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Purchasing Property in Italy - Part 5
The Search Continues
We only had a few days left in Sicily and there were still places we wanted to explore. Buying a house was just a dream. The point of the trip was to get Tom familiar with the country and, hopefully, have him love it as much as I do.
Still, as I mentioned in my last post about purchasing property in Italy, if we were going to be serious about the possibility, we needed to engage a realtor. Rosalia Lentini came highly recommended. Nino (whom you may remember is the owner of Le Luminarie in Balestrate, where I stayed during the 11-week Covid lockdown in 2020), even gave me the name and number of a friend who had used Rosalia. This friend, April, and I connected on WhatsApp and she couldn’t say enough good things.
So we called Rosalia. It was a Sunday afternoon and we didn’t expect to hear back until the next day. Much to our surprise, she agreed to meet us that evening. In Alcamo.
Alcamo is a town of about 45,000 residents and a sixteen-minute drive from Balestrate. The town sits at 850 ft above sea level yet drops all the way down to the water. The area is most well known in Sicily as a center of wine production. Somehow, I didn’t know about this town. Even though my favorite Sicilian wine is produced there (a label owned by Nino’s brother-in-law), the town itself hadn’t registered in my brain. Yeah, well, there was a pandemic and I had only been to Sicily one other time. I can’t be faulted for not seeing everything.
Now was the time. This was the third week in February, on a Sunday evening, and the town center was packed. I mean, packed! We met at Bar 900, close to the town square and there was barely any room to walk. Finally, we sent Rosalia a selfie of us with our masks on so she could find us in the crowd. Once together, we settled in with Aperol Spritzers upstairs.
Tom and I are an anomaly in Italy. Hell, we are everywhere but, in a country where gender roles and relationships are still very traditional, it’s hard to explain our connection. Rosalia was no different. “So, you’re buying this together but you’re not married and only Jan is going to live here?” Yes.
Once you get past that, the assumption is that I will want to live in town. Of course a single woman would want to be near other people, as well as resources like stores. But I don’t. Rosalia wasn’t convinced. She insisted on showing us a fantastic flat that isn’t for sale but is a great example of what might be available. This flat turned out to be none other than April’s, the friend I had just spoken to on WhatsApp.
April, by the way, is from the States. But after completing her PhD in English Literature at Oxford, she decided to stay in the UK and currently teaches in London. Based on that alone, I was intrigued.
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April’s flat is attached to a church that is no longer open (due to needed repairs) and she purchased it at a reasonable price, the kind of price we had been hoping for ourselves. Then she spent equally that much renovating it. Here are a few before and after photos:
When we saw April’s flat, it looked somewhere between the before and after. Certainly it was livable before but… WOW! She has done an amazing job with the renovation, including so many charming touches like whimsical light fixtures.
Also what you can’t see are the two bedrooms plus office/spare room, and a small outside terrace in the center of the flat. Now that the renovation is complete and she is back in London teaching, she is offering it for long-term rentals of one to six months. If you’re interested, let me know.
After seeing April’s place, Rosalia took us to the Baglio which is the focus of my last post. Since, as you now know, that place was a disappointment (love the idea of a Baglio but any place with mold is not a place we want), Rosalia was a bit stumped. She showed us a villa in Trapetto but it was a concrete square with no personality. There are neighbors on each side, reminding me a bit of single-family bungalows. In this case, I may as well live in town. We were both so underwhelmed that the only photo I took is this:
It seemed we had run out of options. There was nothing on the market that was of interest. That’s okay, we thought, we’ll be back and look again. But just for the heck of it, we scoured realtor websites one last time. We debated more fixer-uppers on the north coast of Sicily, places that weren’t terrible but would definitely need work and, again, shared walls with other homes. But they were places that had great views of the countryside so we made some inquiries and waited to hear back. Then, as we were shutting down the computer, we saw this: an old railroad house in Castelvetrano.
Castelvetrano is on the other side of the island, meaning, directly south of Balestrate and Alcamo. Nearby, along the water is Selinunte, a small town and home to the largest archeological park in all of Europe, the remains of a city from 600 BCE.
Selinunte was something I absolutely wanted to see. We had already visited Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, which is more well known and quite amazing. You can see photos of my first visit there in 2020, when there were only a handful of visitors, here. Valley of the Temples is phenomenal but Selinunte blew my mind. It was a huge highlight of our trip and I promise to tell you more later. Which is to say, obviously, we decided to drive down, explore the park, and see if we could find this railroad house. We were pretty sure it wouldn’t look as good in person as it did in the photos, so we didn’t even ask our realtor to meet us.
But much to our surprise, the place is cute! Well, as much as one can see from the outside, it looks pretty darn cute.
We walked around the property, saw a “ruin” – who knows who this belongs to? – and, in the distance, sheep grazing!
Hmmm…. Was it worth asking Rosalia to drive forty minutes and show us the place? As far as Sicilians are concerned, forty minutes is a long way away. Plus, it is neither in Castelvetrano nor Selinunte, but somewhere between. It’s actually an odd place for a railroad stop, smack in the middle of olive groves. We finally decided yes, why not? So we called and Rosalia said she’d be there in a few hours.
What happened next, I’ll tell you in Part 6.
What do you think? Is a villa outside of town too remote?
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