Hayley Simmonds and her husband relocated to Italy from the UK to test the water for a year and are still here six years later.
1. When did the idea of moving to Italy first arrive for you?
The idea of moving to Italy first arrived after, well really when, we came on holiday to Ostuni staying in an apartment with a view from the terrazza overlooking the citadel with the cita bianca below and the adriatic sea behind. The view was amazing and one of the best I’ve ever seen in Ostuni, but for me the real pull was at the end of our little road. Rosana’s convenience store, the hub of a real community. Situated about a hundred yards from the piazza, their life was a million miles away from the full-on August season in piazza della libertra. I feel in love with the way of life, the sense of community, the hot late evening chitter chatter on our street, the hussle and bussle in the piazza, the tranquility on the terrazza, everything filled my romantic sensibility.
2. When did the idea turn into the actual decision to move?
The idea turned into an actual decision pretty fast. We had two small businesses in the UK, an antiques/vintage shop and a decorating company, which were both doing well, we had no need to up and leave, for us we followed what felt like our fate. The apartment we stayed in was a swap for a decorating job from a client.
In short, we came home and told them how much we loved Ostuni and they told us they were in fact selling their business, they had 5 apartments, we toyed with this idea but just couldn’t afford it. At the same time, they had lost their property managers and as the properties were for sale they needed them to look great all year and not just for guests. Between us we hatched a year’s work schedule including staying in the property we had stayed in on holiday! I was so thrilled… We sublet our shop and decorating company on a year’s test run. Its was all very fast and felt very right for everyone involved, the stars were aligned. 6 years later we are still here with a thriving business and two properties of our own.
3. How long did it take to then move here once the decision was made?
It didn’t take very long at all to move to once we had everything in place, we were back in 5 months living in that little apartment immersing ourselves in local life. Which consisted of whispered story telling over baloneys, immense hot midday silences, church bells giving daily structure, Saturday dress up day for food and clothes shopping at the local market, coffee in the piazza, walking past the Italians washing their doorsteps with me saying ciao in my broad Essex/cockney accent.
Along with many daily rituals I learnt to follow! Finally ending in Sunday laundry days, filling the air with the smell of perfumed sheets flapping in the wind and perfectly hung underwear. Ours was always hung incorrectly; I was told on many many occasions; it was one of my highlights of living in town. So, in short not long to move here and more importantly not long to join in.
4. Can you paint a picture of how you felt about finally living here in Italy?
Firstly, see above! Everything thing was a whirlwind of excitement, worry and challenges ahead. I loved it! We took gambles and not everything was easy. For example, pre arriving we sold both of our vehicles to put some cash in our pockets and drove into Ostuni in our old 1989 Fiat Panda with our cat and dog and worldly possessions, it was a full load. We ground out in France where we ditched many items including a silk dress! We got pulled behind lorries in their slip stream up mountain passes. We had to change the tires as the grinding didn’t stop and the tires were getting slightly thin on one side.
It was all worth it when we finally hit the Puglian dual carriage way lined with oleander and following the Fasano Ostuni turn off seeing Ostuni pop up on the horizon to say hi, catching little glimpses of her filled my heart with joy. I just couldn’t wait for coffee in the piazza. For us we fitted into life on our street very fast, we worked hard looking after the apartments and guests, we did our washing on the Sunday and I learnt to never ever put the hoover on during siesta.
5. What do you do here in Italy, do you work have your own business?
We worked for 18months in the end for our first clients looking after their properties : www.premierpropertyservices.net. We learnt fast dealing with Italian ways including cleaners who to this day still do as they see best, I’m forever rearranging cushions, I now smile.
After 2 years, we opened a property management company in Ostuni, covering country property management. It’s a great job for us as its super full on 6 months of the year, and certainly lets you know it’s a holiday town, I love meeting new guests and sharing my hot spots and must sees with them. Then we get to chill and enjoy 6 months at a much slower Italian pace of life. Enjoying our country life, working the land, gardening, long dog walks, busy Saturdays, lazy Sundays and taking our dogs over to our newly renovated apartment in Tursi Basilicata. You can see the apartment by clicking HERE.
You just cant keep me away from what I love about Italy….leaning over the Juliet balcony talking to my neighbor, it’s another language in Basilicata, so I’m doing well!
6. What were your top two greatest challenges when you first moved here. How did you get over them?
Our greatest two challenges….mmm it’s a hard question because there were many little challenges and still are, I think these are really where I found I had to and still do, take a step back, and sta tranquillo, nothing happens fast or how maybe you want or expect, but that's fine. I think in our early days the biggest challenge was the language for me, my husband spoke some Italian so that was great, I found and still do languages very hard, but you get through and I enjoy talking and am not shy when I get things wrong so it’s mostly fun and for sure I’m lucky my husband’s now got a good a grasp of the language.
8. Is there anything that you would do differently here, if you had your time again?
Would I do anything differently, well no because my journey didn’t involve a lot of cashflow to start with, so I see our choices more as fortunes and making our own luck and taking chances and of course working hard. If I had had the Insight and time maybe I would have taken Italian classes pre arrival, but then I have so many memories of fun at the Saturday market perfecting the words one to ten” Dieci persona” I was feeding only two people, like I said languages are not my strong point, it took a month for me to realize what I was saying. I just thought they liked giving me lots of food.
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 couldn’t live without sugar, honestly, I will tell you I don’t have a sweet tooth and I love savory and you would call me a liar. Cake, cornetto, brioche, pasticciotti, for breakfast, gelato with a passeggiata, sweet café freddo or café crema on hot summer days, lots off it, and if the displays are not tempting enough, feeling like you may be missing out is! it’s not at all strange, just strange how my taste buds have changed. Long gone is the longing for buttery toast, although saying that, I wouldn’t mind a little marmite in my cupboard!
10. Give us a run through of your favorite Italian day.
It’s no surprise, café and cornetto at our local bar on the outskirts of town to start the day with a few small pleasantries with the locals. Elbows then almost at dawn at the Saturday market, the noise of the fruit venders calling to the ladies, their play in return, “tony tony per me solo due euros” whispers the nonna with a wink. A café stop with a sugar to boost the second part of the market the clothes section, this is a spectacle of dress up for all ages, seen to be seen ladies and gentlemen everywhere. With my haul of fruit and veg, thankfully much less these days, and a cheap polyester top, I just can’t resist joining in, it’s the piazza for yet more sweet coffee and people watching before home to chill and back out again for the passiggiata and sweet gelato more people watching and many buons seras or as we are now local many “sera” “sera” “sera” and even a few “bondi“