There’s a good reason the region of Le Marche is not overrun by tourists and expats (at least not to the extent that Tuscany and Umbria are): it’s not near anything and there are no major cities here. The biggest city is the region’s capital, Ancona, and that’s not on anyone’s bucket list of places to go in Italy.
There’s an airport in Ancona which you can fly into if you are coming from elsewhere in Europe, and the Ryan Air flight from London’s Stansted airport directly to Ancona has increased the number of British vacationers and second home owners in Le Marche.
But if you are coming from Chicago, the most obvious thing to do is take a direct flight to Rome and drive the three-ish hours to Le Marche. And that’s what we did this trip. Fortunately our arrival was less eventful than Ed’s a year ago. (He had rented his car, stopped at a mall outside of Rome to buy a Sim card for his phone. While he was inside, his car was broken into and his suitcase stolen. Luckily he had his backpack with computer and passport with him. But still, not a great way to start a trip).
Anyway, we rented our little red Jeep Renegade, found our way out of the airport and headed north to Le Marche.
Last year when Ed came he stayed at a little Agriturismo called L’Olmo di Casigliano. Giuliana, the owner, had been very helpful to Ed in getting his stolen meds replaced, so we stayed with her again. What a beautiful and serene setting. Giuliana settled us in our rooms and we drove over to the town of San Ginesio for dinner at a little trattoria in the main piazza.
Kevin, our real estate agent, picked us up at 9:00 the next morning and we started our house hunt. The first house was a cute old farmhouse near Colmurano with a pool and a great view, called Casa Immersa. (Kevin gives all his listings names as a memory aid for house hunters).
Emma immediately fell in love and was ready to buy the house right then and there. The price was right, but it had one major drawback: a tiny living room. Probably not a problem in good weather when we’d be spending our time outside in the loggia or by the pool. But a long, cold winter in these cramped quarters? Not ideal. There did seem to be a couple of ways to solve the problem, either by expanding the room or by breaking through a wall to a small den and opening up the space. Given the possibilities and the affordability of the house, we decided to keep it on the list.
Next up was a restored farmhouse near San Ginesio called Casa Godetevi. It was a little bigger than the first one and fresher and brighter inside. It also had a pool and a nice view, but the really great thing was a covered pavilion / outdoor kitchen by the pool. We could see having great parties there in the summertime. Despite that cool feature, we just weren’t “feeling” this house.
The third house, Casa Eleganza, was something a little different. It was a restored shell of a house on a nice piece of property with an outbuilding on the property that could be used as a studio or guest house.
The builder had done all the heavy lifting of re-building the basic structures, and it was up to the buyer to finish the house according to his own tastes and needs. The view wasn’t quite as good as the other two houses and this photo doesn’t do it justice at all, but this house exactly matched my vision of an “Italian” house, and I liked the idea of designing the interior ourselves. The only drawback: with all the costs of finishing it, the final product would be 25% more expensive than the other houses we had seen.
The fourth house on the list is one which all three of us had been very excited about seeing, based on the description and photos on line. The owner of Villa Lupo had gone to great lengths to take excellent photos that really conveyed the lifestyle to be enjoyed in this house. It had two living rooms, a modern kitchen and the bathrooms had been recently remodeled. It also lots of outdoor seating areas as well as olive and fruit trees, which is a key component of my Italian fantasy. But the pool was on the small side and Emma was turned off by how modern it was on the inside. It did not fit her idea of an Italian farmhouse. As I waxed on about the olive and fruit trees, she was drawing her finger across her throat to signal that this house was a no-go in her mind. And, it was at the high-end of our budget.
House #5 (Casa Sorpresa) was situated right on the road, didn’t have much in the way of landscaping or a pool, and the entryway was a bit awkward, as you walked right into the stairs as you entered the front door. But the inside had good space and all the rooms in all the right places, so we tried to decide if it had enough going for it to keep it on the list. Ultimately I couldn’t get past the fact that it had not one, but two, sets of utility poles running parallel to the property, which didn’t do much to enhance the view. We crossed it of the list.
It’s now getting late in the afternoon, and all the houses are starting to run together in our minds, but we still have two more to see today. Casa Ben Pensata was utterly charming and we fell in love immediately. The house was compact, but well-designed. The living room was cozy but spacious and open feeling. It was an “upside-down” house, with the main living area and master bedroom on the ground floor and the other bedrooms and loggia down a level. We really had only two issues: the master bath was on the other side of the foyer from the bedroom, and the plot was very small (only 1200 sq. mt). We felt we could address the first one, but the small plot was another story. Could we buy some land from the owner of the adjacent farm?
Casa Ben Pensata
One more to go: another house that has been structurally restored but not finished inside. Kevin has named it Arcobalena (rainbow). It is right on a country road that probably only gets traffic from tractors. Like Casa Eleganza it has a outbuilding, though at the moment it’s filled with hay. And this house has a breathtaking view all the way to the snow-capped peaks of the Sibillini Mountains. The inside of the house is a blank slate to do whatever we like. But, like Casa Eleganza, this house will end up being at the top of our budget (or above it) when it’s complete.
We’ve now seen seven houses and our heads are spinning. Emma is pushing hard for Casa Ben Pensata. Knowing we have a day and a half more of house hunting, Ed and I are trying to avoid getting too attached to any one option. Our assignment for the evening is to eliminate all but three of the houses we saw today. At dinner the three of us review the pros and cons of each house and agree to keep Casa Eleganza, Ben Pensata and Immersa (which Emma still likes) on the list.
First image source: Flickr/Il Conte di Luna from https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urbino-palazzo_e_borgo.jpg License: Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike Generic 2.0, Other images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure