Posted by: debrakolkka | October 28, 2011

The best of Italy


Maria (right) and Agata are sisters. They have lived all their lives in S’Agata, a small village in the hills above Sorrento. I was married to Angelo, the brother of Maria’s husband Cataldo. When I lived in S’Agata almost 40 years ago these 2 women were wonderful to me and are probably the main reason I love Italy so much. They are both under 5 feet tall and to me look just as lovely as they did when I met them.

Maria met Cataldo when he was about 15 and was immediately smitten. His mother Rossella was not keen on the match because Maria was 20 and considered too old for him. They finally married when Maria was about 29 and they were still happily married when I met them.

Cataldo was a fisherman. S’Agata is perched high above the sea and every day he and some of his brothers would walk to the beach to work. This meant a 20 minute walk to the 600 steps that would take them to their boat. After the day fishing he would do several trips back up those steps carrying fish in a basket balanced on his head. Maria would be waiting for him with a tub of warm water and wash his feet. She did this because she loved him. There was no bathroom in the house and this must have felt like heaven after his day at work.


This is the view from Maria’s house. Cataldo walked from here to the sea below to fish each day.
You would think that all this exercise and a diet of fish and food grown in their own garden would have ensured a long life, but it did not. Cataldo died at 67 – not fair really.

When I lived there the family had a cow that lived in a stable beside the kitchen. Every morning Maria would bring me a huge cup filled with espresso topped up with milk still warm from the cow. She salted her own anchovies and I would eat them on a fresh bread roll and the oil would run down my arms. She also cooked up big pots of little birds. They were delicious and I would try not to think about the tiny bones I removed from my mouth.


Maria’s house has grown since I was first there. There is now an added floor, the cow has gone and it has 2 bathrooms.
Agata lives in the house her husband Vito built further down the hill.


I spent a lot of time with Maria and Agata and their beautiful sister Fellina, who died when she was quite young. They speak Neapolitan and I struggle to understand them, but it doesn’t really matter. I speak to them in Italian and they respond in Neapolitan. If Maria’s daughter, Rosa is around she translates for me, but we seem to get by.
Maria says she speaks her dialect because it is beautiful and when the sisters are chattering together they sound like 2 happy parrots, so I have to agree with her.

Just before I left, Maria’s brother, Ferdinando, dropped in for a visit. He is 80 and remembers everything. He asked if I recalled picking grapes and carrying them in baskets on our heads and treading them with our feet. I do remember that day and wish the photos that were taken were still OK.

The grapevines are now gone and the vegetable garden has been ripped up and replaced with homes for the children as they grew up. It is now a bit of a family compound with most of the available land taken up with buildings.


There were just 2 small houses here when I lived there. The road leading in is a tiny goat track that is now busy with cars coming and going all day. There is barely room for one and if a car is coming down the hill, the car going up has to back up to let it pass. I found it quite entertaining to watch from the window.


A little further up the hill is the original family house, that has now been commandeered by Annamaria, the evil witch sister of Angelo, but that is another story.


My marriage to Angelo was short lived, but I don’t regret for one minute the time I spent with his wonderful family. This generation of Italians was special. They worked hard, often for little reward and seemed happy with their lot in life. Many of them came to Australia and made our country so much richer, not to mention giving us great coffee.
Thank you Maria, Agata, Fellina, Cataldo, Ferdinando, Rosa and Annamaria ( not the witch, the daughter of Maria)
While I was there on this visit I set off to find the steps to the beach. I got lost, ended up in a few back yards and lost the will to go on – next time Ferdinando says he will show me the way.


These are the steps leading to the path to the steps. When Cataldo walked here he walked through bush. Now there are houses, vineyards and olive trees.



I’ll be back next spring to try again. Ferdinando, we have a date.


Click here to see my earlier story about Angelo.


  1. How beautiful dear Debra, to have such a nice memories and to have a nice people… I am impressed so much. Whatever in this story that you expressed there is love I can see… I loved these people and this beautiful village. Thank you for sharing with us, Have a nice weekend, and Blessing and happiness for you all, with my love, nia

    • Maria and Agata and the rest of the family are wonderful. It is always a delight to visit.

  2. A warm, beautiful story. Great people, a beautiful village and fantastic photos. We could not ask for more. I am glad to hear that you are having such a terrific time, full of fond memories.

    • I have lots of good memories of the time I spent in S’Agata.

  3. Lovely posting. Trully enjoyed it!:)

  4. What a lovely story!

  5. Fascinating post, lovely to see a real, ordinary family and a glimpse of their homes and life.

    • Maria, Agata and the rest of the family are very special.

  6. You kept in touch with everyone and have been rewarded with a rare insight into a family, thanks for sharing

    • I will be visiting more often now. Only one of Angelo’s brothers is still alive and Maria and Agata are getting on a bit.

  7. I enjoyed reading this warm and special post on your family and their village in S’Agata. What beautiful people they are.

    • They are the best.

  8. What a moving insightful and loving post Deb. I truely enjoyed it too. I am very much looking forward to the evil witch story.

    • I’ll tell you when I get home, she is still alive.

  9. i wish to be blessed like you. keep on giving us hope

  10. I agree with Nia – there is a lot of love in your story, Debra. Maria, Agata and Ferdinando look delightful, warm, generous and friendly people. Through your pictures, I can see now why Italian families live in close proximity, which in turn reflects the tightly-knit Italian communities settled in Australia. I love your photos of S’Agata and can imagine myself walking along the steps with Caltado to the boats. What a lovely view from Maria’s home! Thank you for sharing your story – warms my heart!

    • Their view is spectacular and they do take the time to enjoy it.

  11. Italy is such a beautiful place and your article is so well written – makes me wish I could go back.

    ‘The Witch’ though – do tell!

    • I’ll have to send you an email with the witch story, she is still alive.

  12. What a beautiful story Debra. It is wonderful that you have kept in touch with the family and are able to visit them. I can imagine that they enjoy seeing you too.


    • When I go back it is as though I never left.

  13. Hi Debra, When is the book coming out?
    Such a lovely family all living in the same
    village and the views! Wow! Now we all
    need to hear about the witch – they might
    even make a film about it. Your best
    posting yet.

    • Thank you for you kind comments. I’ll tell you all about the witch when I get home.

  14. Oh Deb, how I enjoyed this post! I just love the old Italians, and what a fabulous family history (I reckon every Italian family probably has an evil witch sister), and what a scandal it must have been all those years ago to marry someone five years younger than you! Thank you for such a lovely read. 🙂

    • I asked Maria why they waited so long to marry, she said she had to wait until he was old enough. It must have been tough for her. There were 7 children in Angelo’s family, 6 boys and the stony witch. I didn’t meet Angelo’s mother and father, they died before i married him. His mother was about 52 when he was born – scary thought.

  15. A wonderful story, beautifully told. Maria and Agata look like two lovely characters 🙂

    • Both ladies are delightful. I feel very lucky to know them.

  16. Thank you, Debra, for such a loving and wonderful story. I enjoy your posts every day, but some days are even more special. This is certainly one of them. 🙂

    • I have fond memories of my old life in S’Agata, especially of Maria and Agata.

  17. A really interesting and trulygreat story, told so well.

    One of the previous comments suggested a book, but I think this would also be worthy of a TV documentary show.

    • I wonder who we could get to play the evil sister.

  18. Simply amazing Deb! Did you take any picture of the evil witch sister?
    Would love to have a cup of tea with you and hear more about Sorrento.

    • When I get back from Montalcino we can certainly do just that.

  19. What a small world! I was looking for info about Bagni di Lucca, where one of my cousins lives, when I found your site. Imagine my further surprise to find a posting about Sant’ Agata, where I stayed for a week in 2010! In the hamlet of Torca, actually, just beyond Sant’ Agata proper. I have another cousin living in Salerno that came up to our villa for Sunday dinner.

    • What a coincidence, Bagni di Lucca and S’Agata. Neither place is very big.

  20. Hi there – it appears we share very similar interests and both love Bagni di Lucca – we live in Crasciana (but come from NZ) have recently started this blog for Hotel Corona and Regina and just wanted you to take a look when you get a chance and maybe pass a comment – always up for a coffee too if you like!!

    • I would love to have a coffee. Do you come to Bar Italia at all?

  21. Thanks for sharing this- what a wonderful family, and a way of life that seems on the verge of becoming lost.

  22. Love this beautiful post Debra.

  23. Beautiful story Debra. And that first picture is just gorgeous-it should be made into a painting! 🙂

  24. Great photos and such a heart warming story. Thank you Debra!

    • It is a very interesting family.

  25. Beautiful Italy. Good memories you have. I bet these old times were so special and amazing, where things were different.

    • Life was very different when I was there all those years ago.

  26. […] 40 years ago and when I sit at the kitchen table with them it is as though I never left. Click here to see Maria and Agata and here to see Angelo.   Maria and her brother Fernando   There was […]

  27. […] see more of my past life in southern Italy, click here and […]

  28. What a lovely, lovely story. I am sure that they were thrilled to have you visit and spend time with them.

    • I love coming back here. Maria is 88 now and she likes me to sit beside her so she can hold my hand.

  29. Ciao Debra, such a wonderful experience to have in your life and a foundation for the new life you have created in Italy.

    • It seems so long ago, but also just like yesterday. Time goes too quickly.

  30. This is a lovely post Deb – I so enjoyed reading it.

    • They really are the reason I love Italy.

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