Debra in Bagni di Lucca: "I find it incredible that we are living among so much history"

Expat interviews
  • Debra in Bagni di Lucca
Published on 2016-02-04 at 00:00 by team
Debra comes from Brisbane. She moved to Bagni di Lucca twelve years ago with her husband. Former fashion designer, she now enjoys the Italian climate and working in her garden.

Where are you from, Debra, and what are you doing nowadays?

I am an Australian with a fashion design and retail background. I designed and made clothing for my Brisbane City shop for 20 years until we decided to buy our place in Bagni di Lucca in Northwest Tuscany.

Why did you choose to expatriate to Italy?

We wanted to have a base in Italy where we could spend several months a year exploring Italy and the rest of Europe. We bought our apartment twelve years ago and we now spend six months every year in Italy. We have since built a three story stone house in Vergemoli, a 40 minute drive into the mountains from Bagni di Lucca.

As an Aussie national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?

Because I spend more than three months at a time in Italy, I have to get a Permesso di Soggiorno. That involved getting a visa in Australia, then applying for the Permesso once I arrived in Italy. I have to renew this every year. The first few years were a bit difficult, but I now have this down to a fine art.

What has attracted you to Tuscany?

We chose Tuscany largely because a friend suggested Lucca. We fell in love with Lucca as soon as we saw it, but the property we looked at was too expensive, so we drove to Bagni di Lucca, a town we had heard of. The prices were much lower and the village seemed to have everything we were looking for.
It is beautiful in all seasons. Lucca is just 30 minutes away, there are snowfields 40 minutes away, it is close to Florence and Pisa and there is a fairly good public transport system. It is very centrally located for much of what we like to do. We can be in Rome or Venice in about 4 hours and we are close to France, Switzerland and Germany. Pisa airport is international with easy and quick access to Spain and Britain.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there?

We found our apartment fairly easily and the transaction was not complicated. A professional couple owned it and wanted to sell. They had all the necessary paper work and things went through without a hitch.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

We didn't suffer too much of a culture shock. I lived in Italy when I was much younger and we studied Italian for two years before we bought the property


How do you find the Italian lifestyle?

I love being able to wander across the bridge every morning to have a coffee and sfoglia and chat to the locals. We enjoy day trips to the many villages in the area, or a day in Lucca or Florence. We have made friends easily with Italians in the village and they keep an eye on things when we are not there. There are also lots of English-speaking expats in the area, from all over the world. There are a few other Australians, Dutch, South Africans, British, Irish and Americans. This all helps to make village life very interesting. We are never bored.

Any particular experience in Italy you would like to share with us?

Getting a driving license was my most traumatic experience. I was able to do the written test in English. This changed two months after I did my test and now it must be taken in Italian. I don't know how much worse that would be, the translation book for the questions was full of mistakes, making studying a nightmare. Fortunately, I passed first time and have just renewed it for another 5 years.

Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?

I am pleased that I don't have to find work in Italy. There isn't enough work for the Italians living in our villages, let alone foreigners.

What does your every day life look like in Tuscany?

Working in my garden at Casa Debbio, our Vergemoli house, keeps me busy. It was a working farm, but it hadn't been in use for more than 60 years when we bought it and the terraces were covered in brambles. We have had them cleared and we are creating a garden filled with fruit and nut trees, olive trees, roses, lavender, wisteria, peonies, raspberries and a vegetable garden. Our property has its own spring which provides water all year round.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Tuscany? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

We find the cost of living generally cheaper than in Australia. The fluctuating value of the Australian dollar makes a difference, but every day life is much less expensive in the village, particularly eating out. We have some really good restaurants in the area and they are quite inexpensive.

Your favorite local dishes?

I love the local food, but I do get a little bored after a while.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

In Brisbane we can enjoy food from many different cultures, and I miss this when I am away. But in Italy, nobody wants to eat anything other than Italian food. I do like this idea, it would be a shame to change things too much.

What do you like the most about Tuscany?

Living in Tuscany is amazing. I find it incredible that we are living among so much history. Hannibal crossed the mountains with his troops and the last of his elephants not far from our village. The thermal baths a few hundred meters from our apartment have been attracting people for hundreds of years. Within a few hours drive, we can visit countless towns and cities that have been established since Roman times and earlier.
Our area is great for pecorino cheese and I love to find dozens of different types to choose from. We have a favorite restaurant in a nearby village where they make the most perfect pasta. It is served with simple sauces made from ingredients of the season. We find ourselves there many Sundays.
I also love the definite seasons. Brisbane is sub-tropical and always green. I find the changing seasons a never ending source of delight. Watching my own garden produce gorgeous flowers or fruit after being covered in winter snow amazes me.

What has motivated you to write your blog "Debra and Liz's Bagni di Lucca Blog"? How does it help?

I started the blog, which is now called Bagni di Lucca and Beyond, to help friends staying at our place to discover the area. It grew and developed a life of it own and now includes all my travels. I started Bella Bagni di Lucca a few years ago to talk just about the villages and share them with the world.
I find writing the blogs makes me more observant and gives me a purpose when I am traveling about. I never go anywhere without my camera. I have made friends all over the world through my blogs, a side benefit I did not expect.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Italy?

I would tell anyone wanting to try a new life in Italy to just do it. It is the best thing we have ever done and has opened up a whole new world to us.

What are your plans for the future?

I am looking forward to getting back into the garden in spring and to watch my 35 peony plants come into bloom and to see my wisteria climb over new pergolas. Every year in Italy is an adventure.

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