Being away this entire year and renovating our Casa Miedi from afar has meant a fair amount of online shopping for us. This wasn’t exactly how we had planned it but, thanks to COVID, we have found ourselves on our laptops and phones, A LOT! Looking for items from major appliances, to vacuums, and faucets and yes, even shower drain covers.
Obviously, this would all be easier if we could choose these things in person. You see, I am definitely a “kick the tires” kind of girl. My creative, visual brain needs to see things in person, visualize to get a sense of size and placement. I want to open the door to the washer and dryer and close them again, stand in front of the refrigerator, open the doors and actually see the size of each drawer. Attempting this online with just measurements and a few photos has been driving my brain crazy!
Once I got past the hours, days and weeks it took me to find the exact things I wanted, I then had to consider the shipping. Normally, here in the U.S., this is relatively easy. You have an address. Your address. Your home. ONE address. However, for our beloved Miedi in Italy, we need 4 addresses. Yes, you read that right, FOUR. So, this means when buying anything that requires any sort of shipping or mailing, I have to pause and spend a considerable amount of time thinking about which address to use. Why 4 addresses you ask? This is country life in Italy. As most of us living here know, sometimes the most simple tasks can become quite the paperwork laden nightmare filled with bureaucracy. I am sure that living in a town or a city, is quite different as far as how one receives mail and packages.
We have adapted to our FOUR different addresses. First, we have our “mailing” address where we receive bills, publications, magazines and letters. This address simply includes our names, the name of our house and the town. The 2 lovely mail ladies in town know who we are and deliver mail to our mailbox at Miedi on their routes.
Second, we have a “shipping” address. This is for packages from Amazon, small packages from family and friends, and various online shopping. Now, the sweet mail ladies in town don’t deliver these when on their routes. I’m not sure if it’s due to the lack of space in the car, or just not wanting to put more than a stack of paper into the mailboxes, and make the walk to the door to leave the packages. But whatever the reason, where we live, you had better have another address that CAN receive packages for you. Preferably someone that you know and trust, and that isn’t too far away for you to drive and collect said packages. Lucky for us, we have Ceci. She runs our local bar in town, and accepts all of our packages for us. Conveniently, she is also located next door to the post office. So, we can head into town and enjoy a coffee and a lovely chat with Ceci and leave with any packages we may have. Perfetto!
Third, we have our “delivery” address. You know, for really, really big things. Like, construction materials, tiles, appliances, lumber, stone, etc. Things that must make it directly to Miedi. Now this address is an odd combination of a “sort of” house number and GPS coordinates. Clearly this became important during renovation and we now have it memorized forever.
Last, and certainly not least, we have what we refer to as our “banking” address. This address is used for any official business we conduct such as banking, paperwork for the house, or business conducted at our local commune. This address is similar to our mailing address with a few little changes. One of them has become frustratingly hilarious to us. You see at some point, years ago, when the previous owner filed papers at the local commune for work done on the house, a small typo happened. Someone typing up the paperwork made just a teeny mistake and Miedi, became Niedi. And, since it would take mountains of paperwork and possibly months to fix, it was waved off with a hand gesture and left with an “it’s fine, just leave it”.
The end result of all this is that we usually need more than one address when conducting any business online. For example, during renovation when ordering the stove for the kitchen, first I had to enter our personal information, including the “mailing” address, then the “banking” address for payment, and then the “delivery” address for delivery. And then cross my fingers and say a little prayer that when I hit the complete purchase button, it all goes through and my stove didn't end up somewhere else!
This is just one of many little things about life here that we have chosen to embrace and find endearing. And while it can be frustrating at times, we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Thankfully, the stove arrived safe and sound to the right address
Stopping at the bar for packages and coffee while Pinga, the bar mascot, sunbathes
When we first started this journey years ago in our imaginations, we spent time going back and forth between whether we should live in a village, walled city, or in the countryside. We knew we would end up with something old, I mean it’s Italy! But, nearly 400 years old never seemed to enter our minds. Finding Miedi was clearly a path that was just meant to be, and taking on the task of bringing her forward we eagerly took along with it. Our picture of the work involved seemed easy enough while walking through the house. How hard could it be? Once we started peeling back the plaster and realizing just how much work it really is, we reached for lots more wine as we came to terms with the rather enormous task that was actually ahead of us now!
At the end of last season, we packed up the house, and prepared it to be completely emptied. Everything was sent to “storage” and demolition began! First up, was MANY trees to be cut down on the property. We had somewhere around 65 trees on our property, and almost all of them were dead or dying. GIANT trees that swayed dangerously during every storm! In order to prevent any possible damage to the house or pool, they had to go. Thankfully, one of the side effects of this change, more sunlight on the property, and no more cleaning thousands of pine needles from the pool every morning.
How they managed to get that much furniture on such a small truck and then proceed to navigate the windy dirt roads from Miedi and not drop anything along the way, is a pure miracle as far as I’m concerned. Well, maybe they did and we just haven’t noticed the missing furniture yet. Our plan was to return in early March this year, stay at a lovely little place near Mercatale and be onsite daily to make the crucial decisions for the remainder of the project. Where were light switches and outlets going to go, which way do the shower doors open and hang, choosing the glass for the custom showers, choose the stone floors, the kitchen stone, etc.
In every single one of our scenarios during the risk assessment that this former corporate project manager could have come up with, not one of them included a global pandemic. Flights, cars and our stay near Miedi were all cancelled and we were now faced with a Plan B. Except, we didn’t actually have a Plan B, we just jumped in with both feet and made it up as we went along. In a normal world, renovating a 400+ year old home in a foreign country, with a language barrier would categorize you a bit crazy. Now let’s add to that, 4,000+ miles and navigating this renovation 100% over our phones and laptops. We have just become completely insane.
Living on Italian time in the US, attempting to meet deadlines with contractors, was just one of the more challenging things in this process. We woke very early every day to stacks of emails and text messages all needing answers ASAP! So this was how the mornings went. Countless hours on our phones and laptops. Viewing tiles, fixtures and floor tiles online or in photos being sent to us by our geometra, Giovanni, who was brilliantly managing this massive effort for us.
Scanning and sending drawings back and forth on email with changes to where pipes, electricity, switches and outlets should go. Choosing glass for the new showers, and drawings and photos back and forth with the marmista (marble cutter/artisan) that was making the stone sink from one giant piece of travertine marble, and the granite countertops. The marmista even offered to send us stone samples in the mail! Now that we sit at the end of this process. Having made it through the gauntlet that was the past year, we can say that it was certainly one hell of a ride and we are immensely grateful for everyone involved that went far above and beyond to see this through for us. Everyone worked with the care as if it was their own home. The few items that we did keep, were brought back to Miedi, and have been lovingly placed by Elsa. She has unpacked every box and put everything away for us. She has even made our bed and placed a basket of pinecones from the woods by the fireplace in the hopes that we could return this Fall or Winter. It is these little acts of kindness and care that remind us just how fortunate and blessed we truly are. Of course, the house is now rather empty, and awaiting all new furniture! We are excited to fill it with beautiful and carefully chosen pieces to complete our home.
Of course, I am most excited about the renovation of the kitchen, being that is always my favorite room of any home! But, with all of Miedi getting a full makeover, we also now have 3 brand new guest rooms and bathrooms. Each of these rooms carries a history as a part of the home. Casa Miedi is a classic Umbrian casa colonica. A farmhouse in the Umbrian style and is around 400 years old. The farmhouses in our area were typical in that the animals lived downstairs and the family lived upstairs. It was important to us to hold onto what history was left in the home and find ways to use it, or leave it intact where possible. What is now our kitchen, was once where a lot of the animals lived. Along one long wall in our kitchen was the original manger which we loved! However, it took up so much room so we decided to have it removed, and used for shelves that will be hung on the wall. Upstairs in the old kitchen was a very old loft, made from chestnut wood. To open up the room we had it taken down, and Candido our local wood artisan has used the beautiful old wood to make our new table in the kitchen.
We thought it would be fun to share some before and after photos of the renovations. Some of these before pictures, are truly...BEFORE. Real estate photos from when we purchased Casa Miedi. We, of course, did some redecorating, new bedding etc. However, these pictures can give an idea of the overall rooms. Stay tuned for some true after photos once each room is furnished and decorated.
First up, is what used to be the original pigsty and pig yard. While this is the smallest of our guest rooms, it is one of my favorite rooms in the house. It has 4 bright windows, and the original pig yard with the stone wall still intact means this room has the sweetest little patio beyond the little iron gate. Before, with it’s sloped ceiling, it was difficult to make use of the entire room with the lack of head room! Adding a second story or expanding out wasn’t an option so we had to get creative. After much discussion with our beloved geometra and architect, the answer came one day in the pool with my visiting cousins...lower the floor! Brilliant! The result is perfect and we could be happier.
Next up is the old horse stalls. Not much was needed in the bedroom. Just new floors, screens, fresh coat of plaster and paint. The biggest transformation was the bathroom. This room was completely gutted and redone from the ground up.
These spaces are now a lovely room and bathroom on the shady side of the house and we have added a tiled roof to create a nice little outdoor sitting area and protection from any rain for this guest room. I am thrilled that we were able to save one of the original carved stone horse ties on the wall.
Last and certainly not least, the original kitchen, which was a sitting room and a bedroom. Now a guest room and bathroom. Big changes in these two rooms. Up the original stone steps to the front of the house, there is a veranda and beautiful sitting area. Through the glass double doors and you step into this bright room with the original old stone sink still under a window. This room was the center of the home and family, and I love imagining all the conversations and meals prepared here over the years.
There are so many other changes to the farmhouse that we are thrilled to see in photos we receive over text from our neighbors as they go by on their daily walks, or from our dear friends and trusted local professionals that are there almost daily checking on the house and keeping our new lawn watered! These two people have managed all the legal permits, various contractors, drawings, measurements of every little thing, light and switch placement, landscaping, and timing, all from across the many miles and all over email and text messages! We are anxious to return and lovingly take our time through every room and enjoy every detail of the work that has been done. We are ready to begin our 2021 season in our newly renovated home and be a part of the memories to be made by so many!
Who’s ready for some fun? We need your help! Despite our attempts at coming up with names for our guest rooms, we just keep drawing a blank! So, we decided to put it out to the masses and create a fun little contest. Here’s how it works, and it couldn’t be easier:
Comment below this blog post with your name, and your 3 names for each of the guest rooms. That’s it! Easy right?
The contest will end on Friday, October 16, 2020 at midnight. We will announce the winner on Sunday, October 18, 2020
If we choose your 3 names for the guest rooms, we will send you a beautiful artisan hand crafted Deruta ceramics mug directly from our favorite shop in Deruta, Italy, Ceramiche Sberna! You will find these beautiful mugs all over Miedi, and when you stay with us, you may even find yourself using one for your morning beverage of choice. We truly adore these typical Umbrian style mugs that can be found in most kitchens, and would love to share a little of Umbria with you to enjoy your morning coffee or tea wherever you are!
Spend enough time in Italy, especially in the countryside where we live, and you will hear the locals swapping stories about the cinghiale. What are these animals? Wild boar. And yes, they are delicious and make a wonderful ragu over papparadelle! They are the main target during hunting season in the woods around Miedi. But they can also be a big nuisance and destructive around your garden and yard. While they are mostly shy animals and any loud noise tends to send them running, they can be dangerous if they feel cornered or threatened.
So when these uninvited guests came calling last summer, we found out just how destructive they can be! During the summer we see them and their little babies running around the woods and across the road fairly regularly. Over the years, the hunting clubs in our area have decreased and so the cinghiale population has grown, leaps and bounds! The italian government thought that to help with this, they would introduce wolves in our area. I have yet to see one wolf, and still see A LOT of cinghiale. They are a common sighting in our area, and we stop when they cross the road in front of our car and rush to hit the record button on our phones to grab a video or snap a photo and marvel at how adorable the babies are and how agile those big parents are at climbing up the steep banks.
All of these skills help them get into spaces when they smell something delicious. Most of our local neighbors don’t have fences around their properties and use a 4 legged security system along with a hunting shotgun which is most effective at keeping home and hearth safe from the roaming cinghiale. You can occasionally hear the barking in the distance at night echoing across the valley as they scare off a large family of wild boar. Others, like us, employ the fence around the entire property method! However, our fence was old and tired and leaning in some areas. Also, we had about 8 wild plum trees right along the fence line. Notice I said “had”. Those plum trees were like ringing a dinner bell every night and welcoming the local cinghiale to Trattoria Miedi to belly up to an all you can eat buffet of plums! Hundreds would fall and cover the ground just inside the fence as we just couldn’t harvest them all.
In the wee hours one night, I woke up noticing that Tony wasn’t in bed. I looked around the dark room and could see his shadow leaning out the bedroom window. I started to ask him what was wrong, and before I could finish my sentence, I was met with a very loud SSSHHHHHH! He whispered “something is out there!” I reminded him that living in the woods, there is always “something out there”. He said, No! In our yard “out there” and it’s BIG! So of course now I join him in leaning out the bedroom window thinking that we will actually see anything in the pitch black abyss that is night time where we live. Of course we can’t see a single thing, but we could hear the symphony of very loud snorting and crunching. We instantly said, “cinghiale!” Of course the second thought was, how the hell did they get in?! A quick mental recap of closing and latching the gate confirmed that we did in fact remember that nightly routine. With no idea of how they got in, we just knew we had to get them OUT before one of them fell into the pool and we ended up with an even bigger mess on our hands. There is a story that we have heard from the locals, that this did in fact happen to someone who was on holiday and returned to find the beast floating in his pool two weeks later. We did not want to become the next story being told at the bar in town.
Tony clapped his cupped hands as loud as he could. This was followed by what seemed like a thundering herd of little hooves racing off to the back corner of our property. With our adrenaline a bit raised, it was hard to get back to sleep. Not to mention we were sure that the smell of ripe sweet plums would be stronger than the noise of clapping hands and the extended family would be back for another meal shortly. The next morning we went out to inspect the damage, and boy was there damage. They tore tracks in the lawn with their rooting snouts... everywhere.
We began to walk the fence line to find out where they got in. When we found it, we were shocked at how small the opening was that they had dug and pushed up to get under it. I am sure that the daddy and some of those larger mommy cinghiale had to navigate a running start and a ninja roll just to get under it. So, we patched up the opening and piled some heavy stones around it. Problem solved!
Until the next night anway, when the family returned for the buffet and brought the inlaws with them. They decided to dig and push under another 6 or 8 areas of the fence and that nothing we did was going to stop them from their nightly meal. That morning, we worked and worked to repair the fence and block with yet more stones. We went inside to rest with a coffee and I picked up my phone and texted our dear friend Elsa about our nightly uninvited guests. She laughed and said, “Si! Susine” (Yes, the plums!). I said to her, I think the plum trees need to go. She said this was “una buona soluzione” (a good solution!) The next call was to Domenico, the lovely man that takes care of our yard and plantings when we aren’t at Miedi. We asked (or maybe begged) that the wild plum trees be removed ASAP. By 7p.m. our knight in shining armor arrived with his chainsaw. Tony and I were helping and dragging the plum laden branches across to the woods. Tonight the cinghiale would enjoy a meal they didn’t have to work for!
We had barely finished dinner the following night outside on the patio, when the cinghiale came rather loudly from the woods behind the house and up along the fenceline straight for the open buffet left for them. It was clear to us that the time had come to replace the old fence with a new, strong and, most importantly, cinghiale proof one in its place. This was quickly added to the renovation list for the winter. While we were back in the US enjoying the holidays with our family and friends, we received a photo one day from our dear friend Elsa of her husband Giovanni with his success during hunting season around our Miedi.
We now have a beautiful new and very strong fence that Domenico built and installed for us complete with the iron mesh attached that is dug underground to keep those uninvited guests from entering and keep us from being another story told at the local bar.
Regaining ones confidence after a devastating experience, is a daunting task. Learning to trust your own choices and gut again, let alone trusting anyone else, is a process. We took some time to reset, and found our way back to our original plan, buying a home in Italy. Of course we took to Google again. It’s the first place we all go to find anything right? Google is the new verb! How do I install a garage door opener? “Google it!” So, why not search online “houses for sale in Italy”? It’s a good place to start, and full of listings. We were instantly taken to hundreds of beautiful photos of picturesque villas and stunning restored farmhouses with acres of vineyards, olive trees and perfectly manicured grounds. It's easy to quickly get lost in all the gorgeous photos. Then, we scroll past the pictures and get to the price - keep scrolling! Those beautiful villas also come with beautifully large price tags. We must get a real estate agent in Italy, boots on the ground to help us with our search. So, we contacted a few via email from their websites regarding specific properties. A note about real estate agents in Italy that we stumbled into. We assumed that contacting multiple listing agents regarding certain properties was not an issue. Without knowing it we seemed to have annoyed some agents. Apparently, you can list your house with more than one agency, contracts are not exclusive as they are here in the US. It seemed that one agent could not show us all of the listings from multiple agencies, only their listings. Maybe this was just specific to certain agencies, but, whatever the "rule", it made it difficult to view certain houses and required some juggling on our part. After some back and forth emails and WhatsApp messages, we finally settled on an agency and we were back on a plane to Italy to spend a few days viewing properties!
Feeling happy to be back on track with a renewed sense of adventure, we were on our way. This time, we had a better idea what areas we wanted to be in, and more importantly, where we absolutely did not want to be. We had narrowed our search to Umbria and parts of Tuscany, and were anxious to start seeing properties! Now, a side note here. Let's talk about these listings online. I have developed a pet peeve about how some properties are marketed online in Italy. Maybe it's just me, but I think that when searching online for a house for sale, the more pictures the better. You want to see what every room looks like, the layout of the house and get a sense of the size of the rooms. Am I right? I can honestly say that I have seen more photos of flower pots, door handles, close ups of a piece of a gate, or a vase of flowers on a windowsill while looking at listings online to last me a lifetime! And while these photos are lovely, I can’t understand why they think I will actually want to see this house, even decide to buy it because of the 6 photos of a nice pot of red geraniums outside the door, or those 4 pictures of the door handle into a home with rooms inside that I never saw! I’m still not sure I understand the reasoning behind this interesting marketing choice. I do know that I found it maddening. I just want to see the inside of the house, of actual rooms, thank you very much! This made narrowing down our choices somewhat difficult.
Cue the fun part!! I admit to being one of those people that could spend months just looking at houses for sale, anywhere in the world! I love seeing what people have chosen to do with their homes. Decorating, design, renovations, etc. and the honor of being invited into someone’s home, to pull back the curtain so to speak. Driving to each house, we were taking notes of all the details. Dirt road vs. white roads, who was responsible for maintaining said road? How long was the drive from the closest village? How remote? What was the distance to major cities, to the coast and beaches? I was keeping meticulous notes on my phone with photos along with each property. And yes, making sure at least most of our “boxes” were checked. It seems that the agents also had decided that we just had to see some other homes that they had chosen for us. This ended up being something of a time waster, as these homes were beautiful and HUGE, they were also in the millions of euros category! Trying to keep these people in line with our budget was also part of our job now it seemed. We packed in a lot of house hunting in a few days!W
With all of the lovely houses we looked at, there was one property that we still wanted to see. During my online search, I had come across a property on a couple of websites, and it just sort of stayed with me. I kept going back to it over and over again. Pouring over the pictures and looking at every detail trying to get a sense of the layout, number of rooms, etc. Sadly, we never got to see this house. Everytime, we were told that when they contacted the owner, it was never available to be shown. While we looked at so many beautiful houses, none of them seemed to fit. We were waiting for “the One”, you know, like Cinderella's glass slipper. This is a huge decision, and it needs to be right. So, back to the US to make some decisions, and keep pouring over more and more online listings hoping to find a connection to just one property.
I couldn’t get that one house out of my head! I kept going back to it, and trying to find a way to get more information. Since the agents didn’t seem to be much help, I took to my own super sleuthing online. The description mentioned that it had a “proven rental history”, so I figured it had to be listed on one of the many popular Italy holiday rental sites. I checked all the usual suspects and could not find it anywhere! Enter my dear, sweet and oh so resourceful friend Sylvia. She lives in Italy and is from Northern California like me. She is a sweet and gentle soul and a magician in the kitchen! She also, happened to live in the approximate region near Umbria where this listing was. She offered to do some searching and see what she could come up with. I sent her the only few photos I had, and the listing, which had the name of the house, Casa Miedi. The very next day, my phone dings with a WhatsApp message from my dear friend, with a picture and one question, “could this be the same house??” The picture was of a wooden sign off the dirt road with Casa Miedi etched into it. Now, I can’t imagine there were many houses in Umbria with that name. Could it be? She wasn’t aware of the house, but the sign was on the way to town. She took to the internet to take advantage of that all too annoying Google algorithm, that knew she was in Europe unlike my searches from the US, and the next thing I knew, another ding of a message. This time, with a listing and photos! She had found the house on a German holiday rental site!! What I had spent months trying to find, she was able to find almost instantly. Thank you Google algorithm and thank you Sylvia! Now, do we send an email on this German site to the owner? We barely have a grasp on Italian, let alone German! We decided we had to, I mean, this all seemed meant to be.
I clicked to send an email, and explained that we knew that the property was for sale, and had traveled to Italy and had not been able to view the house. One short pause, then clicked that “send” button. Tony and I looked at eachother, and shrugged and said, “Well, let’s do this!”
We had a reply within the hour! And, thankfully it was in English, not German. She told us that she was never contacted by any real estate agency about anyone being interested in her home. Not too surprising actually, given that it wasn’t a multi million euro property. We set up a time for a WhatsApp video call the following week to chat. This was the beginning of what would soon become our best life comeback ever! We enjoyed getting to know her, and she invited us to come and stay at the home with her for a few days on our next trip over, sort of a try before you buy. Her kindness meant so much to us and made it easier to believe that we could start this process again. I will never forget driving up the dirt road from the village and into the gates. I knew we were home! Miedi welcomed us with her strong stone walls, her warmth and long, beloved history of families and traditions in the Minima Valley. Walking under the cherry trees one afternoon, we knew that we were meant to be her next caretakers. We are so very fortunate that this time, our purchase went exactly as it should and so smoothly with zero hitches. It was completely legal this time around, and we were so lucky to have found "our people". By Easter, we were homeowners and expats in Italy! Since then, we have enjoyed the process of lovingly bringing her forward from the previous renovations from ruins 35 years ago.
Renovating a home in Italy, from a distance of around 4,000 miles over WhatsApp, in a foreign language, with just photos??? Crazy!! But, we did it! And, in just under a year! It was the most wonderfully frustrating and rewarding experience ever. The only way this was possible was being so fortunate to have found the most special group of locals that tolerate these crazy expats, and have treated us like family. And the best part?? I get to be my sweet friend Sylvia's neighbor now! Life takes its twists and turns for sure, and we wouldn't want this journey any other way. We now are exactly where we are meant to be.
Miedi now shines in a bright new and updated light, but with all of her special and beautiful old history intact. It is now our mission to keep her and her memories of family and friends center stage and add new memories to be cherished.
Standing at the airport looking through the glass wall, waiting to see Tony walking down the long corridor, my feelings of anxiousness and stress were overwhelming, and nothing compared to the exhaustion I was sure he was feeling. I just wanted him back here with me so we could be together and figure out this giant mess that we had gotten ourselves into. We work better together, and being so far apart throughout all of this made everything so much worse and added to our anxiety. What he didn’t know while he was on a plane flying over the ocean, I had received a call from the sellers, while I was at work that afternoon. They were understandably upset that he had left, and while I understood their feelings, my “mother bear” instinct had kicked in and I was going to protect us and our family at all costs. I had told them that once Tony and I had a chance to talk and take stock of everything, we would be in touch.
You're probably asking yourself why he left? Why get up and get on a plane back to the US? Seems pretty drastic right? Well, during that last meeting with the “Commercialista”, Tony expressed his concern over the way things were unfolding. As time went on, there seemed to be less and less commitment from the sellers. Everything that had been promised sitting around their kitchen table, was now down to just a few days of commitment to transition this entire brand. Their “word” never made it into the contracts, and it was obvious that all they wanted was to cash out, and then peace out! Tony prepared a plan B in an attempt to work with the sellers and express with them our concerns. This plan ensured the continued success of the brand and they would still get the remainder of their money. That brief meeting was met with them making it clear that they had no interest in any sort of a partnership plan that would have helped us all to be successful in the long run, and they walked out. It was apparent that this just wasn’t going to work. What they said, and what was in writing, just didn’t match and we were not comfortable with any of it! This was our life savings, and while we had already handed over significant amounts, we now had to put the brakes on this speeding train before it went any further.
Once we had about 24 hours to address the ominous feeling in our gut, and attempt to read over all the paperwork that Tony had brought back with him, it was obvious that this was poorly written and completely in the benefit of the sellers, and full of things that just didn’t make sense to us with the foreign language and legalese writing, we were frustratingly baffled. Next up, making that phone call to the sellers, that would end up being our last phone conversation with them. The call was short, and ended just after it began. When someone opens a dialogue saying that they “understand this isn’t for you”, “not your thing”, and “we can end this all very amicably for a price”! Just send more money and no hard feelings. Insert jaw drop! They went on and on about how things are done in Italy, and how this was their culture and community now, despite being American. Once I picked my jaw up off the floor and collected myself, I answered that I will put the financial needs of my family above all else. While they may live in Italy now, they are in fact American, and still are, and I am pretty sure the world over, THAT is called extortion. That call ended with the sellers stating that we would be hearing from their lawyer. I remember hanging up the phone, taking a deep breath, and picking the phone back up again. One call to a friend, and a short journey that led us to our italian attorney, now turned dear friend. Stefano lives in Milan and has a very respected practice in business contract law and litigation with some very high profile clients in his resume. Today, we are still grateful that he took on our “little” case.
Within a few short days we were on a WhatsApp video call with Stefano and sending him ALL of the contracts and paperwork we had in our possession. Including my original Apostille that I, thankfully, had the insight to never courier to Italy. At this point, the final contract was not binding and had not been filed by the notaio. I remember being utterly shocked at some of the things that were in that final contract once our lawyer had read it all. Shame on us for not knowing better, being too trusting, and not protecting ourselves! After some back and forth emails, and the seller's lawyer continuing to attempt to get yet more money from us, Stefano said enough! The contract was not valid. I remember so clearly when he waved the papers around on a WhatsApp call and said, “This is not a contract, it is just, Air!” You see, it is against Italian Supreme Court law to sell “good will”, and that is exactly what they had done. There was absolutely NOTHING in that contract that was tangible for selling a business or brand. And yes, that includes all those potatoes! We bought NOTHING. It was at that point, that Stefano sent an email to the seller’s lawyer informing them of the Supreme Court law in Italy, and that if this continued, we would be taking this to court and litigating. Basta!
After that email, we never heard from them again. Well, not in a legal sense anyway. I am sure that they knew they were in the wrong, and continuing would most likely not end well for them. What followed was an onslaught of social media bashing for lack of a better word. Facebook and Instagram posts, podcasts, and blog posts that were filled with, straight up lies. We listened to every podcast, read every post and our lawyer documented it all. We were truly shocked at some of the things said. The comments that were left by all of their devout followers were absolutely horrible! Our character was being attacked by complete strangers saying truly cruel things about us. We felt hurt and used, yet again. Used to boost their “story”, perhaps further their business through sympathy, to keep their followers on “their” side. It was as if they were using their followers to attack us so they didn’t have to do it themselves. There were so many things said over that time by them that would shock their followers today, but we chose to stay silent. All of this added to the devastation we felt and was a part of the emotional journey we had to go through. Instantly, the property was miraculously still available and they were able to pick up where they left off and have a VERY full and successful season as always. They were fortunate to have never skipped a beat, and went back to business as usual.
Now, nearly 5 years later, it continues. Updates on the original blog post claiming to be the “true story”, that now names our business and a link to our website! Maybe we should thank them for the free marketing. To be honest, we are truly surprised at the attempt to continue to churn hatred from followers for us, and try to somehow hurt our business. As for us, we choose to live our life in a way that we can feel good about. To make choices that we can look back on and know that we did the right thing and didn’t intentionally negatively impact others. The past few years have been a roller coaster for us. A series of ups and downs as we found our way back to our dream. Back to owning a home in Italy. Attempting to bring down others or hurt their business along the way, does absolutely nothing for us. This is why we have chosen to not mention anything about them or their business or where they are. We have chosen to always stay focused on our journey.
Sitting here now, we can truly say that we had to go through all of that, to get here. To find Miedi and all of our wonderful neighbors that we now call friends. To be a part of this amazing community of ours. To learn to trust again, and come back and buy a home! It was a lesson learned, albeit a very expensive and truly personal one.
So, our advice to anyone reading this and maybe has a dream of a life in another country. Protect yourself! Do your research, find your people to protect you, represent YOU. There are people out there that charge you a lot of money for workshops claiming to teach you how to move to Italy, or how to “retire” in Italy and share their “secrets” on how to do this, based solely on their experience and circumstance. Promising to have all the people to help you with the entire process, for a big cost! I am here to tell you, all of that is available to you for FREE. You do not need to attend an expensive workshop for information, unless you want to enjoy the trip. There are no “secrets” on how to move to Italy or any foreign country. There are so many different circumstances and it looks different for everyone. Some would like to retire, some would like to run a business, some are being relocated for work. And there are hundreds of different visas and documents and paths to a foreign country based on where you are coming from and what your circumstances are. There are so many social media groups out there filled with other expats, such as ourselves, that are always willing to help others in all types of circumstances and provide what knowledge we have from our different experiences and to try to point someone in the right direction to get the correct information. To share the free government sites and reputable people should you prefer, to help guide you. We are not experts by any means, but we are always willing to help others through our journey, if we can. Be wary of anyone promising to have all the people with them to help you along the way, because those are THEIR people, not YOUR people.
Next up...the fun story on how we found our beloved Miedi! Some things are just truly meant to be.
During our search for the perfect property, we had also decided that we wanted a small business along with it. Something that really excited us and fit into the things we loved! Something that we could share with others so that they could experience the Italian countryside that we were growing to love so much! Why, you might ask? Why not just “retire” and enjoy a house in Italy that you’ve worked so hard for? Well, I think this can be answered by simply saying, we just aren’t done yet. We have a desire to continue to work in something that is fulfilling and sharing it with others and in some way give back to the community that we have grown to love so much.
So who exactly are we? Well, Tony is a “wine guy”, spending some time studying all aspects of wine and working for a small, primarily Italian, wine importer. Not a bad guy to have around the house! He has hosted countless wine tastings, catered in home wine dinners, teaching people the basics of wine, selling to restaurants and wine bars and shops and building fun friendships along the way. As for me, I decided to head back to school in my 40’s and get my culinary degree. It was one of the most fun things I have ever experienced. Then, I decided to go back and study extra time in pastry art as well! I was fortunate enough to work straight out of culinary school for a very well loved Italian restaurant in downtown Cincinnati as the pastry chef. I was thrilled to be in the kitchen, and learning even more and on a much larger scale! I found it exhilarating to be so crazy busy working to fill the restaurant and special events with desserts in the hundreds at times. The executive chef and owner is from Florence, and I enjoyed learning so much from him. Watching the way his grandmother’s bolognese was made, learning the authentic ways of handmade pasta, and the culture of the restaurant kitchen! I absolutely cherish and appreciate every minute of my time there.
Our search for the “perfect” situation for us in Italy, took many turns. In 2015, a unique opportunity presented itself. They say timing is everything, and we thought our search was over. Remember when I said that some people along our journey didn’t have our best interests at heart? Well, this is where that part of the story comes in. Let me start out by saying that while we debated whether to even put this out there, we decided that this is our story. And, as a part of our story, it needs to be told and maybe, in some small way, it might help someone else looking to find their way to a foreign country. I am not going to mention their names or business or where in Italy they are. That being said, most who followed our journey early on, know all the details. For the last 5 years, we have chosen to not publicly discuss what happened. Why? Well, we truly felt that it was a private, and yes, legal business matter. It was most definitely not something to be splashed all over social media, blogs and podcasts filled with, not surprisingly, half truths as well as some no truths! We had absolutely no interest in interfering with their now continued business and wished them no ill will despite the devastation and financial loss that we experienced. I think age and life experience sprinkled with a little wisdom helped us to not stray from our values or beliefs during that time.
This would be a good time to grab a drink and settle in for a read.
I had been following a rather popular agriturismo in Italy, owned and operated by expats, for quite some time. Like everyone else, I enjoyed following the food, fun and photos. And, perhaps we felt some sort of kinship since they are Americans as well. When the opportunity to purchase their business came up, at exactly the time we were researching properties, it caused us to rethink our vision. Maybe, this was our path. We wouldn’t be owning our own farmhouse, but a business. We contacted the owners, and let them know that we were interested in possibly purchasing. We booked and paid for a stay with them during our next trip to Italy! We were so excited to have the full guest experience. While we were there, we found time with them to discuss the details of the business and reviewed financials that they had prepared. We took it all in and tried to imagine ourselves living in the farmhouse, working in the garden, walking around the local village, and being the ones running this business. Did this feel like home? We left with a growing sense of excitement. The change in our vision and the option of this new idea, started to take root. We spoke excitedly about the possibilities ahead. We returned to the US, and told them we wanted to purchase!
The process of purchasing in Italy, or any foreign country, is a daunting task. And let me be clear, when you decide to go after your dream life, there are sacrifices you choose to make. Financial and practical. We are not, by any means, people with unlimited disposable income. And we felt, this was our chance to live our dream and we were all in. We had done some research on purchasing a home, but not a business. We learned that the basics of which were quite similar. There was a compromesso, and money sent at different stages of the process leading up to the final purchase contract signing. Obviously, we were nervous and unsure of how business dealings were handled in a foreign country, and not to mention the language barrier! We had done what we felt was quite a lot of research on this, and all had mentioned the same documents, and “buzz words” for the necessary people that could be involved. A commercialista, geometra, lawyer, notaio etc. Since the owners were also American and had been through all of this themselves, we chose to trust them and all of the players that they recommended, completely. Mistake number one! Every single person that was a part of this deal worked in the same office together and represented the sellers. Looking back on it now, it still makes us wince at just how naive we were. We truly felt we had done our due diligence along with a measured amount of trust. Once we had signed preliminary documents, and sent initial deposit money, we were on our way to being the new owners of a successful agriturismo and cooking school! Then, the first bump in the road hit us. We received an unexpected Skype call from the sellers telling us that the property they had been renting for all these years was suddenly not available, and we had to find a new property to lease. The reason we were given for this sudden change? The owner wanted a family member to live in it for tax benefits. Now, this all seemed rather sudden to us as the couple had lived in the house for nearly 10 years running a successful business from it, and had a very good relationship with the owner, whom we had briefly met on our last visit. Cue the first of many red flags! Surely, they would have known about this before? We reasoned away the ugly doubt that was beginning to show itself, and moved forward. Funny thing about all of those little red flags, over time they add up! Now we had to acquire a new house AND be the new owners of a business who’s brand was primarily based on the owner’s themselves and this property that was marketed so heavily in photos on social media. This is a lot for devout followers and potential guests to accept with a business that they love and follow so much. They assured us that they would begin searching high and low for the perfect property. Trudging to see some 20+ properties, sharing their experiences on social media and blog posts, of course. We waited patiently for what they would find.
Not long after, we received yet another Skype call that they had found 2 properties and that we needed to get on a plane and get there ASAP to choose. Anxious to keep things moving, we immediately booked those crazy expensive, last minute tickets and jumped on a plane back to Italy. Once we finally arrived, after multiple planes, missed connections, an overnight in London, and changed flights now into Verona and one very long drive over the river and through the woods, we were excited to see these properties and find out the leasing details. When the sun rose the next day, we were off to finally meet all the important people involved in our transaction. The "Commercialista" and the attorney were all conveniently located in the same office. These names had been heralded as saints and the most perfect guides that had been helping our sellers for years to establish their business in Italy and navigate taxes, etc. These were to be key people in our future once we became the new owners and we felt like we had hit the jackpot with all the needed connections. Armed with piles of documents and paperwork that were needed, we were ready. Bank accounts were opened (and what a process that is in Italy!), and paperwork was started. Those 2 properties they had narrowed down, had become just 1. And, as luck would have it, it was managed by the commercialista and his team at the office. How convenient! Off we went, a short drive up the hill to see what would be our new home in Italy and the new home of the business, and to meet the owner. The property was massive! Many bedrooms and grand sitting rooms, a commercial kitchen, and was filled with beautiful antiques. It clearly needed some work and elbow grease from basic neglect, but definitely a solid and beautiful choice, albeit very big. Now, the owner of the large farmhouse, was one that you never forget after meeting. We call her the "Diva Signora", and she was something of a character, and a rather wealthy one at that. Owning many properties in Italy, Canada and France. Decked out in her Prada sunglasses (which she never took off, even indoors), designer bag and shoes and bright orange red lipstick. That picture you’re conjuring up now in your mind, that’s her. She was sizing us up and there were some hushed discussions between her and the 'Commercialista". From this point on, I can only describe the feeling as one of being carried by a wave. Things happened quickly, and plans were made. We expressed some concerns we had about the brand and business and followers embracing us, and whether they would get the bookings needed to begin generating the income needed. We were assured time and time again, that they would absolutely help with the transition and be there for as long as we needed. They would take care of all the marketing, and book the following season for us. So, we let the wave carry us.
Back home to the US to prepare for our return to Italy a few weeks later armed with all that was needed to finalize the purchase and leasing of the house. More monies were transferred and more people were paid their share. I did not have my British citizenship at this time, so I needed to obtain a self employment visa from the Italian consulate in Detroit. At the time, we had no idea that this is in fact one of the most difficult visas to get, especially if you're an American! Needless to say, I never got it. It was decided that Tony would head back to complete the business and I would have to stay here to continue my long back and forth 4 hour drives to Detroit and visits with the consulate trying to get this necessary visa for me to stay in Italy for any length of time. This was a very difficult decision for us. We are one of those annoying couples that actually love doing most everything together and this was our life dream. So, not being there together during one of the most important stages of our new life was excruciating for us. This meant that there were A LOT of text messages and phone calls back and forth with me living here in the US in Italy's time zone. And very little sleep for me. The first order of business for Tony was the signing of the lease for the house. This one simple activity ended up like a scene from a movie. Despite everything being agreed to beforehand, suddenly now our “Diva Signora” had decided that she needed more money and a longer lease. She was stamping her Ferragamo shoes and crossing her arms screeching that she was a prisoner if she signed the lease as it was. You cannot make this stuff up! The next thing you know, we had signed a 27 year lease for more money and had to pay the entire year up front. That feeling of panic and having no other options with your back against a wall and not understanding everything being said around you, makes you do the stupidest of things!
Next up, the signing of the final contract. One evening, after much back and forth as to whether the notaio was even available, it seemed that he was, and after hours. Everyone was rushed off in dirty, sweaty work clothes. The contract would be signed. However, until my original apostille for my identity and for power of attorney was received, it was not legally complete and couldn’t be filed. As far as all the players around the table at the signing? Well, that was another grave mistake on our part. Not ONE person was truly representative of us. We blindly trusted everyone that was recommended to us by the sellers, and they all worked in one office together and truly worked for the sellers. BIG MISTAKE! Put that on the table along with a known language barrier, and you have a recipe for disaster. We trusted everything that was written in that contract as it was translated to us. You know that feeling in your gut that never goes away, because you KNOW something just isn't right?? This feeling had been growing for a few months now, and those red flags had now added up to one giant red waving banner! There were numerous things that had us questioning the contract. Come to find out later from our attorney in Milan, we were correct in questioning its validity. Unbeknownst to us, we were the proud owners of several thousand pounds of potatoes! That is a lot of potato salad my friends. We never saw a single potato. This was so the sellers could avoid paying the entire tax on the money received from the sale utilizing their status as a farm. The contract also claimed that we were fluent in Italian, and numerous other interesting details. But, i’m getting ahead of myself here.
Too many things had transpired in a short amount of time after signing the contract. Things had changed, and their involvement and help for us was dwindling. Remember, their leased property was apparently going away, so they also needed to move. They had to find another place to live. In an effort to help offset the enormous costs we had, furnishing this large home was just one of them, I had thought we could work something out with the furniture that they would no longer need that filled their property. Surely they wouldn’t be needing furniture for 7 apartments once they moved onto their new traveling venture. And, this would help save us some money and time. I inquired about this more than once, and my question was always ignored. When at their home, not one box was ever packed, and no one seemed worried about needing to pack up and move or find another place to live. It was never mentioned. The property that was never available to us, somehow never went anywhere for them. You know the saying “If it walks like a duck…”
Tony and I were in constant contact, and it became obvious to us that something was indeed VERY wrong. We didn't know who to turn to. The only person in Italy to express our concerns, was the "Commercialista". While he did try to save this whole mess, unsuccessfully, we always knew that his loyalty was and always would be, to the sellers. That was it, enough was enough. It was time for Tony to come home so we could, together, collect our thoughts, and go over all the paperwork, and discuss the options in front of us.
After a very long drive into the night back to Rome, he boarded a plane back to the US.
Stay tuned for part 2 and our journey to an Italian lawyer turned dear friend!
Everyone has an Italian dream of some kind right? Visions of driving down the Amalfi coast in a vintage convertible with the sparkling blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea below, Cinema Paradiso, or Sofia Loren eating bowls of pasta while looking glamorous seem to conjure up an idyllic life. I guess I could say that the seed was planted the minute we first stepped off the plane in Rome some 6 years ago. The sights, smells, food and people all find their way inside your soul and never leave. Tony and I always knew that we wanted something different and somewhat unconventional for that so-called “second phase” of life. You know the one, where the kids grow up and leave to start their own lives, and you’re ready to start living those dreams that have been slowly percolating over the past 25 years. But just how different, we didn’t know. And, while that first month long trip did leave an indelible mark on us, the dream really began on our little 10’x10’ deck in Ohio with two bottles of wine. I mean, doesn’t every brilliant idea begin with alcohol? So, of course, we took to Google. We typed in the search bar, “house for sale in Italy”. Clicked on the first result and were taken to a beautiful villa in Tuscany with an olive farm. We were sure there was a YouTube video on how to harvest olives and make olive oil. Perfect! Goodness our naive selves just didn’t have a clue!
Once the wine bottles were empty, and we were sober again, the dream of running an olive farm in Tuscany was properly left behind. We quickly realized that while those beautiful villas are the stuff dreams are made of, they also come with a rather large price tag. Time to start searching for what was actually within our budget. Returning to Italy, year after year, and looking at what now seems like hundreds of houses, was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. We took the time to explore the smaller nooks and crannies of the country, and learn more about the beautiful culture, history, food and wine. We fell in love with the slower pace of life in the countryside. The garden to table culture that is almost assumed and so respected. 3 years ago, while looking at properties in Umbria, near Perugia, we instantly felt at home! The mountains, trees, rolling valleys, Lake Trasimeno, short distance to Florence and both coasts made it ideal for us. Right in the center of the boot, the “Green Heart” of Italy was home.
Seems simple enough right? Well, if this journey was that easy, then it would end here. We have met wonderful friends along the way, some have become our adopted Italian family that we cherish. And, unfortunately, we came across some that did not have our best interests at heart. More about that later. In the end, we never gave up on what was important to us, what we wanted, and who we are. We kept going and pushed through all the unimaginable roadblocks, with one gut-wrenching disappointment, and really tough decisions that needed to be made. Was it worth it? Most definitely! And, we wouldn’t change a single part of our journey to get here to our own little slice of La Dolce Vita.