While I have been living in Sardinia Italy for a number of years now, my background of having parents native to this Italian Island has of course had a major influence to the understanding of the culture and traditions that belong to Sardegna even though I grow up in the United Kingdom.
So, even though I decided to come and live here, my point of view of what life in Sardinia is all about is obviously completely different to someone who has never had contact with the Island before.
For the reason I asked a lovely British couple that came to live in the area Ogliastra a few backs and to share their story with you, giving you their honest opinion of the “The Good The Bad and the Ugly” of their experience of coming to Sardinia to live.
Sardinia – Why we chose it & what we think 4 years on...
So many people in Sardinia have asked us how we managed to end up here, of all the places in the world.
Therefore, I will tell you our story…
Early life for me was not especially easy, it was nowhere near as bad as for some, but it was difficult enough that I would not wish it on anyone else. It had left me traumatised and emotionally damaged.
I found myself in my late 30’s, working in an office job for which I had no passion, I was encountering sustained bullying from certain people from a company that I had worked for previously, and now worked for my present employer, people I had to deal with on a daily or weekly basis.
I was getting little or no support from my boss or other senior management and I hated every day. It became so bad that I ended up an emotional wreck, hysterically crying in my doctor’s office; I had lost sight of the end of the tunnel, I was in a state of despair. She immediately signed me off work for 6 weeks with stress; and after that, I never really went back.
It was a hard time, financially and emotionally, but it gave me time to re-assess my life choices and see new opportunities. I had decided to retrain myself and become a yoga and meditation teacher. These are the practices that had helped me most to change the way I see things and become more positive and mindful, and if it had helped me see a way through my own traumas, then it was something I would like to introduce and teach to others.
My immediate family consisted of my partner, Billy, who is retired and he had always really wanted to live abroad in sunnier climes, he is also a Reiki Master and holistic massage therapist.
My boys, who had both left home and gone off to university, were getting on with their lives. They had completed their training and employed in the jobs they always wanted; my youngest is also a father of two beautiful children and continues to amaze me every day how he has managed to juggle all his responsibilities at such a young age. I am immensely proud of what they have both achieved in their lives and pleased that they are balanced, happy people following their hearts and dreams.
So when Billy asked me if I’d move abroad with him, with all that was going on, it was an opportunity to slow down from the hectic pace of modern life in the western world, with all its demands and stress, start healing myself and I would have been an idiot to turn down that opportunity.
We talked for a long time about where we would like to live, going through options like Spain, Greece, Cyprus, etc.
After many discussions, about where we would go; and reasons we would and would not want to live in each place, we had not decided on a location.
We wanted to move somewhere different, but not too far, so that family could not visit us easily and relatively cheaply, somewhere without a large established UK expat community, we wanted to immerse ourselves in a different culture, to be more self-sufficient, somewhere rural and warm, but not too dry or arid.
So, I opened up Google Earth to have a look around, and there standing out in the middle of the Mediterranean was an Italian island, about the size of Wales, called Sardinia. So we started researching a bit more; the place is relatively unknown and unspoilt, not too built up or commercialised, warm climate, beautiful beaches, mountains and a rich cultural history.
We decided to take a closer look, booked a 10 day holiday in the middle of winter, because we wanted to see the place out of season, at its worst, to see what the winter weather was like, how the place looked when it wasn’t in full tourist mode and looking like a picture postcard.
We toured the island for 10 days in the car, Billy was exhausted from all the driving, but we loved the place, we knew we could feel at home here, the island has such a beautiful raw natural beauty; it would be difficult not to fall in love with it. To cut a very long story short, we bought a house in the countryside, left the UK behind and moved.
We have an unbelievably fantastic lifestyle here. We grow most of our own vegetables, we have some chickens that provide us with fresh, free-range eggs, a varying number of cats who are basically feral and keep the pests at bay, and we have 2 Labrador bitches that are spoilt rotten and are our pride and joy! We live in the countryside, our nearest neighbours are wonderful and also about a km away; it really is ‘the good life’!
The Sardinian people are incredibly welcoming; it actually took about 6 months before we were allowed to buy a drink at our local bar!
They embrace people from diverse cultures, interested in who you are and so willing to help you out in any way they can. They are not a wealthy people here in our area, away from the cities of the island, work is hard to come by, and it is mainly vineyards in our area, hard manual work for not a great return. Yet, the people we have been blessed to meet are so generous with their time and knowledge, so willing to help; we cannot ever repay the kindness and warmth they have shown us.
The Sardinian people still retain their sense of community and family. Their celebrations such as Birthdays and Christmas are less about sending cards and giving gifts and more about spending time together as a family and community.
In fact, when we first visited the island it was New Year’s Eve, we thought we would head out to a local restaurant and get a meal then move onto a bar and celebrate the New Year. We were very surprised to find out that all the restaurants closed and then bars shut at about 8pm.
For the rest of the evening we saw people heading out on the streets with trays in their hands, obviously heading off to family parties, and heard the celebrations at midnight as families set of fireworks together.
There is no binge drinking, bar culture here, if you head out to through the villages at night, the streets are mainly deserted from around 9 or 10pm, with the exception of festivals, people preferring to spend their evenings at home with their own families or visiting with extended families.
The festivals they have celebrate their history and culture, with even the young teens joining in with traditional rural activities and dancing with a sense of pride and community.
The beauty of the island still takes our breath away, from the long, almost deserted beaches with soft white sand and transparent, clean seas perfect for leisurely snorkelling, kayaking and swimming to the mountains and valleys with their hidden treasures of ancient Nuraghe and untouched beauty perfect for hiking, climbing and exploring on quad bike or horseback!
The island is rich with cultural history, it has been invaded so many times that historically the people of the island have always lived inland, inaccessible to the almost constant changes of invading cultures! There are many examples of the ancient Nuraghe culture to explore all over the island and some of the most peaceful, spiritual places where I have spent time on the island are the remote, ruined remains of the Nuraghe villages.
The supermarkets stock food that is mostly local and seasonal, meaning it is fresher and healthier. People here generally prepare food from scratch each day and thankfully, processed foods have not yet found a good foothold. Of course, we are surrounded by vineyards so Cannonau, the local red wine, is plentiful and reasonably priced!
In addition, of course the climate is wonderful, in the summer the temperature is hot, but not too hot & humid, and the sun is out almost consistently from May to November. The winter can be cold, not because the temperatures are especially low, but just because the houses here are not built with insulation, they get very cold and damp in the cooler months, but for every day that you get rain or overcast skies, even in winter, you get about 5 times as many days with blue skies and sunshine.
I am not a great complainer, I prefer to see the positives in life these days, but in the spirit of a balanced view and being honest, there have been some negatives to moving here too.
Moving to a foreign country is not always easy, even the easiest of things you have to learn how to do from scratch; going to the dentist or the doctor is a whole new experience!
To be fair, this doesn’t just apply to Italy or Sardinia, moving to any new country will bring its difficulties, challenges and new experiences.
As a vegetarian and someone who has a strong affinity with Ahimsa, the yogic philosophy of non-harming, the Sardinians have a very hard time understanding my life choices!
The people we encounter are rural people; they keep animals to work and for food, they generally have a very meat based diet, the girarosto their favourite way of roasting their meat on the spit. Eating out here as a vegetarian is difficult and I have seen things here that have brought me to tears in the way animals are treated, on the flip side the local people have seen the way our own animals are treated and many think I am a completely loop!
Yet again, this is not an issue localised or exclusive to Sardinia or its people. I am often brought to tears by the way my own culture and the larger global community treats animals and it’s apathy and ignorance towards how the meat many insist on eating on a nearly daily basis gets to the table, despite the growing evidence that it is not only bad for our health, but also unsustainable for the planet and cruel to the animals. But that’s a whole other discussion and if you are a confirmed carnivore this whole paragraph will move up to ‘The Good’ section above!
As I said before, this is of Sardinia where we live is a rural community, and work is hard to find. Learning the language is essential; not many people speak English here and if you want any sort of employment, you will have to learn at least Italian, but also maybe some of the local Sardo dialect.
To be honest, if anyone asked me, I would never recommend anyone to move here unless; they have a good financial situation behind them, either a pension, a very large lump sum or that they have a good freelance or self-employed business which they can transfer here.
If you think you can come here, rent a place and then find a job when you get here, it just is not going to work for you, if we did not have Billy’s pension we would not be here, simple as that.
Bureaucracy, politics and trying to get anything done is a total nightmare!
You need a huge supply of patience to be able to understand, navigate and get through all the hoops the Italian Senate sets out for its residents.
The people here who have grown up with it find it hard to stay calm and patient, so coming from a relatively structured, organised, streamlined system like the UK to here is a real eye opener. We came with all sorts of plans of things we would like to do here, but they have all fallen by the wayside because things are just so difficult and the laws change with such frequency it is impossible to keep up!
Leading us onto tax matters and income!
Everyone hates the tax office right!
If I told you the thing I miss most about the UK is the tax system it might not only surprise you, but bowl you over, but it’s true. In the UK, the tax system is simple, you can fill out your returns online and it is relatively easy to understand.
Here it is a total shambles, you have to have an accountant as soon as you start earning, which costs you around 500 euros a year and you have to start paying stamp as soon as you earn a euro!
So, if you are a low earner you’re screwed!
The taxation system is so complicated even the Tax Office employees often are at a loss to know what the present situation is.
We went three or four times to the tax office to find out how we should register, my very small yoga classes and they didn’t know where to start.
They told me if I had a vineyard they could sort that out no problem, but anything outside their everyday experience and they don’t seem to know where to start in the immensely overcomplicated system.
Hence, one of the reasons why there is so much tax evasion here I suspect. Having said that, we have found that even in the Tax Office the people are keen to help and very understanding and patient with the continuing flaws in our Italian communication skills.
As someone who grew up in the UK, I still find it quite hard to see so many guns openly carried around. It seems almost every civil servant, whether it be Forestry, Customs police or Carabinieri, have a holster with a loaded gun.
It is a constant reminder that beneath the paradise that we experience; there is a culture that has a very different moral norm than I am used to. From children going on strike at school to people sending homemade bombs or threatening to kill local mayors when there is something they don’t like going on, there is always a little reminder that we are foreigners in a foreign culture.
We have no plans to leave Sardinia. It has been a great experience and we have made some great friends here. At the end of the day, we can always find positives and negatives in any place we choose to live, life is always greener on the other side if we choose to compare things and complain about things instead of seeing the great gifts we receive each day of our lives, all the things we take for granted.
For us, living in Sardinia has far more positives than negatives. It still seems like a paradise, I still feel like I am on a long holiday and the beauty of this place and the generosity of heart of its people continue to take my breath away.
Come with open mind and heart and see for yourselves; hire a car or bike, experience all the beauty the island has to offer, meet the local people. Flights from the UK are cheap and, if you come outside the peak months of July & August, accommodation is reasonable and the beaches pretty quiet. If you love the outdoors, unspoilt & natural beauty, exploring and new experiences then you should definitely see Sardinia at least once in your life.
Alex has been practising yoga & meditation for over 15 years and started teaching 5 years ago. She has recently launched Stress Management for a Modern World, an online mindfulness based stress management course in English.
You can read more and see all her social media links at here.
Alex & Billy lived on the Isle of Wight, UK, and moved in 2010 to live in Ogliastra, Sardinia for a simpler and quieter life. They are Founding Members of the non-profit Association “Yoga in Sardinia”, which provides Yoga classes & Holistic therapies to local Sardinian communities.
New Yoga and Reiki Retreats with Alex and Billy for more information please click here