Saturday, March 19, 2005


An acquaintance of ours is coming to Italy next week to look for a house. She’s been searching the internet, which has limited information, so she asked us if we knew of any realtors in this area. She sent us her “wish list”, and we passed the information onto our friend Donatella at TecnoCasa, and to Wendy at BPN.

Our friend asked us if we knew anything about one house in particular that she had found on the internet. She sent us a picture of a place and the information said it was a small walled city in the district of San Venanzo. We didn’t recognize the place from the pictures. We showed our neighbor Armando the picture, but he was puzzled as well.

Art decided to walk down to the geometra’s office. Because they work on buildings all over the area, we were sure someone in the office would know where this small jewel was located. Mauro wasn’t in the office, but one of the other men took one look and said, “oh that’s “cutesy village”…see, here’s the church”. (I’m keeping the name a secret for now, because our friend doesn’t want someone to buy this place before she’s had a chance to look at it!)

When Art returned home, he shared the news with me and later with Armando. Armando was quite intrigued, and wanted to see where this place was. I’m still a little confused….I think he just wanted to see the house because Art had told him it had five bedrooms and a total of fifteen rooms. . Art asked him if he would like to ride with us to take a look, and he said yes.

“Cutesy village” is about a ten minute drive from our house, and the drive was enjoyable and scenic. Armando pointed out houses along the way and told us about the people who lived there. Once we arrived at the town, Armando asked a man on the side of the road if he knew where the house for sale was. Of course the man knew, and gave us some directions. He also told us that we could park inside the walls.

Entering a walled city without knowing the layout can be a scary situation. Although our car isn’t huge, it’s still too big for many medieval streets, and way too big to make some of the tight turns. We were relieved to see a small parking area just inside the wall.

Once we got out of the car, we were enchanted by this cute little place. The church was just outside the walls, and within the walls were three small “streets”. No cars drive on these streets, so they’re really just wide passageways. The houses were all of stone, three stories, and connected together in a continuous line.

As we walked down the first street, Armando stopped and rang a doorbell. He told us that his cousin lived here. Unfortunately, he had rung the wrong bell. When a man answered the door, Armando told him that he was expecting to see his cousin, and the man told him that his cousin lived a few doors down. Of course Armando chatted with the man for a few minutes, and asked him about the house that was for sale. This man didn’t know of anything for sale, and decided to walk down to the cousin’s house so that he could find out for himself.

After finding the right house, Armando asked his cousin about the house for sale. The cousin told Art and Armando that there was nothing for sale. (I had wandered off, looking for a “for sale” sign in a window) Hearing conversation in the street and unfamiliar voices, a neighbor lady had opened her window and was leaning out from above. After hearing the discussion, and the cousin’s response, the woman said “no…there IS a house for sale. It’s over on the other street.”

The cousin was surprised, and told Armando that he wanted to come with them to see this house. The four men then headed off for the house…the neighbor, Armando’s cousin, Armando and Art. As they began walking towards the house, I was chatting with the neighbors.

I had walked down all three of the streets, and as I turned the corner to the third street, there were several women talking. As I approached, all eyes were on me. This is certainly to be expected in a small place like this, but in general, Italians stare much longer than most of us are accustomed to.

Being the visitor, I greeted the women with a friendly “Bon giorno, signore”, and they responded in kind. I told them that I was looking for a house that was for sale, and explained that it was for a friend. The women pointed to a house in the middle of the row, and immediately I recognized it from the picture.

I told the women that I lived in San Venanzo, but that our friend had seen the house on the internet. About this time, Art, Armando, the cousin and his neighbor came around the corner. Of course they now knew where the house was too, and we all admired it from the outside. I now suspect that all the women in the village knew about the house for sale, but that the men probably limit their conversations to hunting, soccer, and maybe politics.

As we started to leave, Art had a thought. “Does anyone have a key to the house?” The cousin and the women discussed this then said yes, there was someone. The cousin went off in search of the person with the key while we continued to talk with the women.

I asked if the small garden facing the house belonged to anyone there, but they told me no, it belonged to the woman in the next house. The garden was obviously being prepared for spring….branches had been trimmed from fruit trees and the beds were being readied for planting.

A few minutes later, a small woman came towards us, holding the key to the house and a remote control. She pointed out the alarm system high up on the wall of the house. She wasn’t sure if she could turn the alarm off, but one of the other women held the remote as high as she could, and we all heard the “beep”, telling us that it had been disarmed.

The woman unlocked the door and the four of us….Art, Armando, the woman and I, entered the house. There was a small foyer, and to the right, was a large room with beamed ceilings. To the left, down a short stairway, was the laundry room, storage for wood and the mechanical stuff for the house. Directly in front of us was the stairway to the upper floors.

The second floor had a full bathroom, a large dining room and a living room with a fireplace. Fragments of an old fresco had been left exposed in both the living room and the dining room. Towards the back of the house was a room I guess was the informal eating area. This room had a fireplace too, and just behind this room was the kitchen.

This kitchen felt smaller than it was due to the dark cabinets, and the fact that the window was closed. The countertops were unusually high, and we were surprised since Italians tend to be shorter rather than taller. If the wall separating these two rooms could somehow be opened up, leaving only the fireplace as a divider, I think the kitchen would feel even larger. Several bedrooms were also on this floor, at the back of the house.

The third floor had access to an attic for storage, two full baths, and two more bedrooms. One of the bathrooms was next to the master suite, and the other bathroom was so incredibly ugly that it was painful to look at! The walls and floor were covered in a small dark green tile that closed the room in, but at least it appeared to be in good condition.

I opened one of the windows on the front of the house and noticed that the window was new. In addition to the slatted shutters on the outside, all the windows also had solid wood shutters on the inside. This made the house very dark, but I guess this could provide a bit of extra insulation in the winter. For people like Art who like to sleep in absolute darkness, these shutters are wonderful.

Anyway, once I opened the window, we were presented with an amazing view of the countryside below. The small garden across the street was a nice touch of green, and the patchwork of fields and hilly terrain that stretched out below the town was incredible. This view is what Umbria is all about!

The house was still filled with furniture, but the woman showing us the house didn’t’ know if any of it would remain or was for sale. We were told that the owner of the house had died, and that her children now wanted to sell the house.

We turned off the lights as we made our way back to the ground floor. The house in general was in good condition, although we did see some places where the plaster needed patching. Maybe because the heat’s been off the house has been damp, causing the plaster to loosen….or maybe there are other reasons.

We thanked this kind lady for taking her time to show us the house. After the lady and Art tried unsuccessfully, Armando was finally able to re-arm the alarm system. I can’t imagine an alarm system being necessary in this small borgo! We said our goodbyes to everyone in the area and headed for the car.

We passed one section that was covered in scaffolding. A large sign stated that this work was being down by the commune of San Venanzo. Unless this was some sort of office space, I can’t imagine why the commune was doing this work. Maybe they’ve gotten some government money to repair and preserve places like this. Whatever the reason, we were glad to see that work was being done.

Art and I were amazed that we had never visited this cute little borgo before, and were glad for this opportunity. A borgo is a small collection of houses with no shops or facilities….just houses. We had decided that we did NOT want to be in a borgo when we were house hunting. This one was certainly cuter than most we had seen. The wall surrounding it made it feel like a medieval city, and with the views this place has, we might have made an exception if we had found a place like this….oh yeah, and if we had more money!


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