Could This Be The Elixir of Life?

January 16, 2014 / Local Interest
Sant'Ambrogio, Sicily

If you are thinking of living to a ripe old age and want to know how to go about it, you may be interested to know that  in Sant’Ambrogio, a little hamlet just 5kms from Cefalù on the northern coast of Sicily, there is a small community of senior citizens who don’t mind sharing their secret of a long and healthy life.

Left to right - Antonio 82, Giovanni 97, Giovanni 84

From left to right:  Antonio 82, Giovanni Senior 97, Giovanni Junior 84.

They don’t own cars, computers, iPads or mobile phones, and some of them don’t even have any teeth.  But all of them have a vegetable patch out of town, an olive grove, orange and lemon trees, a small vinyard and perhaps a goat or two.

village scene

Most days, come rain or shine, they walk from the village up to their plots of land to plant or harvest whatever vegetable is in season which means that egg plant and peppers are only eaten during summer months and never in winter. Tomatoes are  bottled in summer and made into sauce during the winter months. They never have to buy wine or olive oil as they always have their own supply.

Yes, it’s a simple life and probably back breaking too but they live quite happily without ever having tasted a Big Mac. Giovanni Junior (84 years old) was found up the top of an olive tree recently, grasping for those out of reach olives that no-one ever usually bothers to pick. He’s also earnestly looking for a new wife too.


As highly respected members of the community they are regularly consulted regarding all matters concerning the welfare of the village. Undoubtedly this alone is enough to keep the mind and body alive, just knowing that they are valued and needed.

A Sicilian proverb goes “Pani e vinu rinforza lu schinu” (bread and wine strenghten the backbone). These guys have certainly eaten their fare share of bread, healthy food and drunk quite a lot of good wine too.

belvedere di s.ambrogio (cozzo mauro) with old men
Kids hanging out
0206 road down to apartment.jpg


by Marian Watson-Virga

Marian has lived in Sicily for longer than she can remember. British by birth, Sicilian by marriage she loves all things Sicilian, even pani ca’ meusa!   For the past few years she has been collaborating with Carmelina Ricciardello of, developing responsible tourism and discovering Sicily on walking and car tours. Marian’s blog page is here.

34 Responses to “Could This Be The Elixir of Life?”

  1. Colleen Simpson

    Ah Marian, what a great reminder of how much life is lived to the fullest in rural Italy! In our village in Umbria the elders remain engaged, active, always walking and valued for their wisdom. This is life’s true elixir…..and also the wine and oil! To eat things only in the season when they are harvested is a true gift of rural life. Grazie mille for this reminder of the values of small towns!

    • Margie Morris

      I really loved this article,and I would love to be living that kind of life. These people are liviing a truly happy and loving life. God Bless Them!!

  2. True Italian living captured perfectly. And yes, I think you are right, without the stressors of modern day and unhealthy eating……….. la vita bella!

  3. Lucile Stachowiak

    I wondered if any of the “seniors” had wives. I stopped in Cefalu on Tour when I was in Sicily, wonder little town, wish you could spend more time in these wonderful places, but time is limited. I did wander into one of the little shops and bought my father a hat. An elderly couple ran the store, they spoke very little english but I did manage to ask the price in Italian. My father who is Italian will be 100 years old this year and still going strong. Have a wonderful day.
    Lucile Stachowiak

  4. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    …such a wonderful note, leading us into a life of which we can only dream . thank you

  5. Grazie Mille for your article!!! Both of my parents were immigrants from Sicily (to NYC about 100 years ago). A few years ago, I spent one month traveling around Sicily (by myself and using the buses) in search of my roots. La Bella Sicilia calls me once again. ci vediamo!

  6. Ed Wessel

    Wow! Wish I could join these guys for a daily chat and maybe a game of bocce. I’m retired on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, make wine from California grapes bought in New Bedford from Portuguese merchants, and it takes me 3 days to make my weekly sourdough loaf. Per la salute.

  7. Charles Venturi

    I work with older adults and this note is pure inspiration . I am reminded that leading a rewarding life is about the positive choices that we make.

  8. Bob Blesse

    Wonderful, Marian! Thanks for this glimpse into these Italian lives! I think simplicity, with a lot of good vegetables, olive, oil and wine must be the key to their long lives. Grazie mille!

  9. Teresa Martorana Jayanty

    I love the little pleasures of life and the Sicilian’s have it all! Bella Sicilia continua chiarmarmi!

  10. Just wondering about today’s article “Could this be the Elixir of Life”? by Marian. The senior and junior Giovanni’s, are they father and son? Brothers? The age difference is 13 years apart!

    • No, no Lori, Giovanni senior and junior are not father and son! Probably related somewhere down the line though as most people in the village are.

  11. Allan Mahnke

    Absolutely lovely! But there is apparently another facet of life there unmentioned here. If my very fallible math serves me, Giovanni Junior was born when Giovanni Senior was 13. They not only live long, but start early.

  12. This the live style my dad lived, no wonder he lived to be 99. Wonderful article!!!

  13. Anita Fiorini

    Thank you for this wonderful article. When I was younger most of the
    Italians had this kind of life in upstate New York. How I wish it could
    be like that again. Being 82 I guess I had an easy going life.

  14. Jerry Baiamonte

    This is exactly the way my Palermo-born grandfather lived and he reached a wonderful old age of 101.5 years. He inspired me to buy a home in the Cefalù countryside, where it takes less than 24 hours after each arrival to easily slip into the Sicilian lifestyle of fresh and healthy food, excellent wine, and minimal stress. Thank you Marian for an outstanding glimpse into this world.

    • Gina Vaccaro Fulkerson

      I would like to know if Jerry Baiamonte is related to me. My grandmother was Catherina Baiamonte. I am trying to find out more about my ancestors from Italy (Baiamontes and Vaccaros and Clementis.

  15. Hi Marian,
    My sister sent me this great article. My mom is from Sant’ Ambrogio and we’ve visited tons of times. In fact, I was so obsessed about my parent’s decision to move to the US that in 1998 I went to Sant’ Ambrogio to explore my roots. My documentary, Barking Bread, is what resulted. I hope you will all enjoy!

    • Rose, the video is so touching! Lots of familiar faces there and so interesting to hear about your family origins. Sant’Ambrogio is a jewel. Don’t worry about the bread. We’re not all
      born cooks! As you say not everything in life do you just know. You obviously have passions for other things……not just food!

      cooks! As you say, it’s not true that some things in life you just know. You obviously have passions for other things……not just food!

  16. Dolores Avioli

    I would like some Italian friends to receive “Notebook”. How can they subscribe? Thanks.

  17. My amazing friend Luigi is also pushing up there in years but has very poor vision, almost blind in fact and yet still has en eye [so to speak] for a beautiful woman, especially if they’re foreign. He lives in a small town and is currently making plans to start farming a little piece of land where he will produce vegetables, olives and grapes. Imagine that, and at his age.

    • That is correct. Sardinia holds the record for their old people. Again, it’s all to do with the diet and the area in which they live – Barbagia – clean air, no pollution, no chemical fertilizers and no insecticides to speak of.

  18. So great to see one of my favorite spots written about. I have at least 2 stories on my website about Sant’Ambrogio and the photo you have with the ladies selling lace is from an event I created with Carmelina Ricciardello (the town’s ambassador) for a tour I arranged – 130 members of the New York Choral Society. They closed the whole town of Sant’Ambrogio, created a path winding through it, and the residents cooked for everyone. The chorus sang impromptu in the square, right after Italy won the semi-finals. It was such a special, special, night. People are still talking about it. I have so many photos of these wonderful men and women, generous, warm and obviously doing something right! You can read my stories at I’ve planned an art tour for that area in May. We will go and draw the incredible landscape and architecture. What a special part of the world. I’m so glad you wrote about it. You touched a lot of people!

  19. Sandy Auburn

    What a welcome article to find this morning! I was in Sant’Ambrogio in September 2012 and loved it.. What a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of other places I visited. The people were so welcoming and friendly. I didn’t spend enough time, but it is on my list to return to.

  20. Concetta Maria Terracina Stemmann

    My grandpa came from San Ambrogio, my grandma from Pollina, and my father was born in Cefalu,Sicily. I am now wanting to live in San Ambrogio for several months a year, and perhaps own a small home there. I am now a Dual citizenship person, and have my Italian Passport too. Can you help me to locate someone who can help me. I do have many family members in the area. Thanks for your beautiful web site and give Carmellina R. my best. Grazie Mille, Connie

  21. As an authentic Sicilian Born I can confirm it is true! The real Picture of this unexplored,fascinating, unique piece of heaven…lovely people,tasting And healthy food…incredible nature…ABSOLUTE SICILIA


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