A Visit to the Land of Happy Old People

Reflections on the Mediterranean diet as an antidote to encroaching middle age

Nina Burleigh
Elemental
Published in
10 min readJun 4, 2019

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Illustration: Karnn Bhullar

CCILENTO, ITALY — By the time my husband and I set off on our hike in the Cilento, an Edenic mountainous region of Italy where some of the longest-lived people on Earth dwell, we’d been in Italy gorging on antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci, and vino twice daily for almost a week. To say we staggered to the edge of paradise would be only a slight exaggeration.

The Cilento is Italy’s second largest national park, encompassing thousands of square kilometers of cliffs, gorges, mountain peaks, plunging waterfalls, and verdant ravines. Situated on the edge of the Mediterranean just south of the Amalfi Coast, Cilento stretches far inland to include the mountainous regions of Magna Graecia, the ancient Greek colony on the ankle and toe of the Italian boot, near UNESCO sites like Pompeii and the idyllic temple complex of Paestum.

Besides blissful sheep, jolly goats, olive trees the size of oaks, and vistas of misty mountains splintered with birds-eye views of Homer’s wine-dark sea, the Cilento is said — and not by ancient legend, but by modern scientists — to be home to some of the healthiest human beings on earth.

My husband and I dropped in for what turned into an eat-fest a few days after our 20th wedding anniversary. Two decades after we first went to Italy on our honeymoon we are improbably rolling into middle age together, with two cute kids, having survived financial ups and downs, health and marriage still intact, and still having fun.

“I don’t really want to live forever, but if I could just keep riding my bike until the day I croak, I’d be okay with that.”

Despite all that, the creaks and groans of middle age are growing louder. For me, middle age put a tiny crack in the rigor, the self-denial, and discipline that got me to this point. I used to be, metaphorically speaking, an early to bed, early to rise woman. Now, I linger later at the feast. I think, just one more sip! One more experience that could be even better than the last one. Maybe there’s even a better house, a better lover, or a better life!

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Nina Burleigh
Elemental

Writer, explorer, national politics, 6 books, NYC.