The end of … England
For many years we’ve had the idea that we would one day move abroad but it was only three or four years ago that we started to do something about it. We’ve had our fair share of ideas of where to buy … the seed was sown around ten years ago when we visited Mexico and decided we could live there (five star all-inclusive resort … who wouldn’t?) Since then we’ve had an ‘unsettled’ feeling and have been searching for a place where we could start a new life.
Not that there was anything wrong with our ‘old’ life, we’d just hit a point where we’d done everything we wanted to do in England, so why not try somewhere else? We were both in our early forties, we’d both had office jobs, of which we’d grown restless, so had given those up to run our own business for ten years, renovating houses for a living and, when the bottom dropped out of the housing market, we built a house in our garden. And by we … I mean the two of us … not the ‘television-we’, where a team of builders does all the work and the owners just sit back and pay the ever-escalating bill. Marcus became our architect, designing the house and creating all the plans for submission and approval. We then both put on our builders ‘hats’ and did everything ourselves, from digging out the ground to laying the ridge tiles on the roof, and everything in-between – and that was just the external work. Inside we installed the electrics (don’t worry, Marcus was qualified), and the underfloor heating, we insulated, we plastered (Marcus did the ceilings and I did the walls) and we painted. I built and hand-painted the many kitchen units and Marcus designed and built the complicated staircase, and we finished by laying the largest amount of laminate flooring we’d ever laid … both floors of the whole four bedroomed house, including the stairs to which Marcus added individual handcrafted ‘noses’ to look slightly worn ! It wasn’t the quickest house build ever but it looked amazing and we are still so proud of it (and we glance at Google Earth from time to time to make sure it’s still there!) But when we’d finished it … what to do next?
Should we try … Spain
This lull gave us some thinking time, and that thinking time brought us to the decision that we should sell up and move abroad – our first serious discussion focusing on southern Spain. We bought the language cds, loaded up the ipods, watched ‘Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona’ on dvd and booked a three week holiday there. Long story short – we enjoyed it for a holiday but we didn’t see it as a place where we could live permanently. We even looked into Northern Spain, including buying a really good recipe book for the area, but drew the same conclusions … so Spain was out.
‘A Place in the Sun Live’ at the NEC in Birmingham was on our calendar for inspiration on which country to investigate next and, whilst there, we got the opportunity to put our names down for the chance to be interviewed as potential house-hunters on the show, and we got a call back very soon afterwards. We were filmed at our home, we were asked various questions and a week later we received a phone call saying we had been chosen to look for a house in … Murcia … Spain! What were the chances of them picking the only country we’d decided against? So we said ‘Thanks but no thanks’ as it would have been a waste of time for us … but I’m sure whoever got our place on the show is now happily living there.
A foray into … France
We turned our attention to France, the ‘easiest’ option we thought as I’d studied French at school and still had a pretty good grasp of the language, and we indulged in the many relocation programmes being shown on the television … all of which seemed to be focused on France (was that a sign?) We drank coffee, Marcus made croissants, we bought another box of language cds to load onto our ipods, we visited a French Property exhibition, we watched ‘Julie & Julia’, ‘A Good Year’ and ‘Amelie’ on dvd and spent two weeks near Millau in the South of France, camping in a tent. I suppose if we were looking for signs, the car engine blowing up at Dartford on our first attempt at getting to the Eurotunnel and the heavy downpours we endured in our little two-man tent should have put us off. The bits of France that we saw in the sunshine were lovely, and we even made the most of the rainy days amongst the vast aisles of ‘Leroy Merlin’ pricing up everything we would need for restructuring a house. But, during one of the big thunderstorms we had on that fortnight, we had our own bolt of lightning. We were choosing France because I had a grasp of the language … not because we wanted to live there. Wherever we moved to we would have to learn how to live there from scratch … new jobs, new laws, new friends, new house, new ways of doing things … a knowledge of the language would help, but shouldn’t be our deciding factor. We went against everything we would ever do in this situation and took the logic out of the decision and went with our hearts, and that’s why we chose …
It’s got to be … Italy
We’d touched on Italy briefly when we visited ‘A Place in the Sun Live’ and had looked at the houses for sale at very reasonable prices and even attended a couple of seminars about the laws there. In fact we were so taken with the idea that on the way back up the M1 we stopped at Meadowhall Shopping Centre to call in at WHSmith and buy the Italian language cds (we should have bought shares in these language courses!) But developing property for a living and the Italian ‘red tape’ did not go hand in hand so we’d shelved the idea for a while as we investigated our other options. However, a long weekend with friends in Sorrento, near Naples, reignited our desire to pursue a life in Italy – the language, the food, the people – we’d already made our peace with the idea that we would need a new line of work and Marcus hit upon the perfect solution. He would look into web design and set about creating a website that would bring us an income whilst allowing us to stay ‘mobile’.
Which led us to another idea – the house was already on the market so we needed to find somewhere to live as we looked for, not only a new house but also decided which part of Italy we would buy it in! We didn’t want to rent a house anywhere as we could be locked into a rental contract for 6 months at a time in the ‘wrong’ place so, despite never having ‘caravanned’ before, we found ourselves the proud owners of a 7 metre ‘apartment on wheels’ with a Land Rover Defender to pull it. We now had the flexibility to move around areas we wanted to visit and I had a very happy husband (he loves Defenders and I hated them with a passion but this one won my heart – perhaps helped by the fact that it seemed the perfect vehicle for our new life, cruising around the back roads of the Italian countryside looking for cheap ruins for sale!) So we were ready for Italy – we just had to wait for the house to sell.
And eventually it did. We left the UK on a rainy November night – a couple, a cat, a car and a caravan – spent six weeks driving through France and arrived in Liguria, Northern Italy just before Christmas. The plan was to drive through here on our way to Le Marche and then Abruzzo but we fell in love with the place. The first house we found led us to meet our brilliant estate agent who has stuck by us as we ‘hummed’ and ‘haahed’ our way through possibly every ruin and ‘rustico’ in the Ligurian countryside. And around thirty house explorations later, we’ve finally bought our little piece of Italy, signing for it at the end of last year. The next stage of our lives has begun …