After seeing a property in the Abruzzo region of Italy that seemed perfect for an inn and tour company, my wife Lisa Grassi-Blais and I needed a reality check against our mounting excitement.
We’d just returned from a trip to Abruzzo in August 2012 during which we’d looked at several properties to see if it really was feasible for us to quit our jobs in Ottawa and re-invent ourselves as tour operators in the region where her grandfather was born and raised before coming to Canada.
The properties we saw convinced us that we could do it, and, according to our grand plan at the time, we were about two years away from making the big go/no go decision. Those plans suddenly went by the wayside though when we saw a place that seemed so right.
We felt we should act or the opportunity might be lost, but at the same time we wanted to make sure we weren’t simply being overwhelmed by the romance of it all.
So to see if we were just dreaming of whether indeed this was the golden opportunity we thought it was, we decided to take that September to analyze the major criteria and collect more information. If at the end of September, we were still convinced we should act, we would then make some decisions.
First criteria up: a biggie – location.
The property was on the edge of a town called Torre de’Passeri, right in the heart of Abruzzo, 30 minutes from the beach, 10 minutes to mountains, and 30 minutes from skiing. Every major attraction in Abruzzo – castles, forts, wineries, bigger cities, the coast, mountains – was, and is, within an easy drive of Torre de’Passeri. Running an array of cool day trips and tours out of the location would be easy. Check.
As for transportation connections, the town sits just off a major highway that connects to Rome and as well as to Pescara, Abruzzo’s commercial hub. So the villa was an easy drive to and from anywhere in Italy. There’s also a train line connecting the town to Rome and Pescara with a station just up the street. There are twice daily buses in each direction to Pescara and Rome, including one directly to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. The Pescara International Airport has daily flights from all over Italy and Europe, including London, Barcelona, Paris, and Frankfurt. At 25 minutes away, those airport pickup and drop offs would be a breeze. The Rome Airport has hundreds of flights daily from around the world, including dozens from North America. It’s about two hours, one way, but still manageable. So there were many excellent connections clients could use to get to the villa or we could use to get them there. Check.
So what about the town? Was it right? Abruzzo is filled with beautiful mountain and hill towns, but the geography has caused them to be isolated, which in turn led to heavy emigration for economic reasons. The result is these towns are beautiful, but they are slow to dead outside of summer holidays. Torre de’Passeri is not one of these towns. Instead, its central location and good transportation connections attracted industry and this helped to stem emigration. The result is a robust population of 3000 laid out over winding streets full of old buildings in the historic centre and tasteful newer buildings on the outskirts. There are three restaurants, a few cafes, little shops, grocery stores and more. It’s not a tourist town, but that’s not we were going for. Instead, it’s an authentic working Italian town that bustles with life. You can sit in a cafe watching soccer with the locals while sipping a glass of wine, hang out in different squares, sit on bench on the main street and watch the world go by, or enjoying homemade gelato in one of the shops. The town fit the bill for a business planning to market the authentic Italian experience. Check.
So as far as location went, the villa scored high. It was central to many attractions and things to do and had good transportation connections. The town had old world charm and was alive and perfect for our purposes.
Still, what we were considering – leaving careers, selling our house, moving away from our families – was a huge step. If we were going to rocket our plan ahead two years and decide to do this, everything had to be just right, including the building. And that was a completely different story.
Next Blog: Is this the right property