My mother was born in a small town in Calabria, Italy called Sant’Andrea Apostolo Dello Ionio. She gets a “kick” out of the fact that Calabria is booting Sicily on the map because this is where my father’s family is from. Mom, my two uncles and my grandparents made the trek across the Atlantic when she was just 6 years old – just of age to retain the language. I am proud to have such a close connection to my roots, and have been very lucky to have visited Italy and this ancient little town a total of four times: when I was 17, 18, 20 and 30. I’m definitely due for another trip!
Some of my family is based in Rome, and the trip from there to their summer home where my grandmother was raised (now their permanent residence) is about a 10 hour drive or an hour and a half plane ride via puddle jumper. Once you’re there you’re transformed. Nestled atop the slopes of a mountainside – below is the glorious beach and marina, above is the Pinetta, or heavily-pined mountains. Entering Sant’ Andrea is the equivalent of stepping back in time, yet there’s modernity all around in the form of electronic devices.
The homes are narrow and tall with steep staircases ranging from refurbished comfortable abodes with surprising conveniences to ancient stone dwellings. The cars are tiny, careening like mad on steep cobblestone streets that were meant for horse drawn carriages. On the narrowest paths, scratches of car paint streak the primeval walls. On one street is my great-grandfather’s shoe store, now an abandoned building with faded lettering that still bears his name.
Aside from the rich history, Sant’Andrea is filled with friendly (aside from those scary toothless Italian ladies in black) townspeople who go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Most delight in sharing in something delicious, whether it’s a jug of homemade wine, a wonderful cheese, or a full out meal – most of which was acquired from the earth or sea that very day – with antipasti, pasta, a main course, dessert and espresso.
The best bread I’ve ever tasted comes out of Sant’Andrea’s tiny bakery – it’s dense and crusty, yet light and slightly chewy. Maybe it’s the pure air and water, but the flavor is something that’s unmatched. I was addicted to their fiscottini, which are crunchy Italian biscuits, and enjoyed them each morning with my espresso and milk. This alone placated me after being woken up at 6am by either a fish or fruit peddler bellowing, “Pesce! Pesce!” or “Frutta! Frutta!”
Other simple things I loved? Latte di Mandorle, or almond milk. With ice on a blazing hot day it’s unbeatably refreshing. I could get the almond paste mix in the states, but it’s not the same because I’m not enjoying it there. And another? Pizza at Jacks near the tiny town square on Main Street. Four tables and a giant brick oven in a tiny little pizzeria that churns out the most heavenly thin-crust Margherita pizzas I’ve ever had with vibrant sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil…my tummy’s growling just thinking about it.
During the summer months, Sant’Andrea is bustling with visitors seeking to enjoy the glorious beach and marina, which is about a 5-10 minute drive from town down the windiest road ever, but the view from its top is breathtaking. The mountains, littered with olive, fig and prickly pear trees, give way to pristine blue green waters. At the marina, there are snack bars and areas near the water to take a break from the fierce sun. The waters are rarely rough and reminiscent of a therapeutic warm bath.
There are many little towns that resemble Sant’Andrea all throughout Italy, but this one has a charm and a feel that’s unmatched – almost like a warm, nurturing grandmother who loves you unconditionally. I’m pining for my paese and need to revisit my roots soon.