Tag Archives: House Hunting in Italy

House Hunting in Italy, Part Six

La Fortezza House Hunting in Italy As of you all know by now, house hunting in Italy has proven quite a long term project for us. Once we narrowed down the area to hunt, we then began our search. Our hunt started in earnest in 2013 in Liguria near the the town we live in now. We have toured countless homes in Liguria, but unfortunately without success. Needless to say, we were really frustrated. Then at the suggestion of my friend Forrest, we started scouring the region of Northern Tuscany known as Lunigiana about an hours drive from Lucca.

We have been looking at houses during the summer, and when I am here in Italy during the spring and fall. Safe to say we have been diligently looking at many many properties over the last three years.

If I documented all the houses we’ve toured, it would be a book. Truth is, I am writing a book about my adventures in house hunting and living in Italy, but more on that next time.

You may remember a house I toured about two years ago here. At the time, I was really impressed with the building. It is a medieval fortress dating to the 1500s. It was used as a fortress, and then was inhabited by a priest and his family in the 1600s (his family being his mother, father and brothers).Then it was abandoned for many years until two brothers acquired it about 10 years ago, and made it their mission to restore it.

la fortezza

One brother is an architect, and the other is a farmer, and they have been restoring it together. But like many partnered projects, this one went sideways and the brothers started to disagree; the farmer grew tired of the physical demands as well as the demands on his time, and they soon argued. About two years ago, they decided to part ways and put the fortress on the market.

la fortezza La fortezza It’s a big project on a huge piece of property that includes a vineyard, an outbuilding, and a barn. Did I mention the incredible view? From the terrace and upper floors, you can get a bird’s eye view of the whole valley from the Apennines to the Alpi Apuane. Out of every window there is a breath taking landscape.

It was one of the first properties I looked at, and of course I loved it, but thought it was too much of a project at the time. When we first looked at it, I had just done my first style + photo workshop. I had no inclination that I would be so passionate about teaching, so the house was not a contender.

Now with a new goal in mind to create the perfect location for my workshops and retreats, this house came back on our radar as a distinct possibility. Frank, Forrest, and I are all excited about the prospect of creating an amazing creative space for our students at the fortress (La Fortezza).

How did we wind up back here?  One day…I was frustrated about not finding what I wanted. My friends and I went for a drive. The winding road took us past the fortress, and I said, “Hey Forrest, should we look at this one again?”  So much history and everyone could stay at the fortress during the workshops. The fortress has 7 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, a huge work studio, and a giant terrace to eat and party on. We made a appointment a couple months ago, and we toured it again.

It has amazing possibilities, and it is the old story of seeing a house, and then thinking it’s great and too good to be true and looking for years while the house just waits for you. In Italy, they have a saying that the house finds you. I think it found me; it just took me a bit to come back to it. Like everything in Italy, it takes time: “piano piano” which means: slowly slowly…

So we’ve made an offer, like all things in Italy the steps to the end is a very long road. I am excited to see what happens, and if this is the one, I will keep you posted. Let’s just say it’s the closest we’ve come. Maybe our house hunting adventures are coming to the end? Again it’s Italy, and anything can happen so maybe not. As with all things Italian time will tell.

Ciao tutti xx



behind the scenes italian riviera italy Notes from Italy Personal renovation in italy Travel Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , ,

House Hunting in Italy {Fall 2015} part six

House Hunting

Yep we are still looking; 2 years and counting…

This time I thought it was a great idea to house hunt in the fall. Why not, right? Enjoy the cool weather and see what else is out there.

House hunting in Italy is a real challenge, no joke. Here in the states, you give a great real estate agent your wish list, and they come up with a great selection. In Italy, there’s no such thing. Basically you tell them what you want, and they show you things that leave you scratching your head.

So this time, I spent about 4 days scouring the internet and found some really great options for myself.  I enlisted an agent in the region (northern Tuscany) and took matters into my own hands, as one does in Italy. The other really really important bit is to know people in Italy, and by “know” I mean my friends “know people”; most real estate is sold by word of mouth. Most of my friends know the families of houses for sale, or at least can research the family if we are looking at something through an agent. It’s all about connections in Italy. If you’re interested in buying real estate in Italy, make sure you have an Italian friend in tow.

Heading Southwest in my trusty Fiat 500 with my best friend and partner in crime Forrest in tow, we again set our sites on finding thee properties for us to get out hands on and turn into the perfect location for style + photo workshops and many other retreats down the road.

(I was so excited!)

With my excitement contained, we ventured to see this tiny rustico (farmhouse)… like with all houses we’ve seen there are always pros and cons. In Italy there’s no such thing as the perfect package; EVERYTHING is a compromise. EVERYTHING. Money helps with the compromise part, but more on that later.

House 1 : Piccolo Rustico : This house was too small and too close to the road, but had an amazing view and new roof. Yes a new roof is a big deal ,as most reconstruction costs comprise of the roof. Great price, but you can only add 20% onto the house, so it’s still too small.

House Hunting House Hunting I love it when there is furniture left in the house; this house was obviously not set up or staged. Staging in Italy is not a thing. In most cases, you have to look around the mess and see if there’s potential.

House 2: Grey Gardens, Italian Style: The next house was what I named “The Grey Gardens” property. A massive family summer house, that was probably breathtaking in it’s hay day. Bustling with children, dogs, nannies, and parties and summer fun.

Now in disrepair due to the family falling on hard times (a family comprised of 4 families with about 24 family members). This family has put part of the property up for sale. BTW just because it is up for sale does not mean it would be an easy purchase; all 24 family members need to sign off on the sale. This is why it is daunting to buy property in Italy (one of the many reasons). Buying property in Italy is not by any means straight forward, or for the faint of heart.

This particular property we had looked at about 10 years ago. I remembered the amazing kitchen; the perfect location for cooking classes, food styling workshops and retreats. 7 bedrooms, grand sitting rooms, entrances and a killer location for a communal dining room.

I was really excited to see it again.  We navigated a very very curvy dangerous road to a mountain top village. As I had remembered it, the house was still pretty impressive. We toured it for a couple hours, the overgrown rose garden, and a perfect location for a pool in full sun with the most breathtaking mountain views (honestly so beautiful is literally looked like a painted backdrop). The 2 barns and grassy entry were simply charming.

House Hunting House Hunting

Super location for the pool….

House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting The big down side…The family would still live in part of the property. Not a minor complication in Italy. Italians have a tendency to drop by, and they have opinions, especially about a property they still regard as their own, even though you plunked down your money for it. The property had many structural issues (cha ching) and mainly this property is located in a village that is very hard to get to. Let’s say that even though it had tons of potential, the down sides were undeniable. When looking at property in Italy, one must really be realistic about the final outcome. So Grey Gardens was a pass.

On to the next one… House 3: One Man’s Masterpiece is another Man’s Mess!
This house was situated in a beautiful place. The location, in a small hillside village, with a one of a kind marble staircase, frescos gorgeous trim and finishes, stunning original floors a chapel. We had high hopes. Even though we were concerned about the size, the price was right.

We walked into the courtyard and met the man that was selling it, the sole owner (unusual in Italy BTW). He bought the house as a passion project. He wanted to do the renovation himself as a GIANT DIY project. BIG mistake. At an overwhelming 6000 square feet, this house is not a renovation, it is a restoration that needed to involve professionals. This is what I call a “loving hands of home” project, meaning that the homeowner has taken on a project that he had no business tackling. Clearly he was in over his head, and the renovations he had done were not a plus; they, in fact, were a BIG fat minus. Everything he had touched needed to be ripped out. The expense of ripping out and restoring this home would equal the “money pit.” I felt sorry for this man. I know he had the best intentions, but his retrofitted unprofessional solutions made for a grande cassino (a big mess).

House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting

House 4: The Mill and the River I was super excited to see this property…It’s in a sunny location, flat, and at the edge of a vineyard. With a river running through it, this former Flour Mill was a contender. With all properties in general, you have to walk around the site, but especially in Italy you have to see the lay of the land. The fist thing that struck me is that this was a flood plan. Super bummer. The gardener confirmed that the land was amazing to plant in. Yes of course it was because it was “moist”; not a good thing for a home. Upon inspection of the inside, we found black mold everywhere. The water issue is a non-negotiable.The physical plant was a amazing, but the river was a BIG minus. So this one, as beautiful as it looks, the truth revealed … it is a NO.

House Hunting

I will say that I think we did find THE property this trip. I am going to keep that one in my back pocket because in Italy anything can happen, so first things first: an inspection, the results, and then decisions will be made. Piano piano (slowly slowly) in Italy; that’s the way we do it. No grand announcements, you will know as this plays out…patience is a virtue, and patience is something we have; we are in it for the long haul….we will keep you posted. xx

italy Uncategorized : Tags: , , ,