I have written much about our magical village of Santa Domenica Talao and its warm and loving people. When we arrived there we suddenly became a part of something much bigger than ourselves and our world expanded greatly.
We were now a part of this beautiful place and part of the lives of our neighbors. We love them and we feel loved very much in return.
And this creates a bit of a double edged sword personally speaking, especially when we are so far away for so much of the time.
When you love someone, you feel their joys, their wonders, their loves and their losses. You feel their pain every bit as intensely as if it were your own.
I have noticed this as I have gotten closer to our neighbors in Santa Domenica Talao. This has been a very tough year for some of our closest friends.
And it takes a bit to understand all that that entails. We now have a sense of responsibility for each one of them and for their happiness and protection. We have a responsibility to promote our beautiful village and its people. We have a responsibility to stand up for it when someone might say something mean against it. It is a part of us and we are a part of it now and forever.
And with that knowledge is the certainty that when we lose someone, we will feel it keenly and we will grieve with the families and the loved ones left behind.
That said, we want to send our special love and care to our friends in Santa Domenica who have suffered recent losses.
Even when we are in California we think of you often and always wish we could be with you, especially in the rough times.
So! If you have a thought about purchasing property in Italy, how about our little village?
On my last visit, our village architect, Antonello gave me a gorgeous tour of several properties because my friend was looking to buy there. And honestly there is so much available.
If you have ever thought of moving to Italy but wondered how to do it, go see my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver, an expat in our village.
At the top of the village is a gorgeous two bedroom apartment that has recently been fully restored. Everything has been removed and replaced down to the windows. It features a cute little terrace where you can have coffee or hang your clothes.
It also has large windows that open to sweeping views of the Mediterranean from the lounge area and the bedroom. The asking prices was $80,000
Another apartment featured a one bedroom, one bath apartment above and another bed and small bath below. This was listed at $55,000
And yet another was a cute one bed one bath with views of the sea for $40,000.
In addition to these finished apartments, there is a seemingly endless supply of ruins that could be renovated to your specifications. Some are pretty crumbly but others only need finishes to be beautiful and very comfortable once again.
Pete and I have gotten to know the village architect very well and he loves designing spaces in keeping with the Italian flair and making them stunningly pretty.
If you are interested in our little corner of paradise, please let me know. I can line up a trip for you and assist in the translation and introductions.
Lining up your future home and dreaming about your own personal House Hunters International success is something to think about on these long, cold evenings while we wait for the sun.
So what do you think? Maybe this will change your mind:
Or how about this?:
And if that doesn’t take you over the top. I know the best bakery in all of Calabria and will clue you in.
If you are like me, you are hooked on House Hunters International. I watch every episode on Europe and I love trying to figure out which house the buyers will get and what kind of life they will create there. The episodes on Italy are always my favorite.
Back in 2011, my husband Pete and I made our House Hunters International dream come true by purchasing a medieval house on the top of a 300 year old building in an ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.
Back then not many people had heard of Calabria. Guidebooks ignored it despite the fact that Calabria boasts of some of the most dramatic landscapes and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.
So we had very little competition buying our house with its sparking white tile and sweeping view of the sea.
And we have been visiting there as much as we possibly can since we bought it. We love it there and miss it sorely when we are away..
Last Summer I was there with a friend who was looking at purchasing a property there. As we wandered though the piazza toward the back of the village, my eyes fell on a ruin that Pete and I had fallen in love with when we were looking for our house. It had been on the market then but was too expensive and needed extensive renovations.
This ruin, I had heard, had been purchased and yet here it was, still sitting in a state of partial renovation as it had for the last seven years.
So I asked my friend Antonello (Who you remember from my previous post about the ruined palace in the back of the village) about it.
Antonello told me that a lady had purchased the building with the intention of renovating it but that she had found another house and had moved in. He stated that the lady wanted to sell it and I asked him to find out how much.
In 2011 when we were initially looking to purchase, the property market was strong. People from America and various parts of the UK had come over and purchased holiday homes. Since then the market and gone pretty soft so the price was right and we are now in the process of purchasing the “Pink House” steps away from the piazza.
The house itself looks like a two story house from the front however it is built on a hill and all together it is four stories.
We have figured that if we are judicious with the space, we can create five studio apartments, a communal kitchen, communal laundry facilities and a huge roof terrace with sweeping views of the Pollino mountains and the Mediterranean.
A few months ago we agreed on the price and now we are waiting for the contracts to be translated and the date set with the notaio who will meet with us and go over the contract, line by line to ensure that all T’s are dotted and eyes crossed.
Then it will be ours.
Right now it is looking like early February 2019 and then the renovations can start.
This is going to be a magnificent project. the architect has an amazing sense of aesthetics and loves to make things beautiful.
We are so excited. The village has been changing and gearing up for tourism. The village leaders seem to want this beautiful place to be a destination for tourists rather than a place you stumble upon if you are lucky.
And Pete and I have a purpose to introduce this amazing place to the people we come into contact with.
The grand opening for the BNB is tentatively set for May 2020. Please stay tuned here for updates, photos and announcements.
I will write more and post more photos when we visit in February.
I have been in Santa Domenica Talao all week and if you have been following me on Facebook and Youtube, you know I have been up to some really fun and cool things and I am designating a portion of this blog “Ruin Flippers”.
To start off with, I have been working with our village architect and contractor on renovations for the house my husband and I purchased in 2011.
When we bought our place here in Santa Domenica, it was a good sized apartment but we needed more bedrooms. So we purchased the ruin that is attached to our place with the idea that one day we would fix it up.
Initially we were thinking of making the ruin into a separate apartment but then we decided that it would be much more practical if we opened up the wall between our living room and the ruin and expanded our current living space.
This gives us an open plan living area and a new kitchen while freeing up the existing kitchen to be a good sized bedroom. Ultimately we will have two more bedrooms, another bathroom and another balcony with sweeping views of the sea.
Soooo I met with Antonello the architect and one thing led to another. In the end we are getting a roof terrace as well and another storage and laundry room up top.
For a better picture of how this will roll out, please see my Youtube video as I walk you through the house and explain the changes.
Knowing that we are renovating our house, Antonello, the village architect and incredibly smart historian insisted that I see the inside of the massive ruined palace that sits at the top of the village overlooking what used to be the original piazza.
Our village is actually upside down from what it used to be. The old piazza used to be at the top back of the village and overlooked the mountains. The newer one is in the front and overlooks the Mediterranean.
In its heyday, the ruined palace overlooked the piazza and the little alleyway that ran down from the upper piazza to the church. The alleyway was filled with shops and stalls all the way down and as you walk down from the top today following it, you can see how it might have looked.
The front door of this ruin is actually located on the opposite side from the road leading up to it and half way down a little alleyway.
The palace is a block long, multiple levels and God knows how many square meters.
Antonello took us in through the locked door that opened onto a small courtyard. On your right were the old stables (The stables were placed under the residences so that the body heat from the animals rose and helped keep the upper floors warm in Winter. One can imagine that the smell also rose with it which gives you a slightly unwelcome glimpse into what life there might have been like back then)
Going up the from steps, the front door opened into a large entryway with a huge hallway/living space beyond it. And as you walk in, you step back in time to the late 1890’s when this palace was in its original grandeur.
For now, the beautiful terrazzo floors are covered with dust. The original furniture remains along with the teapots and dishes.
A sofa that was new in the 1950;s looks oddly out of place next to the walls that have been standing since the medieval period.
As you walk through the grand hall to the front of the house, you enter a huge drawing room big enough to be a ball room.
In front are two large balconies overlooking what used to the the main piazza and the center point of the village.
The walls are covered with bright red wallpaper which, upon close inspection of the newspaper backing it, reveals a date of 1960’s when the wall paper was added to dress up the space.
The floors however were the most beautiful part of this huge room. Again covered with decades of dust, the tile floor is a complex pattern of painted tiled put together to look like a fine carpet.
Although the floor is covered with dust, you can look at the walls, the furniture left in the other rooms, the chandelier that has been promised to the church in the new piazza, and see exactly what this room once looked like. It was grand and beautiful.
As Antonello took us on a walking tour through the house he pointed out pictures on the wall.
One picture was a daughter of the owner. Antonello told us her sad history and her photo shows a sadness that is frozen in time here on a wall in the corner of the hallway.
As we made our way through, more photos were revealed, again frozen in time and miraculously still attached to the walls waiting for someone to collect them.
According to Antonello, the owners of the house want to sell it and sell it for cheap. They understand the amount of work it would take to repair and restore this beauty and it is a labor of love that Antonello showed it to me in the hopes that I might help him find the perfect someone who wants to restore a beautiful place in the a perfect little hill town in Santa Domenica Talao, Italy and live there.
This place would make a stunningly beautiful home for someone who wants to live in a place where life is piano, piano, love and community are still important and where food, art, architecture and beauty reign supreme.
If you are that special person, please contact me. The asking price is peanuts and I know the local builder. Antonello would love to set his considerable talents to work redesigning the spaces so that they work for a modern lifestyle.
In the end you could own a palace that takes up an entire block at the top of a stunningly beautiful village in Calabria for less than you would pay for a crappy condo in San Jose, California.
And if you want to join the ranks of Ruin Flippers, you could live here in Santa Domenica Talao, in the most beautiful village in the world.
For detailed video descriptions of the village and the ruin click here and here.
If you are interested in purchasing any property (And there are many) I am offering a consulting package. Your flight, your accommodations, your train tickets, your rental car, your real estate agents and tours and translation in Calabria with architects, builders and legal counsel will be included. I will personally show you around and arrange everything. Most of the amazing properties I have seen recently in our village are not on the Italian multiple listing service
If ruins do not appeal to you, there are renovated properties available that are so cheap you could almost put them on a credit card. .
They are very affordable and have magnificent views of mountains or the sea. It is a buyer’a market right now so a great time to buy.
For advice on moving to Italy, please check out my interview with Bonnie Gale Oliver. She gives you a glimpse of life in the village and valuable advice on how to make the move.
And stay tuned for detailed pictures and videos of our own renovation projects. We are renovating our house and eyeing a property that would make fabulous BNB. We are ironing out the details right now but we will soon be in full swing.
See you there!
PS for more photos and reasons to chuck your life and move to Italy, check out my blog post on why Calabria is such a great retirement destination.
Who has not dreamed of uprooting their life and starting completely fresh in a foreign land? Many people think and dream of this but how many really do it? How do you move to Italy?
Generally, one thinks about it, maybe researches a bit online and then gives up because between learning the language, learning an entirely new culture and completely undoing one’s life and redoing it elsewhere is just, well, overwhelming.
And one has no model to follow. One simply scrunches up one’s eyes and dives in hoping they can learn fast enough to avoid a major disaster. Or one just doesn’t do anything and regrets it.
That is why, during my recent jaunt to Calabria, I asked my new neighbor and friend Bonnie Gale Oliver to sit down and let me interview her.
She graciously did and as soon as Pete has edited it to make me look thin, it will be up and available.
In the meantime, some of her tips were so important that I thought I would give you a brief preview.
What makes one decide to pull up roots and start all over somewhere else?
In Bonnie’s case it was a love of travel and a love for Italy. For the last several decades she was a nurse and had limited time off. Travel to Europe takes a couple of days each way. A week off is not enough time to see much of anything. When you do, it is through a blur of jet lag so that you can barely remember what you did see.
If one really wants to spend a lot of time exploring Europe, it just makes sense to either live somewhere where travel to the rest of Europe is manageable, or to buy a place there.
Bonnie found what Pete and I found, that Calabria is the perfect jumping off point for all of Europe. The airport is a train ride away and all of Europe is a short flight away.
Is living in a medieval Italian hill town a hardship?
In America, when you mention hundred years old houses, people cringe. Pictures come to mind of money pits filled with termites, water damage and other costly nightmares.
In our village, the houses are hundreds of years old. Pete and I recently found out that our house was built in 1642 and was part of one of the grand mansions in the village. It took up an entire city block.
There is very little wood rot because there is very little wood. The massive walls are made of stone and leftover building materials from centuries ago. There is no earthquake damage where we are because the houses in the city center are like a honeycomb of dwellings that lean on each other for support.
During our renovations I asked our contractor about escape routes in case of fire. He looked at me like I was mad.
We don’t have house fires in our village. Everything is stone and brick, Ceilings are held up with metal beams.
Any time we leave our place there, we simply shut of the water and electrical and go. It is the easiest thing in the world.
In Summer the two feet thick walls hold in the cool and in Winter they hold in the heat.
Our village has a butcher, a pharmacy, a doctor, and two little grocery stores. Everything you need for every day life is there.
If you need or want more, there is a huge Conad market down the hill in Scalea that has more than what you would find in a supermarket here in California.
In addition to all the things you would expect in an American supermarket, they have varieties of fresh cheeses, beautiful produce, gluten free selections and a cafe with amazing food to eat in or take out.
If that were not enough, we have a bar in the piazza where you can buy a perfectly brewed cappuccino or espresso and a warm, freshly baked croissant filled with cream or marmalade. Is the afternoons fresh gelato is served at the tables set outside in the shade of the church tower.
On the corner of our village sits a fabulous restaurant where you can watch the sun set over the Mediterranean while enjoying freshly made pasta dishes, oven fired pizzas with fragrant mozzarella di bufala and my favorite, impossibly light and delicious zucchini fritters that make my mouth water just thinking of them.
Is the language a problem?
In southern Italy not everyone speaks English. For that matter not everyone converses in Italian all the time. Many of the older residents in our village speak dialect which is a mix of Greek, French, Spanish and Italian thrown in for color.
That said, most of the younger residents speak pure Italian and recently I have met several young kids who learned English in school. They looked eager to try it out on us. It was nice to converse in either language with the idea that we are helping each other get to the point where conversation will someday flow easily.
In any case, when you need to communicate, there is a huge desire to understand you. Phone apps come out that translate in real time, Italian charades are performed, many times to gales of laughter and in the end, all is well.
In addition, you learn quickly if you open yourself up to it and make an effort.
Bonnies tells me that she and her sister Carolyn are going to be attending the free Italian classes offered to foreign residents. Our other friend Kathryn attended these classes and her Italian is flawless (In my opinion).
What about the Italian Bureaucracy?
There is no question that certain things in Italy are done a certain way. In our interview, Bonnie tells us about her adventures getting her residency status, registering her car and next she will get her Italian drivers’ license.
The beautiful thing is that many of the neighbors who know all the ins and outs, have given her advice and helped her in each of these endeavors.
What do you do for fun?
Bonnie and her sister Carolyn want to travel. the train station is just down the hill from our village and from there you can go pretty much anywhere in Italy, or even in Europe.
From where we are, Sicily is a hop and a skip, Reggio Calabria, a much overlooked destination is half a day away. The ruins at Paestum, one of the most beautifully preserved ancient Greek cities is two hours. Naples is two hours on the train and Rome is five hours.
If you do not want a train ride, our area is studded with little jewel hill towns, each with its own character and charm. Take your camera and good walking shoes and you can discover some of the most beautiful views, stunning churches and picturesque villages. It is a photographer’s dream come true.
A lunch at one of the fabulous restaurants sets you up for another tour of a different glittering hill town. Each town has its rich history and its warm and wonderful people.
I can’t wait for Pete to put the finishing touches on our interview. I loved talking with Bonnie and I love watching it over and over because I get more great information every time.
Please watch for it and when you have seen it, send me a note letting me know what you think.
And, as always, if you want to plan a trip, let me know. I would love to put it together for you.
And if you want more reasons to retire in Calabria, read this blog post. See you there!
Admit it. You have been watching House Hunters International and a part of you is yearning for the golden hills, the ecstasy-inducing food and the and glorious beaches of Italy.
And you feel yourself inching closer to the big plunge but are afraid because you could make a huge and costly mistake.
If you have mentioned this idea to friends or relatives, I am sure you have been told that you are crazy to even think about it.
And yet you continue to dream.
Seven years ago my husband and I bought a house in a small medieval hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.
An entire year before we purchased, I researched the crap out of the project and the result was a smooth transition of property and good feelings on all sides.
And we have been loving it beyond our wildest dreams each time we go.
There is nothing like the sound of church bells waking you up in the morning with the sun slanting in your window and the smell of cafe coming from the bar in the piazza to make you realize how lucky you are to be in Italy.
But there are several things you should know and do before taking diving in.
Additionally I sought out and got onto several forums written and administered by people who had purchased in Italy and many of whom also lived there full time.
The forum was the most important research tool. I learned about some shady deals that I was able to steer clear of because I read the unfortunate stories about people who had purchased off plan houses (to be built) and once the money was paid, no work was ever done.
One off plan project that was offered to us when we were looking to purchase seven years ago still has not been built. Had I trusted someone and bought one I would have sunk a lot of money and likely never had anything to show for it but expensive legal bills.
I have read horror stories not only about property purchases in Italy but also Spain that would curl your toes.
My most important piece of advice is never buy anything that you can’t see in front of you. If is to be built or is a ruin with a renovation package, don’t buy it.
2. Visit different areas before you make your choice
Unless you have already visited a town or village and fallen in love with it, I recommend that you visit several areas and rent Air BNB’s there for a few weeks.
Fall into the rhythm of the town and decide whether you can see yourself living there.
3. Once you have found your dream town, research the crap out of that too
There is so much you have to find out. Our trash pickup is so complicated we need a special calendar to keep track of what is picked up when.
Additionally Italy has earthquakes as we have seen recently. Research where the faults are and find data on the strength of your building.
Ironically, in the 1980’s when there was a massive earthquake in Southern Italy, the newer buildings fell down and the medieval buildings are still standing.
The buildings in the historic centers are built all shoved together so they support each other.
The buildings that fell had large parking structures underneath and therefore were not structurally sound in an earthquake zone which much of Italy is.
Our area near Scalea, Calabria, Italy is one of the few areas that is between faults so the danger of a catastrophic earthquake is relatively small.
4. Understand that property purchases there are not like they are here
It is not unheard of to make an offer, have it accepted and then find out that the downstairs storage area is actually owned by someone else or that the fixtures are not included.
Many times in Italy, the kitchen is considered personal property and does not stay when you purchase. The owners simply pack it up and take it with them.
In Italy the inheritences are such that you may want to buy a property that is listed for sale but then have to convince 20 cousins that they want to sell.
This can make certain properties almost impossible to purchase and you may not know that until you have fallen in love with it.
5. Know that there will be delays
Purchasing property in Italy is a process and it goes how it goes. That said, I was very impressed by the time and care the local Notiao took to ensure that everything was fair and equitable.
The Notaio is charged with the task of ensuring that no one is getting hoodwinked. Ours was extremely careful and took great pains to ensure that we understood everything about the contract.
However an illness may cause delays as your Notaio may be the only one for miles.
6. Understand that renovation estimates can be wild guesses
My friend Clive who owns Casa Cielo BnB in Scalea, Italy has become the resident counselor to those who have purchased and seen their renovations go wrong and spiral out of control.
A ruin in Italy is likely several centuries old and those of us who live in America which has very few old buildings don’t always understand the true meaning of the word “ruin”.
I have heard of properties having to be taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt.
My advice if you don’t know a contractor, is to purchase something habitable that perhaps needs floors and finishes.
We purchased our house and the attached ruin. We are willing to take it on as we have worked with the builder on several other house projects and he is good and trustworthy.
Additionally the structural work had already been done so it is just the interior that needs finishing.
Meanwhile, we have the house which is habitable and very nice and were able to enjoy it right away without waiting for renovations.
If you have your heart set on a total ruin renovation project, go ahead but budget twice the amount you are quoted.
7. Treat everyone with courtesy and respect
There is no nightmare quite as complete as buying a property somewhere and being ostrasized by everyone in the town.
These villages and towns have survived because they are like a large family. Courtesy goes a very long way and an effort to get along and become a part of the community is well rewarded with true and loyal friends.
Additionally, when you make the effort to speak and be understood in their language, you earn the respect of your new neighbors. They are way more willing to overlook any social gaffs made out of ignorance of local customs.
8. Don’t consider it an investment in anything but experience
When I was getting ready to make my purchase, several people asked me with horror in their voices, “Aren’t you afraid you will lose money?” as if that were the greatest sin I could ever commit.
The answer was, who cares what the market does after I buy? If I buy a property and I love it and it gives me joy and I can afford it, it is a good purchase. End of story. The property market gyrations would never make it worth any less in my eyes.
You are buying a dream. Dreams do not come with a price tag. It is whatever you are willing to pay for it that gives it its value.
There is a person who was looking at buying at the same time we were. She asked me all manner of questions like the above. She had so many “What if’s” that I gave up answering them.
Needless to say, she has not purchased and we have been enjoying our property for seven years now.
9. Once you have purchased don’t let anyone kill the love you have for your beautiful new home.
I don’t know why people do this but some have to tell you what a huge mistake you have made.
They have to prove to you that you have been foolish and normally it comes down to money that in their opinion you should not have spent.
These are the people who never do anything big in their lives. Listening to them is destructive.
In the end you will have done your homework, you will have experienced the ins and outs of a foreign property purchase and will have many, many years of beautiful experiences to enjoy as a result.
Buying property in Italy is absolutely worth the effort and the money.
If money is tight, look in Southern Italy. Calabria is stunning and the prices are so good you could almost put it on a credit card.