We wanted a south facing house on the valley floor or at least a little plateau,basically it had to be on flat land . It had to be near to a village within walking distance, with neighbours close by. —
Would we want to live as hermits for the rest of our lives?
I think not, we wanted to be part of a community.
There was necessity for a bus route and easy access to the main road. It was important to have a beautiful view but did not have to be drop dead gorgeous and so high that it gave us vertigo every time we looked out of the window.
As for my beloved husband it had to have its own driveway running straight up to the front door and curving back to the road just like in the old country houses in the UK. For me an area of land encircling the house in which I could create my masterpiece – My New Garden, an Italian / cottage garden, where I could grow and cultivate all the plants and flowers so dear to me. Many of which I used to sell on my plant nursery.
The house had to be quite large with a possibility of five bedrooms and as we love light it needed to be spacious and airy. Our ambition was to have three bedrooms to rent for guests so they could share and enjoy our beautiful house and gardens.
The most important requirement was that the house should be habitable, at least to a certain extent because we intended to live in it. We wanted to project manage the restoration and do some of the work ourselves. Something of a new concept for the Italians involved with us. It appears that very few stranieri (foreigners) do this in the area.
At the beginning we found it hard to work out the details of properties. Some were described as detached but went onto mention adjoining walls which could be a garage or the next door neighbour. The description of habitable could mean anything from having an intact roof, fresh water and maybe electricity.
Easy access could mean parking a few hundred metres away and walking perhaps through woodlands, vineyards, or over obstacles to get to the main door and possibly over someone’s land……….. A point to note there was not always available parking.
Some descriptions just gave the square metres of the house and not how many rooms. When we did find rooms listed we later found many of these designated sgombero (boxrooms) made not habitable for tax reasons.
There are many building regulations in accordance with earthquake legislation. Thankfully this area is not so prone.
The photographs – now these are a gem, any budding photographer could make a good living here. There were some not of the building or of the land not even of the view, but of the interior showing an old wardrobe and a toilet seat. I beg the question why?
However to be fair we did find ourselves some very good estate agents who obviously did have these traits, but were still able to guide us through our many viewings with enthusiasm and sometimes just a little impatience when it was obvious – we were not going to buy
OUR DREAM HOME
It was number 24 but we viewed 26 just to be polite .
To be honest the search actually began in Toscana in the surrounding countryside of Lucca where my OHs family originate. Here in the very early beginnings we viewed a few properties, it was quite fun – but we soon realised that our funds could not stretch to any further than a one bedroom flat with a skylight and a ladder to see the view. Although beautiful and benefiting from the many contacts,we agreed it was not the Italy we hankered for. OH said he felt it was like walking along the promenade in Largs. So we had to have a rethink, in fact the rethink took over nine months while we worked away chewing over what we actually wanted.
Six years ago as a Christmas present I bought OH two tickets for La Scala , in Milano as we both love opera ( obviously I hoped I would be his accompanying partner). Well he is part Italian !!!. After two days in Milano we were citied out. I am a country girl and 24 hours in a city is enough for me, OH he loves the buzz which can be a problem as it makes him hyper and we end up seeing all the sites in five hours.
So we hired a car and with a friends advice headed towards Piemonte, It was the darkest of winter nights, wet, cold, snowy and drab. They say this is the best time to view a house or a new area because if you love it at its worst it can only get better. Piemonte was love at first site.
Our search took 2 years but what a great time we had. It is the perfect way to learn about an area. It was quite a challenge working with the estate agents we could not convince them that we did not want to be perched on a precipice so hence we politely viewed various properties many propped up with giant walls of concrete, bricks and even piled rubble. Some views were incredible as long as you were not prone to sleep walking. With these came the problem of the land which was always on a steep gradient, not for me I’m welsh and have spent a lifetime gardening on severe gradients.
Access also seemed to be a big problem we viewed one that literally had a gradient say 1 in 4. There were 3 of us in a hired Renault Clio and we couldn’t manage to drive up the hill. OH found the only way was to reverse up avoiding huge potholes. I must admit the 360 degree views were amazing, as the estate agent so enthusiastically pointed out when we all thankfully arrived at the top. Crikey somebody bought that property and I often wonder if they have a cable car to gain access.
Another property we viewed was sited in the centre of another owners vineyard with access being a little dirt track which had been partly washed away by the winter rains. A handsome house but totally useless – well to us anyway. In the same area there was another we couldn’t even reach because the road was closed due to
Some even when advertised as independent turned out to be semi – detached without an occupant next door and in fact one had not been occupied for 80 years which was great for the privacy but who was going to do and pay for the upkeep.
There were others with huge apple orchards what on earth were we going to do with hundreds of apple trees, enormous woodlands and rivers. Some had no roof others very little walls just mounds of rubble. It was exciting each day waiting in anticipation to find that ‘ perfect house’
Many were full of dusty old furniture, photographs and clothes of the previous owners and one in particular had slippers conveniently left behind the front door- yipes what ever happened to him I thought.
I became adept at climbing ladders and looking at roofs. On one occasion when I pointed out I could see the sky through the tiles. I was impatiently informed ‘ that is the way they build them here’. I can now categorically confirm it is not.
My worst moment was the house with the dolls once again propped on a top of a hill, I braved the somewhat rickety staircase and calmly pushed away the thick cobwebs from my face. As I reached the hallway on the second floor I peered down the long dark narrow corridor which led to a gloomy room. It was lit by a few sun rays passing through dusty windows there sitting on an old armchair were two life size china dolls I do believe they turned their heads and gazed towards me.
Oh no no no I don,t do dolls, I was off.
I took those stairs two at a time and as I emerged into the garden the estate agent laughed saying the owner would take them away – oh no they will always be there in my mind. —- Again somebody bought that property I wonder if they inherited the dolls!!!!!
I am sure they will still be there somewhere.
As our search failed to uncover any gems we decided to increase our purchasing price which did not seem to make a lot of difference it just brought us a viewing of a half built house consisting of a roof and 4 walls, again the views were spectacular but the house was just a new build with no character. This house was twice as expensive as others we had viewed but offered much less.
Sometimes they seemed to think up a number which had no realistic value to the property.
A couple of years later on a very cold January day we decided we would have one last search before returning to Wales. While out viewing with the estate agent he mentioned that there was a house nearby for sale which was not on his list. He thought it might just interest us. However he did say it needed a lot of work and it had a huge vineyard. Normally we would have discounted this immediately but we thought ” what the hell we better take a look”
As we drove up the driveway towards the front door I noted the drive crossed the front of the house and curved away around a large conifer and returned to the lane. I glanced over to OH who was wearing a huge smile.