Friday 21 November 2008

Italian Flu

Are you living in Italy? Now is the time to see your doctor. The first Flu cases have been confirmed. The A7H3N2 Flu virus has been identified at the University in Parma. Three people have been infected. For those of you at risk or over 65 you can get it for free.

This year Flu epidemic may be greater and more prevalent then last year. The first cases of Australian flu A7H3N2 have been confirmed by the national Influenza center on Thursday.

If you believe you are at risk, we would recommend that you make an appointment with your doctor. He will issue you with a prescription for you to purchase the vaccine. You will need to return to the surgery where they will administrate the vaccine. You can do it yourself if you want to, Ouch...

Friday 7 November 2008

Property in Tuscany

Property for sale in Tuscany is more than likely to maintain its value despite current financial uncertainties sweeping the world. It may even continue to rise, albeit slowly compared to the sharp rises seen in more recent years. The enduring allure of the destination has ensured that property in Tuscany is still seen as a solid investment. What's more, what better place to put your money than a farmhouse in Siena or a villa in Chianti? At least you can enjoy the delights of Siena, Florence and Cortona, some of central Italy's best loved Renaissance cities. The property for sale in the triangle between these three beautiful cities is some of the most sought after Italian real estate on the market. Abode srl has some of the best luxury Italian property available. Despite an uncertain economic outlook, we are pleased to say that we are still seeing a consistent level of enquiries for high-end property in Tuscany amd Umbria.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Olive picking

The humble olive; bitter beyond words when plucked from the tree, but capable of an extraordinary transformation into the liquid gold of the Mediterranean after the ingenious pressing process. For millennia the olive tree and its fruit have been symbols of life in the hot climes of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. For many Brits and Northern Europeans it is often synonymous with ancient Greece and the Romans. Images spring to mind of toga-clad senators, picking at black olives in earthenware bowls at a corner taberna outside the Circus Maximus; a white haired philosopher reciting in the shade of an olive tree on a sun-scorched Greek island. The images are many and varied, but for many here the tending of olive trees and the oil they produce form an integral part of everyday life. A natural extension of the lifestyle of living off the land that has all but disappeared in the UK, but which still has many adherents here in Italy.

Looking after olive groves, pruning and fertilising the trees, then harvesting the fruit, all adds up to a time consuming business. It is very labour intensive, so making a living solely from olive oil production is not an easy business. This is why many Italian families who keep their hectare or so of olive groves, only do so in order to produce enough for themselves and their children for the year. The going rate seems to be about 50 litres per family for the year (quite how they get through a litre a week is beyond me though…) Having been involved in selling Italian property for many years, I have been lucky to have a consistent supply of free, totally organic olive oil, from the many vendors and clients with whom friendships are formed. When you have just produced 500 litres of the stuff, the odd litre here and there to educate the ill-informed palate of a young inglese is not too much to ask I suppose. As with many aspects of country life here, the olive groves are tended by the older generation for the most part, with a visible lack of a passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. One rarely sees a youngster working on his family’s land these days.

Aside from the subsistence nature of olive oil production, there is also fierce competition in certain areas to produce the best oil, not to mention the vehemently held belief that any oil produced outside one’s own area is invariably inferiore. For example, the extensive fields of large and beautifully kept olive trees all along the north shore of Lake Trasimeno are renowned for producing exceptionally high quality extra virgin oil. Turn to discuss it with a local Cortonese however and you’ll most likely be cut short with a withering remark such as; “yes, but its Umbria; Umbrian oil is just not the same…” and so on in a similar vein. Our friend Louise has been consistently coming out top (or at least in the top three) of the Cortona competition for a few years now. She prides herself on the organic nature of her oil and even gives lectures on the subject of oil production and tasting. According to Louise the main criteria are balanced acidity, freshness and above all a leafy, grassy flavour. Contrary to what I had imagined, the piccante (hot, spicy) nature of the oil is not considered a quality to be measured. Anyone tasting that luridly green, brand new oil will recognize this; it is not like chilli pepper heat, but more like having bitten down on a black peppercorn, it really hits the back of the throat.

We have a small olive grove by our house, with a total of about 30 trees, some of which are newly planted. Charlie’s father makes his yearly pilgrimage in October to undertake the harvest by hand, which usually takes him less than a day. The resulting quantity has risen steadily over the last few years and last year we reached the heady heights of 5 litres! I think this makes it the most lovingly produced, but probably also the most expensive 5 litres of oil in Tuscany… A trip to the frantoio (olive mill) close to Il Sodo is always a pleasure. We have far less than the required quantity of olives to have them pressed on their own, so we have been fortunate to press them with our friend Louise’s olives (thus ensuring we can always call our oil “award winning”). During the harvest season the mill runs long hours and we end up making an evening of it. There is a kitchen in the corner of the mill, with big fireplace, where people gather to cook sausages and eat bruschetta with the radioactive looking olio nuovo.

Friday 12 September 2008

Property in Cortona

I have been living in and around Cortona for eight and a half years now and have seen what has happened to property in the Cortona area in that time. This lovely Tuscan town has always been an attractive proposition for many people looking to buy property in Italy or hoping for a slice of Tuscan real estate. Although it has become a little more touristy since my arrival in 2000, to me it still embodies everything that one could hope for in a hill top town in Tuscany. Two beautiful medieval piazze, teeming with people at all hours of the day and night, amazing stone palazzi on every street and many other things besides. Cortona enjoys a cracking view across the Val di Chiana towards Lake Trasimeno, Monte Cetona, Montepulciano and Monte Amiata in the distance. There are some stunning areas of countryside just outside Cortona; San Martino to the west hides the medieval gem of Le Celle, a monastery established by St. Francis of Assisi in 1211. To the east the prestigious Tecognano and Metelliano areas, where many of the most important Tuscan Villas can be found, including the most beautiful of all; Villa Fontana From here you head further east towards Pergo and Montanare, the area that has been my home for the last 4 years. The valley here is beautifully unspoilt, with a backdrop of wooded hills all around, yet only minutes from Cortona. Here can be found some of the most sought after Italian property on the market, such as Casa Il Toro and the stunningly restored Fondo Caprile both of which enjoy elevated positions and lovely views. For details of many more properties for sale in Cortona, or Tuscan real estate in general, go no further than

Friday 29 August 2008

Italian sunset in Perugia, Umbria

We are looking to produce a calender for 2009 and thought it might be a nice idea to invite you to submit your Italian pictures for consideration. We are especially interested in sunsets in and around, Cortona, Siena, Florence, Todi, Sansepolcro, Assisi, Gubbio, Anghiari, Orvieto, Montepulciano and Spoleto. In fact we are looking for 12 Italian medieval, Roman or Etruscan cities in Umbria and Tuscany. We are offering a credit and if your a professional photographer a link to your website. If your interested e-mail a low res photo to

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Torre di Fiume, Lake Trasimeno, Umbria

"I want to buy a property in Italy". Torre di Fiume is not any old Italian property. Torre di Fiume also known as Castello di Fiume is an once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase an historical part of Italy. Situated in the the Pian di Marte near Passignano, 20 minutes from Lake Trasimeno. This stunning Tower really is amazing. First recorded in 1282 and then mentioned as a Castle in 1313 the Tower can be seen for miles. Torre di Fiume is in need of full restoration. There might be a possibility to obtain a grant from the Belle Arti. If your on a Italian walking holiday in Umbria or Tuscany I would highly recommend a walk from Pergo through the Pian di Marte, up to Passignano and down to Lake Trasimeno. In this valley was where Hannibal camped his army and elephants before the battle of Lake Trasimeno. On June 24th 217BC they ambushed Caio Flaminio and his 15,000 Roman soldiers. No-one survived. In memory of the battle the stream was renamed Torrente Sanguinte (blood stream) and two villages, Sanguineto (blood bath) and Ossaia (bone place). For days Lake Trasimeno became red with the blood of the Roman army. For further information please have a look at our website The Tower is only 30 minutes from Cortona and 50 minutes from Perugia International Airport. It really is breathtaking. If you have an amazing Italian ruin please contact us at

Friday 22 August 2008

Italian weather

I know we brits are absolutely obsessed with the weather but after three months of roasting temperatures I'm beginning to wish for cooler winds. Living in Italy has changed my opinion of weather forecasters. Our clients often asked us, "what's the weather like tomorrow". I normally reply, especially between May and August, "the same as it is today". In Blighty I remember in the summer looking our of my bedroom window on the weekend and if there was a glimpse of sunshine, I would dart out of bed, call all my friends and rush down to Sainsbury's knowing that if I didn't make it before 10 there wouldn't be a single chicken drumstick left.

Being involved in Italian property I spend a considerable amount of time in my car. The Tuscan and Umbrian countryside can be cooler but if you go to Siena, Florence or Rome you will find that without aircon and a large bottle of water you'll be melting within minutes. I was in Florence a month ago and I can honestly say it was like being in a convection oven. I'm not complaining, in fact one of the reason I moved from the Uk was that I couldn't cope with the uncertainty of the British weather. I want to wake up in the morning knowing that apart for a thunderstorm the sun will be shining and the day will be long and hot, viva Italia...

Monday 11 August 2008

Siena Palio, Tuscany

The second edition of the famous horse race is nearly upon us, with the emotions undoubtedly already ramping up in the beautiful Tuscan city of Siena in preparation for Saturday's race. The August 16th race has been run since 1774, having been added to the original race schedule of July 2nd, itself a date in the Senese diary since 1656. The races create some of the strongest emotions I have seen in any sporting event, with losing supporters crying real tears and the winning contrada celebrating as if Italy had just won yet another World Cup. Several thousand spectators cram themselves into the stunning Piazza del Campo, which is surrounded by some of the most prime real estate in Siena. Owning an apartment or a whole palazzo on the main square of Siena must be considered one of the most exclusive addresses of any property in Tuscany. A seat on one of the many balconies surrounding the Piazza del Campo can set you back as much as €1,000 or more, unless you are lucky enough to have a friend who has bought a property there already. Considering the horse race itself only lasts 90 seconds, that makes it a pretty expensive seat. Then again, if you have bought property in Siena, the Palio makes it a very good investment indeed...

Florence, Siena, Perugia, Cortona, that is the question

Florence or Siena, Perugia or Cortona, Tuscany or Umbria. Purchasing your Italian Abode one has to consider the old trusted saying, location, location, location. Two years ago everyone wanted to be in the middle of the Italian countryside. Isolated, away from it all! Now we are finding that more and more people want to be close to one of these beautiful Italian cities. It's a hard call. Being close to a city can have it's problems. Noise for one. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find the perfect Italian retreat which is a five minutes drive to the shops but at the same time immersed in the rolling hills of Tuscany or the green heart of Umbria. We have had one inquiry recently who wants to be able to have their teenage children walk to Town. They have also stipulated that they need a pool. Where do you find your Italian dream that is walking distance to the Centro Storico, not overlooked with a pool and stunning views? The other consideration is that Italians love building new houses and you might find that within a very short period of time you lovely Italian vista has been replaced by a housing development. There are such properties, Casa Coniglio for example but there hard to come by and command a premium. We are actively searching for these, so if you're looking for such a property it Italy please get in touch.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Swimming pool construction Cortona

Thought you might enjoy seeing the before and after photos of a swimming pool in the Bramasole area of Cortona, Tuscany, that we oversaw the construction of on behalf of our clients. The permissions process for the pool, via the Comune (municipality) of Cortona, took a long time to be processed, but the final outcome was well worth it. Situated in one of the most sought after areas of exclusive real estate in Cortona, the pool enjoys spectacular views across the Tecognano valley towards the hills that back onto Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, just a few kilometres away. The pool company responsible was Norgiolini Sas based in Umbria who can organise the pool construction process from the first excavation to the grouting around the stone pool surround.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Italian Restorations

If your looking to restore your Italian dream, Abode can help you from planning to key in hand. Building your home in Italy can be mentally taxing. Our Italian professionals will guide you through even the most difficult planning and building issues. Our goal is to finish the project on time and on budget. I know you're laughing right now! My personal experience has always been double the time and double the money, and in a way this is true. What we try to do is to tell you at the beginning, not midway or towards the end what the costs will be. Building an Italian Property in Tuscany, Umbria or anywhere else in Italy for that matter can be a nightmare, but when you see the final product and wipe the tears from your eyes, it will all be worth it.

Italian living in Tuscany

The pioneers of Italian living

Published by the Sunday Times

Twenty years ago, the author Imogen Edwards-Jones was shocked when her parents moved to Tuscany but it turned out to be a great idea
Property in Italy

When my mother announced, 20 years ago, that she was selling up and moving to Italy, I thought she was joking. People just didn’t do that sort of thing in those days. There were no property programmes, no relocating shows, no glamorous presenters in flowered frocks poring over websites and telling us how to make the best of the burgeoning Spanish/Italian/Croatian markets. What on earth was she talking about? As far as I was concerned, she and my stepfather, then in their mid-forties, had a perfectly nice house in Dorset and were happy.

Apparently not. They’d been on holiday to Italy, they’d fallen in love with the art, the food, the wine, the people, the scenery and the life, and they wanted in. The south coast of England was “too crowded”, my mother kept saying. The traffic, the noise, the thousands of people who packed the place in the summer, licking ice creams, mooching around Corfe Castle, clogging the roads to the beach. They’d had enough, and were off.

I watched the two of them spend the next six months researching and writing to agents - no websites in those days - but still wasn’t convinced they were serious. They spent a couple of weeks looking around Lucca. Everyone said, in those preRyanair days, that you had to be near Pisa airport, but after finding nothing worth giving it all up for, they headed south to the Etruscan walled hilltop town of Cortona.

They arranged to meet Anthony Dun-kley, an agent who lived in Tuscany and was one of the pioneers of the British invasion, in a bar in the small village of Mercatale. My mother went off to try to get money from a bank, while my stepfather waited at the bar. Mother returned raving about some drop-dead handsome Greek god she had just seen in the bank, only for him to turn out to be the agent they were waiting for.

Several months later, my sister, then aged 18, and I, just turned 20, were sitting in the back of the car, eyes strained left and right, looking for our mother’s new house. My stepfather was at the wheel, spitting feathers as he drove up and down the hillside. My mother kept swearing - indeed, swearing blind - that the house was “really nearby somewhere”. After much huffing and puffing, we found an overgrown track nobody could quite believe was passable.

“It does need some work,” my mother finally admitted as we pulled up at the end of the half-mile drive.

“Work?” replied my sister, peering through the bushes. “There’s a tree growing through the roof.” “And no doors or windows,” I added. “The place is a wreck.”

“But the position,” my mother said, getting out of the car. “The position is to die for.” She was right. South-facing, 1,500ft or so up and sheltered against the side of a hill, Stoppiacce was - and still is - one of the most beautifully positioned houses I have ever seen. Cool in summer and warm in a dank Italian winter, it gets sun all day, all year round, and has uninterrupted views over the rolling hills of the Minimella valley – a protected no-build zone that, according to locals, is about to be designated a national park.

Yet as I stood there, with the sun sinking below the horizon, I couldn’t believe she was uprooting the family home and moving it here, to a ruin in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know that this hillside wreck would play such a huge part in my life. It would be a place I’d return to again and again for inspiration and solitude. Where I would write my novels, my articles, my bestsellers Hotel Babylon and Fashion Babylon; where I would eventually get married.

Back then, Stoppiacce had no roof, no water, no electricity and no telephone, and hadn’t been lived in for 30 years. The farmer who’d owned it had run the well dry and couldn’t afford to sink a new one. Old Cerrotti, who bought it from him, wanted the land and the timber: he discovered only later that crazy foreigners were willing to buy the ruined houses cluttering his fields. So, when he needed a new tractor or car, he sold a house.

Even in the dusk, we could appreciate that it was a pretty house. The walls were square and sound - some dated from the 13th century, others from the 17th and 19th. Accommodation was on the first floor, with animals and stores on the ground. There were beautiful stone slabs, which would eventually be used to build the terraces. There was a tall tobacco-drying tower and a small, fat chestnut barn, which would eventually become stunning bedrooms with ensuite bath-rooms and views to the valley floor. As my sister and I picked our way through the rubble, a skinny ginger cat shot out of the bread oven when we peered in. This was certainly “a project”.’ For the next few years, I spent university holidays chipping away at old plaster, shifting blocks of stone, painting, weeding, pruning, drinking wine, eating delicious food and laughing. My mother and stepfather moved into a smaller house close by, blew up their inflatable mattresses and, every day, reported for work at the house. The renovation took about 18 months. It could have been quicker had the British builders my mother found somewhere not suffered from such horrendous hangovers.

When they finished, though, the place was fantastic. Five bedrooms, five bath-rooms, five reception rooms – a library, a sitting room, a drawing room, a stunning hall, a large kitchen/dining room – as well as a swimming pool and a collection of terraces and various outside storage areas. It was 25 minutes from Cortona, where Frances Mayes came to write Under the Tuscan Sun, and where they filmed Life Is Beautiful.

Florence is two hours away, Perugia one. Most of Tuscany’s varied and beautiful sights are only a road trip away. My mother and stepfather said we were welcome to stay whenever we wanted, and my sister, brother and all our friends took them at their word.

We steamed in every summer, packing out the house, eating my mother’s delicious food, watching the fireflies on the terrace, chugging back the wine – which they, and sometimes we, bottled. Their village, San Pietro a Dame, was sleepy and small, and foreigners were few and far between. There was a documentary film-maker from London across the valley and a well-known thespian a few hills away, but that was it. The Chiantishire invasion was yet to happen and, as Brits abroad, my mother and stepfather kept a low profile, integrating slowly and politely into the society in which they lived. They went to the local mushroom-picking feast and the cheese-rolling competition, but, on the whole, they were quiet. The farmers got used to their red setters; my mother quickly became obsessed by the salt-covered baby broad beans served in the local restaurant; and my stepfather learnt from his literal close shave at the hairdressers that abbastanza doesn’t mean “a little bit of a trim”, but rather “sufficient” – that is, just enough hair to cover his head.

They always cite my wedding, nearly 10 years ago, to Kenton Allen, head of comedy talent at the BBC, as the time they became fully fledged members of the community. We had 120 guests crammed into the tiny, fresco-covered village church. We dined on roast sucking pig while a big band played around the swimming pool. Half the village drove the guest buses to and from Cortona; the other half did the flowers, the food, our hair or turned up to look at these foolish English in their big hats at the church. Old Cerrotti said: “Ah, so they do live here, after all.”

Soon after that, the world, his wife and their friends poured into Tuscany. Under the Tuscan Sun became a huge international bestseller and Cortona was captured from every angle on film and digicam. Stoppiacce, however, maintained its serene hillside calm and became a haven for resting actor friends recuperating from long filming schedules.

I was beginning to sense, though, that my mother and stepfather had had enough. They were getting itchy, looking for another project and, like every other foreign holiday-house purchaser, regularly surfing the net for a new place.

“We’re off to Gascony,” my mother declared over lunch a few months ago. “I’ve found this place,” she smiled. “It needs some work.”

This time, I took her seriously. Stoppiacce is for sale for £776,000 with Abode (00 39 075 573 3941, www. Pop Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones is published tomorrow by Bantam Press at £12.99 Tuscan idylls

Monday 28 July 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun

Frances Mayes experiences of buying and restoring an Italian Villa in the Tuscan countryside, originally a book and then in 2003 made into a film has helped to established Cortona and the Tuscan Sun Festival. Watch the trailer of the movie (Under the Tuscan Sun) and you will begin to understand what a magical and stunning beautiful area of Italy this is. The Tuscan Sun Festival starts next Saturday (2nd) until the 10th August. The excellent selection of events can be found in the program which one can download as a pdf from the Tuscan Sun Festival website. We will see you there...

Friday 25 July 2008

Italian Property purchasing guide

Buying Real Estate in Italy from Abode Italian Real Estate.

There are no restrictions placed upon a non-resident wishing to purchase a property in Italy, either from Europe or elsewhere.

When searching for a house in Italy it is strongly recommended that you use an estate agent (Realtor) fully licensed by the Chamber of Commerce. Abode International Real Estate is one such agency.

Step 1 – The offer

Your Italian agent will make the initial offer on your behalf. Once you identify the Italian property you want to buy you can immediately sign a Proposta irrevocabile d'acquisto – an irrevocable purchase agreement – which is signed by the buyer and seller once you have agreed on the price. The agreement identifies both parties and the property in question, and gives an expiry date for signing the preliminary contract of sale (“Compromesso”). When you sign, you can pay a small optional deposit. This is usually held by the Agency, and returned to you or given to the seller as part payment when you sign the Compromesso.

If you change your mind about purchasing the property you will forfeit this deposit, as the owner will have effectively taken the property off the market for a certain period of time. If the sale does not go ahead by the specified date through no fault of your own your deposit will be returned to you. During this time you should arrange for a qualified surveyor (Geometra) to organise a complete survey on the property and carry out the necessary title searches. The Geometra will ascertain that all of the structures on the property have proper planning permissions in addition to checking other important documentation on the property.

Step 2 – Preliminary Contract of Sale (“Compromesso”)

The preliminary contract of sale (Compromesso) commits both parties to the sale. This contract establishes the terms and conditions of the final contract (Rogito) and details the price, date for completion, the nature of the property and guarantees from the seller. It may also include any other relevant legal details.

You will be expected to pay a deposit at this stage (Caparra penitenziale) of between 10%-30% of the purchase price. It is important to note that if you withdraw from the sale after signing the Compromesso, you will lose your deposit. However, if the seller withdraws, he must pay you double your deposit.

Step 3 – Rogito

This is the final stage of the process and transfers ownership of the property from the seller to the buyer (usually 1-3 months after the Compromesso). The document is drawn up by the Notary (Notaio), who represents both parties. The buyer, seller and Italian registered estate agent are all required to be present for the signing of the contract at the Notary's office. You can sign the Rogito in person or you may appoint a special Power of Attorney to your solicitor or estate agent to represent you if you cannot be there in person. You will be expected to pay the balances to the vendor, the Notary and the estate agent and pay all taxes due at this stage.

In addition to the above fees, the buyer must also pay:

* Purchase tax – which is either 3% (replaced by 4% VAT if buying from a building company) if the buyer purchases the property as his first residential home in Italy and applies for residency in the local area, or 10% if the foreign buyer already owns property in Italy or does not wish to apply for residency. Please note that the tax is calculated on the “Valore Catastale” (assessed value) of the property and not the purchase price ie. on the value stated in the building registry.
* Surveyor fee – the Geometra will check all the documents for the house are up-to-date and legal, that buildings have fully registered title and that the house complies with planning regulations. This fee is also payable at the signing of the final contract. Some Notaries liaise with a Geometra directly and you will only pay one fee directly to the Notary.

The total expenses incurred in the purchase should not, on average, amount to more than 12% pf the purchase price.

Running costs of your property will include:

* Annual Tax– The Imposta Comunale sugli Immobili is an annual council tax calculated on the value of the property. It is payable twice a year in June and December even if it is possible to pay it once in December for non residents;
* Rubbish tax – it is payable in four instalments or all at once if you prefer;
* Utilities – electricity, water, gas, telephone;
* Condominium expenses – if you buy a property which is part of a group of properties which share some communal areas – gardens, driveway, swimming pool, tennis court etc. then you will be required to pay condominium expenses;

The easiest way to pay most of these is by direct debit, although some you will need to pay at the post office.

Abode Real Estate can guide you through the Italian buying process. When you confirm your commitment to purchase a property in Italy Abode’s professional team of experts will liaise with the Geometra and Notary to make sure your Italian dream is secured and free of problems. This is included in our fees. We also arrange for all the services to be changed to your name. We acquire your Italian Tax code and also open a bank account for you. All you need to do is to find Italian abode.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Tuscany Real Estate

If your looking for a real estate agency in Tuscany we have an excellent selection of Italian properties. Abode's goal is to identify the best Tuscany real estate and Italian property for sale in Tuscany, Umbria and the Amalfi coast, including Positano and Capri. Whether your looking for an luxury Italian villa, a Tuscan rustic farmhouse, a Palazzo in Umbria or a holiday home on the Island of Capri, Abode Italian real estate agency should be your first port of call. Our innovative website ( offers advice and information on such topics as, how to buy Italian property, a buyers guide to Italy, Italian maps and directions, details of purchasing costs, contracts and just about everything one needs to purchase property in Italy. In fact, if you don't find an answer to your Italian property question e-mail us or respond to our blog and we will help.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Global Italian property awareness.

We are pleased to announce the introduction of our new website Abode dealing exclusively with luxury real estate now offers it's clients the unique opportunity for their Italian properties to be found in in several languages. Nick Ferrand, founder of Abode said "We are committed to expand this facility over the coming months. Our clients expect the best and we will deliver".

Friday 18 July 2008

Italian Food

My friends Alberto and Elinor Chiappa have an agriturismo in the stunning beautiful Niccone valley near Umbertide called Calagrana in Umbria, on the border with Tuscany. In addition they have opened the Calagrana restaurant. I would regard myself as a regular and hand on heart would say the food is delicious. Alberto and Elinor have just produced their first book, Italian Farmhouse Kitchen, a must for any Italian food connoisseur. The book can be purchased direct from Elinor at Calagrana via e-mail. The pictures where taken by Martin Sullivan, who did an excellent job. Well done Martin.
If your ever in the area I would highly recommend a pit stop at Calagrana. Authentic organic Italian food with a twist. Don't forget to ask Patrick for his recommendation on local wines. He's the local wine guru. Enjoy...

Thursday 5 June 2008

Italian Tiles

Posted by Nick Ferrand

I've been looking for hand made tiles for months. We are finishing our pool and have been in a dilemma as to what to put as a pool surround. Aesthetically old tiles are the best, but unfortunately, although these look fabulous for the first year, it only takes one harsh winter and they all start to disintegrate. Also there is a matter of cost. depending where you go these original tiles can be anything from 45 to 100 Euros a sqm. I asked my good friend Matt and he pointed me in the direction of Fornace Ricci Srl in Umbertide. To my amazement they actually make the tiles on the premises, handmade with a certificate to guarantee them to -15%c, and best of all half the price! I purchase 100sqm immediately... If anyone is interested I'll post a pictures of the finished job.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Can £1m Italian property be used to avoid CGT?

By Steve Lodge, site

Five years ago my wife and I bought a wreck of a house in Italy, which is now fit to live in and worth £1m. We plan to sell our UK property and move to Italy with our five-year-old son and work for a UK company on a consultancy basis. When our son is old enough for secondary education we might take advantage of my wife and son's Australian passports and move "down under ". What will be the tax situation on the Italian property - could we establish it as our Principal Private Residence to avoid capital gains tax (CGT)?

Filippo Noseda, partner in the international wealth planning group at solicitors Withers, says that Italy does levy CGT, though there is an exemption for property owned for more than five years.

Therefore a future sale of your Italian property will not trigger any Italian CGT, while UK CGT on your Italian property will only be an issue if you remain resident in the UK (or if you come back to the UK within five years and have sold the property in the interim). You ask whether you could elect for Principal Primary Residence status for your Italian property. This is only an issue if you remain resident or ordinarily resident in the UK. Where an individual owns more than one property he may, within two years of acquiring the second, nominate one as his main residence. As you bought your Italian house five years ago, an election would be too late. If you sell your UK house now, your Italian house could qualify as your principal residence for the future so that part of the gain would be free of UK CGT if you subsequently sold it while UK resident.

With regard to inheritance tax, the bad news is that Italy reintroduced gift and succession tax at the end of last year. However, the good news is that your wife and son will benefit from an allowance of €1m each, with the balance being taxed at 4 per cent (plus stamp duty on the property). Assuming you are domiciled in the UK, you will continue to be subject to UK inheritance tax, unless you sell your property in the UK or unless you can show that Italy is the place with which your personal and economic relations are the closest. Your continuing to work for a UK company might be an issue, although it is not necessary to show that you have severed all your links with the UK.

How can I check if I am due a pension from previous employment/s? I'm not even sure some of the companies still exist - they may have been taken over - and what can I do about pension entitlements I should have been offered but wasn't?

Paul Burley, associate director at Smith & Williamson, the investment manager and accountancy group, says that if you don't know how to contact the companies directly you can trace previous employer pension scheme entitlements through the Pension Service which is part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It has a database of more than 200,000 occupational and personal pension schemes and can be used free of charge to search for a pension scheme you may be a member of.

The Pension Service will need as much information about the pension scheme and employer as you can provide: the full name and address of the employer who ran the occupational pension scheme; whether the employer has changed names, or was part of a larger group; the type of pension scheme you belonged to (for example, an occupational pension scheme, personal pension scheme or a group personal pension scheme); and when you belonged to this pension scheme. You can contact the Pension Service on 0845 6002 537 or online at and click on "pension tracing ".

Once you have traced the pension scheme, you will need to write to the scheme administrator with your details including your national insurance number. It should then be able to provide details of the benefits you are entitled to.

A good starting point for chasing up entitlements that weren't awarded would be the Pensions Advisory Service, which can be contacted on 0845 6012923 or

My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years and have always had joint bank accounts. Our unmortgaged home is also in joint names. We want to give our children a lump sum, but were my wife or I to die within seven years, what would the inheritance tax (IHT) position be given the assets had been jointly held and given? Would the authorities treat the gifts on a 50:50 basis and tax accordingly?

Ian Luder, private client partner at Grant Thornton, says the first £3,000 of gifts made per donor in any tax year are exempt from IHT. If you make gifts to your children now and either of you die within seven years, then IHT would only be due on the excess over £3,000 to the extent that the nil-rate band (currently £300,000) is exceeded by such gifts.

If IHT is payable, "taper relief " may also be available to reduce any liability depending on the number of years that have passed since the gift/s.

The application of IHT in respect of joint accounts can be difficult. A gift out of your joint account wouldn't necessarily be treated as being split 50:50 between you and your wife.

If your home is held as joint tenants then this would be treated for IHT purposes as being held 50:50 and upon death the deceased's share would automatically pass to the survivor.

If you hold the property as tenants-in-common and gift a share to your children then the "gift with reservation " rules would apply if you continue to live in the house. In this case the property would remain in your estate for IHT purposes.

Care should also be taken to ensure you do not fall within the pre-owned assets legislation. This applies where a person makes a gift which they then benefit from at some point in the future. This could include a gift of cash now that is later used by the recipient to buy an asset which the original donor benefits from.

Monday 26 May 2008

Italy to build nuclear power stations

Written by Richard Owen

The Times

The new centre Right government of Silvio Berlusconi is to return Italy to nuclear power, reversing a 20-year moratorium.

Claudio Scajola, the Industry Minister, said the construction of new nuclear plants would begin within the current legislature, which is expected to last a full five years. The Berlusconi government enjoys commanding majorities in both the Lower House of Parliament and the Senate.

Speaking at the annual assembly of Confindustria, the employers' association, Mr Scajola said: “We can no longer put off an action plan to return to nuclear power. Within this legislature we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power plants.”

Mr Scajola continued: “Only with nuclear power will we be able to produce clean energy on a large scale, safely, at low cost and without damage to the environment.” The government would, however have to find “credible solutions for the disposal of nuclear waste,” he said.

Italy abandoned nuclear power after a referendum on the issue in November 1987, amid public alarm after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, with Italy's environmental lobbies conducting a powerful anti-nuclear campaign. The last nuclear power reactor was closed down in 1990. However, this left Italy reliant on imported energy, with 10 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear plants across the border in France.

Mr Scajola said Italy needed energy “at competitive prices, in sufficient quantities and under guaranteed conditions.” Its current energy bill of €60 billion was a big factor in Italy's trade deficit, he said, adding: “The time has come to turn the page.” Mr Scajola said Italy would also speed up permits for the construction of natural-gas import plants and promote “renewable energy sources”.

The closing down of Italy's nuclear sector is estimated to have cost nearly €5 billion. Opponents of re-introducing nuclear power say that the risk of Chernobyl-type accidents remains high and that there are no identifiable sites in Italy suitable for new power stations or for storing nuclear waste. Mr Scajola did not indicate where the new nuclear plants would be built.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Umbria Jazz

Stop the press! Umbria Jazz is back for another year and this year the line-up is fantastic. With Sony Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Alicia Keys and R.E.M. You can book tickets on-line. Hurry because the brochure is not out yet.

Spartans & Trojans - the elderly in Italy

By and large it must be said that the elderly generation in Italy is something to be marvelled at. More specifically I am referring to the country dwellers, as it is here that they are undoubtedly at their most marvellous. On a regular basis I am reduced to a solemn admittance of the dreadful laziness of my own generation, in the face of these old workhorses who live like Spartans and work like Trojans. You will have seen them on your travels or during your daily life here; picking olives, pruning olive trees, tilling small patches of forsaken earth for a few plum tomatoes. More often than not you will find old ladies rummaging in hedgerows for long forgotten species of wild grass with which to season tonight’s broth, or perhaps even to fend off their husband’s impending attack of gout. Often still referred to as contadini, they do not actually live up to the original definition as people who worked land on behalf of “The Squire”, but to all intents and purposes they live the same life as their forebears 60 years ago. If you happen to own a second home in Italy that has a lot of land, you will probably have someone of this ilk, or preferably even a couple, whom you most likely inherited from the previous owner (who in most cases was a lawyer from Milan who invariably treated anyone living south of Milan as little more than chattels to be ordered about).
Many is the time when I arise and leave the house for work at what seems like an ungodly hour, usually ameliorated by the early sun’s rays lapping at the trees on the hillside above me, as opposed to the incipient drizzle that you tend to find over Britain’s embittered commuters. Feeling good for my ‘early’ start, I then usually discover that my neighbour has already ploughed his entire olive grove, having previously fixed the engine on his ancient and noisome tractor. Not only that, but his wife has strangled, plucked, cleaned and trussed half a dozen home reared quails for the night’s supper, probably by candle light. It is then that you realise the futility of it all; it does not matter how early you wake up, your octogenarian neighbour has always had breakfast before you even opened your eyes. It must be a throwback to the dark post-war years in Italy, when you had the choice of growing/gathering your food or simply not eating. It is naturally testament to the Italians’ wine habit that, of course, the red stuff never seemed to lack anywhere, at any time.
These days abject starvation is not normally on the cards, but for the folk that lived through those lean times there is still no excuse for not making the most of every waking hour and every last ounce of prosciutto or pomodoro. Must be why my father-in-law insists on scraping mould off something rather than throwing it away... To this end they also reap all the benefits of the countryside that they learned from their parents; knowledge that has sadly been all but forgotten by the present generation. If you ever need a tip on wild herbs or especially mushrooms, then look no further than your nearest elderly neighbour for advice (a word of warning about mushrooms: check in a book afterwards, just in case their self-taught wisdom has given way to senility). You may think the wild grass line in the first paragraph was a joke, but it is not; you really do see old ladies, usually in pairs and always highly wizened, stooping under the weight of a bundle of wild grass. To this day I do not know what becomes of these bundles, but can only assume they do not end up as new stuffing for old mattresses.
Italy’s ageing population (apparently second only to Japan for centenarians) and declining birth rate is creating problems in the nation’s cities, where the elderly are seen more as a burden than a source of help or advice. I am certain however, that life in the country is very different, and that the older generation still have a huge input into the social and economic fabric of rural life. There are many families who rely heavily on the nonni (grandparents) for all aspects of domestic life, but particularly childcare and cooking. Very often the nonni will live under the same roof and, although this may not facilitate marital bliss, it does make life for the younger generations that much simpler. Far from being unfairly perceived as a hindrance to everyday life, the elderly generation of rural Italy does more than pull its weight, unless it gets behind the wheel of a battered old Panda, in which case all is lost and despair reigns king...

Wednesday 21 May 2008


The Umbria Jazz format brings together three different musical dimensions in three different settings।

Evening concerts at the Arena Santa Giuliana: it is here that the most famous names appear, artists who require a larger, more spacious venue।Afternoons and nights at Perugia’s two historic theatres: Teatro Morlacchi and Teatro Pavone.
Two venues dedicated to the different forms – traditional and modern – of what is more strictly jazz Free open-air concerts: the part of the Festival featuring more popular forms of music that have a more immediate appeal for young people and families
This year Umbria Jazz will once again be built around the format that for thirty-five years has been contributing so much to its identity: for ten days, from morning until late at night, there will be music non-stop in some of the most beautiful settings of old Perugia. It is a Festival for attentive, motivated listeners, but there is also plenty of music for those who simply want to spend a peaceful holiday in Umbria with a soundtrack of jazz, soul, R & B, blues, gospel, pop and salsa.
The city of Perugia draws together the different parts of the Festival. The venues in the old town centre; its art and history all contribute to create what an American critic has called “jazz Italian-style”. Perugia’s town squares, gardens, theatres, its spectacular Rocca Paolina (the underground fortress that is one of the city's most famous monuments).

But there is also one more aspect of Umbria Jazz that offers so much to those who are interested in enjoying life. It consists of a combination of good music and fine food that is presented each day in some of the restaurants in the town centre - aperitifs, jazz lunches and dinners, jazz served with wine and gourmet cuisine: all this needs no explanation and is an open invitation to sample the fare on offer.

Abode are pleased to announce there new dedicated Russian website Nick Ferrand, founder of Abode Srl was quoted as saying: "We are extremely pleased with the opportunity to promote our brand and our clients property directly to the Russian market and in there own language. This is a respect for the Russian people and also a desire to offer our clients global marketing".

Thursday 13 March 2008


Wow, Ryanair are now flying to Perugia on a Saturday. From the 5th April. Flights will leave Standsted at 6.55am, oouch. So, for those of you who want a saucy weekend in Umbria, one can fly out Friday and back on Sunday afternoon. Great in June for Umbria Jazz.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Italian coffee

The ritual of coffee in Italy is one of those things that non-Italians can probably never learn. We have been here for about eight years now and I am sure we still get everything wrong; for instance, I just cannot quite bring myself to adhere to this rule of not having a cappuccino after 11a.m. Call me a subversive, but a good cappuccino can be drunk at any time of day, as far as I am concerned (except after a meal, one has one’s limits after all).

Finding a good ‘cap’ is not always so easy of course; the tendency in Italy is to drink it tiepido, meaning tepid or lukewarm. My Italian dictionary also provides the alternative meaning of ‘indifferent’, which perhaps better sums up my own opinion of lukewarm ‘hot’ drinks. A good cap should have the ability to render pleasure unto the drinker, whilst simultaneously scalding a fine layer of skin from the interior of the mouth. In order to achieve this you need to ask for the cap to be bollente (boiling); be insistent, as most Italian barmen will not believe that you actually mean it. In your local institution you should eventually reach the point where you need no longer ask for this special treatment, though I prefer to be safe than sorry. When entering your local caffè for your morning, lunch or afternoon shot of the black stuff (alas, they do not serve Guinness quite as widely as a man with a surname like Cleary would like), don’t expect to find many options to choose from.

Fortunately Italy has not, as yet, been inundated with large high street coffee shops that offer bewildering arrays of choice. You will not find, for instance, a pumpkin-spice latte or a decaf-mochacino topped with glazed pecan choppings down at Pergo bar… The answer is - keep it simple, or corretto if you fancy livening up your espresso with some local grappa/rocket fuel. They never did explain to me if an espresso without alcohol is therefore deemed to be in some way ‘incorrect’.

An Element of Choice

Although most Italians stick to the staple ingredients of espresso, milk and alcohol for their coffee, there are still a surprising number of nuances to each individual’s taste. I for one simply ask for a caffè macchiato, which translates as a coffee literally ‘stained’ with a drop of milk, and take it as it comes in whichever establishment I have chosen to patronise for lunch. Others, however, might specify whether the milk should be cold, tepid or hot as well as requesting that they have more or less schiuma (foam) with theirs, not that I ever get to drink the foam now that Cecily our young daughter has taken a liking to it. Italians can be as opinionated about their caffè as they are about their food, which is to say, very. Being of a less sophisticated, Northern European palate, I cannot deny that it all tastes the same to me after a while.

Coffee drinking traces its roots to Aden, in the early 9th century, from whence it spread throughout the Middle East over the ensuing centuries, shifting from a religious to a popular beverage, before being taken up by European nations sometime in the 1600s. Whatever your take on the convoluted history of the world’s most consumed drink, there is no doubting the huge impact that Italian coffee culture has had on the rest of the world. Although high street coffee shops in the UK bear little or no relation to my own experiences out here in Italy, you would be hard pushed to deny where the influence comes from. I try to enjoy my cap when I am back in Cambridge, I really do, but something always tells me that the enormous, swilling bucket of burnt coffee and milk, served at temperatures hot enough to melt copper (at least it’s not tiepido), just doesn’t quite match the one I am used to. As I said, keep it simple. There is nothing more effective for a quick pick-me-up on a long night journey than a simple shot of espresso, though please bear in mind that caffeine is on the International Olympic Committee list of prohibited substances…


Jimi Hendrix once sang; “Bang, bang honey, shoot, shoot, shoot, as long as it’s your silly head I don’t give a hoot” (Crash Landing 1970). Now, this lyric may not have gone down in the annals of mainstream pop culture, and certainly will not be known by more than about 0.001% of the Italian population, but from September onwards for about 6 months all you hear in the woods behind our house is banging and shooting (without the honeys). Welcome to the wonderful world of the Italian hunting season, where anything goes and no fence is too high to be scaled in the pursuit of the scarpering prey. Park outside the bar in Pergo at 10am on a weekend morning during winter, and you will be vying for position with any number of battered Fiat Panda 4x4s and small jeeps, all displaying signs of having been recklessly driven through the muddiest of terrain at unadvisable speeds. Inside the bar looks like a meeting of the local veteran mercenaries’ association, as jeans and furry-collared parkas give way to all manner of camouflage outfits and multi-pocketed waistcoats replete with built-in GPS and heated pockets (probably). The lads have all been up since around 5am and have been tracking cinghiale (wild boar) through thick woodland for hours, attempting to pick off a few without accidentally picking off one of their own number. Unfortunately the latter is not a joke and seems to happen with surprising regularity every season, possibly due to the amount of grappa flowing through their systems…

Hunting in the U.K. has long been considered the preserve of the upper classes, and until very recently of kings, not least to do with the overall expense of pursuing the sport, as well as the amount of free time required to do it justice. Obviously this was particularly the case with fox-hunting and its requisite knowledge of riding and everything that keeping horses entails, but also applies to pheasant shoots and the like. Hunting in Italy however, is considered a rite of passage for just about every working man from the age of 18 to whenever one is failed by one’s eyesight (my one-eyed, elderly neighbour only had his license revoked about 3 years ago, rather late I thought…). I imagine that in the cities nobody spends time going to the country at weekends to shoot animals, but in rural areas like ours the fervour inspired by the hunting season is enough to create hunting “widows”, rather like golfing widows in the States. The majority of the lads local to us are the usual suspects who can be seen propping up the local hostelry and most of them are builders. Can you imagine your local brickie waking up at 5am on a Sunday morning to head off to Tarquin’s place to shoot some grouse? If anything, in Italy we have the reverse of the UK, in that the upper echelons of society here tend not to get involved in hunting, probably considering it to be a somewhat tawdry business, albeit necessary to sate the nation’s hunger for wild boar products. Having said that, Charlie and I did once attend a quite spectacular post-hunt dinner at a nearby castle, although the elegantly dressed Germans who made up the hunting party were a far cry from the camo trousers and army boots brigade of the local Squadra dei Cinghialisti (Hunting group).

The socially cohesive element of the wild boar hunt in rural Italy is very evident. As I mentioned before, it is quite literally a rite of passage for young men, but even the elderly veterans who can no longer shoot are involved in the complex process that is the boar hunt. There is etiquette and group coordination in hunting that is quite fascinating; hunting groups have been known to aid the emergency services during the regular bouts of forest fires in the summer, due to their knowledge of the terrain and there ability to work as a team. Each area will have its own hunting society, the Squadra dei Cinghialisti, and also its own boundaries, within which its members are allowed to engage in hunting during the open season. Given that wild animals have a tendency not to adhere to these arbitrary boundaries, the escaping prey will often run over into another group’s patch. Whether the poor beasts are then finished off by one squadra or another is immaterial, as the camaraderie of the whole experience means that the resultant kill is divided fairly. The highlight of the year for most groups is the Sagra di Cinghiale (wild boar feast), where guys who would not normally be seen dead cooking, preparing or serving food, organise and run a night of feasting on the result of their endeavours during the season. A must see if you have the chance.

Shopping in Italy

Let us consider for a moment the effects that those two great languages, Italian and English, have had on one another. Whether you realise it or not, much of what you read or hear in English would not exist without the underlying influence of the Latin language and Renaissance Italy. Cockney Rhyming Slang certainly has a place in the hearts and voices of the nation, but let’s face it, without the Romans we’d be nothing (on a controversial note one might argue the same of Chelsea…). Put it this way, most of you will probably have noticed that by adding an O or an A to the end of an English word, you have a more than 50% chance of being somewhere close to understood in Italian. For those of you who have not tried this particular trick, please feel free to give it a go; just don’t add an O to the end of ‘cats’, as I heard one delightful old English gentleman try out on the streets of Cortona a few years ago.

Charlie and I have been living in Italy for nine years, but it is only when we delve slightly that we realise quite to what extent we owe our linguistic heritage. Sometimes things hit you out of the blue, like the time I was reading a newspaper article about bankruptcy and realised for the first time that “bankrupt” comes directly from the Italian term banca rotta, meaning “broken bank”. Similarly the word “malaria” is a combination of two very commonly used Italian words; male and aria, meaning ‘bad/evil’ and ‘air’ respectively, originating from a time when the fatal illness was thought to derive from stale air. One of my favourites, a phenomenon common to all countries but surely originating in the base camp of all corruption, the Roman Empire, is “nepotism”. The Italian language makes no distinction between grandchildren and nephews/nieces, throwing both categories of relations into the one word: nipote. Looking at life in Italy, it is not hard to work out that if your grandparent or uncle is in a position of power, then you are more than likely to have both feet and most of your upper body already inside the door.

So, having covered some of the influences of Italian on English, albeit in a drastically brief and probably slightly crass way, shall we now have a look at the corresponding influences that English has given in return? I think it is fairly safe to say that the borrowing of English words or phrases is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, probably dating from the post-war period. At this point in Italian life, the country had been laid low by the horrors of World War Two, yet was only a few years away from the economic miracle that the 50s and 60s would bring to bear. With this boom period came all the trappings of the British and American pop cultures that were themselves taking the world by storm at the time. This era of economic stability and development heralded in pastimes heretofore unknown to the general population of Italy, who had begun to leave the hardships and penury of rural life for the promise of the new high-life in the rapidly expanding cities. So, where someone might once have gone to the market to buy some scraggly chickens and fare la spesa, now suddenly they were buying clothes and other consumer items. Somehow “doing the expenses” did not encompass the grand new activity so, in the absence of any other aboriginal word or phrase, people were now doing “lo shopping”.

This is just one example of many lifestyle words, such as lo jogging or il weekend, but there are others that have crept in over the years in all walks of Italian life. If you have ever watched football on Italian TV, then you may well have heard such classics as “sta facendo il dribbling”. In business you have joint-venture, marketing plan and you are considered all the more employable if you have know-how. As the world becomes smaller and boundaries corrode, so more and more English words will find their way into Italian dictionaries. The younger generation in Italy seems to give ever increasing credence to the UK, and particularly London, as a role model and a place many believe they would like to spend time, if only the weather were a little better... Take the weekend flight from Perugia to London and you will see many local youngsters heading over to see friends who already live there. English may never be able to match Italian for universal linguistic influence, but it is making great progress in filling up the Italian dictionary with modern day “isms” and phrases that the poor Italians never knew they had a need for.

Italian lessons San Gimignano

Arriving in San Gimignano in 1999 I was thrown, somewhat haphazardly, into the deep, deep waters of learning Italian. Charlie was a great help initially, having only recently graduated with a degree in Italian, and so was able to guide me in my first steps like the good TEFL teacher that she was. Quite how I ever managed to learn a single word in San Gimignano amazes me to this day, given the fact that just about everyone, even the Carabinieri (yes, really), were able to speak English. By chance we obviously fell upon the two or three haunts where no English was spoken, and so I was able to practice my barbarous lingo on them right from the start. Coinciding with this initial period of lingual inadequacy was my first foray into the world of Italian employment, when I landed a bar job at what we later discovered to be a pole-dancing club. Charlie recalls (with some glee) picking me up at the end of my first night and seeing my pleading face silently screaming to be transported away. Understanding that vodka con ghiaccio meant vodka with ice was difficult enough, but would you have known that Cubalibre meant rum and coke? A gibbering wreck does not go half way to explaining how I felt afterwards; horribly relieved and grateful to my rescuer probably goes somewhat further.

Eventually landing my first ‘proper’ Italian job in that same summer of ‘99, working in the villa rentals market, my language development was then channeled to the idiosyncrasies of a travel rep’s working day. For example, having to explain to villa owners why Brits attached such importance to electric kettles in place of the tinny, vertical saucepans that come with rental territory and into which courtesy bags of Lipton Yellow Label tea would be ritually dunked each morning to stave off the inevitable Chianti headache. I admit this was a little more advanced linguistically speaking than my initial forays into Italian, which had involved ordering coffee at the bar and usually recounting my only full sentence to anyone who cared to listen; namely that we lived in the centro storico (like anybody really cared anyway). The thing about speaking another language is that you have to start somewhere; otherwise you may as well just fall back on the thoroughly colonial pastime of simply speaking more loudly and clearly in the best Queen’s English. You just have to get over the paranoia that when you open your mouth you must sound, to any Italian within earshot, like Dante being hung, drawn and quartered. The Italians, you will soon find, are infinitely forgiving of the heresies committed upon their beautiful language.

We’ve all made mistakes when speaking Italian, but some mistakes are of course more amusing or controversial than others. Not being able to conjugate verbs properly is not exactly a stoning offence, and anyway, the Italians are the first to admit that their grammar is more complex and convoluted than the EU constitution. One has to be careful when approaching the masculine/feminine aspect of the language, as this can lead to far more embarrassing moments. The vast majority of words are safe, but there is a small handful to which attention needs to be paid. A slip between and an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ at the end of a word could mean the difference between asking after the condition of someone’s roof or enquiring rather personally about certain body parts. Hence why the buxom barmaid outside San Gimignano laughed when I informed her that our house was hot because we lived “under the roof”. Just look up tetto and tetta in a dictionary, you will see what I mean…

Pay equal attention to the (usually successful) method of trying to directly translate something that one might say in English. Picture me asking a dozen heavily armed riot police at a football match where I could find the merce, assuming I was asking after the merchandise stand, but in reality was asking where I might buy some drugs. The fact that I was a straniero stood me in good stead that time I can tell you. You can have great fun translating English slang or colloquialisms directly into Italian and then trying them out on your friends (this group is generally preferable to armed personnel) to see if they work. Don’t be surprised to find however, that they look at you blankly when you say “buon uno amico” as this literal translation of “nice one mate” really does not mean much. As for “bless his cotton socks”, I imagine that “benedica le sue calze di cotone” would cause many an old maid to make the sign of the cross and run off to the laundry room. In fact, I’ll go and try it on Antonietta right now…

Local Italian markets (Sagre)

Life in Italy somehow would not be complete without the odd visit to a local sagra, which translates as festival, feast or patron saint’s day. There are so many in every province, let alone every region or the country as a whole, that it is impossible to list them all. There are the obvious ones, which the majority of travellers to Italy will have heard of if not actually been to, such as the now world famous Siena Palio and the barrel rolling in Montepulciano. The latter is quite a spectacle, where teams of 2, dressed in medieval costume and each representing one part of the town, roll huge empty barrels of wine from the bottom of the town to the top square in front of the Duomo. I was not surprised to see a series of Croce Rossa ambulances waiting at the finish line; probably to cart off any young stud who thought himself macho enough complete the course without training and with a 20-a-day habit.

However, there are a myriad of local festivals practically unknown to anyone but the local communities where they have been conceived, brought up and removed from the closet to be brushed off to much applause and gaiety once a year. When I was young I once read that there were more than 15,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, which I dutifully agreed to visit all of. I imagined myself cruising from one to the other in hollowed out logs and living on coconut and papaya, oblivious to the logistics, the sharks and the general impossibility of the task in hand (I have only managed 6 of them to date). I now believe that this undertaking would still be more easily achievable in one man’s lifetime than to visit all of the sagre on the Italian mainland (I don’t even want to imagine how many they have on the islands).

As you can probably imagine, the majority of these events revolve around food, with each one having a specific delicacy as centre stage. Whether or not all these dishes are considered a speciality in their area is never quite certain, though one suspects that one Umbrian sagra dedicated to Spaghetti Carbonara may have come about because the next door village got the monopoly on the real local recipe. There are many events in Cortona throughout the year, but the main foodie event is undoubtedly the Sagra di Bistecca, which occurs each year at Ferragosto. A huge barbecue, the size of a snooker table, is constructed in the public gardens, tents are erected and steaks, wine and chefs are drafted in in obscene quantities. The aftermath of the festival is usually a large hangover and a place for dogs to lick the gravel under the barbecue for weeks ahead. I did not make it to the Sagra della Ranocchia (feast of the frog) this summer, but I am assured that it was tasty beyond my wildest dreams…

What Cortona lacks however, and what most of the smaller festivals have in common, is a serata danzante (evening of dancing), which follows the lengthy eating session during summer events. The exponents of the music itself usually fall into one of two categories: male, with shiny gold or leopard print shirt and shaggy hair reminiscent of early 80s footballers or female, with shiny gold or leopard print shirt and shaggy hair reminiscent of early 80s footballers, only prettier. The last one I went to had both varieties playing together as a duet. What I really admired was the degree to which the captive audience, from the teens to the octogenarians, appeared to know the songs, the lyrics and the moves to anything that is played. Aside from the waltz and the tango, there is an aptitude for line and formation dancing throughout the generations that I only ever witnessed in the UK during the heady days of Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” back in the early 90s. We attempted to join in at a couple of points, but rushed off the floor without raising a sweat, for fear of being arrested for ineptitude. You also have the plain medieval stuff; things that you still find in the far corners the UK as well. Racing disobedient donkeys around an oval circuit, bobbing for apples in water and then flour alternately, is one of my local favourites. At the same festa you can indulge in a bit of old fashioned animal tormenting; betting on which direction a rabbit will run after being placed under a metal bucket which is tapped repeatedly with a stick; heady stuff indeed. Overall the local sagra is a great excuse to get dressed up, eat and drink lots, dance if you feel up to it, gossip with friends and is generally a life-affirming event for any local community. Go to one if you have the chance.


When taking the inaugural flight from Perugia to Stansted last December, I was struck by one of the more interesting forms of Italian group behaviour: the queue. Obviously this was not the first time I had noted the apparent inability to form a coherent line, but it seemed a particularly good case in point. Being with the then 7 month old Cecily Grace, we were able to pre-board (these days you have to pay for the privilege, nothing comes free with our favourite airline anymore of course). Having fought our way to the front of what I can only describe as a rugby scrum to hand in our boarding cards, we were one of the first half a dozen people onto the Tarmac, along with the other people with young children, short tempers and bags under their eyes. Looking back at the glass front of the boarding gate, I half expected to see a couple of less able folks with their faces pressed to the glass and a look of abject terror as they were slowly crushed by the advancing mob of passengers. Once at the foot of the stairs to the plane we had to wait, though, and in the interim the other passengers were let loose from the bulging doors of the passenger lounge. At this point any ideas of pre-boarding privileges went out of the window, as we sharpened our elbows to fight off the hoard of fur-wielding matrons and able-bodied rabble that began to muscle their way to the front. I felt like crying out “trample the weak, trample the weak!” as I locked arms with a like-minded young dad and drove them firmly back into their own half. We eventually made it onto the plane, but not without a fight and a couple of black eyes…

To queue or not to queue? That is the question you must ask yourself the next time you find yourself waiting for something with more than about two other people in the same place. Obviously there are times when a natural order will impose itself upon a situation, such as at the supermarket check-out, but that is about the only place you will find it happening. You see, queuing is about as anathema to the Italians as tea with UHT milk is to the average Brit. Getting one ahead is simply de rigueur and, quite frankly, it does become quite a satisfying art form once you have had time enough to practice a while. One of the best places to practice is at the Posta (Post Office), where only the foolhardy would consider giving precedence to someone who might have been in the room before them. Turn your back for a second to check the weather outside and you risk someone jumping into the spot you had earmarked for yourself amongst the fray. It is a bit like witnessing the confluence of waters at a narrow point in a river, where the tumult of waters presses together for a split second before being forcibly thrust out into the wider world beyond. God forbid that you try and buy a stamp on pensions day.

There are wider connotations to the queue of course, one of which is the exhibition of another very Italian trait, the lack of personal space. Most Brits find the idea of having to squeeze together in a small space with lots of other people decidedly unpleasant, hence why the orderly queue is such a staple of life; nobody wants to be too close to the person in front or behind them. Trying to get into a sport stadium in Italy, for instance, is like one big, communal hug-in; turn around too quickly and you might find yourself accidentally snogging the bloke behind you. This nonchalance about proximity to one’s fellow human beings has other side-effects, such as the chance for young men to nuzzle up behind unsuspecting foreign girls on the train platform (witnessed at Termini station!) If you find yourself alone on a bus, don’t be surprised if the next person to get on ends up sitting thigh-to-thigh with you. This is perhaps just an example of the ease with which the Italians socialise with one another and particularly their ability to speak with total strangers as openly as they might do with their own mothers. Whilst most Brits might loath a journey on the London Underground because of the confined space, so most Italians would probably find the impersonal nature of the other passengers more disconcerting. After all, why sit in silence when you could be discussing football, health and Formula One? This is a manifestation of the openness that often sets the Italians apart from their Northern European neighbours and goes a long way to making Italy such a pleasant place to live.

Italian builders

Working with builders when I first arrived in the Cortona area seven years ago proved to be a real eye-opener, especially language wise, as well as a sharp cultural learning curve. Nothing prepared me for the complexities of the Italian cantiere, or for the laughs that were to be had therein. Having first learnt Italian over in the western half of Tuscany, and grown used to certain inflexions, I found myself thrown mercilessly into the world of Umbrian builders who, to put it delicately, did not speak quite the same language that I was used to. Particularly difficult to get used to were phone calls to builders, where at first much of the content passed over my head in a blur of Umbrian drawl and local dialectic. Once I discovered that there were at least half a dozen words for any one thing on a building site, depending on where the builder hailed from, I was able to get to grips somewhat more quickly. On the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum was the technical jargon that made up the Computo Metrico Estimativo (building quote), that made me come over quite faint when I was first presented with one for translation. Any readers who have ever had occasion to read through one of these tomes will hopefully empathise. Certain of the riper phrases that I picked up on building sites, and later tried out on unsuspecting neighbours and colleagues, were normally greeted with the Italian equivalent of “one does not say that in polite company”. So I soon learnt to store these tit bits of rudeness into my mental Italian thesaurus, saving them gleefully for occasions when dismay and/or irritation needed to be fully aired in one’s best colloquial vocabulary.

In my experience both British and Italian building sites tend to be similar in terms of the language one expects to hear, although I don’t think you would find your local bricky bringing every animal under the sun (and the Madonna’s virtue) into question with the quite the same regularity that his Italian counterparts do. There is, however, one factor that very definitely sets apart the two cultures and that is: LUNCH. By and large the Italians take as much pride and care when eating on a building site as they might do at home for Sunday lunch with the family. I have seen all manner of makeshift kitchens cobbled together from ancient fridges and gas stoves, tables made simply from building blocks and scaffold planking. Depending on the state of the house they are working on, the building crew might even be lucky enough to set up camp in a room with a fireplace, ensuring even more salubrious surroundings than usual. No matter that there might not be a roof on the house, or that Arctic winds are blasting through the windowless openings, making any work a misery; as long as there is a sealable room on the premises, it will become the canteen.

Not a cheese and pickle sandwich in sight, or a mug of hot tea or a can of Coke. These guys do the whole show, the full monty; antipasti, primi and secondi, local wine and freshly brewed coffee to wrap up, as well as a grappa, obviously. One of my best memories from my years of restoring houses was a particularly whopper lunch that took place one day in the old kitchen of a house undergoing a full restoration. As I recall it was the only room on the first floor that actually had a floor at the time, so some care needed to be taken to avoid walking through the wrong doorways. Taking pride of place on the makeshift table was a whole spit-roasted piglet, ordered the previous day from a chap with a local monopoly on such things. Bruschetta with home-grown olive oil to start; spaghetti with aglio, olio e peperoncino to follow; rounded off with the fennel and rosemary stuffed porchetta with a side dish of spinach. All washed down with copious quantities of that hairs-on-your-chest type of local red wine, sipped from plastic cups, seated on dusty building blocks or bags of cement, enjoying the sun through the window and generally wondering if I would achieve any more work for the rest of the day. How could you beat that? One did have to wonder how accurately the walls and floors could possibly be constructed after such an indulgent feast at this hour, as well as hoping the builders had the nimble footing necessary for the dizzying heights of the four storey roof construction, but somehow they always did manage it. With this in mind, I wandered off to nurse my full stomach in peace and leave the experts to get on with the real work.