Really Renovating Italy

My wife is one of those people who like to furnish themselves with all available information before doing anything. She is most definitely not one for surprises. Right now, she’s slowly terrifying herself by reading every book about pregnancy ever written. I expect to find her rocking in the corner one of these days as she contemplates all the terrible things that could, but almost certainly won’t, happen to her in the coming months.

When we first began thinking about moving to Piemonte, she, of course, got stuck into the research. There aren’t many books about this area, but she did find a few blogs, facebooks and twitterers. One of the first sites she came across was a fantastic blog called Renovating Italy. It’s written by an Australian woman who moved to Italy with her family to renovate a house. The clue’s in the name really. They’re pretty experienced renovators, but their latest project, in the mountains of western Piemonte, is something else…

Having followed them for the best part of two years, last weekend we piled into the car and headed up to the mountains to meet them.

They live in a Borgata called Malpertus, a tiny collection of houses in the mountains to the south west of Turin. As we drove ever higher, savouring the views and both trying to pretend we weren’t nervous (like our first ever blogger date, there’s something weirdly nerve-wracking about actually meeting people you’ve only “met” virtually), neither of us could believe quite how civilised it all was. There were big towns, tourists, packed restaurants, mountain bikers and festas. From reading their blog, we’d expected something a bit more isolated, more cut-off. These guys were clearly all talk.

Malpertus borgata

And then suddenly the scenery changed. A lot. The towns stopped, the tourists disappeared, the road narrowed and the mountains grew steeper and steeper. Ten winding minutes later we got our first sight of the Borgata, tucked into a corner down below the road. It looked like something out of Star Wars. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a group of Jedi Knights walking along chatting about their latest battle (Okay, maybe I would have been just a bit surprised). I’ve never seen anywhere quite like it. The houses have stood (for the most part… some are crumbling a little round the edges) there for hundreds of years, most of them completely untouched. No extensions and bi-fold doors here. This is real, mountain Italy. Some of the houses are lived in, some aren’t. The roofs, made of solid stone, all merge into one before seemingly continuing back into the hillside from where they originally came. It’s the kind of place where time appears to have stood still for centuries. Had you turned up here 200 years ago I strongly suspect it would have looked exactly the same.

We wandered down the street looking for their house, both gawping at everything around us. When we found it, Lisa and Sam and their two kids Luca and Carina welcomed us like old friends. They’ve only been there since March but have done a huge amount to the house already; sandblasted ceilings, plastered walls and laid stone floors. If they weren’t so nice, I think we would have felt pretty inadequate with the slow, and often disastrous, progress we’re making with our house.

Malpertus welly

The story of how they ended up in this place is equally remarkable… they flew over to Italy from Australia earlier this year and immediately started looking online for the cheapest house in Piemonte. They found it, went to see it, fell in love with it and bought it straight away. Apparently this story has now spread throughout the valley, to the point where they’ve been told on several occasions the story of a crazy Australian family who bought the cheapest house in Piemonte.

They took us for a walk around the Borgata, pointing out scorch marks from fires started during the war, old Nazi fence posts leaning against walls and the river where Sam swims every morning (the water is 7 degrees centigrade. I guess it’s a refreshing start to the day…).

Malpertus bridge

As we walked, they introduced us to their neighbours, the most fascinating of whom was an old lady who walks around with a machete clipped to her belt (for cutting grass apparently, but try using that excuse in England…) and can regularly be seen scampering up the hills to help her son with the cattle. Everyone in the borgata has been very welcoming towards the family, and they were equally friendly to us, a couple of ‘townies’ wandering around with open mouths, marvelling at their lives.

Malpertus Borgata 2

Luca and Carina seem to be loving the adventure. As we left they were clambering into the back of a neighbour’s Land Rover with all the other kids from the borgata to go up the hill and milk the cows. I guess they’ll have some pretty interesting stories to tell when they grow up.

What Lisa and Sam are doing couldn’t be more different from our project. We’re both renovating in Italy (there’s that name again…), but that’s where the similarities end. Many people have told us what we are doing is brave, but having met these guys, I can confirm that we really aren’t brave at all. They have taken themselves way outside of what most of us would consider “normal life” and are doing something truly incredible in the most amazing of places. It’s certainly inspirational, I’ll give them that!

Check out their blog and their facebook page, you won’t be disappointed. But please don’t start liking us any less just because we’re not as cool as them!

32 thoughts on “Really Renovating Italy

  1. Well you had me going then for a bit, in the back of my mind I always think that nobody could really be interested in what we are doing. Loved your post and so funny, I’ve sent it to all my family. I’m so glad you enjoyed the day and it was just great to meet up at last. We are all living our dreams and that really takes something as you know. Now we owe you guys a visit xx
    sending love lisa sam carina and luca xxx

    1. I just loved your description of my niece and her husband and family. They are never one to take an easy option, but throw themselves into the deep end most of the time, and come out the other side knowing that they have realized their dream. Their new life in Malpertus sounds amazing. The life lessons that the children will learn will be invaluable. I know that this move for them was one of the best things that they have ever undertaken. It has been so nice to read your blog and see what has been happening through your eyes. I wish you and your wife a wonderful new and happy time in your renovation and lots of joy when the new baby arrives. I will follow your blog from now on to see how things are progressing.

      1. Hi Val, thanks so much for your lovely comment! It was so great to meet them. You can just tell that they really love what they are doing and that they are all really happy there, particularly the children, what an amazing experience for them! You can tell from the number of people that follow Lisa’s blog and facebook page that they are pretty inspirational. I hope you get a chance to visit them at some point!

    2. Haha, sorry to have worried you! Glad you liked it, we just loved meeting you all and seeing where you live, we’d really never been anywhere like it, it’s a truly incredible place. Just let us know when you want to visit, you’re always welcome…

  2. I, too, have been following Lisa, Sam & family’s adventures with great interest, also dreaming of renovating in Italy. In the meantime, I expand my Venetian Plaster and other such trowel techniques here in Colorado, to be better prepared to apply them to a ‘mura’ in Italy. Really enjoyed reading about your actually meeting your virtual friends, and your various reactions as the Borgata revealed itself to you. Buona Fortuna with your own renovations.

    1. Hi Don – Thanks for stopping by. If you ever want to practice your trowel techniques on a real Italian mura, just let us know, we have plenty of plastering to do! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog and I hope some day you’ll get to do your own renovation in Italy.

  3. Nice reading your comments on Lisa and Sam’s place. We are eagerly anticipating our first glimpse of their work later this week. We are Canadians living in Bobbio Pellice, the last little village before the borgata. When you come back, take time for a pizza in Bobbio. Living in Italy has been such a privilege.

    1. Hi Marj – you’ll love it, it’s a remarkable place. We tried to imagine what it would be like, but it’s so far removed from anything we could think of. Bobbio Pelice looked lovely as we drove through, if we get a chance to come back, we’ll definitely stop off for a pizza. How long are you in Italy for?

  4. I am one of the ‘fortunate ones’ who has had the immense pleasure of meeting Lisa. She, Sam & ‘i regazzi’ Carina e Lucca are truly inspirational in their focus & determination with the realization of their long held dream. Bravo, la familiglia Chiodo.

  5. I tried posting earlier, but it wasn’t letting me post! I’ve started following your blog. I love it! Lisa is truly an inspiration. So generous with her postings of other peoples’ stories, as she did with me, as well as writing her own wonderful tales. Glad to be in touch with you now!

    1. You’re not the first person to have problems posting, I think I need to look into it… What those guys are doing is great and, as you say, Lisa is very generous when it comes to sharing other peoples’ stories. I look forward to exploring your blog a bit more!

  6. It’s really lovely to see Lisa’s hard work paying off with the attention of other bloggers. I really admire the way they’re writing their own script for life – one that works for them. We have Australian/Italian friends in Piedmonte too, in an equally tiny village called Sottovalle, not far from Gavi. They run a B&B and English school. Seeing your pictures brings it all back. It’s a beautiful part of the world and we’ve had so much fun there. Thanks for giving us another view of the Chiodo’s adventures.

  7. I’m so thrilled that you got to meet Lisa and her family in person. 🙂 she is such a luv and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know her through emails and whatnot. One day I hope to visit her in person too. 🙂

    1. It was so great to meet them all and get a little insight into their remarkable lives. They’re all really lovely and the place they are living is quite incredible. I hope you get a chance to visit them some day!

  8. Thanks for introducing me to another blog about Piemonte! I really enjoyed reading your story about your trek up the mountain to find these new friends!! Your writing style is really entertaining and a pleasure to read! You are all so motivated in your renovations! You are all very brave to take on such projects! But what an adventure you are all living 🙂 Having fun catching up!

  9. I have been following the “Renovating Italy” blog for quite some time, it’s so interesting, must be quite fun meeting other “virtual friends…” 🙂 your description of the trip up the mountains was quite entertaining!

    1. It’s quite nerve-wracking meeting these “virtual friends” as you feel like you already know quite a lot about their lives. They were lovely though, and the place they are living is incredible!

  10. Hi

    I’ve just come across your blog and it is great!! We’ve bought a house in Murazzano and so much of what you write makes sense. Perhaps we could meet up .. We visit the house every few weeks.

    Happy blogging

    1. Hi Shaminder, thanks for getting in touch. We were up in Murazzano not long ago, I love it around there. Send me a message through our facebook page or if you don’t you use facebook drop me an email (my address is on the About page) and we’ll sort something out.

  11. Hi … Sorry I lost my message to you!! Just read your map in mud blog and realised I’d written to you.

    Thanks … Will do. We are in Italy from 12th July


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