Since we moved to Italy last October, we’ve had a trickle of friends and family come to visit. Now with the summer holidays starting in earnest, the trickle has turned into a stream and we were fully booked almost the entire months of May and June.
Seeing the different things that our friends and family enjoy the most when they come here is a real eye-opener.
For Paul, it was an evening out with our friend Eugenio and his girlfriend at a nearby fish restaurant. Paul doesn’t speak a word of Italian, and Eugenio not a word of English. But they bonded over a bottle of grappa, and each told me later what good company they thought the other was.
One elderly lady didn’t enjoy eating out so much (her taste buds have been affected by a brain haemorrhage she suffered a few years ago) and sat quietly when friends were introduced. But she became animated and joyful when we went for a walk down a lane surrounded by wildflowers. ‘This is what I really love,’ she said, stopping to examine every kind of flower.
James’ mother, a woman who prefers a cooler climate, came in early July, in the hottest week we’ve had all year. She spent most of her days lying in the shade reading, and we soon realised that we could only take her out when the heat had gone out of the day.
Undoubtedly one of her highlights was an evening at a pizza restaurant at nearby Portovenere, but not for the beautiful surroundings or the food. Italy were playing (and eventually beat) Germany in the semi-final of the UEFA cup. As an avid football fan she appreciated the way every restaurant had arranged a wide screen tv outside, for guests to watch as they ate.
Even people who weren’t eating pulled up chairs on the fringes of our restaurant’s dining area and no-one turned them away. At half time the bar next door launched into an impromptu open air disco, and the square was filled with small children dancing to Europop.
When Italy scored, it seemed you could hear the entire town cheering.
And my eldest son? A true Italophile, he just loves everything about the place. When he comes I know we will spend hours planning and preparing meals, taking advantage of the local produce. He’s got my shopping gene too and will spend as long in the clothes shops appreciating Italian style. But perhaps his favourite time is spent on the kilometres of footpaths that run through the Appenine National Park, skirting mountains and lakes.
The first time we saw this house, now almost four years ago, the views took my breath away. A broad valley to the east, ringed by mountains; a further valley to the south, with a glimpse of the Mediterranean, 10 kilometres away, and sheer forested hillside to the west. Standing there on a hot July day, cooled by a slight breeze, I knew this was where I wanted to live more than anywhere else.
When visitors come for the first time, I can see them drinking in everything that’s around them. I love welcoming people here, and I know that whatever experiences they take away with them, the views are something that no-one can forget.