Three years ago, in July 2017, we were very busy. Our week days were spent working in Rome, and our weekends scouring the Sabina countryside for the perfect home. Our search had commenced a year previously, even before we had moved to Italy.
We were looking for a little bolt hole with gorgeous views, and a cute, well fenced garden for the dogs to relax in. Not too big, but not too small, perhaps close to a lake, for summer swims. Oh! And definitely not a renovation project …
The problem was, that the more time we spent in Sabina, the more we wanted to actually live there. And so, slowly but surely, the budget was expanded, the brief changed, and then …
We found our Olive Hill. All 8.5 abandoned hectares of it. Or, if you prefer, all twenty two abandoned football pitches of it. Except that it wasn’t abandoned football pitches, it was abandoned olive trees, and grape vines, and citrus trees, and walnut trees, and fields, and woods.
And the house, rather than being an achingly gorgeous stone farmhouse with chestnut beams and terracotta floors, was a 1970s museum piece, in almost perfect condition … For the 1970s.
We spent the next year buying it. Plan A was to own it in time for the 2017 olive harvest, so that we could learn how to harvest olives. But then we worked out a plan B, and went off on an olive pruning course in Tuscany, in the hope of owning it in time to prune the trees early in 2018. Then came the coldest temperatures in around 40 years, and we still didn’t own the place.
Finally, early on in the summer of 2018, we bought the place. Plan C was invoked, and we decided to spend 2018 bringing the land back into production, 2019 renovating the house, and that we would move to our modernised farmhouse with its gorgeous olive grove and vineyard just as Scott retired, in 2020.
But of course, we were incapable of sticking to Plan C, and it quickly became clear that the only sensible thing to do was to move in, lock stock and barrel, force the land into shape, and camp in the house during the renovations.
And so here we are, three years later, living in an almost renovated house, with 8.5 hectares of almost organic farmland.
If you, dear reader, also wish to follow your dream, and move to Italy, let me say this.
Now. Before you’re older and wiser.
Buy somewhere sensible and manageable, that you can afford, and that will not cripple you, financially or physically.
Don’t get me wrong, neither us regret our choice to live here, not even for a minute, but the decision to buy this place in our fifties definitely falls into the category of Not Big and Not Clever.
We have learnt so many new skills. We are terribly proud of our ability to prune olive trees, to discuss flail mowers in Italian, and in Scott’s case, fix multiple faults on our ancient fiat tractor. We love our almost modernised home, and barely notice plaster dust in our cornflakes nowadays. We have made friends, we know how to make noccino, we can prevent an olive fly infestation (we hope!) and we can also make wine without the use of yukky sulphites.
But goodness me, we are tired, battered and bruised, ALL of the time!
We have mysterious aches and pains that just won’t go away.
Our Italian Dream was to live in happy, lazy harmony with our beautiful olive grove, but farming here seems to require constant hand to hand combat to keep things under control. It turns out that olive trees are absolutely determined to turn themselves into bushes, and need chopping at constantly. Grape vines just grow and grow and grow, and are FULL of snake, wasp and bee nests, which are generally invisible until you are eye to eye with them. Nut trees live at the bottom of the steepest hill in the world, and nothing grows with as much determination as nettles and blackberries.
Everything takes SO MUCH WORK, and causes SO MANY INJURIES! Between us, we have accessed more medical services in the last year than we ever had in a lifetime. Installing a ceiling light at the weekend required two step ladders. With each of us on top of a ladder, we were just about able to combine our resources, and find enough serviceable body parts to change a light bulb.
So if you still want to move here, do it. You will love it. But don’t just learn Italian, learn medical Italian, because if you are as daft as we are, you’re going to need it!