It would take a lifetime to find the right words to describe what the past weeks and months have meant to me, how they’ve changed and shaped me as a person. How I’ve found a home in Italy, and how I’m really getting to know myself. The many conversations I keep having each day. The smile on my face that I wake up with in the morning and go to bed with at night. For the first time my mind isn’t racing. I am here. Not preoccupied with the uncertain future but embracing the certainty of a present moment. Breathing in and breathing out. Still here. And a coffee for breakfast turns into two. A conversation moves from one topic to the next. Swiftly, without effort. Time these days is the rising sun, the midday heat as it moves towards its peak in the sky and slowly descends towards the horizon.
Initially, Bussana Vecchia was just a stop along the way. Coming from France, I had just crossed the Italian border. A quick dive off the cliffs close to Sanremo and I was back in my car, following the SS1 – a scenic coastal road that goes all the way down to Rome. I’d read about La Barca on workaway before I left. But when my subscription ran out and I still hadn’t messaged them, I forgot about it again. The promises of the open road had drawn me in: not knowing where I’d park and close my eyes at night, not knowing whom I’d meet or how I’d spent my days.
The sun was about to set when I walked from my car towards the medieval town on top of the hill. At the time I didn’t know much about the town’s history – the earthquake that had destroyed most of the buildings in the 1880s and turned Bussana Vecchia into a ghost town that was left abandoned until the 1960s when a group of international artists arrived and occupied the ruins.
Framed by old stone walls on both sides, an uneven cobble stone path led further up the hill. I reached a piazetta and stepped onto dirt. It hadn’t rained for a while. The ground was dry and a little dusty. As I walked through the gate of La Barca I wondered briefly if it was strange that I arrived on my own and without any notice. If it was weird I’d just walk back to my car, I told myself and climbed the few steps to the top terrace.
Several groups of people were chatting around the place. I smiled at the stuffed animals in the lemon tree which I had seen in the photos on workaway and walked up to one of the tables.
I introduced myself. Someone pulled up a chair.
“Come join us, have a seat.”
Albertus got up. “Would you like a glass of wine?”
That was the beginning.
Hours passed before I walked back to my car. My feet bare, the road still felt warm against my soles. The sky was clear and covered with stars.
The morning after, I went down to the beach. Driving down the curvy road to Bussana Nova, the new town people had been moved to after the earthquake. Walking over a handful of rocks and diving into the refreshing water that lay evenly in front of me. The beach was still quiet, a lifeguard set up sun loungers and umbrellas. I left before it got busy.
I never planned to stay at La Barca, but whenever the thought of leaving occurred a strange force kept pulling me back. “How long are you staying?” people would ask. “I don’t know,” I’d respond and smile. It was the truth. A day turned into two and eventually into a week. I helped around the place and made pizza at night, learning how to work the stone oven from Frankie, an Italian chef who will make you food first and tell you his story later.
La Barca works much the same. A glass of wine first – then we talk. “This isn’t a bar or a restaurant but a house,” I welcomed new people just a few days later. “Feel free to grab some food and a glass of wine, have a look around the place. Just feel at home. This is a place for everyone.” It was the same welcoming message I was given when I arrived, and it’s constantly being passed on to the next person. When you arrive at La Barca you become part of it. “Here, you have two friends today and four the day after, then eight, then sixteen,” Ronald explained to me when I arrived.
Originally founded by Ronald and Davide, La Barca is about the people. The idea is simple: if you see a job it’s yours. While there are daily duties like there are in every household there’s always enough time for individual self-exploration. You want to make music? Play. You want to build a new chicken house? Build it. You want to write, paint, work with rocks, or build a lamp? You do just that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how lost I’ve felt before I left, and how I had no idea of what I’d find without looking for anything in particular. How I’d worry without knowing what it was that I worried about; how my mind kept spinning in circles, asking big questions but never coming up with answers. When I think about what I want now, the answer seems simple.
In Bussana Vecchia, I write and paint, collect stories and make crazy memories. I’m meeting different people every day, exchanging visions of the world and knowledge that we’ve gained over time. Everyone has a story to tell, a dream to share, a lesson to teach. I talk to animals (a lot). I work in the garden, I go to the beach. Each day is different yet also the same: I learn and grow as I discover new sides of myself and the world around me, building the life I’ve always wanted.
I’ve made a similar experience in Tuscany, a little over a year ago. I felt calm, at ease, my heart was full. Over a year… It took my mind a while to understand what my heart knew all along: for now, my home is Italy.