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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

Reflecting on One Year as Sicilian Homeowners

One year ago, on December 22, 2021, we officially became homeowners in Sicily...all from our apartment in Brooklyn, NY. So, as we spend our first winter in Sicily, it seems fitting to reflect on how we got here and what's ahead.

Yes, buying a house in another country is a big deal. But a year ago, we never could have imagined how much our lives would change because of it.

What We Imagined Back in December 2021

When we closed on our house a year ago, I had never been to Sicily. Though, thanks to Marco's novel, How Fires End, I had a glimmer of what it might be like here in Melilli.

The cover of Marco's debut novel, How Fires End.

I imagined walking ancient winding streets and catching the odd glimmer of the Mediterranean in the distance. I pictured the countryside crisscrossed by dry stone walls, wild edible greens and prickly pears sprouting in every crevice. I envisioned looking out over craggy stone valleys where cyclops and other fables would be perfectly at home.

The day we closed on our house, we were terrified, yet elated at the same time. So we kept our ambitions modest. We planned to spend two to three months per year in Sicily, and the rest in New York. Easy and simple. We wouldn't uproot our lives, we'd just be adding a little extra adventure.

We imagined Sicily as the place we'd go to escape two years of pandemic grief. We'd take a break from the day-to-day grind and focus on writing.

What We Discovered In Sicily

We arrived in Sicily at the end of May 2022. Earlier that same month, I'd left the nonprofit job I'd been at for over eight years. I felt free and adrift all at once. And, like dandelion seeds scattered in a breeze, we landed in Melilli unexpectedly looking for a place to put down roots.

For the first few weeks here, my most common refrain was: "It's just like in the book!" The village, the landscape, it was all as Marco had described.

A sunset view of a narrow stone street in Melilli, Sicily
A street in Melilli

But our day-to-day was different than we'd imagined. It was so much better.

Our weeks took on a rhythm. Monday mornings we went to the weekly outdoor market and loaded up on as many kilos of fruit and vegetables as we could carry. Mid-week we'd go to our favorite gluten free store in the village, and discover incredible new treats.

Some evenings we'd head down to the promenade and catch Marco's ziu Angelo out walking with his friends. Most Saturdays we took the bus to Siracusa to see my osteopath and wander the ancient streets of Ortigia.

We slowed down. We took more time to look around us. We called each other up to the rooftop terrace to marvel at the view. We caught coveted glimpses of the old man who tends the terraced gardens behind our house.

Marco sits with two older Sicilian men on via Iblea in Melilli
A classic evening street scene.

In the end, it was as much the pace as the location that changed us. We stopped doing-doing-doing, and paused to notice and ponder. We distilled the best parts of our daily lives and let them grow wild and uninhibited. Marco wrote like wildfire on his next book. And, after twenty years working in nonprofits, I hatched a plan to start my own business.

Because we knew, immediately, that two or three months a year in Sicily would never be enough.

We'd arrived hoping to escape the day-to-day grind, and instead decided to transform our day-to-day into something we wouldn't need to escape.

Much like buying a house in Sicily, it's the sort of thing I used to read about people doing and fantasized about someday doing the same. But this time, we were the ones going for it.

What We Imagine One Year Later

So, here we are, one year later, in our house in Sicily. On Christmas Eve, we spent the afternoon with Marco's ziu Angelo. The morning after Christmas, we checked out the tiny "Christmas on four legs" puppy parade, and that evening we hung out with Ziu Angelo and his friends and marveled at the trenino—the little train—that ferried families around the village and up to the presepe vivente—the living nativity.

The red and yellow "little train" that ferries families from Saint Sebastian Basilica around the village up to the living nativity.
Il trenino!

I also picked up a notebook at the local stationary store to try "bullet journaling"—a way to unplug just a little more while still being productive and focused. Tuesday after Christmas we had an incredible walk in Siracusa that I'll share soon. And in every moment in between these adventures, we've spent our time writing.

I'll admit, though, it took us nearly a month to really get the hang of living in Sicily during the colder season. And, yes, that includes the two weeks it took to learn how to operate the mini-split heat pumps. But now that we have our routines down, we don't want to give them up.

So what do we see looking ahead, now that we've been Sicilian homeowners for a year?

For starters, we're splitting our time between Sicily and the U.S. fifty-fifty. I'm in the process of applying for citizenship, so until that goes through we'll spend 90 days in Italy and 90 days outside of Italy. Wash, rinse, and repeat. We're in Sicily through January, then we'll be back at the start of May 2023 so we can be here for the week-long Saint Sebastian Feast. Once I get my citizenship (hopefully within 2-3 years), we'll reassess our schedule.

Five white and black cats in Siracusa watching over the square
Cat crews of Siracusa

For the next couple of years, though, we're in a marvelous sort of limbo. We tell people that we're digital semi-nomads, splitting our time between Sicily, NYC, and visiting family in Connecticut, Colorado, and Washington State.

Yes, this sort of unsettledness can be exhausting and disorienting. But it's also a bit of magic. We are pushing ourselves to always be thinking and evaluating, assessing what is working for us and what isn't. We're creating new routines, exploring new avenues of work. Some days it's overwhelming. Some days it's marvelous.

As Marco often says, we're creating new mental pathways.

Looking Back with Gratitude

A year ago, we never could have imagined this would be our life. Looking back, I sometimes wonder what on earth we were thinking buying a house in Sicily without at least visiting in person. In one of our first posts, Why Buy a House In Sicily, I detailed the many reasons why our plan was foolish—and the many reasons it was brilliant. But let's be honest, the whole endeavor was still a huge risk.

Now that we're here, though, I don't even want to imagine our lives without our Sicilian house. Because this house became a launch pad. It was a wild, impossible, completely ridiculous dream and we went for it.

How often do you get the opportunity to go after something big enough to change your life? And how often do you take that chance, despite the risks?

And we did it. And we keep doing it.

So I want to thank the foolish risk-takers who decided to buy a house in Sicily. Because we wouldn't be here, writing this, without them.

Saint Sebastian Church, lit up at night with Christmas decorations and a giant lit sign saying Auguri, or best wishes and good omens.

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