Ralph Boston was working long hours as a managing director for Amazon.com…
His wife Ninke was looking after their kids.
And all the while the couple was dreaming about moving to Italy.
They imagined setting up a farm in rural Abruzzo… trading their big-deal, high-pressure lives for back-to-basics Italian country living.
“Finally we made a trip to Abruzzo to look at properties,” Ralph explains, “telling ourselves that maybe one day in the future we might take the leap on the lifestyle that we had been falling in love with in our imaginations for so long.”
However, quicker than they expected, the couple found a piece of land ideal for the self-sufficient life they intended. Suddenly, their dream was very possible.
And they decided to go for it.
Three years ago, Ralph, Ninke, and their four children walked away from their busy city lives and relocated to Abruzzo.
The family chose to settle near the small village of Carapelle Calvisio, in a mountain area rich in history.
In the Middle Ages, important trading routes ran nearby, and the villages here prospered. This corner of Abruzzo is studded with reminders of this glorious past—ancient castles, beautiful churches, and crumbling convents.
Today, the area is slowly being discovered by foreigners in search of traditional Italian living at a bargain price. You can buy a small stone house here for the cost of a second-hand car.
Ralph and Ninke paid less than 100,000 euros for 4 hectares of land with three structures in need of complete renovation and set up Fattoria della Magica, a sustainable farm specializing in rare Italian heritage breeds.
“It was good value for what we got,” Ralph explains. “I don’t think we could’ve afforded a comparable property anywhere else.
“It is like having our own private valley; indeed, we are the only ones living here. The nearest village is about 8 kilometers away. There is no traffic, no noise, no light pollution.
“At the same time, we are not far from bigger towns and cities… only 45 minutes to one hour from Pescara and L’Aquila, for example,” says Ralph.
Evolving their property to where it is today has taken a lot of work. The couple had to clear their land, put up fencing, and then populate their farm with pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens.
“We had kept chickens, rabbits, and a vegetable garden in the past,” Ralph says, “but this project in Abruzzo was a much more serious undertaking.
“The first time I took one of our lambs to slaughter for the family we didn’t know what to do with it afterwards,” Ralph continues.
“When I brought it home, Ninke looked at me and said, ‘OK, you make it into chops now.’
“I looked back at her and asked ‘How?!’
“We went on YouTube to see how it is done.”
Friendly locals are always happy to answer the couple’s questions about farming.
“We talk to old farmers and learn an incredible amount from them,” Ninke says. “They are excited to pass on all they know. Their children are not working the family land, and the older generation doesn’t want their traditions to be lost.”
Learning the new language has been another challenge.
“There isn’t much English spoken in this rural part of Abruzzo,” Ralph says, “but the locals are supportive and patient when we try to speak Italian.
“We are learning through necessity and perseverance, with the help of apps such as Duolingo. Our older son, Airik, speaks good Italian already, as he goes to a local school. He has become our teacher and helps to correct our grammar.”
Rural living in Abruzzo couldn’t be more different from the city life Ralph and Ninke left behind.
“We chose a lifestyle here in Italy,” Ralph explains, “that, in so many ways, is not even comparable to our previous life.
“We went from living on a good salary to being start-up farmers. For the first time, we have to be careful and watch our spending.
“However, even on our tight budget, we can afford to eat out a few times a month. One of our favorite places offers all-you-can-eat pizza with artisan beers for 15 euros a head.”
The region’s low cost of living means that it doesn’t take much to live here comfortably.
The Boston family spends 100 euros per week on groceries. Most of their vegetables are home-grown, and their farm animals provide meat. With the help of a local butcher the couple makes their own cured hams and sausages.
“Sometimes, on a cool evening,” Ninke says, “the whole family gathers by a campfire to make a rustic rabbit stew or some other delicious one-pot wonder while we watch the stars popping up in the night sky.
“In summer, I prepare jams, pickles, and sauces that we enjoy through the winter.”
The couple says it is impossible not to love Abruzzo.
“The locals are friendly, the food is excellent, and the geography is amazing,” Ninke continues. “Rolling hills, the coast, and rocky mountains are all within a short car drive.”
Their advice to anyone dreaming of a move to rural Italy?
“Don’t come with holiday eyes,” says Ralph. “And make the effort to speak to as many locals as you can. Ask questions.
“We had many surprises at the beginning because we didn’t ask enough questions beforehand. We could have done with more preparation, to learn how things work here earlier on.”
What do Ralph and Ninke think of their decision three years on?
“We haven’t regretted our choice for a minute,” Ralph says.
“We work hard during the day, but, as the sun begins rolling down, we relax. We sip local wine… we breathe in the clean mountain air… we listen to the gentle jingle of the goats’ bells as they graze nearby…
“We have freedom and no boss. We make our own way in life.
“For us, that is the real value of moving to Abruzzo and embracing this lifestyle.
“We’ve been through tough times, we’ve had worries, but we’d never go back.
“You might say our lives are harder in some ways now… but they’re also definitely much richer.”