Gary and Ilene Modica.
We recently caught up with Ilene & Gary Modica, co-authors of the book Our Italian Journey: Living our Dream in Italy for One Year and experts in the search process for their perfect place in Italy. Gary and Ilene searched 81 towns—81!!—before landing on Lucca as their dream destination for their retirement home in Italy. They clearly understand the highly personal process involved with connecting in Italy. Here’s what they had to say.
After a three-year rollercoaster ride Italy with the Los Angeles, California Italian Consulate, Ilene and Gary achieved the dream of achieving Italian citizenship. They had made a promise to one another that if they could manage to clear the dual citizenship hurdle, they would say Arrivederci to friends and family for one year and live in Italy. That was back in 2019.
They subsequently published a book, Our Italian Journey: Living our dream in Italy for one year, that offers advice to would-be transplants to Italy on how to enjoy the bel paese to the fullest.
Their year-long stint appears to have left them with only more yearning for Italy. Ilene and Gary are now living in an apartment in their new hometown of Lucca, in Tuscany. They plan to live in Italy most of the year—“Italian snowbirds” so to speak—and fly home for the winter to Phoenix, Arizona, to keep up with family (including nine grandchildren!)
Q: Can you talk a bit about your town selection process?
A: To date, we’ve visited 81 cities/towns in Italy. We’ve seen large cities – mainly tourist sites but also quaint small towns off the beaten path. What they all had it common was the Italian culture and people. Some towns we found had very little or no English spoken at all and others had some. That was not an issue for us. We have been looking for charm. A charming city with medieval characteristics and history. Some of our favorite and top contenders were Arezzo (Tuscany), Spello (Umbria), Conversano (Puglia), and of course Florence in Tuscany. We knew that Florence was too large for us – too touristy.
We have enjoyed almost every city in Italy. For different reasons – but each has their own special charm or appeal. Our search for a permanent home had to have a good trainline. We don’t have any plans to purchase a car and we enjoy traveling by train. This means of transportation is so different than in the States. In the USA, we never take the train – ever. Not even the bus. Here in Italy, it is our favorite method of transportation.
Q: What made you pick Lucca?
A: To both of us, Lucca is a smaller version of Florence. Same charm – just smaller in size. There are many reasons we have chosen to settle in Lucca.
First, Lucca is basically flat. Bicycles are easily used throughout the town. That was a drawback of Arezzo and Spello as both are hilltowns. Lucca has an amzing medieval wall and its centro storico has all the charm with small cobblestone streets with cafes and small shops throughout. The wall around Lucca is enjoyed with runners, bicycles, and walkers as it is treelined and about 2.5 miles. It has charm. It is special – and it has our hearts. It always has but it is not official, and we have found a long-term apartment to call home. It even has a terrace which is very unusal inside the wall. We need to purchase two bicycles to enjoy and can store them in the “lobby” of our apartment building.
We’ve made friends here in Lucca already, arriving on April 1, 2021. Our machelerria knows us by face and so does our fruit and vegetable store. There are quite a few expats here in Lucca which we were not aware of initially. In fact, a wonderful couple told us about several Facebook groups which we have joined. One particular group, English Mondays in Lucca – meets once a week at a local bar. Here we exchange information and just talk mainly English as most of us are taking Italian lessons during the week! We also are taking lessons at the Lucca School and love our teacher. Gary and I are progressing and are enjoying our lessons.
Lucca is located on a terrific trainline. In fact, last week, we took the train into Florence for several days to enoy before the tourists return to Italy. It was about 1.5 hour train ride. Viareggio – in the opposite direction towards the ocean is about a 30-minute train ride. A beautiful sea town, Viareggio has an amazing beach. From Viareggio, you can take the train north to Liguria and the Cinque Terre area or south down to Naples and Sorrento. To us, Lucca has it all but please don’t spread the word too much.
(Hee hee… we won’t…just… feverishly taking notes here… 😊)
Q: What has the experience been like so far?
A: Our experience in Lucca has been wonderful – even with the COVID restrictions still in place. Even though things are getting better and Italy is opening up, to date there is still a curfew, masks are to be worn at all times but restraurants will be able to open as of June 1st to inside seating. Limited seating but inside none the less. On rainy days this time of year, its unpleasant to sit in a piazza with a storm.
Featured image top of page: Town of Lucca in the Region of Tuscany. Photo by Marian Brandt via Unsplash.