Already established ex-pat Claire Barker relocated from Cambodia to southern Italy in 2019.
1. When did the idea of moving to Italy first arrive for you?
The idea arose in 2017 when I came for a long weekend visit to see friends in Ostuni for a special birthday and discovered that the town had a huge party on August 26 for San Oronzo, which also happens to be my birthday. I had been thinking about selling my UK property as I wasn’t going to live in it again. I left the UK in 2007, and had a series of disastrous rental experiences with tenants on and off over the years and was feeling that keeping the property wasn’t worth the hassle and I could see what you could get for half the money here in such a beautiful town by the sea.
2. When did the idea turn into the actual decision to move?
I started looking at properties on line, from my couch in Cambodia where I was living. With the help of an Italian friend narrowed down my selection to a few town properties and a few country properties and I came back again in May 2018 for 5 weeks to look and to get a feel for being here.
3. How long did it take to then move here once the decision was made?
My top pick was actually the house I decided to make an offer on, and I went back to the UK on my way back to Cambodia and put my house on the market. The sale of my house in the UK dragged and I finally completed on the countryside villetta in March 2019. I moved here with a suitcase and my 2 Cambodian cats. The idea was to go back and forth between Italy and Cambodia (where I have a business) but covid struck as I was about to head back in Feb 2020. It had taken longer than expected to renovate my house and I became stuck.
4. Can you paint a picture of how you felt about finally living here in Italy?
There have been ups and downs, the most definite ups have been the beaches, the clear blue sea, the quality of light, early evening aperitivo, picking my olives and making my own oil, countryside dog walks. Watching the seasons change and seeing folk tending their land, popping for a fantastic coffee at only 1 Euro 20, gelato (fiche e mandorle) Eating fresh apricots, plums, peaches figs, oranges, mulberries, almonds from my garden without having to put in much work!
The downs have been the grinding bureaucracy especially with the commune and ASL, finding many hidden problems with my house as my estate agent grossly misled me, lack of social life and loneliness. Italy is a very family oriented place and there is nothing as lonely as a packed Italian beach full of families when you are solo. Sundays are hard when everyone is having a fabulous long lunch with their extended family, so I have to say it is not an easy place to be a woman of a certain age, alone.
5. What do you do here in Italy, do you work/have your own business?
I still run my jewellery business in Siem Reap Cambodia and have designed and made a line of jewellery with Puglia in mind that I bought with me when I came. I have a small jewellery workshop at my house where I potter and am working on a new range of designs.
6. What were your two greatest challenges when you first moved here? How did you get over them?
Greatest challenges, loneliness as I am a super social person and had a great social life in my 10 years in Asia. I did already know some people here so I wasn’t completely starting from scratch To get over it I invited people to aperitivo here at the house, invited myself to friends places for a cup of tea, said yes to anything I was invited to and tried to go out and do one thing everyday, even if it was go and look at tiles for the new bathroom or to check out a different supermarket (how sad). I have lots of friends now!
The other challenge was dealing with all the bureaucracy and it still drives me mad, but I paid for help with that and now have Italian friends who can help me with the language barrier. The language barrier is here and it’s hard especially in official situations, but if you try to speak Italian most people don’t seem to mind you mangling their language too much!
7. What is something that has surprised you the most about what you love about living in Italy?
I completely love picking olives and being a farmer, strimming the grass, cutting bits off of trees and trying to grow things (often unsuccessfully).
8. Is there anything that you would do differently here, if you had your time over?
I sometimes think I would have been better buying a place in town so I could just walk out, and not have to drive everywhere, but then I wouldn’t have the garden, it would be nice to have both!
9. What is the strangest thing about Italian culture that you thought you would never get used to but now couldn't live without?
I can’t think of any thing that I find particularly strange I am very adaptable and lived in bonkers Asia for 10 years.
10. Give us a run-through of your favourite Italian day
Up early walk the dog in the gorgeous countryside near my house and maybe to chat to a neighbour If someone crosses my path. A rummage around the 2nd hand clothes or antique market. Off to the beach for a picnic with friends and lots of swimming. A gelato and a glass of something at the beach bar, or an aperitivo somewhere pretty in a piazza watching folk go by. A pizza and a walk around what ever town I find myself in – all of this happens in late June before the tourists descend en masse!