Moving to the south of Italy wasn’t something I had planned. It was a spur of the moment decision based on a job offer. One moment I was living in Istanbul and the next I found myself on an early morning flight to Rome. From Rome’s Fiumicino Airport I then made my way to the train station to catch a train to Bari.
My first morning there, I felt myself wake up to a whole new world. I had never been that far south on the map before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first thing I noticed was the intense quality of the sunlight and what I remember impressing me the most that day when I went for a walk was the clarity of the sea and it’s various shades of blue.
I spent about two years in Bari. During that time I travelled as much as I could. Matera, Castro, Ostuni, Monopoli, Trani – these were some of my favourite cities. I also learned a lot about food and what it means to eat while at the same time feeling connected to the land around you. Even my young students knew the meaning and importance of Zero Kilometre Food which refers to eating food that hasn’t travelled far after production. This means that importance is placed on consuming and thereby preserving local and regional specialties which is also a sense of pride for the Italian people. It’s no wonder that when you meet an Italian person, you notice that food is deeply intwined with their identity. Being part of this experience stays with you. To me it was a form of re-education. It taught me what food could look like and taste like if only we cared enough to cultivate and maintain that connection and closeness. This is something I really loved about living in the south of Italy.
As with any place, there were things I loved and things I didn’t love about the south of Italy and the purpose of this post is to share some of that with you.
What I Loved …
The Quality of the Food
The quality of the food in the south of Italy is unlike any I have ever eaten before. It was in the south of Italy that I learned the value of consuming locally made produce and how this enhances your quality of life. The markets moved with the seasons so there was always something new to discover or a quick rush to buy something before it was gone. Perhaps that’s why the cuisine of the south of Italy is so simple – not much is needed to enhance the already delicious flavours. My favourite items in the marker were the flat onions known as la cipolla bianca di Margherita and the sea salt that comes from the same region. That combined with some tomatoes lightly pan fried in some olive oil and pasta made for a very satisfying meal.
Lots of Gluten-Free Choices & Plant Based Milks
This may not be an issue for you, but I don’t drink milk and I have a gluten intolerance which makes buying food a little difficult for me since I need to read labels. Usually, I just stick to what I know but of course this isn’t always possible when moving to a new country. In Istanbul, it was possible to buy plant based milks and some gluten free products but they were really expensive and the prices would fluctuate based on inflation. In Bari, I was surprised to find a LOT of choices and not just in the health food shops. In fact, I bought all my gluten free products and plant based milks (my favourite being rice milk) at the local supermarket. What is also awesome is that many restaurants will have gluten free options. There is also a gluten-free cafe called Colibrio which makes awesome desserts and Bari Napoli makes a pretty decent gluten-free pizza.
Quality of Life
The cost of living in Bari is quite affordable and coupled with the quality of food and the excellent healthcare, the standard of living here is good. Although it is a small city, it has a big city feel with its cafes, bars and a bustling high street that’s lined with well known brands. Just a few streets over and you are at the seaside. There are also quite a few parks close to the city centre and places like Monopoli are less than 40 mins by train. But, there aren’t many jobs. If I had lost my job, it would be very difficult for me to find another one and the salary in this region of Italy isn’t very good. So although the quality of life is good if you have a decent job, a decent job isn’t easy to come by.
The sushi! Amazing! One of the highlights of living in Bari was sushi night which happened to be at least twice a month. We just couldn’t get enough of the all you can eat sushi at Xuan. We tried other places but Xuan is by far our favourite.
What I Didn’t Like …
Allergies are Worse in the South
This is such an important warning if you suffer from pollen allergies like I do. For the first six months I was fine and then it hit me. I then began to suffer from allergies year round and this is the main reason why I had to leave the south of Italy. It made life unbearable. These parts of the Mediterranean are known for their Parietaria and olive pollen which can cause nasty allergic reactions all year round that are difficult to treat with antihistamine alone, if at all. Also, due to the humid climate, many apartments have problems with mold. So if you are someone who has a sensitive immune system, I would really think twice about moving south. This is something that caught me off guard.
The south only tends to have two types of weather – hot or rainy. And the city isn’t built for rainy weather so when it pours – and it rains a lot between November and March – things can look a bit depressing. I’m also not someone who makes the most of hot days. Beach life isn’t for me.
While the south of Italy isn’t a place I could see myself calling home, I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience everything it has to offer. My experience definitely left an impression that changed me for the better and I’m looking forward to returning as a tourist.
What about you? Have you ever been to the south of Italy? What did you love most?