We had whittled the shortlist down to a couple of the Piedmont houses the ‘small house’ with lots of land and the ‘little white house’ with a more moderate amount of land. What to do about it, that was the question. We decided the only course of action that made rational sense, which was to test each house out at different times of the day to see what occurs in the beautiful Langhe Hills region of Piemonte. In Dublin, when we bought our city house, 12 years ago, we spent a lot of time parking outside the house and observing the neighbours, making sure that we weren’t heading to a disaster of some sort, it served us very well. This time, there were no neighbours, we had to make do with listening to the sounds of the day instead. At the ‘small house’ we visited in the afternoon, all was quiet surrounding the house but we did hear a lot of noise from a distant road, winding down the valley, even though we are not talking about a motorway, just the 10, or so, cars an hour, the way that the valley had set itself up, in the distant ice age, was almost basin like and the noise was bouncing off the high wrap around valley behind the house. On the other hand, visiting the ‘little white house’, an hour later, was tranquillity itself and I noticed to my absolute delight the sound of tinkling bells off nearby sheep. When I write in Spain, at the retreat, there are distant goat herds with the same dream like, wind chime, sounds, I had always found this very soothing on my frayed city nerves, how wonderful it was to hear them here.
The next visit was at night, at 10pm, the road up to the ‘small house’ was even more perilous and scary than during the day, on this pitch black night, it was becoming clear, ironically, through our lack of vision of what lay ahead on the road, that this was starting to look like house number 2 on the list. Arriving outside the house we stood looking out over the valley, beautiful though it was for 99% of that wonderful view, there was though, at the bottom of the valley, a factory, all lit up, like one of those city 5 aside football pitches at night, with big industrial lights taking away from the darkness of the hills. There was, however, something more disturbing emanating from the factory and it was an industrial buzzing sound, very clearly audible and at a tone that was not restful in any way, it was very strange indeed, as in this Langhe Hills town we had found the regular 8-7pm activity of a working town and this sound was at 10pm. It wasn’t going to work for us. House number 2 took a dive to house ‘no way’, it was struck off the list. We drove on to the only house left on the list, the ‘little white house’. Standing there on the veranda looking out at the majestic shadows of the sleeping giant hills, all we could hear was nothing mechanical, or industrial, just little chirping night crickets and the only movements were little bats, flitting here and there, amongst a very deep, restful, peace.
The next morning, we jumped out of bed early for the final test of the ‘little white house’, making it there for rush hour, 8am, driving up to the house gave the answer of the test away, we had only passed one car on the drive up the 5 km winding road. Rush hour, this was not. Arriving, the sun hadn’t quite popped its head over the Eastern, tall, fir trees and the place was dusted in an almost pale violet glow, as it waited expectantly for the sun’s warming rays to give it some welcome, November, golden heat. The sheep were tinkling along, on their morning munch of the land. The road was empty. We headed tentatively into the house, the door still very much unlocked, as Giovanni had promised it would be, though we still felt like trespassers, even with his kind invite to view, as often as we like, we crept in quietly, and had a last look around. We were both quiet, taking in each room carefully and both nervous of each other, we both wanted to buy this house, yet we hadn’t said this out loud yet, or confirmed it. We went outside took one last look at the view, soaking it all in, both of us making unsaid wishes that this view would become common place to us. Then Andrew broke the nervous mood by giving one of the portico pillars a big hug! We both laughed and I joined in the hug, saying very clearly,” Don’t worry ‘little house’ we will be back soon”, with little tears of joy in my eyes, we got on the phone to the estate agents in Acqui Terme.
Next see if we get the house.
Have you ever read the inspiring book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie? I have, back in my late teens, I sped read the book and thought I had learnt a few big tips to help me in life, I even recommend it to some of my clients in my business, particularly if they are struggling to influence people in the workplace. I really ought to have read the book in the last few years though, as what follows, in our Piemonte house search, was definitely in the ‘how not to win friends and influence people’ chapter.
We had arranged to see yet another house in this great Piemonte, Langhe Hills, town, with a third estate agent, this one was actually based in the town, next to the bar we had already met the prior agents in. But, unlike the other two, who were out of town agents, these, naturally, being the town’s agent, had a large shop window of properties and big offices to meet them in, which we did. They were very professional, I might say ‘old school’, the middle aged proprietor and his gracefully older mother, in their best office attire, were in the office to greet us, and with her sharp hawk eyes, she looked us up and down and, I guess, calculated our spending ability in her career long, estimating mind calculator, and gave us a bemused smile, if not slightly worried smile, that we may be one of those tourists who indulges in property viewings for the hell of it. We assured them both that we were very eager to find a property and that we were real buyers, more bemusement, I knew I should have dressed up in a more Italian business outfit, I had on my old jeans, hiking boots and jumper, expecting, correctly, that we would have to ramble over more overgrown land and up and down neck breaking slopes.
Moving on from their initial doubtful appraisal, they opened a giant, black, ring binder and leafing through it, pulled out and laid the details of the property, in hard copy, with graceful precision, on the large, polished, desk. Carlo, the proprietor, explained the particulars of the property we had booked to see and then spread out a few more properties, all in wide ranging prices, we had to instantly dismiss most of them, as they were way out of our price league, though we had been very clear on the price points at the beginning of the conversation. Signora then pulled out another property detail from the giant ring binder and neatly laid it on the desk in front of us, it was the little white house that we had just finished viewing, with Natascia and Marco, an hour ago. We didn’t think too much of this, after all most agents in the UK and Ireland seem to use multiple agents, so we made our apologies and said no, unfortunately we had already viewed the house, however, this apology was lost in translation, I think. Signora then started explaining the little white house to us and we had to say no, again, it was impossible, as we had already seen it with another agency, Carlo then, with a small wince, got the gist of what we were saying and in fast Italian explained this to his mother, whose face, instantly, turned into a picture of dark fury, she glared at us, and at him, and arms in the air, her voice escalating at her son, began directing verbal missiles at him in Italian, which we think were along the lines of, “how could you have let this happen”, we also kept hearing Giovanni’s name mentioned, over and over again, and with dawning realisation, us stupid, foreign, city dwellers woke up to the fact that this very small Piemonte town would of course be protective of their own property book, with so few houses to sell and being so remote, us ‘tourists’ had viewed one of their properties with a competing agency, who were not even in the town! She looked at us and demandingly asked us the name of the vendor who had shown us the property and we had to say, timidly, in a very small voice, the one betraying word, “Giovanni”. We felt like naughty school children, knees trembling, standing in front of the Head Mistress waiting for our punishment. She was then certain of the fact that we had betrayed her business and she, with a wave of dismissal, bid us "Arrivederci" and left us with Carlo, who probably, predicting more motherly wrath, decided this was an opportune time to go and view the original property we had arranged to see and he hurried us out of the office and off to view the house.
What a valuable lesson, a first, I am sure, of many in our Italian Piedmont adventures. We hadn’t given this predicament any thought in our property search, when we had seen these properties online, through various estate agent portals, some houses were listed with multiple agents. I couldn’t remember if Carlo had been advertising the little white house, we hadn’t thought of it anyway and had just gone with the first agent we had seen viewing it and hadn’t thought how insensitive it could be to not use the local agent. I do remember thinking it was important to have multiple estate agents from a wide area, so that if other houses in other locations had arisen we were covered. But, I'm not sure, if we had our time again, we would have checked the local estate agent, immobiliare, website to see if they too had it listed and booked the viewing with them, it's a hard one to say. Though to this day we haven’t been able to look Carlo in the eye and he hasn’t recognised us, or, has chosen not to recognise us, and for a little town where everyone knows everyone we had already upset the apple cart with two local business people. Not a great start; hopefully, one day we can make it up to them.
Next chapter in our Piedmont property buying story
Awakening on our 2nd day of house hunting in Piemonte, particularly in the Langhe hills, Andrew was bounding around the hotel room like a Labrador puppy, full of excitement, as today was the day we were going to see his number one choice. We had also one other house to see but there were a few questions on that one in our minds already. I, in contrast, was still trying to recover from the let-down of my first pick on the previous day’s viewings, and not as optimistic about the day ahead, as I wasn’t really enamoured with either house on the itinerary.
Returning, again, to the local bar we met yesterday’s agent in, we also had agreed to meet a second, different agent for Andrew’s property. It turns out the bar is a well-known landmark location for meeting up with people in town, this agent was coming in from Acqui Terme, a good size Roman town, half an hour away. Natascia and Marco, a glamorous husband and wife estate agent team, were waiting for us outside the bar and even though Andrew was ‘chomping at the bit’, keen to see his property, he didn’t refuse the invite of a ‘café’ in the bar, which is a must do for all business meetings in Italy, and it would be a very poor show indeed if you decline a coffee before business; saying that, the tiny espresso’s were knocked back with the speed of a tequila slammer and off we buzzed in convoy, this time up a different uphill road. Looking out of the window there was lots to take in, a beautiful palazzo styled house with wrap around vineyards, other smaller elegant stone houses with reams of long sloping terraces, all with the trimmings of this seasons grape leaves, all crisp and russet and golden, empty of the bursting, flavour filled, grapes that had been recently harvested, the proud beauty of these hard working vines was a wondrous sight, as we weaved our way up a lovely wide road. Yes, a lovely wide road, we had had many a discussion on the pro’s and con’s of a road’s width the night before over dinner. Having survived the drive back down from the ‘little house’ we were having serious doubts about revisiting it, and though a 2nd viewing was on the cards it wasn’t filling us with any joy, just the thought of having to test our nerves again, hoping and praying a tractor wasn’t coming round the next bend…well it just didn’t seem like a possibility, and that, with Andrew’s immense driving skills, was quite something, as in the 14 years we have been together he has always been a sound and fearless driver, so if he was unsure, I was positively quaking in my walking boots at the idea of driving up there again. But back to the viewings today.
Finally, we abruptly turned off the road and up a private drive lined with huge imperial fir trees, a good start, at least it wasn’t overgrown grass, like yesterday’s drive, this was well maintained concrete, turning after 70mtrs up this drive and to the right, we drove into a long driveway of crunching pebbles through cast iron gates with 2 lion statues on top at either side of the gate posts, a Leo’s delight! I as a Leo, was truly delighted, I had forgotten about the description of this house to be honest, after all, this was Andrew’s favourite and truth be told I had neglected it in my mind. Pulling up at the end of the pebble drive I could see a beautifully wide maintained garden, sloping upwards with all sorts of fruit trees speckling the lawn and a neat raised flower bed, with ornamental trees in it, ran down the edge of the drive. And there were three further empty slopes, flat and clean, below the house. But there was no time for taking this in, for out of the house, with a big beaming smile and 'buongiorno - ing' for all he was worth, wearing worker overalls and carrying a witch’s broomstick, of all things, was the vendor, Giovanni.
Ahh, Giovanni, all of 5ft 6” and only like a Sardinian Italian man of 70 can be, escorted us like the conductor of the Royal Philharmonic orchestra, all arms, waving this way and that in the air, as with a flourish he guided us into each furniture bedecked, white wall gleaming, pristine room, like a proud father, beaming nonstop and talking away, at a rapid pace, with wild enthusiasm, Andrew had truly met his match in the enthusiasm stakes. He was so proud and happy to have us there, it was most infectious. This lovely little white house; see I used the word ‘lovely’ for the house, which at the beginning of the day was towards the bottom of my personal preferences; this man was weaving a spell on us, whether it had been the witch’s broomstick and its magical connotations, or his twinkly eyes, whatever it was, it was then surpassed by something more than magical, it was the view that really did it. I think I had been so swept away by Giovanni, as he ushered us into the house, that I hadn’t stopped to look at the view. We had climbed quite high up the hill to get there and as Giovanni led me over to the stately, wide, veranda edged, balustrade, we rested against the wall, and took a quiet moment of reflection, just the two of us, as the others had gone up into the attic. Giovanni and I looked out in silence at the view, an astonishing view, eye watering and sigh inducing, a ‘bella vista’, I said, quietly, to Giovanni, ‘si, bella vista’ he murmured in reply, both massive understatements. We looked out over an expanse of canyon like valley, with slumbering giant hills lined up, going into the far distance, each hill overlapping each other in a distance descending row, all covered in green pines and hazelnut plantations. To the right about ¼ mile away a little house, with more plantations, and a farm, down the hill below but again about ¼ mile away, Giovanni’s house, he gestured more softly, as he pointed to it, I think he had run out of steam after all his earlier excitement.
The quiet moment, that will forever be in my memory now, passed, as the others joined up, Andrew’s face was lit up like he had opened the best ever Christmas present. We knew there would be a second viewing and, via Natascia, we asked Giovanni if we could return tomorrow. What he said was pure, astonishing, alchemy, he said he doesn’t lock the door anyway, so we could come and go, as much as we liked and even have a picnic under the house’s portico! What the dickens!!! Now, coming from inner city Dublin, with our multi lock door and windows and house alarm, that we even turn on at night, not to mention the very attentive, curtain twitching, neighbourhood watch, this was truly staggering. The house was fully furnished, there were things to steal, if you were a nasty villain with evil intentions, which of course we weren’t, but we could come and go as we please! I love this place, I said, once I got back in the car, let’s never leave.
Next chapter in our Piedmont Italy adventure
We took in our surroundings in the Bar, while we ate and drank, over our very necessary lunch. As I observed in the previous post, the place was busy, no spare tables and the chatter was creating a great atmosphere. A couple of tables away a bunch of men mostly in their 60’s and 70’s were having a tranquil long game of cards while sipping espressos. We were sneaking peeks at them, and the other tables, to see what characters were in this bustling Piemonte town. While they too were sneaking peeks at us, wondering, I’m sure, how we had found this very non-touristy place, fortunately they all seemed content to have us there, giving us little smiles and nods and “buongiorno’s” from the late comers who came in after us, but then each entering customer was saying “buongiorno” to everyone when they entered the bar, from what we saw, and it was lovely not to be excluded from this greeting; what a welcoming town. It was all very civilised and we felt at home…until, that is, one of the men playing cards went off like a firework, he had let out a shout and jumped up from the card table shouting at his fellow players and slammed his cards down fiercely on the table! Red in the face he waved his arms around in the air like a man trying to swat a wasp away and fuming he stormed off out of the bar. The whole place was silent looking at the door that had just swung shut behind the departed man. It was like a scene out of a wild west movie. Then almost within seconds the place started to laugh – only in Italy! Thank goodness for the Italian sense of humour, the table of card players resumed their game with little smiles and the other diners carried on contentedly eating lunch and we acted the part of the nonchalant foreigners like nothing had occurred. I’m guessing that if the place hadn’t acted in such a manner after that outburst we may have started to have second thoughts on the town, instead we were still happy to be there.
We met our first estate agent, Eleanor after lunch, a really lovely agent and I will recommend her to anyone. Eleanor, escorted by her little dog, led us off in car convoy to the first property. Just 10minutes away, she promised. She was correct, there is though a little twist, and turn, to this ten minute drive. We headed up a road off the main road into town and began our ascent, like intrepid explorers waiting for the peak to come into view, but every turn we weaved led us further up and up the hill, the road became narrower, a lot narrower. So it eventually was really just one lane with a pretty much sheer drop, albeit through lots of hill clinging trees, to the bottom of a ravine. We eventually pulled off the ‘road’ into a grassy driveway, and as we pulled up the car we saw Eleanor ahead greeting the vendor, we climbed out and put our happy face on and approached Eleanor who was blocking the sight of the vendor, then as we got to them he was revealed, it was the furious card playing man from the bar! Still red in the face and not a care on him, as he greeted us warmly, if not a little over enthusiastically. He didn’t acknowledge being only 3 metres away from us over lunch so we pretended nothing and with big grins walked with him to the house, a beautiful big two floored stone farmhouse. The view over the landscape this high up was superb, magically set with the warm sunlight. Entering the house we came into a grand reception room with chandelier and large view framing windows, then through to the good size kitchen and bedroom, 1 bedroom. We wondered where the other bedrooms listed were? Then outside to the veranda with pleads of ‘attenzione’, watch out, we crossed a decrepit little landing with wobbly boards into the older part of the farmhouse and the further bedrooms but these hadn’t been lived in for at least 100 years. A big job was needed here. Passing back out to the garden our vendor grabbed a bottle of wine from a box and gave it to us as a present! Where would you get that? Outside we thanked him graciously, after all we might see him again in town during our trip, and he urged us to get in touch with questions, we headed off somewhat relieved to be going, we knew that this was not going to be the house for us, there was far too much to do.
Off in the cars, we were grateful to find ourselves headed back down the lane rather than further up it, thinking we would be off for a few minutes to the next house, one of my favourites, due mainly to the price. But 30 seconds after leaving we pulled into another grassy driveway and there the house was, pretty much one terrace down from the land of the first house. Not a great start, considering the driving conditions. But it looked lovely, just like the pictures and again had a great view, though, as it was lower down there was also a large industrial building in view at the bottom of the valley, a bit of a blip on the view. This house was small, tiny rooms fit for one person really, with the tiniest bathroom ever, this hadn’t been shown in the pictures online. But it had promise, due to the price. We had a look at the terraces, sloping down with overgrown abandon, one after the other and quite difficult, even with hiking boots on, to traverse. But they were good strong looking wide terraces with potential. We left knowing we would return for a second visit.
By now though I was getting excited, as we were off to see my number 1 house! We headed off fortunately right down to the bottom of the single lane road and off towards town again before turning up a wider, proper road, relief flooding my veins, you can’t beat a good normal road. We climbed up again but with ease and then pulled to a halt in the shade of some enormous trees not being able to see the house, we got out and headed down a very overgrown drive to the house. The house in the pictures had looked beautiful and dare I say, lady like, with pretty balconies and creamy yellow painted walls. This though looked a shadow of its former self, now, in fairness, it was actually in a shadow with the sun not kissing it as fervently as the prior houses that day, it was facing the wrong way and had a ginormous hill opposite blocking out the sunlight at this mid-afternoon point. I was sad and I think the house was sad too, because as we entered it the house was dark and rundown, but the worst of it was the sense of despair there, it didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like a happy house. This feeling was the least of our worries, as we found the only way to get to the bedrooms was via an outdoors stairway, a common feature in this area of Piemonte, as I have seen around the place since. Upstairs we were closer to the road and yes, the mysterious road I had spotted behind the house in the pictures wasn’t the quiet laneway I had hoped for, it was the easy driving main road we had been relieved to drive up on but we didn’t want to hear the thundering trucks and buzzing motorbikes groaning uphill through the bedroom walls, or, as Andrew pessimistically feared, one arriving through the roof of the bedroom one night. The house, my number 1 house, was a goner, we left speedily, my heart sunken and feeling a sense of despair, as we headed back to town and the end of the first day’s viewings, all we had left on the list was a house we had a few questions on and Andrew’s number one choice.
Next chapter in our Piedmont property search
Having read a ton of information on property buying Italy I saw the recurring theme of organising property viewings at least two weeks in advance. Quite the culture shock! Certainly in the UK and Ireland viewings can be organised as close to on the day of deciding to view a property, with those estate agents looking after the owner’s keys. In Italy, and certainly in Piemonte, this is not the case. The estate agent generally has no keys and the owner of the property tends to be at the viewing, even in empty houses. Hence needing plenty of notice for the agent to set up viewings, in order to arrange for the vendors to be present. So we had the shortlist whittled down to 5 and arranged the viewings, using our trusty google translate to communicate, as there were no British agents representing our selection and English was not present in our initial phone conversations, a promising start to our Piemonte dream. And a relief, compared to France, where it seemed the estate agency industry had been commandeered by every British ex pat there. Another tick in our attempt to find authenticity. Step one was completed, all viewings arranged smoothly for our long weekend viewing trip.
I do have a love hate relationship with Google particularly the way it ruthlessly goes about its business acquiring and gobbling up companies like Pacman. But their tools are brilliant. Now, we were in business with the viewings, we started to obsess over each house, looking on Google street view along every inch of road around each house for miles, Wikepediad every fact on every village, and every google image of every inch of these mysterious places. One house in particular was starting to look like the front runner, in its aspect and estate agent pictures, it looked positively welcoming and with beautiful grassed and tree lined terraces it did it’s best to tempt us into future plans of what we could grow and develop there. There was one small niggle though and that was that there appeared to be a lane behind the house, and we just couldn’t establish how busy the lane was from Google street view, still our hearts were aligned on ‘the one'. The others were also exciting prospects in their own way and we pretty much had a ranking of 1-5 agreed in both our minds.
So two weeks away, and unused to property buying in remote Piemonte, we were on edge, checking every day to make sure the properties were still listed on their respective agency sites and property websites to make sure they had not been bought by some other lucky buyer. This was a particular concern, as it was ‘peak season’ in our selected region because it was the time of the White Truffle and Americans galore, amongst many other nationalities, had made the annual pilgrimage to the region to worship reverently at the altar of Alba and all things tartufo! So you can only imagine our concern with all the wealthy American’s swarming over the land and we were quite sure they were equally falling in love with the rich beauty of the richly coloured land. I can truthfully say I had hardly any finger nails left!
Next Chapter of our Piemonte property search
Did you think we would let a bruising encounter with France put us off the challenge? Of course you didn’t think that, after all what would be the point of this story. Okay, so on landing back in grey Dublin at the end of September we did feel down for about a day until I started to broaden the house hunting search. One thing Andrew and I love and share a passion for is good food and wine. I started to muck about with searching for houses near famous wine areas, after all we had looked in Burgundy and Champagne in France, why not Barolo in Italy?
We had been to Italy once to twice a year for the previous 11 years. Andrew had taken me to Italy for my 30th Birthday knowing my love for Italian food and sunshine. We had the most romantic two weeks of my life, to that date, staying on an agritourismo near Certaldo and San Gimignano in Tuscany called Casse alle Vacche. I fell in love with Italy instantly, just by looking out of the car window on our trip from the airport to the beautiful Casse Alle Vacche vineyard. The vineyards lining our route and olive groves rolling and tumbling their way over every inch of land took my breath away. The heat and the smell of the warm earth on the vineyard added to the magic and I was caught hook, line and sinker. So we returned once more to Casse Alle Vacche and then emboldened with a basic grasp of Italian we took braver self-catering holidays throughout Italy, to Puglia, Umbria, La Marche, Rome numerous times, and each time we vowed that one day we would live in Italy, the usual tourist dream I am sure, but I also knew this had to happen. Even when we were considering a business in France we had spoken of how we would grow it and eventually set up in Italy.
So, I opened trusty Google maps, entered Barolo and viewed my first sighting of where Barolo actually is, because though I had heard of it, and had the odd couple of bottles of it, I had absolutely no idea where it was. Google is great for maps, it opened in a micro view of Barolo, close up so I couldn’t actually see where it was in Italy and as I gradually increased the map perspective, and it inched out slowly, I still didn’t recognise any names around and kept going wondering where the sea was, sea always seemed to be close by in Italy in our trips there. It just kept expanding until I saw Turin, I knew that, and eventually Milan. I was staggered, I truly thought Barolo would be further South, near Chianti, or somewhere warm like that, not way up North near Switzerland! My heart sank a little, I had always thought of that region as snowy and cold and mountainous. But it had piqued my curiosity, after all if they can grow the most prestigious wine in Italy there it must get some good sun. I started to research Barolo and found a few websites extolling the virtues of the area of ‘Piedmont’ that totally threw me. as though I had heard of Piedmont I had assumed it was in France. Bit by bit the area started to awaken in front of me on my computer screen. It felt like a game of ‘pass the parcel’, every new page I opened more glorious prizes were unwrapped. Bra, the slow food movement HQ of Italy and the world, I had been a fan of slow food but again not knowing the origin of slow food, and here it was, down the road from Barolo. The white truffles of Alba, world renowned and as good as the French, some say better. The famed Barbera and Barbaresco wine all in this small radius. Why didn’t I know of this before? For fun I thought to look at properties in the area, some seemed to be on the pricey side, it figured, I sighed a lot during this search, of course properties near Barolo and Alba would be out of our measly price range. I couldn’t seem to find any suitable properties with lots of land. Then I thought to expand the search, in France we had looked at a radius of 2 hours from an airport and here was Milan with three international airports and Turin and Genova all up in the North. I kept widening until, finally, one day up came about 5 properties all in the same town, all in our price range, and with lots and lots of land. Now, of course there were some cynical alarm bells ringing in the back of my head, why all of a sudden were 5 properties, meeting our needs, coming up in one town, what was wrong with the place? It was bang on our limit at 2 hours from Milan, and coming from Ireland was a hindrance, as there were no flights to Genova, and Turin was very infrequent. Yet, here it was, a solution. Yet the cynic came to the fore, no doubt due to being burnt in the French shambles, I feared the worst, perhaps a motorway, or plans to build one next door, factories galore perhaps, as Andrew thought the industrial North was just that – industrial. I started researching but got stumped, as nothing came up for this town in Piedmont, only a place in Piemonte, what was that about? It was rather confusing, there was also a Piedmont in the US, as I kept stumbling across it in the searches. But no, Piemonte was the correct name, the Italian name for ‘Piedmont’, another twist, entering Piemonte Italy into Google search, up came more pages of goodies and amongst them, our town. Our town, which read like a dream, loads of restaurants, bars, a weekly market and some industry but no motorway plans, thank goodness. Just lots of lovely Trip Advisor reviews of how great the place is.
Our house hunting in Piemonte took off like a rocket. Andrew and I started firing off houses to each other found on-line, with subjects: “look at this one”, “this is the one”, “wow” etc. I admit I had a favourite and Andrew had a favourite too, but I thought his too modern, mine looked more Italian, you know that vision of a house in Italy, though ours weren’t quite like that, they didn’t seem to have large stone houses like those in Tuscany, or Puglia’s Masserias. These had plenty of land though, only, instead of fields, they were all on terraces, long hillside grass terraces, stepping elegantly down into their respective tree filled valleys. I knew in my heart that Hemp had been left in France, and a short four weeks after returning from France we booked our flights to Piemonte.
2015 was indeed one of the worst years on record in Ireland for abysmal wet weather. Now, I know there is a conception of Ireland being wet, after all it is so green and full of cows and fields. But the Ireland I had lived in for the last 13 years had been, on the whole, not bad until 2015. I didn't even know where my umbrella was, it had hardly been used. Now I have multiple umbrellas. I had suffered a year of moaning, people moaning to me, moaning to myself, by me and all around me, 'I hate this weather', 'it's so depressing', 'will it ever stop raining' etc. etc. The clouds were relentlessly grey and very low hanging in a mass that drained the life out of most sane dwellers in Dublin (there are the strange exceptions who like rain of course but that is certainly not true of me).
To compound this situation there was the very fast approaching 40th Birthday in August. Why is it that as we get older the year's seem to keep speeding up? Sometimes I feel I am living in a vintage VHS video cassette with the setting on fast forward. I suddenly had a ball of tension in my chest, like something large and unwielding was pressing into my ribcage from within. Was it doubt, fear, worry, illness, had I swallowed the grey clouds? I was so out of sorts I went to the GP to get a full health diagnosis, and got the all clear, thank goodness. All I can say is that it was a general unease, a feeling that something was not right. I wasn't living the life I was supposed to be living, but what was I to do about that whilst sat in my office looking out at the relentless rain with a business to run and bills to pay?
I have as an adult always had a hankering for a farm, a vision of chickens (I love chickens), pigs, sheep, cows and a massive veg patch, a self-sufficient idyll. I can only put this down to genes from my grandmother's parents who had a farm in Galway, Ireland, and many of my Irish relatives indeed do live on farms to this day. We had many a family holiday in County Clare, when I was a child, (and yes I am named after County Clare). We used to have house swaps with my father's cousin who had fields all around his house. Making mud castles with my sister, Kerry (named after County Kerry of course), on the boggy fields and running about in wellies will be enduring happy memories. And so it has come to pass that I too have a strong pull towards fields and the promise of collecting my own eggs and chopping hand pulled onions...but not in Ireland, there are too many puddles!
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