My apologies for the radio silence over the last couple of weeks. It coincided with the Easter Holidays, the last mad rush of the builders finishing and, well, a short trip to Italy where, as some of you may already know, we signed the papers for a house in a lovely village near Turin.
We have dreamed of owning a place here since we first met nearly 30 years ago and this is the culmination of that long-held dream. I will talk another time about the buying process and the practicalities but for now I thought you might like to have a look around. Most of the images here were taken when the family was still in residence. We have bought some of their furniture from them but the current decor is fairly dilapidated and everything needs updating.
It was almost exactly a year ago that we first saw this house in a small village in the hills of Turin. It was our second house-hunting trip and we had already seen a Liberty Style villa, a remote farmhouse, a country estate and this was the last on the list. We had been very focused on online searches to really make the most of our weekend viewing trips concentrating on a different style and location each time. This was the one we were most excited about. The day before we were due to meet the estate agent, we drove up to have a look from the outside.
As we stepped out of the hire car it was pouring with rain. The house is on a corner and we headed off in different directions peering over the fence and trying to see what it looked like inside. Minutes later we met back at the corner. We both had wet faces and it wasn’t the rain.
The following day we met the estate agent as planned and wandered around inside. It was being sold by the five children of the elderly resident who had moved in with her husband and their first child in 1964. She now lived there with her 22-year-old granddaughter who was looking after her until the house was sold.
It’s no exaggeration to say we fell instantly in love. It’s also no exaggeration to say we spent six months trying to talk ourselves out of it. We were in the process of selling our London townhouse to move to a smaller cottage so we weren’t in a position to make an offer anyway. It was too big. It would have to earn its living as a holiday let, a space for interior design trips, location shoots, brand events, cooking schools and writers’ retreats. For every argument against there was another equally persuasive to draw us back in.
The house lies with its back to the hill and a instead of a front and back garden it has one either side. One thing we quickly understood from previous viewings was that with no grass it was much easier to maintain. No turning up for the weekend and spending a full day mowing the lawn.
It has also been divided into two with the possibility to shut a door between the top floor and the rest of the house. We had long conversations with the architect about re-uniting the space before realising that a three bedroom self-contained flat with a kitchen, two bathrooms and a sitting room with views over the valley is perfect for renting out or for saving on heating bills.
Like I say, it was bigger than we planned, but every time we turned against it the house called us back. It took ages to finalise the London sale. The house waited for us. We took our sons to see it in the summer, the Grandmother, now fully recovered from a knee operation, welcomed them in while the Grand-daughter told us how pleased they were that we might buy the house. Neighbours dropped in to meet us. A handyman who had worked for the family for years came round with his wife. The house was singing to us.
We kept looking online, trawling through hundreds of pages to find something else. Smaller, better, neater. But there was nothing. A smaller house would have cost us more. A flat in Turin was out of the question. This big house was the most affordable thing we saw. And still she sang to us. A song of possibilities and dreams. Of earning potential and la dolce vita. Like the siren songs of old we were powerless to resist. Even the location was perfect.
It is situated about 30 minutes from Turin Airport, an hour’s train ride from Milan and six hours from Paris on a TGV (which costs about £25). Turin is a beautiful city full of art galleries and museums, stunning churches, including the one that houses the Turin Shroud, and countless bars and restaurants. It is home to Cinzano and Martini and lays claim to having invented the idea of taking an aperitif with with an array of tiny snacks including the Tramezzino – small triangles of white bread filled with combinations such as tuna and olive, ham and artichoke, mortadella, cream cheese and pistachio. It’s close to Alba, the centre of the truffle trade and the local wine is Barolo.
Once the seat of the Italian Royal Family, there are large elegant squares, monumental buildings and industry – the former Fiat factory, where the original Italian Job filmed the mini cars racing on the roof track, is now a fabulous mid-century hotel. All this is a 40 minute drive from the house and for anyone used to living in London where it takes an hour to go anywhere this is nothing.
Turin you have stolen our hearts and now we have a house to call home. But not quite yet. First there is the rewiring and the plumbing. The bathrooms to replace and the kitchens to redo. And gallons of painting and rolls of wallpaper. The moving of furniture from storage in London to rooms in Italy.
And then, then we will see how this noble old house will sing once more.