When I stumbled upon the website: A House in Italy, I was intrigued to dig deeper. What were Americans doing in this remote mountain village? The search led me to Grace Cleere, and here’s how she explains it…
I was working with the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Navy in Washington DC, taking middle school students around the world on navy oceanographic ships. We did oceanography while at sea, along with history and culture touring while on land. One year the ship was based in Naples, and we took the students south to Calabria to see “the real Italy.” We met Antonio Parisi as our guide, and that was the beginning. Every time the ships were based in the Med in the years following, we went back to Monterosso with the kids. After 9/11, when Antonio realized that such trips would now be an impossibility any longer, he said to me, “You’ll never come back here unless I convince you to buy a house.” I scoffed and said I am not a rich woman, but he showed me a small place for 12,000 Euro. Heck, that was the price of a used car, so I put the house on a credit card!!
Grace bought the 12th century house in 2003,here’s a look at the interior…
Grace has since convinced her brother and sister-in-law, and several friends and colleagues to buy homes here too. The Monterossini look upon this small American community with great wonder, and all have become great friends… trading adventures, day trips, days at the beach, and of course food and recipes!
I’m so grateful to have met adventurous Grace, and that she’s joined in to give us advice for a Golden Day in Monterosso:
Monterosso Calabro dates to a time of crusaders and sultans, peasants and adventurers. Tucked into a fold in the hilly peaks of the narrowest part of Italy’s ‘toe,’ about 40 minutes from Lamezia airport to the north and Tropea to the south, it clings to one of the many hills that tumble in great waves down to the sea, straddling both sides of the peninsula. This is the area where Crusaders landed in order to cross the peninsula on their way to the Holy Land. Richard the Lionhearted tramped near here many times!
The oldest part of town is a jumble of ancient houses and mostly abandoned palazzo, winding around themselves like an ancient Saracen souk.
Take a walk here to get a sense of what it was like in medieval times. Find – or have the expert local, Antonio Parisi (+39 347 6233680), take you to the old Norman tower, built as a defensive lookout by distant relations the likes of William the Conqueror, most likely in the early 12th century.
Work your way down the narrow streets to the Museum (open on request), a former mill, and the town’s lovely main church (always open) filled with 18th and 19th century saints and madonnas.
A second church is found in a small piazzetta, and features a ceiling painting of the Battle of Lepanto.Then take a hike up to the Monastero part of town where there is a third church (with a particularly realistic arrow-filled St. Sebastian), and high above it, the ruins of a Camaldolese Monastery. From here you’ll get a spectacular view of the town and out to the Mediterranean.
If the day is clear, you will see the Stromboli volcano floating surprisingly high on the sea!
Monterosso gastronomy is an intriguing mix of Italian and sometimes Arab ingredients(Sultanas, Almonds). Be prepared to “go local” – very little English is spoken, and menus in five languages are not to be found! The village boasts several very good established restaurants (and new ones popping up), and superb kitchens in local agriturismi. (Think tortellini stuffed with local funghi (mushrooms) and cinghiale (boar’s meat)! Yum!)
Both Il Ghiottone (literally the glutton, but also the gourmand) and Il Melograno (the pomegranate) are on Via Roma leading out of town towards the north, and are family-run restaurants with views over a valley of olive trees with the lovely ancient skyline of Monterosso in the background.
Il Ghiottone (+39 0963 326022) does exceedingly good fresh fish and meats as well as delicious pizza, and has both local and bottled wines as well as a full bar.
Il Melograno (+39 333.9082953), where Graziella and her husband Ottaviano do the cooking (and bake their own bread), specializes in delectable antipasti dishes, and pastas and lasagna with whatever is in season, especially forest mushrooms. Ask what Graziella is preparing in the kitchen, while Ottaviano and his daughters fetch their wine. Don’t forget the fresh desserts in either place.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, I recommend, Villa Velia, above town on Mount Copari. It has wine and olive oil presses, a teaching kitchen, an observation tower, six well-appointed rooms (soon to be eight), and a large beautiful dining room.
The villa’s owner, is my friend and tour guide, Antonio Parisi (+39 347 6233680), who speaks excellent English, having been a former tour manager and history and culture guide for American Express and Grand Circle Tours. He is available for tours of the village, and throughout Calabria and Sicily. He is entertaining, cultured, and highly adaptable to whatever interests you have.
Antonio’s wife Velia is the extraordinary cook at the Villa (you must call Antonio for a reservation first), known for her delicious meats, vegetables, and grilled fishes. Her torta di alici is a specialty – fresh anchovies are something we can’t get in the States.
Another good accommodation in the old part of town is B&B Palazzetto Dell’orologio.
Monterosso, like so many other towns in Calabria, brings visitors to “real Italy”. So that means along with history and beauty are sections built in the 1930s (cement block buildings), and trash and recyclables put out by the doors nearly every day. Despite this, it’s a lovely place, where you’ll enjoy friendly people, excellent food, and spectacular nature and views.
Grazie Mille Grace—you’ve tempted me to come over and look at what’s for sale…To check out the offerings, Click Here!