A house in Italy is a dream? Not really. Providing you have one euro to spend.

Old houses in Salemi, Sicily (photo: italiannotebook.com)
Old houses in Salemi, Sicily (photo: italiannotebook.com)

In a few places, from Sicily to Sardinia, mayors of little villages or semi-abandoned hamlets (borghi) are encouraging locals (or more likely the heirs of those who used to live there) to sell their ruin properties for one euro: the vendors save on taxes and those who buy it have to rebuild and/or refurbish it, by using local workforce. A win-win situation, to ensure the history and life of those small communities does not expire with the latest Italian moving to London. Salemi and Ollolai are just the most notorious places whereby this scheme has been launched: and again, should you like to proceed, the mayors themselves alert you it is not the easiest process to engage with.

Nothing is easy in Italy, to be honest. Dealing with local bureaucracy can be as daunting as hoping to survive without learning the language well beyond the point of ordering a piatto di lasagne, per favore at the restaurant.

My friends Jimmy and Carol were eager to buy a house in Italy to set a B&B business. But they soon had to face the reality: setting a business it’s a complicated matter, buying a house can be daunting. When I tell their story to my Italian friends, these all experience the same reaction: Britons are lucky enough to be spoiled by a Country where living is pretty easy.

In the UK, you can buy a house by putting a signature on a form in front of a solicitor, who does everything for you for a fraction of the price you have to pay in Italy to agents (yes, in Italy estate agents are paid by both vendors and buyers!), surveyors, notaries and -well- facilitators who can act on your behalf.

Jimmy and Carol’s dream came true, eventually, with some adjustments: they discovered that living in Italy was not exactly as seamless as they thought, though. The B&B idea was scrapped after a few months.

And still people complain about here: I mean, really? When I moved recently to my new house in Bedfordshire, a couple of phone calls solved all things out: utilities updated my records, closed my previous accounts and opened the new ones in minutes. The County council? Another call. Banks and insurances? A couple of trips to the nearest open branches on a Saturday morning (a dream, in Italy). Car documents? A first class stamp and an envelope to the DVLA. Done and dusted.

In Italy things are somehow more complicated: welcome to the Italian way. And yet, thanks heaven, this is not stopping Britons to move to Italy, or at least to buy their retreat over there: because Italy is beautiful, and it is a shame we Italians sometimes forget about it.

Italy attracts people from all over the world for its arts and for its natural beauties, for its lifestyle as well as its food.

When I visited Jimmy and Carol in their new home last Christmas, I was impressed by their Italian (wonders it does, for improving your language, living surrounded by people who can only pronounce the word weekend the way an English person would!): and her cuisine too. They bought most of their food from local farmers (the mythical Gino: despite the relative rarity of this name in modern Italy, it looks like all farmers keep naming themselves Gino, a shorter form of Luigi), claiming they saved on money too, not just on fuel. This must be a secret they keep and share between themselves, those who live in the Italian countryside: as it is my concern, born and breed in Rome, every time I attempted to buy anything from farmers, I ended up spending twice as much as from buying from Conad or other large retails. Was it worthy: it certainly was!

Quality of food from local farmers is so much better: and yes, since I moved to the countryside (a little market town in Bedfordshire is definitely countryside for you Londoners and us Romans living outside the M25), I feel entitled to claim this is the case both in Italy and in England (sorry Tesco and co: nothing personal. But sometimes I’d like to use aubergines for eating purposes too, not only for sending naughty presents to my friends).

Britain might well decide to leave the EU, in a month or so: but Italy would still be the same distance away for Britons and everyone, should they decide that every now and then a comfy life might well deserve a touch of (complicated) dolce vita.

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