Up here on the windswept, beer-sodden rock we like to call Britain, we've long been told that our Mediterranean cousins have got the whole lifestyle thing down. Sunshine, long lunches, red wine, grilled vegetables, olive oil: that's the route to a long, healthy life, the Sunday supplements tell us. "Well, yeah," we think, eyeing the rain out of the office window, and go and buy a pasty from Gregg's.
For more evidence that our continental counterparts are nailing "wellness" better than any London insta-foodie, just head to Acciarolli. In this village on the south-west coast of Italy, an unusually high number of people are living to the age of 100 or more. Around a third of Acciarolli's residents – some 300 people – are aged over 100, and roughly 20 per cent of those centenarians have reached 110.
Intrigued scientists are now investigating what it is about Acciaroli that means so many of its residents live to a ripe old age. Dr Alan Maisel, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, is part of the joint US-Italian research team studying Acciaroli's centenarians. "What shocked me is that I don’t see people jogging. I do not see people in active exercise classes. I don’t see them swimming laps in the ocean,” Dr Maisel recently told NPR. In fact, Maisel says that many of Acciaroli's elderly residents are smokers and overweight.
So what's behind Acciaroli's life-extending powers? Dr Maisel thinks it could have something to do with the abundance of a certain fish in villagers' diets. "Everybody ate anchovies," he told NPR. "Now, you know, I actually like anchovies on my Caesar salad, but I never thought they would help me live to be 110. But they seem to eat it with every meal." He added that Acciarolians also used rosemary heavily in their cooking, which has been linked with the reduction of cognitive dysfunction and some ageing.
Scientists also think that the village's leisurely pace of life could contribute to its residents living longer. "In the evenings, in the late afternoon, they're all sitting around the cantinas, the restaurants," the doctor said. "They're having some wine, some coffee. They're relaxed."
Over the next six months, Dr Maisel and his research team will analyse every aspect of the lives of a group of Acciaroli's elderly residents, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.
"I want to find the oldest person, and I want to have a drink with them," he told NPR. "And then I want to – as they said in When Harry Met Sally – I'll have what they're having."