We all have a dream about a special place, at home or abroad, where we can retreat to; for holidays or time away from the working life. Mine was Italy.
Italian was the first language I learned, if textbook grammar and conversation was learning; and when I was growing up there were no holidays abroad to practice the language. Nevertheless the romantic view of Italy was born, Tuscany Hills, sleepy towns clinging to cliff faces with forbidding grey weather-beaten walls on the houses and happy families sharing delicious food washed down by red wines from their own grapes.
With 10 years left towards a possible retirement my thoughts were returning to buying my dream property in Italy and the search began in Southern Italy in 2007. At that time prices were buoyant as many sought homes in the Mediterranean and Italy became the hotspot for the Irish and Brits (as well of course Russians).
My first visit was a free three day all expenses paid trip with a company who was an agency for several construction companies in Calabria, then cheap, almost undiscovered and most of all offering hot sun drenched beaches.
With six others from UK and Scotland we were shown 2-3 holiday blocks each day with off plans for 1 and 2 bedroom houses and flats on offer from €40,000 – €120,000 depending on location. We viewed mostly on the East coast of Calabria with one trip to Tropea on the West. I believe only one person placed a down-payment on a flat from this trip and for me, I had begun to get a feeling of what I would like.
I returned within 3 months with my husband and flew into Lamezia on the West coast; having done more internet research and was, perhaps naively excited about houses and flats in the small paese around the area of Scalea (large seaside resort very popular with Nepalese, who double the population during the holiday month of August). We met some salespeople from a British agency who conducted house showings during the day. We viewed about 8 possible areas over the week, from shells of apartments high up in the old town of Scalea (small but eminently well located) to doer-uppers in Santa Maria del Cedro and Santa Domenica Talao. The agency organised supper evenings where we met with up to 20 others from the UK and America who had either recently bought their own places or were, like us, in the process of looking. It was an exciting time and there was much to compare and share.
Mostly decisions were made by the heart rather than the head and when we finally settled on a 3 storey village house in Santa Domenica Talao with expansive views of the sea and Pollina Hills from our terrace and balcony, we didn’t take into consideration that this house did not have an access road (100 steps to the Piazza above) and everything would need to be carried by hand to the house. I still have a mental picture of my husband coming down the steps from the Piazza with a sofa on his shoulders.
Our agent helped us open a bank account; a solicitor/Geometra was quickly found in Scalea and within 3 months we were the proud owners of a casa. The asking price was 80,000 euros; we offered 70,000 and the deal was struck within 12 hours.
Then the architect Antonello who patiently slowed down his clear Italian so I could understand and converse drew up plans for a very thorough overhaul of electrics, conversion of the cellar to a bedroom and bathroom, the raising of the third floor roof which was originally very low and one couldn’t stand upright. The Architect commissioned a builder and we duly signed the plans, made a deposit with the view that the works would finish within 6 months.
Of course that was not the case and despite delays we eventually were able to have our first proper holiday with new wiring, fresh coats of emulsion, tiles more suited to today’s fashion and a small lemon tree that produced much fruit which our friends helped themselves to and made Lemoncella from. The conversion cost about 45,000 Euro and soon afterwards of course we had the property crash and also the Euro and pound had parity for about a year so ended up being more costly than expected.