22 Nov Capturing the Dream
One Sunday morning after another punishing week at work, we saw an ad in the weekend FT for a villa for sale in Tuscany. A restoration project with amazing views: what an escape this could be from the stresses of our banking careers and craziness of urban living. 11 years on, how are we doing?
In terms of project, it was the first time we’d attempted anything on this scale- converting a 600sq m farming property into a contemporary family home, with a complete re-design and refurbishment. Despite Italian bureaucracy in an area with hugely conservative planning laws, the process was more professionally executed than we’d imagined. The local workforce was hard working, diligent, demonstrated high levels of craftsmanship and made intelligent suggestions. It helped immeasurably that we had a very savvy bi-lingual project manager and an architect who seemed to know exactly what would get passed (so no planning rejections). Our builder was creative and positive and the fusion of ideas between us all delivered wonderful results. The cost whilst more than we intended was also largely shock-free. We’ve since worked on other development projects in the UK , each one inferior in almost all respects to our Italian experience.
The unexpected element was that the project was merely the start. Owning a hill top villa in rural Tuscany means owning a characterful property not connected to national grid system of water, gas, sewage systems or fibre optic broadband. Also 4 hectares of land doesn’t tend itself.
The costs at the outset are merely the antipasti of a meal that you eat over at least a decade. We had simply not envisaged the on-going investment in time, money and resources that a villa such as ours needs.
Forget long lunches al fresco, many of our early holidays were spent in OBI (Italy’s B&Q). If we’d known how much time is required to meet and pay people, review new solutions to problems we did not know existed (deers eating solar panel cables?) I’m not sure we’d have embarked quite so keenly. The upside is that this really is the closest you can get to living overseas without actually being a local – a sort of non-dom balancing a glass of Chianti wine and an open cheque book.
But then your favourite people arrive to visit, they love the setting, food & culture and they cannot believe how lucky you are…. and you are gently reminded about why are doing this.