It’s been quite a summer. In the course of a month, my Italian house has taught me a lesson and found a whole new life for itself. I left for Italy in early August to bid farewell to my old home in Umbria and to undertake the mammoth and bitter-sweet task of packing it up. I returned to the UK at the end of the month with a new plan – to make it into a space for fabulous holidays and Yoga retreats for lovers of unspoiled nature.
Since Easter we had been inching towards a sale that – in hindsight – never felt right.
This sale had already pushed us down to a price at the limit of what we could accept (for Italy’s economy and property market are in a sorry state), but it then kept asking for more. Trying to move towards a contract felt like wading through treacle. But we had accepted an offer and committed to sell. So we kept going, even when, arriving in Italy and reconnecting with the reality of our house, we could not believe that we were really letting go of our extraordinary spot – and for so little (fyi nowhere near enough to buy in Cambridge’s real estate bubble).
So we got to work, clearing, cleaning, packing. The prospective buyers came to visit. They were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, telling us it was their ‘dream’ to live here and wanting to know all the small details about how things worked. But two days later they sent an email to the agent saying they were not proceeding with the purchase.
My first reaction was shock and minor panic. Could these be the same people who came to visit? Would we ever be able to shed the burden of our Italian real estate and buy elsewhere? But the emotion that quickly emerged from deep within was relief, followed by excitement and even joy.
A house with history
This house, which dates back several hundred years and where we lived for 11 years from 2000 to 2011, holds so many stories for us. It was a ruin when we bought it in 1997 – thick stone walls and a roof, with no windows, doors, downstairs floors (that was animal quarters), water or electricity.
Like many Italian country houses, it was abandoned in the 1960s and had not been inhabited for nearly 40 years (apart from by a local herd of sheep). So restoring it was a labour of love. And then our three children were born here – including one in the space of 20 minutes on the bathroom floor with only my husband and sister on hand.
So letting go of our Italian house was always going to be hard. But, now living back in the UK and busy with new projects, we could not see an alternative. The house was not set up for rentals and getting it to that state seemed an impossible task – despite lots of previous clearing, it still felt so personal to us and had a number of quirky (and potentially confusing) features or things that did not work quite properly; and it does not have a pool. And, while several friends had suggested I use it for Yoga retreats, I could not think where we would practise.
But now suddenly I could!
A bright new future
While packing ready for the sale, the house kept whispering to me not to give up on her and that there was another way forward. So, when the sale fell through, the way was clear.
I simply stepped up the packing and the clearing that I was already committed to doing and gave the house so much love, turning old studies into new bedrooms and lightening the load of all our long-abandoned stuff. After two weeks of dawn-to-dusk hard labour, anything we wish to keep is now neatly packed away in boxes in the attic. And things that need sorting, changing, mending are in the process of being sorted, changed or mended.
Most exciting of all, I realised that the Yoga space was there all the time – in the 65 sqm central hall. With a minor intervention – replacing flagstones for wood in half the room and removing some furniture – it will be perfect. And even the lack of a swimming pool is nowadays quite easy to overcome, so by next summer there will be a new ‘above-ground’ pool.
Green holidays and Yoga retreats
So it is has been a bit of a journey this summer. But when we left at the end of August, our house – perched on the top of a hill at 650 metres with astounding views of glorious green nature – was more beautiful than ever.
I’m so grateful to her for reminding me to listen in, to trust my gut feeling – to let things go when they just feel wrong (no matter how much they logically seem right) and to have faith in what feels right. And I’m so excited about her future as a space for both us and anyone else who is moved by tranquillity and undisturbed natural beauty to visit for holidays and to run or attend Yoga retreats.
I’m still in the early stages of planning, but here is some basic information about our beautiful Italian house, Pian della Volla:
- Location – 19km/25 minutes by car from Città di Castello, Umbria. Deep in the countryside in the foothills of the Apennine mountains that form the spine of Italy. It is 15 minutes to Pietralunga, a smaller town (and the nearest shop).
- Nearest airport – Perugia (inc RyanAir ex Stansted) – 50 minutes; also possible – Ancona, Rome, Bologna, Pisa.
- Capacity – The house is apx 400 sqm and sleeps a max of 14 in 6 bedrooms (1 double, 1 double plus single, 3 twin, 1 attic triple for kids). The Yoga practice space will comfortably hold 10-15 people. The kitchen is large and has an adjoining dining room, and there is a stunning upstairs living room.
- Outside space – the house is surrounded by a vast oak forest. Our large (2.5-acre), terraced garden is tended but not watered. As well as the wisteria-covered patio off the house, there is a pizza/bbq area with a covered sitting area.
- Photos – the photos here were taken by me this August – at the end of one of the hottest summers anyone remembers. You can see more older photos of the interior and exterior on our soon-to-be-updated property sale website.
- Availability – from mid-May to the end of September each year. (We won’t rent in the months when heating is needed as it is too complicated and expensive).
- Prices – tbc
If you’d be interested in staying or running a Yoga retreat at our Italian house, do get in touch for more information.