There is no one way to describe Marisa Raoul. A native of Sydney, Australia, Marisa has traveled to more than 30 countries and lived in a number of them. Because her father was an Italian native, she spent much of her childhood visiting the peninsula.
Marisa has a passion for Sardinia and has spent 40 years promoting it in a variety of ways. Recently, though, she decided it was time to return to her roots. This year, Marisa and her partner, David, recently bought a home in Tuscany—sight unseen.
To understand how and why she could do this, you have to meet Marisa.
Let’s Talk Marisa
Tell me about yourself. I know you were born in Sydney, but you have resided in many places. Where did you spend most of your youth? Where did you go to school? What was your major in college? Who is Marisa?
I was born in an inner city suburb of Sydney, Kings Cross, where my parents owned a gorgeous florist shop. Both flowers and the retail world have always played a large part in my life, which is not surprising considering the numerous childhood hours I spent in that vibrant and very sociable little store. Kings Cross in the 60s was abuzz with all sorts of people and was one of the few places where you could find authentic espresso coffee and European pastries.
It was a little cultural hub, and we loved it. When I was two, my parents built a large family home further from the city and closer to beaches and parks. I grew up there and had an incredibly free and happy childhood. I was a very active and creative child, always outside inventing new adventures and playing with neighbourhood friends. I danced, sang and performed constantly as a child and started writing poetry at the age of 8.
In high school, I majored in languages and loved them all! French, Italian, German and Indonesian. I went on to study Japanese during my time in the airlines and have never stopped learning new languages since.
Many of us in the US who are of Italian descent grew up experiencing many Italian traditions in our home. Sunday was the big day when the family gathered at Grandma’s house. Holidays included Italian dishes and customs. Did you experience Italian traditions growing up?
I am first generation Australian, born to an English mother and Italian father, who at the time of my birth, had not taken up Australian citizenship. I was therefore eligible for Italian citizenship from birth. Both my sister and I hold Italian passports and have always been very proud of our Italian heritage.. My English mother has always joked that she was probably born in the wrong country, as she always felt more Italian than English.
From the time I was a tiny girl, I recall being surrounded by boisterous, laughing aunties and uncles. Until the age of about three, I was cared for by my Nonna Giulia, my Zia Rosa, and Zia Mela whilst mum and dad were at the florist shop. My first words were in Italian, which made my mother cry because she couldn’t understand me. That soon passed, of course, and she loved the fact that I was semi-bilingual.
My aunties and uncles would make homemade wine, and my uncle’s cellar held barrels of his mixed “concoctions.” They weren’t the best wines but we drank them all the same. I was allowed to take a tiny sip as a child, and I also was given tiny cups of very sweet espresso as well as “googie shoogie,” which was a mix of whipped egg yolks, sugar and espresso. It was delicious, and my cousins and I couldn’t wait for Nonna to make us one on each visit.
Moving temporarily to Italy at the age of 15 was the catalyst for how I would change, grow, and see the world for the rest of my life. I attended an international language school for a short time in order to perfect my Italian. My parents and relatives were astounded at the speed I mastered the language. We traveled all over Italy and much of Europe in a camper van for almost 12 months. I practised my high school French and became very proficient as my family’s official interpreter. It was an amazing year, and I am so grateful that my parents sacrificed so much to offer us a year abroad. I was not the same young girl when I returned to Sydney.
As a married woman, I lived in France 10 years, so I speak fluent French and have since gone onto study Spanish just for fun. I now have a lovely Colombian niece, so let’s hope that comes in handy.
Where in Italy was your father born?
My beautiful father Saverio, was born in a tiny village in Calabria, called Messignadi. It is typical Calabrian village, surrounded by olive groves and verdant hills and I have visited it twice. Once as a teenager and once on a road trip with my mother, after my father had passed away. It was trip down memory lane where I collated as much family history as I could to incorporate into one of my future books.
It must be said that my father left Calabria at a very young age during WW2, to reside with a dear cousin in Rome. Because of that tight connection, I have spent many years living with and visiting family members in Rome. I’ve always considered the Eternal City as my second home.
For 10 years, you lived in France and ran a bed and breakfast. How did that come about? Where was it? Why did you leave?
At just 21 years of age, I met my ex husband, Jean. He was Parisian, and we visited France quite often, which I loved. After years of ill health (I suffered from very severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) we decided to leave Australia and buy a house in rural France. After much research and several reconnaissance trips, we settled on a 16th century ruin in the charming village of Treignac, in the department of Corrèze. It is a sleepy, less-known part of southwestern France but incredibly beautiful, where nature and authentic villages abound.
We restored our 16th century Maison de Charactère and created a warm, welcoming, and highly successful bed and breakfast where I thrived and regained my health. However, after eight years, tired and a little “over” taking care of others, we purchased an even more dilapidated barn in a neighbouring hamlet and started on the massive task of making it a home. We rented out our previous village home and then sold it. We realised we were far happier in a more rural setting. We lived in our barn two more years before returning to Australia for family reasons.
Marisa, you are so many things—writer, poet, photographer, journalist, entrepreneur, humanitarian. Where do you find the time? (I’m smiling here)
When asked what I do, I smile and usually ask people if they have an hour or two to spare. Hahaha! I have also told employers that they might not want to see my full CV as it reads like Wikipedia! You’ve got to have a sense of humour, haven’t you?
I have had so many professions, which I put down to my “busy mind.” I’m endlessly curious and bore quite quickly, hence I need to learn, study, change, try new things. Some people might find me “unstable,” but to me, it’s perfectly normal to embrace change and I love the wide variety of professions I’ve held.
My love for writing goes back to my early childhood. When I returned from my 10-year stint in France, I spent a lot off time recounting stories to family and friends. They constantly told me, “Marisa you need to write these things down. You need to write a book!”
This lead me to reading dozens of autobiographies and, in particular, “travel memoirs” where someone had upped their life to live somewhere new. Once saturated with other people’s stories, I realised I possessed something special, which I needed to share.
Ma Folie Francaise, your first memoir, examines those 10 years in France. What made you write it? Why do you refer to these years as folly (or madness)?
I starting writing Ma Folie Française as a novel. I used fictitious names and hid the truth. I was reticent for some reason and didn’t feel secure in sharing my story as my own. That would later change.
Our choices to leave everything behind and take that giant leap of faith, seemed crazy…a folly! People constantly told us we were insane to leave solid, well-paid jobs; sell our home; and venture into the unknown. We could have easily heeded their warnings and never experienced the life we were destined to live.
Our lives in France were crazy, fun, challenging, scary at times, exhausting, hectic, fulfilling—a bit of a roller coaster ride, in all honesty but always worthwhile!
Hence the title of my first work, which embodies those first eight years running a highly successful, traditional bed and breakfast in our beautifully restored 16th century home. Each day was a new adventure…a journey into the unknown which opened so many doors and brought wonderful strangers—who left as new friends—into our lives.
Club Mauranges details your restoration of a 17th century villa. How did *that* come about?
After eight long years in our bed and breakfast, I was burnt out and Jean was fed up with sharing our private home with strangers. We decided to yet again change our lives, start a new venture, and seek out a new place to call home where tranquility hopefully reigned. Finding peace and quiet had become paramount to both of us after eight years of rather hectic village life.
Hence was born my second book Club Mauranges. In it, I recount the birth of our second French home, a 17th century barn ruin that was in danger of being demolished. It was a heaving mass of rubble in realty, but we loved where it stood. We promised its owner that we would breathe life back into its crumbling walls without destroying its ancient soul.
And that’s exactly what we did, although it was the most complex, challenging, and exhausting renovation I’ve ever taken part in. I remember standing above the pile of stone and rubble, tears streaming down my cheeks, wondering what on earth we had taken on but it turned out to be one of the most magnificent adventures and successful results we have ever achieved.
You are working on The Journey. What will it be about?
This yet-to-be-completed book was born from the need to share my cherished thoughts, memories, and relationship with my beautiful father. Its title reflects the great journey that my father undertook as an immigrant, as well as my journey as his beloved daughter. This book encompasses the entwining of lives and sheds light on my strong bond with my father that lives beyond the grave.
So much of who I am stems from him. His teachings. His philosophy on life. His resilience. His passion for life. His sense of family. The Journey shares the family stories collected on my road trips throughout Italy and, of course, via endless conversations with my dear mother. It’s a story still in the making, but I know once I’m back on Italian soil, I will feel inspired to honour my father by completing it.
There’s Even an Opera!
Tell us about that and your work with Andrea Cutri.
My meeting with Andrea Cutri in 2011 was serendipitous to say the least.
We miraculously, although not uncommonly, met via Facebook and became firm friends and working allies almost immediately.
Andrea is one of the world’s leading guitarists, as well as being a musical genius and physicist. He composes his music via a system of numbers, which he created. A complex yet gentle soul, he convinced me to rewrite, in English, the 17 arias for his Opera Eterno Divinire. As with all operas, it is based on a tragic love story—this one of English poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.
I had never written songs or even dreamed of being a lyricist and was unsure whether I would achieve an acceptable result. Andrea assured me that if my lyrics were as heartfelt and romantic as my poetry, then they would be perfect.
This was a unique and rewarding experience, which filled my spare hours, whilst living and managing a 5-star boutique hotel in Bruges, Belgium. I penned most songs whilst I sat contemplating the world at a canal-side beer garden or within the beautiful interiors of the 1669 mansion. Again, it was an experience and opportunity that I could not refuse.
Adventures in Sardegna
Why the love affair with Sardegna/Sardinia?
My love for Sardinia spans across more than 4 decades and although I have no family ties to the island, it is the place where I’ve spent the most time visiting and residing in Italy.
As a 21-year-old airline hostess, I was fortunate enough to meet a young Belgian man named Philippe. He was my friend’s boyfriend, but we became good friends and shared a love for Italy. He invited me to stay with his father at their home on Sardinia. Although I had little clue where or what Sardinia was, I accepted the invitation and set off intrepidly, as you do at 21, to visit the island and his father. Typical of young people, Philippe had been sparing with his information and had failed to tell me that his family were extremely wealthy Belgians who owned a large portion of the southern coast of the island.
On my arrival, I was greeted at the tiny, tin-shed airport by a dashing man in a silver Aston Martin. You can just imagine my surprise as an “Audrey Hepburn” style adventure along the rugged Sardinian coastline pursued.
From that first moment on Sardinian soil, I was captured by her beauty and the warmth and culture of her people. Sardinia is unique and immensely different to mainland Italy in so many ways. Madre Terra, as Sardinians call her, is like a mythical siren that calls you back again and again, hence I’ve been bewitched for almost 40 years.
Buying a Home in Tuscany
You recently bought a house in Tuscany. (I’m trying not to be jealous about that!) Why now? Are you going to move there permanently?
Why I’ve finally chosen Tuscany to buy a house is actually a mystery to me at times. Like many of us, I cried whilst watching Under the Tuscan Sun, and although the book is totally unlike the film, the cinematic version resonates so much with my life.
To me, that fact that I now own a house in Tuscany is truly il destino at work. I truly believe that it has very little to do with me and that there are greater forces at work.
My desire to own a tiny part of Italy has spanned decades. I always thought I’d end up in Sardinia, but my heart was severely scarred there, so I sought a change of air and new horizons.
This change of mindset followed by the sudden arrival of a global pandemic gave me the kick and the time I needed to research and discover the real estate possibilities that existed.
Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that I love to research to the minutest detail. I devour new information and thrive on newfound knowledge, so I’ve basically scoured Italy with a fine toothed comb over the last three years.
A “Lounge Chair Journey”
My “lounge chair” journey has led me from the lakes in the north to Sicilia in the south, then zigzagged its way across the peninsula. Google Earth has been my best friend and I’ve “virtually” driven through every possible village in Tuscany.
Finally uncovering my little home in Chianni was a godsend. I feel like angels guided me directly to its door. My partner David, who shares my passion for Italy, has always loved Tuscany, so it was a firm favourite for him. Purchasing a home where neither of us had ever lived or even visited joined us as a couple to something that was uniquely ours. There was no past, no stories, just new beginnings. The pandemic taught me to honour the term carpe diem and run swiftly towards my dream, no matter what. Sight unseen and without hesitation, we settled on our nido d’amore (love nest), where we knew we would share so much laughter and love for years to come.
With family commitments here in Australia, we are unable to move permanently as yet, although its definitely on the cards. We will travel there as much as we possibly can and make each journey a new opportunity to add our personalities and character to our home. We can’t wait to start in September.
What is your idea of the best of what living in Italy offers? What is your idea of the hardest thing about living in Italy?
To me, one of the hardest hurdles anyone moving to Italy will encounter is the language barrier. This applies to any country that is not English speaking.
I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of speaking fluent Italian, so I’m totally at ease with this move. On the other hand, David has been studying Italian online for months and now has a solid base. I’m proud of him for making that effort. I believe anyone moving to a foreign country should embrace the language. They should try to learn the basics as soon as they can. It will make the transition so much smoother and far more pleasant.
Culturally, some people may find the pace of how things are done in Italy, a little frustrating. Having experienced Italian life over the decades, I’ve grown to appreciate that things can take time. Things do get done all the same, and they are done well. I often hear expats complain about bureaucracy but I’ve found that most countries have their issues. Even in Australia, where people believe that things run smoothly, we still have massive bureaucracy, paper work, and long waits for many jobs. And, the cost is staggering in comparison with Italy. Italy wins every time in my opinion.
What’s next for Marisa?
That’s a massive question for me!. As you’ve now probably guessed, I’m non-stop and forever planning the next adventure or project.
In reality, the next big thing ism of course, decorating our home in Tuscany and making it our own. I’m also desperate to connect with the wonderful people who held out a hand of friendship during these trying times. So many have helped me on my journey towards Italian ownership.
David and I cannot wait to meet them and thank them in person for all their support. I feel an Italian party with abundant Prosecco coming on!
I sense that something quite spectacular is going to happen to me on a “sentimental” level whilst in Italy. I won’t and can’t announce it here, but “watch this space” for something very special. Another dream of mine is coming true.
I plan on continuing my writing, of course. Creating writer’s retreats in Tuscany, whilst collaborating with other like-minded and creative souls and living my very best Italian life which might include buying an olive grove at some point…well that’s the plan!
Viva la Vita!
To learn more about Marisa Raoul, visit her website.