I wasn’t sure if I should share this part of our story but if I’m delivering the truth about this adventure then why not. One of the common questions people ask is “How did you pick that area of Italy?” and the actual answer is comical. When I was reviewing the Lunigiana 2000 listings the one that really caught my eye was one in Malgrate. I fired up Google Maps and found Malgrate is the near Lake Como in the Province of Lecco…way up north, nearly in Switzerland. So when I inform our real estate agent that I am landing in Milan and I will be at her office in an hour she says “Oh no.” Turns out there are two towns called Malgrate in Italy and I was thinking about the wrong one. This map will give you an idea of the two different Malgrate towns.
Paola laughs at me and offers the justification that the Malgrate in Tuscany is much warmer so I can kill to dreams of a Lake Como house. I did a quick hotel search that was nearer to Malgrate Castle and found Golfo dei Poeti Relais & Spa. I fire up the Garmin GPS, jump in the Fiat 500 and depart Malpensa airport full of confidence. About 3 hours later I am going in circles and the Garmin is dangerously close to getting tossed out the window with an arrivederci. I am not a very patient person so getting lost if not an option so out comes the iPhone loaded with the Maps.me app, which provides live GPS maps without a data connection. About 15 minutes later I arrive at the hotel and I realize I got lucky. This place is beautiful and somehow only $159 per night.
The downfall with the hotel is the parking lot as the road that leads here can’t be more than 4 feet wide, so no cars are able to park on the grounds. I luckily ran into two English speaking Dutch tourists in the same parking lot who were also staying at the hotel and they offered to show me the way. I’d say it was a good 1/4 mile walk. Checked in, took a nap and had dinner at the hotel in preparation for the big day tomorrow…show me the houses!
It is early May 2015 and the air is still cool and crisp. I wake up to a beautiful sunny day, gobble down some of the free buffet breakfast and then drive to Paola’s office. Finally, meeting this mysterious Paola person I have been non-stop emailing for 4 months. I beat her to the rest estate agency office in Aulla and then I hear someone calling my name “Bren-dan, Bren-dan”, it’s her Paola. She is a crazy bundle of energy speaking very good English with an Italian accent. We sit in her office and she prints out the listings for 7 the places we will see today while describing each one as it comes off the printer. Bear with me as I list the places below:
#1 Mozzano ($80,000): A character stone village house of 85 square meters with lovely terrace and portico, situated in hillside medieval village with superb views, close to facilities. The village is just 10 mins drive from the main town of Monzone offering a good selection of shops, very good restaurants, bank , post office and railway station. The area is peaceful and ideal for all those seeking privacy and tranquillity away from the stress of modern life. The coastline is only 50 mins drive as well as the closest ski resort. Pisa, Genova and Parma airports are all within one hour and 30 minute drive. The property provides comfortable accommodation comprising fully equipped kitchen, living room with open fire, bathroom on the ground floor, double bedroom and terrace on the first floor and double bedroom on the second floor.
#2 Cortila ($160,000): This is a typical Tuscan country house with great character, divided into 2 completely separate adjoined units. It has been restored with great attention to details maintaining its original features. It provides 150 sq m of total living space comprising a small flat on the ground floor and the main apartment with its accommodation arranged on the first and second floor. On the lower level you find a cellar and the boiler room, through an archway you reach the ground floor entrance leading to the small flat comprising kitchen with dining area, bedroom and bathroom. On the upper level there is another entrance door leading to the main apartment comprising kitchen, dining room with door to a large panoramic terrace of 20 sq m, living room, two double bedrooms and bathroom.
#3 Verpiana ($145,000): A character stone village house situated close to shops and facilities, with two large panoramic terraces and garden. The property benefits from stunning views and offers comfortable accommodation comprising two double bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom on the first floor (100 sq m) and storeroom (15 sq m) and two cellars ( 30 sq m) offering scope for further convertions on the ground floor. The property is ready to move in and has all services connected including city gas heating system.
#4 Terceretoli ($135,000): A well presented stone village house of great character with large garden and pool situated in medieval village with stunning views across the valleys and the “Appennini” mountains. The property has been restored and consists of main
apartment on the first floor (large living room with panoramic balcony, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom) and self-contained studio (bedroom, bathroom) on the ground floor with cellar. Land extending to 24.765 sq m included (approximately 6 acres).
#5 Malgrate ($120,000): The two-bedroom, two-bathroom property with shared terrace offers stunning panoramic views across the Magra valley and towards the Apuan Alps, while the Apennines provide a spectacular backdrop. The property consists of self-contained studio apartment of 25 square meters on the ground floor (kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom). A second apartment of 60 square meters on the upper level (living room, kitchen on the first floor, bedroom, bathroom on the second floor). The property is being offered for sale with furniture included. Included in the selling price is a piece of land extending to 2.517 square meters.
There were 2 additional houses viewed on this day but I instantly decided they were not in the running and deleted all the details from my email, sorry. The most stressful part of the day was our driver as Paola asked her co-worker to drive us around as she explained the pro’s and con’s of the various towns to me. They jokingly nicknamed her Schumacher as in Michael Schumacher, Formula One race car driver. We were on narrow, steep, twisting roads that connect these medieval towns and it felt like she was going 60 MPH. Eventually, I decided to stop looking and trust in Schumacher. The day was overwhelming with so much information about all the towns, the 7 houses, so much to consider. At our price point there was a common distinction of garden or patio; allow me to explain. Some of the houses had lots of land and these were the “garden” options; while others had zero land and these were the “patio” homes. So the first decision was land or patio and God knows each one has upside and downside. As part-time owners we thought the upkeep/cost of a large piece of land might be a bit too much so patio seemed to make the most sense for us. Looking back now I sort of wish there was a combo option as it would be great if we had some land. I guess that is a lesson learned that I feel confident in sharing. We are now trying to see if we can acquire a small lot next to our patio house. More to come on this later as we are now trying to figure out who owns that land.
This post has run sort of long so I’ll wrap this up soon. I know I said our criteria was a Tuscan house for $125,ooo or less and many of these were over that price but Paola assured me prices could be negotiated. The sad part of this day was the realization that these older towns are being abandoned by the younger folks as they want high-paying jobs and are moving to the larger cities like Milan, Rome, and Florence. The youth evacuation leaves the ancient, rural towns with tons of empty family homes and thus our opportunity to find such bargains.
I’ve always liked a good cliffhanger ending, so I won’t reveal which one we selected until next week. Which one would you choose? Why? Please comment below, I’d love to see which one you like the most. Ciao!