La Dolce Vita: Retirement in Italy


Martha Schut fell in love with Italy when she lived there in the 1970s and told herself,  “I’ll be back.” She made good on that pledge in 2015, when she and husband, Doug Peters, left Iowa for permanent retirement living in the ancient town of Spello, in the center of Italy.

Schut was a psychotherapist in Iowa City, and Peters was a minister who served United Methodist churches in Iowa. As they neared retirement (he in 2010, and she in 2015) they made numerous and progressively longer trips to Italy, taking language classes and checking out where they might live.

On one trip they visited Spello, where Schut had learned that one of the churches had a beautiful chapel painted by the Renaissance artist Pinturicchio.

“We spent the day walking the labyrinthine streets and alleyways, later stopping in another church, where a golden shaft of sunlight caused the altar to appear on fire,” Peterson said.  “I said, ‘It’s a sign,’ I never say things like that.”

So, they moved to Spello. They rent an apartment there year-round, but return to Iowa during the summer, when tourists crowd Italy.

Before moving, Schut and Peters visited the Italian Consulate in Chicago to get permission to become elective residents. That included a visa and a permesso di soggiorno, which allows them to come and go as they wish.

Banking has been easy – they just visit a nearby ATM for cash and also use a local bank. Health care has worked well, too: As elective residents they were able to buy into the country’s national health care plan (and it’s good throughout Europe).

Italy’s bureaucracy is legendary but having someone to ask is incredibly helpful, Peters said. “Being able to speak some Italian is necessary at times because many people don’t speak English,” he said. “You will sign more papers than you can imagine.”

That said, they’re convinced Spello is a delight. The Spellani – people of Spello – have become their friends. They socialize with Italians all the time.

“We don’t do a lot of traveling to other areas,” Peters said. “We are content to live in Spello and to participate in the lifestyle there, walking everywhere, since we don’t have a car. We do go to Rome [two hours away] when meeting family at the airport. Each Thanksgiving we pick another Italian town to celebrate for a couple days. We have children in England, the Netherlands and Malaysia, so we do travel to see them.”

In Spello, Peters and Schut participate in the town’s festivals and programs as their time allows. And the Spellani have made them official American “ambassadors” for a cultural group preserving the old ways. They have even given them sashes and a medallion to wear at official functions.  

“In short, it feels like home,”  Peters said.

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