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People and Places

Couple Of The Month - Valerie & Vilmo

Valerie Gardner was born in Southampton (Hampshire) a large port on the South Coast of England. She worked mainly in administration for various companies. Her last job before she retired and moved to Italy was in a newly built Community Hospital, for the elderly, where, among lots of duties, she also covered for the Patient Welfare Officer helping people to know what to do after they had left hospital.

"The best and most interesting job I had was as Secretary/PA to the manager of Southampton Football Club, Lawrie McMenemy. We were in the Premiership League of Professional Football in England, with teams such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal etc." recalls Valerie.

Valerie met Vilmo on a Blind date, 15 years ago. He had been "single" for 2 years and Valerie had been a widow for 5 years. Valerie's husband had died when she was 55, and after 32 years of a very happy marriage, there followed a sad and difficult time and although she worked full time, she travelled a great deal and was grateful for the support and loyalty of her friends.

Valerie remembers very clearly the lead up to meeting Vilmo..."How crazy to be going on a blind date at 57 years of age. I was more than nervous, but from the very start, we felt as though we had known each other "for ever".

After living together in England for nearly 4 years, the couple made a visit to see Vilmo's family in Pigna, Molini, San Remo in Liguria and to the Latina Province in Southern Italy. Valerie had been to Italy with her late husband several times before, but never to Liguria.  "I fell in love with everything in Liguria, including Vilmo's wonderful family." said Valerie. The couple were approaching retirement age, and it was Valerie who suggested moving to Italy. Their first thoughts were to possibly open a small B&B and it was from that moment that the seed had been planted. It had been a personal desire for Valerie for quite some time to move away and do something totally different in a different country. This idea was also welcomed by Vilmo.

Vilmo Alberti was born in a little village called Corte, situated in the mountains above Molini de Triora and below Triora, in Liguria. He lived there for about 2 years and then his family moved a "little way down the mountain" to Molini. Vilmo was in the Carabinieri for 3 years - 6 months in Rome, 18 months in Sardinia and 6 months in Milan. He then stayed on in Milan for about 3 years and after he left the Carabinieri, he left Italy to work in Germany where he stayed for 12 years.

Following a 4 week holiday in England, Vilmo found himself remaining for 22 years! Like a great many Italians at the time, he worked as a waiter in various restaurants. This is where he learned English. Vilmo then worked for the Ministry of Defence for 4 years - part of which was making and checking life jackets. A passion for Italian produce, gave Vilmo the idea to start his own small deli business, supplying a few Italian restaurants and small shops.  

"I had a market stall for several years with many regular customers each week. Mainly in the summer months, I did Food Festivals around Hampshire, Sussex and Dorset." says Vilmo.

Vilmo did miss Italy a great deal, but always loved England where he made his life for all those years. He didn't really think he would return to LIVE in Italy, but Valerie had no objections when he decided to change his mind! Together they made the decision to live in the area close to Vilmo's family. A very challenging search for a suitable property commenced. Having looked at a few very old rusticos, which needed total renovation, including in some cases, building an access road and trying to locate water etc., Vilmo's late sister, Carla who had a little restaurant in Pigna, told them about the house that is now their home... 'Casa Valeria'.

"When we bought it, it was just the shell of the house with a new roof, with about 3000 sq metres of totally overgrown terraces and olive trees etc. We really had no problems at all with the purchase and building of the house - all was very clear and smooth running!" they said.

For the past 10 years Valerie and Vilmo have been together every day and every night. "It would seem impossible to believe for a lot of people - we have no problem with this at all. Sounds too good to be true, but it is!" 

Vilmo is passionate about wild mushrooms and spends a lot of time in the season, collecting the mushrooms and preserving them. He also likes to collect wild herbs and dry them, and make jams and chutneys etc. They both love to be in the garden and spend much of their time working there. Vilmo often goes with friends walking in the mountains, which is his another of his passions.

At their B&B Casa Valeria, the couple are proud to have received guests from 33 different countries in the 8 years they have been open. Not so many English, except for their friends, they point out. Valerie and Vilmo have embraced all the different nationalities they have met and enjoy the shared moments and interesting and varied conversations. 

"We are very relaxed people and often when guests come back from a day/evening out, and we are sitting in the garden, they will often come to sit with us - sometimes bedtime is very late/very early in the morning, but we love this. Quite a few funny stories (some couldn't tell here!!) I always ask guests when they arrive, - "what time would you like breakfast" , and they can choose whatever time they like. One young couple had not come for their breakfast by 11.30 am although they had said they wanted their breakfast at 8.30 am. They then phoned me on the mobile to ask where was the breakfast?! They had waited for 2 hours as they thought I would take a tray upstairs to their room!! Vilmo and I had a vision of 2 skeletons coming down the staircase!"

Valerie found it incredibly easy to adapt to her new life in Italy. The people have been so very friendly and  kind. Long before she moved to Italy, she always enjoyed listening to the Italian language and believes it to be one of the most attractive in the world. Although Valerie is not fluent in Italian, the lessons she took for one year has really helped her to embrace and understand the culture better... until the locals break out into dialect!

Valerie shares the story of when she was 18, and the holiday she took with a girl friend to Jersey in the Channel Islands. At that time there were a lot of Italians working in the Channel Islands. She met an Italian chef, and they wrote only very occasionally (as he didn't speak English) over the following year. She then decided to return to Jersey to work, (she was 20 then) and took a seasonable job as a waitress chambermaid. Valerie rekindled the friendship with her Italian chef and enjoyed a few dates. She then married her late husband who was English, also working in Jersey. After thirty years together he unfortunately died. Five years later she met Vilmo and they came to Pigna to live. About 8 years ago, a friend from England came to visit for a holiday and Valerie showed her around the village. They happened to walk by the cemetry and she wanted to go in - Valerie was not so keen! They wandered around looking at the flowers. It was at that moment when Valerie just happened to glance down at the large family tomb by the gate of the cemetry, and down in the corner, hidden by flowers Valerie saw the photo of the chef she had dated all those years ago. He died in 1985 at 49 years of age. It was quite a shock. Valerie made some enquiries to Vilmo's sister and husband and they had known him quite well, as did other people she knew in the village. It so happened that he was born just up the road from where they now live. "I will never get over this amazing coincidence - it seems that somehow being here was meant to be! He could have been from millions of places in Italy, as could Vilmo."

Valerie and Vilmo both love to work in the garden and enjoy doing the various projects around the house. Vilmo, especially loves to cook in ther outside oven and they do quite a lot of entertaining with friends of different nationalities. In fact, they built an outside oven, even before the house was started! "I would advise anyone wanting to move to Italy - don't have any (or much) hesitation - come and live in this beautiful part of the world and embrace all the new things." Valerie concludes.

Note from the Editor... Casa Valeria is a little gem situated in the hills above Pigna. You will always get a friendly welcome and if you are lucky, you may even get an invite to one of Vilmo's incredible pizza evenings!

We asked Valerie and Vilmo to answer 6 questions that they had to agree on and this is how they replied...

1) What makes you both smile?
The antics of all animals and their families, especially young animals - this includes the human animals too!

2) What or who inspires you? (You can have different people)
The Rescue Services, whatever kind they are, in whatever country - they all do the most amazing job under, sometimes, the most terrible conditions. Also the Voluntary Medics who work in the war torn areas of the world - simply unbelievable.

3) Do you both believe in gut instincts?
We don't really believe in gut instincts - we like to talk over certain situations and then decide.

4) Your three essential things if you were both stuck on a desert island would be what? (That's 3 things you have to agree on)
Depending on the kind of desert island - we feel we would need a bag of essential, tools to make a shelter/tarpaulins to cover the shelter and cover us/a water purifier. Maybe we would forego a mobile phone etc in case we decided to stay on the island!!

5) If you are planning a day/night out, what do you enjoy doing the most together?
A Day out would be - stick a pin in a map and choose a small town/village we have not been to. Somewhere in the mountains (for Vilmo) where we can see the sea (for me). Wander around the village, visiting the museum (if there is one) the churches and maybe a little art gallery. Then a picnic in the mountains. Vilmo would go searching for wild mushrooms and I would read my book. In the evening we would cook the murshrooms with herbs and sit in our lovely garden under an olive tree with a glass or two of wine, and look at our wonderful view. A perfect day for us.

6) A dish that you both really love.
We like all Italian food, especially frittura di pesce/ risotto ai funghi/ orange & fennel salad. English cottage pie with fresh green vegetables. English raspberry trifle.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017    Section: People and Places
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