It was with great trepidation that I boarded the flight to Milan in November 2015. We had checked the day before that all the Piemonte properties we had lined up to see were still available and we had confirmed the viewings so that was all fine but with the French trip still raw in my mind I really was wishing and hoping that that disaster wouldn’t happen again. Flying in low over the alps took me back, like it was yesterday, to my first flight ever to Greece at 17, I can still remember looking out of the window in awe at the majesty of those snow-capped mountains, framed with the bright blue sky and it was nice to daydream and think that if we did buy in Piemonte then this wondrous view would become a regular therapeutic occurrence. And the view was, of course, also a great reminder that we really were heading for the foot of the mountain, Piemonte.
Once in the hire car we excitedly hit the road and sped our way along through very vast flat lands, not quite what I had in mind! The land was continuously flat for what seemed an interminable time, the trepidation I had been feeling in my tummy that morning was slowly making way for a little disappointment. Where were the views? Where were the rolling hills our research had thrown up? I tried to keep an optimistic mind at 1 hour in to our 2-hour journey and still not a hill in sight, just more lifeless flat land, and worryingly it revived a memory, I had hoped not be reminded of again, of our drive not so long ago through dying, flat, central France. What there was instead to alleviate the somewhat boring straight road drive were beautiful wrap around Alps to the left and right of the road in the far horizon and that somewhat made up for the very dull flat fields.
Finally, out of nowhere with half an hour to go, according to the sat nav, the landscape started to shift and move to one of gentle hillocks peppered with some higher steep sided hills with little castles and turrets on top, not quite San Gimignano but in a way less imposing and more inviting. Before we knew it the road started to wind a little more and we found ourselves amongst the rolling Langhe hills of Piemonte, breathing an almighty sigh of relief that the flatlands were behind us. I could feel my shoulders relax down two inches from their prior tensed height, as this was what we had been looking forward to, not those never ending flat fields. But what really struck me, in this up close and personal landscape we were weaving through, were the amazing colours of the trees and vines, everywhere was coloured in a patchwork quilted land of red, gold, russet and fading green, and an Autumn landscape, that I had only seen before on TV in New England, was everywhere, and it was mind boggling stunning for this normally grey city choked woman. Every bit of land was, in Italian style, also covered in vegetation, the vines of course, and lots of different tree plantations in uniformed rows. There were little villages we passed through perched at the top of each hillock, all prettily presented and tidy. The biggest contrast to France was the amount of traffic, while in France you could drive through multiple villages and not come across another car, here there were a lot of cars, all speeding their way with abandonment to their Lunch time rendezvous.
After arriving in Piemonte we eventually saw the welcome sign to our destination town in the Langhe hills and a proud row of tall trees lined the road to the centre of the town, rather like an aristocratic driveway, which you would have thought impressive, though beside the trees, along the roadside, were lots of little farm machinery shops with all manner of tractors and other industrial toys scattered along the roadway in all states of repair, and I could feel Andrew tense a little beside me, as things were looking a bit more shabby, and he piped up to warn me that he had seen all this already on Google street view and not to get my hopes up, as it wasn’t the prettiest of places, fortunately I had already seen that street view too and was managing my expectations but, personally, I thought it was a positive omen, as this surely meant we had found an industrious town.
We pulled up in the village at the bar we were meeting our estate agent in, and still with time on our hands, and slightly grumbling stomachs, we ventured into the bar. Now I have to say I was also crossing my fingers, after all, all the bars we had encountered in France were empty and desolate places, which had ultimately put us off moving there. We took a deep breath and opened the bar door and went in, and was hit with an immediate wall of noise, hustle and bustle, the place was heaving with lunch time diners. Phew! Tick one. All we wanted was a vibrant town to live in and this it seemed, was it. Diners, mostly working men, some in suits, some in overalls, were tucking into vast bowls of salad and pasta and accompanied, in a very civilised way, with little glasses of white wine. Andrew and I sat down and beamed like Cheshire cats at each other, this was what we had been hoping for over the last few weeks since we had booked the property viewings, a town with heart and soul, we clinked our little glasses of a local wine, Roero Arneis, our first ever sip of this white grape, it was lovely, and we made a happy toast to our upcoming viewings, Salute!
Next chapter in our Piedmont Italy 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
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