Introducing Southern Italy
At the beginning of this year I promised an update on Southern Italy. I
had meant to go there in the spring, but was too busy to fit in the
trip, so it was only last week that I boarded a flight for Bari.
The airport is rather busy, and was filled with Italians welcoming back
their compatriots who had strayed overseas. There were fat mamas
squealing with delight; various ladies hopping up and down, and waving
furiously; and of course the usual hugs, kisses, and serious amounts of
happy shouting. Yes, this is Italy, land of noise and confusion.
Things soon calmed down and I went to pick up my hire car. That's when
the trouble started. I'd paid for a car, and I'd paid for an insurance
to cover excluded matters on the car hire policy, but the blighter
behind the desk insisted he wanted more money off me, and despite the
fact that I'd paid for both the car hire and the insurance using a
debit card, he was adamant that he wanted me to pay something else
using a credit card.
It's nothing short of a ripoff. I refused to play ball, and instead
hired a car from a different firm, and stopped the first company's
money by phoning the fraud department of my bank, and reversing the
transaction. What these companies are doing is illegal. You pay for a
service and then they wont give it to you without more money. It's
The next thing I discovered is that even using a Google map, which
ought to be reasonably up to date, the journey from the airport to the
hotel was a nightmare. The roads have different numbers, and go in
different directions to what is advertised, and the signposts are not a
lot of help. We finally made it to our beds four hours after arriving.
Unfortunately there wasn't much improvement in the morning, as I walked
onto the balcony into a steady drizzle.
However, at every turn there was someone to help us, even un-asked. The
one thing I have found all across this area of Italy, which
is called Salento, is that the locals are charming, and helpful.
However, and this is important, they dont generally speak any English.
The hotel receptionist will speak English, but dont expect anyone else
to. So if you are intending to buy property here then the first thing
you will have to do is learn at least some basic Italian or you will be
in big trouble.
The second thing to note is that your average Salento house is a
concrete box set amongst other concrete boxes, and they look decidedly
tatty. Bari and Brindisi are big noisy commercial cities. They lack
charm. However, they each are served by low cost airlines from the UK.
The other thing we noticed was the high prices. A standard meal seems
to cost anywhere between 20-25 euros. They advertise a cheap meal of
the day at 15-17 euros, which is twice what we are paying in Spain.
The food hereabouts is based on bread and pizza. The bakeries make a
whole range of breads containing nuts, seeds, and vegetables. They even
make some ghastly stuff that has the consistency of concrete, and if
you see a bowl of water on the food table, it's there for you to drop
this stuff in so as to soften it.
The coastline around these cities is littered with sandy beaches, but
once again, they lack charm. The land is flat along the coast and
inland for some miles, and that gives the whole area a rather boring
feel. So I was wondering what the attraction is about this part of the
world. Clearly it is not an international tourist zone, which is odd,
as the weather is certainly good. It improved immensely as the weekend
came round. I understand the weather is much the same as that in the
Algarve, which means summer has another six weeks to run.
Unfortunately, when we stopped at a hotel down the coast we were told
the summer season lasts only three months, and ends with august. Here
we are in mid september, the weather is not bad, but the tourist season
is clearly over. To push the point home, we are the only guests at this
hotel. That means any idea of buying a property here to rent out during
the high season is probably not a good idea.
It is clear that the country is in recession, and folk are not happy
with the way things are. There are strikes, and general discontent
everywhere, so there is an air of uncertainty. It also seems as though
rather a lot of businesses are closing down, or have already closed. I
must admit I expected tourism to be flourishing, but that is not the
case. This part of the world seems to have a short season, just three
In short, things are not looking particularly good at the moment, and I
can see why prices of property in this part of the world are low. There
are tourist properties up in the hills inland from the main cities, and
there are many ruins for sale at very good prices. However, you have to
be keen on settling in to the Italian way of life, which means learning
Italian, and forgetting about any ex-pat community. Obviously there are
ex-pats around, but not many.
This area is at least easy to get to from
the UK. Several airlines fly here, either to Bari or Brindisi, so your
average flight cost is likely to be around £50 a trip.
One further thing; if you can get used to the signs you will find the
roads quite good. You have your average country roads which are in poor
condition, and often rather narrow, but servicable. Next up are the
superstradas, which are usually dual carriageway, and free. Then there
are the autostradas, which are paid motorways (altho not all have
The prime place in this part of the world in my opinion is the area
around Lecce, but I will deal with that in the next installment.