attention to how certain practicalities would affect me in the long run. Maybe I wouldn’t have bounced around Italy (Umbria, Rome, Treviso/Venice, and now Imperia).
Still, I don’t regret living in any of those places because of what they taught me:
Umbria taught me the importance of making quietude a more important part of my life.
Rome taught me how much I love having amazing art and vibrant culture at my fingertips. It also taught me that I abhor disorganization and horrible traffic (I’m dreaming of the day when driving, other than our Vespa, is a rare thing).
Treviso/Venice taught me how much I love systems and bureaucracy that run with greater efficiency and precision. It taught me how much I adore being close to the sea (or an ocean) AND an international airport.
Imperia/Liguria has taught me how essential regular exposure to the sun and open air is to maintain a buoyant mood. Having France so close by isn’t been a bad thing, either.
When I consider all the learnings above, I ask myself, “Have you landed forever in Imperia?”
The answer is (don’t laugh), “I’m not sure.” Why? Because I’m due for a hard look at the most essential things for my happiness and test whether our current situation is firing on all cylinders. (Stay tuned!)
Now, let’s talk about you, if you’re planning on moving to Italy. I’d like to offer some words of advice.
Don’t ignore the practicalities of where you might live in Italy.
And the practicalities vary considerably across Italy’s twenty regions. This is sometimes lost on people planning the ex-pat leap to Italy. They buy or rent a house, they land with their ERV in hand, and then the reality of their place of residence sets in. Top practical considerations might be:
While Italy has a national healthcare system (ranked in the World’s Top Five), the cost of participation and the access AND quality of services vary. For instance, Sicily may be stunningly beautiful, but for medical matters requiring specialized treatment, you’ll probably have to take a plane to get it. If you are nearing or in retirement age, this is a biggie.
The local questura/immigration police
If you land in a poorer region of Italy, it may have sparser staff services. Most newbies will be dealing with their questura for their permesso di soggiorno and its yearly renewal. Wouldn’t you like to know well in advance what to expect in this regard? My best, swiftest experience was in Veneto. In Umbria, I waited ten months, one year, and that was pre-pandemic. It arrived two months before its expiry date.
General public services
For me, Veneto holds first place with buttoned-up precision. Rome was a vastly different story. Don’t get me started on trash pickup and parking.
Ease of getting around
If you’re content to live sequestered in the countryside and I you’re willing to drive a fair distance to a good train station or airport, then you’ll be all set. But if you don’t want to be hamstrung for easy travel and roaming, carefully consider your proximity to a reasonable travel hub.
This will have a direct correlation to public services. Some cities’ leaders are overly mired in a good old boy’s network and/or glued to keeping an easy status quo. That can translate to a town, region, or city that isn’t progressive and looking to the future. Do you want to live long-term in a place like that?
Do your due diligence!
Many people don’t because they’re so fixated on their romantic notions of living in Italy. Many romantic notions DO materialize and endure, but often they lose their allure under the weight of difficult practicalities.
I know that gearing up for the ERV (Elective Residency Visa) process and the subsequent trans-global move can suck up a person’s energy. But I strongly urge anyone making this leap to hunker down and do a deep dive into all the above aspects of an intended place to live. Facebook es-pat groups and blogs can yield a lot of experiential detail from those who’ve gone before you. Make Google your best friend in this regard!
You CAN find the right balance in Italy.
It might not be perfect, but you can find an equation that works for you. But that means looking past your first few years and imagining yourself in a particular part of Italy for the long haul! Make sure that none of your essential needs or desires are lacking!