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Friday, 29 June 2007

A House in San Venanzo

By Barbara Skinner of Art and Barb Live in Italy

In September, 2000 we took a tour of Italy with our good friends Sherry and Dave, had a fantastic time and talked of returning.

We returned in January 2001, when NWA offered free airfare with frequent flyer miles, and again in April 2001. We had one week of vacation left for October, so we went back for the Chocolate Festival in Perugia.
After two weeks in Italy in May 2002, I post on SlowTrav the questions that are gnawing away at me: Could we live in Italy? How would we do it? Could we afford it? Who would help us? After all, retiring to Italy is not something for people like us. People with just an average amount of money, little savings and no language skills.

Slowly we start to get the idea maybe we can do this. Ex-pats tell us we have enough monthly income from Art’s retirement. We could probably afford a house. We begin to contact people in Italy. We scour the web, looking at houses for sale. Most of the places we see on the web are way too expensive for us, but most people seem to think that with some luck and patience, we will find a house.

We make lots of helpful contacts and decide we’ll take our vacation time to search for the perfect town. We know we want to be in a town, not isolated. The idea of an Italian villa sounds quite grand, but #1, we don’t have the money, and #2, how could we feel like a part of a community if we were out in the country, all by ourselves?

In a town, we could get to know our neighbors and our language skills would improve faster. We want a town that’s large enough to have the basics, such as a grocery, bakery, newsstand, butcher, etc. Large enough so we don’t have to get in the car every time we ran out of bread.

Armed with a good map and lots of notes, we spent every day driving, driving, driving. We looked at Spina - too small. Marsciano - too large. Deruta - just not right. And so it went.

Every day, new cities on the map, new suggestions, new ideas. We thought Citta di Castello would be nice because it offered so many amenities. Plenty of shops. A good medical center. Always something to do. But then, after much discussion, we decided that we really wanted to stay south of Perugia. This was progress of sorts; at least we were narrowing down our area of interest.

We also knew that we wanted to be centrally located with good road and train connections. Our plans for our life in Italy included lots of travel, within Italy and throughout Europe.

Grutti - no, the medieval tower sounded nice, but the city just didn’t “feel” right. San Terezziano - a wonderful little medieval walled village, but more work than we wanted and more money than we could afford. Todi - while the town seemed nice during a rainy November day, the thought of thousands of tourists from May through October each year made us say no.

We visited Massa Martana. It was in the process of being completely rebuilt. Seems that the town had been severely damaged by the 1997 earthquake and was only now rebuilding. The best of both worlds. Medieval charm, a walled city, and all new modern conveniences.

Art was completely captivated, but I started to think about the practicalities. Do we really want to live in an apartment with someone above and below us? Won’t the apartments be dark, due to the narrow streets? Finally we realized that although Massa Martana was cute, it was not going to be our new home.

More driving. More towns. I’m taking notes, taking pictures, trying to remember not only details, but also feelings.

We arrive in Bevagna. The size is good. And it’s flat. Italian hilltowns are wonderful to look at, but when you’re living there, you must consider whether or not you’ll want (or be able) to walk the hills everyday. Bevagna is not only flat and nice sized, it’s also conveniently located to major roads and a train hub in Foligno. It also has fantastic views, but it’s in the valley, meaning it’ll be hot in the summer.

Maybe Canara. Or Bettona? People are harvesting olives as we climb the hill up to Bettona. The city is charming, but it felt a bit isolated sitting on top of the hill. And every day, it’s more of the same: Collazzone, Colleppe, Aquasparta, Sangemini, Corciano. Very cute. Torgiano is cute too, but a little too big.

Then we decide to see a house we’d seen on the internet. It’s in a town called San Venanzo, it looks fairly modern and it’s within our price range.

Although Art is impressed with many things about the house, I remain skeptical. It’s definitely not my dream house. The town is cute - not too small, not too large. It’s not walled, but it does have a gelateria and a bakery.

Art likes it because it’s not falling down. No chipping plaster. No uneven floors. Central heat. Gas mains. Lots of windows and cross ventilation. Two bathrooms. He tries to sway me with the fact that one of the bathrooms has a bathtub which was a big item on my wish list. I remain unmoved. The house has no charm.
It does have a small yard, but it’s all in shade, so no tomato plants in the summer. The yard backs up to a park which adds to the privacy but the only access to the yard is from the outside. It does have a garage, which is a big plus. The rooms are nice sized.

We walk through the town, down the main street. In addition to the shops already mentioned, there is a flower shop, a post office, a gas station, a hardware store, a newsstand, a butcher shop, two small grocery stores, several bars, even a hotel. Two banks, a police station, medieval ruins.

Did I mention that it is in our price range? What’s wrong with it?

We have lunch one day with some friends who tell us, “If you want it, go home, get a second mortgage, buy it, then put your house up for sale. Don’t risk losing it if this is what you want.”

I’m still thinking. A second visit improved my opinion and Art has made some valid and positive points about the house, but I am still waiting for the house to say something to me. Anything. It says nothing. Maybe this is just because I don’t understand Italian.

I know that I could live here, but do I want to live here? Is it still my dream if it’s not in a walled city? On the other hand, walled cities attract tourists. Do I want to live in the middle of Italian Disneyland? Part of me says, “Yes!” But if we lived in San Venanzo, we could live as the Italians do. We could meet people. Walk to the shops everyday. And I could be in a walled city in 30 minutes or less if I wanted to.

Now I have to decide, do I want to live in a fairy tale which I probably can’t afford, or do I want to live in San Venanzo? And slowly, I decide: it’s better to live in San Venanzo for real than to wait for the fairy tale. If I wait for the fairy tale it may never come, and all that time will have been wasted.

And so we bought the house in San Venanzo.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: As of this writing (Sunday 24 June), there are two stories in the queue for next week. If you would like to see this blog continue, please consider sending in a story contribution.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I certainly hope this blog continues, as it's such a great outlet for anyone with a story to tell. Most of my stories are recorded on my blog, and for me, just writing them down is very satisfying. The thought that others may enjoy my stories is certainly an added bonus.

I could live almost anywhere in Italy and be happy, I think. The only thing stopping me is money and all my grandchildren!


You did the right thing buying the house in San Venanzo. Remember, while you continue looking and hoping for an 11,somebody could be buying your 10.
I hope you will be very happy there.
Enjoyed reading your well written story very much.

when can we come for a visit? Enjoyed your story...and finding dreams takes work.

Hi Barbara,
I have found a house outside San Venanzo, but have never been there. Hopefully I"m going very soon. What is San Venanzo like? Can't find any information. We have been looking all over Umbria, and all the places I like have been to much money. Is there shops, bars etc.
Hope to se some pictures somewhere.

Susanne, I've replied to you via email and hope to hear from you soon!

Hi Barbara:
I stumbled onto your story while looking for property. Also got the impression that your house was for sale. Is this true? Are there continuing blogs somewhere? I clicked onto your blog on expatsitaly and it said the blog didn't exist any longer. would like to hear the rest of your story.

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