Unless you know Italy very well already, you’ll need to visit the areas where you might be interested in living. More than one trip will be necessary. The country is only the size of Arizona, but it’s as varied as the entire United States. There is an Italy that speaks German and eats speck and sauerkraut in the foothills of the Dolomites, and one that uses Arabic fishing methods in the southern Mediterranean. There are farming plains, vineyards, fishing communities on rocky coasts, villages clinging to volcanoes, and alpine fields and valleys. Italy even claims its own Wild West, with rodeos and lots of beef, in the Maremma area of Tuscany.
Centuries of foreign occupation have left a mosaic of cultures with different values and priorities. You feel like you’ve just traveled to another country when you leave your office in Turin or Milan for a weekend in Bari or Palermo. The differences between the North and South are profound, and you’ll only know which lifestyle suits you better after you’ve spent some time in each.
Mostly, though, the decision on where to live in Italy will be narrowed down by what sort of work you do, if you work at all, and how much you can afford to spend. If you’re a career person, chances are you’ll need to make your home in or near one of the major cities. If you plan to open a bed-andbreakfast, you’ll likely look for more bucolic settings where tourism flourishes. Entrepreneurs often feel more comfortable with the North, where the work ethic is assumed to be higher. If you’re a student, you’ll be confined to cities with a university program”for foreigners, this often means Padua, Rome, Bologna, Arezzo, Siena, Perugia, and above all, Florence.
If you’re retired, well, you’ve earned the right to live just about anywhere you please, though it is a smart idea for homeowners of all walks of life to live somewhere near basic services, such as schools, hospitals, train stations, and airports. The dream of a country retreat can turn into a nightmare if the house is more than an hour from the nearest commercial center. An initial fact-finding trip is a good time to check out the price of homes or apartments, meet professional contacts and potential employers (or examine the market for your business idea), and, hopefully, brush up on your language skills. Reading English-language media about Italian current events and culture is one way to take the pulse of the country you’re about to call home. Before arriving, scour maps, cookbooks, and guidebooks and read as much as possible on the art and history of the place”you won’t know what you’re looking at in Italy unless you know the past.