My name is Chuck Ofria. My wife, Shirley (AKA Oki), and I are American Ex-Pats from Santa Barbara, California living in a rural area of Tuscany, near the ancient city of Cortona, Italy. We first came to Italy in 1988 for a month-long journey by train from northern Italy to Sicily, where all four of my grandparents were born. The seed planted on that first trip grew over the next several years and brought me back in the spring of 2000 to explore the possibility of life in Italy.
Never one to shy away from change or a big project, I was overwhelmed with this possibility. Transitioning from a programmer to an innkeeper and farmer was equal parts scary and appealing. This obsession quickly evolved into us purchasing a property in 2001. From 2001, I split my time between Santa Barbara and Cortona until 2005 when Oki early retired from the phone company as a technician and we moved to Cortona full time. I now have dual citizenship with the U.S. and Italy.
The first lesson I learned from trying to get anything accomplished in Italy is that Italians don't live longer because of the Mediterranean diet, as is often stated - they need the time. The bureaucracy is so dense that even the simplest project can take much longer to complete than you could ever imagine. Other than the Language (I seem to be language impaired), that fact was the greatest barrier to entry. The rest of the cultural differences - especially the food, wine, and general scale of life - I fully embrace. Any regrets about the move? Yes, I wish I did it 20 years sooner.
The property we purchased in 2001 now consists s of 25 terraced hectares (about 62 acres) of woodland, olive groves, and vineyards. We operate an Agriturismo (vacation rental) named "Il Rifugio" (The Refuge). We also produce Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Pinot Noir wine, and Oki teaches traditional Tuscan cooking classes. In the near future, we hope to build a cellar and tasting room for our winery named "Longaia".