When my wife Lisa Grassi-Blais and I landed in Abruzzo, Italy in August 2012, we were excited for the annual summer reunion in her ancestral village, but we were even more excited about a couple of secret side trips we had planned.
The trips weren’t about sightseeing, museums, fine dining or wine tastings. Instead, we had set up a few days with a couple of real estate agents in Abruzzo to look at properties where we could base a tour company.
The motive for our version of House Hunters International was to see exactly what kind of property we could afford on a miniscule budget of 200,000 Euro. We weren’t planning on buying. We were just doing the research needed to determine if it really was feasible to ditch our careers in Canada in order to open a tourism business in Abruzzo.
As part of our three-year plan, the big decision – to do it or not – wasn’t scheduled to be made until 2014. In August 2012, we were on a fact finding mission.
Our basic property criteria were as follows:
- Four or more bedrooms with the ability to make ensuite bathrooms;
- Central to major Abruzzo attractions;
- Outdoor space for a pool or a really nice garden, hopefully both;
- Good transportation connections (very important in an area with little flat land and fewer straight lines); and
- It had to ooze Italian charm.
Other than that, we were open to anything: country home, village home, townhome, treehouse, whatever. As for condition, we would consider anything short of a pile of rubble. We’d renovated a falling down house before, so large projects didn’t scare us much, but a complete rebuild of a pile of rocks in Italy seemed like a good way to train wreck ours dreams.
First up was David Benton of Vigneverde to look at properties in the southern Abruzzo province of Chieti. We chose to look in that area because of its diversity - 20 minutes to the sea, 20 minutes to the mountains with rolling hills in between full of vineyard gorgeous villages and many other attractions.
David, a Brit expat, showed us 10 properties in various states of disrepair that fit the budget and specifications. These included two very different properties that we could see working.
One was an enormous old townhouse at the top of our budget in the centre of the town of Casoli. It had five huge bedrooms that all could accommodate bathrooms, a stunning living room big enough to play half-court basketball in, a small separate apartment, an incongruently tiny kitchen and other assorted other rooms. (It’s still on the market. Click here to see the listing.)
It was gorgeous, and it fit our plan. We could see the type of company we would run: cooking classes in a rebuilt kitchen, wine tastings in the living room, day trips to the area’s great attractions and the nearby sea and mountains. It would work, but it had two serious drawbacks. It was at the top of our budget while needing five bathrooms installed and a new kitchen, and it had no outdoor space.
The second candidate consisted of a house and land with about 300 olive trees fairly high up on the Maiella mountain with absolutely stunning views across the foothills to the Adriatic Sea about 20 kilometres away. The house was about a 10 minute drive from the picturesque village of Palombaro and it was well under our budget. But it would have needed to be completely renovated on one side to accommodate four guest rooms with ensuite bathrooms to go along with a small apartment on the other side which sat atop a common kitchen/dining room area. There was plenty of room for outdoor living and a pool.
Like the first, there were some drawbacks. There wasn’t much around for people to do, it was directly across the street from another building that looked like it was being constructed to be a hotel or inn, and it was up some pretty bad roads. Still, I was confident we could make it work. Lisa was less jazzed about the place.
Regardless, as we headed back to unknowing family and friends that evening, we declared the day a success. We saw many properties in our price range that could work for us if we chose to make the leap in a couple years.
At the time, we had no idea that a few days later we would see a property that would prompt us to rocket our decision making plan forward and lead us to where we are today, about six months from our May 2016 opening.
Next Blog: Something unexpected happens.