Leaving behind the country in which you were born in search of unknown adventures overseas isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain combination of courage, vision and perhaps a dash of foolishness to abandon everything familiar and jump in to a new world feet first.
Seven years ago, Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs, founder of fractional ownership company Appassionata, did just that. With numerous family members in tow she left the UK for the depths of rural Italy, settling in the stunning Le Marche region to start a new venture and a new life. Now, seven years later and following the hugely successful launch of the company’s latest luxury holiday home, Casa Tre Archi, Dawn shares her insights into what she did right, what she would do differently and why every family should produce their own wine!
7 things I’ve learned from 7 years in Italy
1. Sign language is your friend
I began learning Italian as soon as I knew we were going to move here, but my language skills were still awful when I arrived. However, my stuttering attempts were well received by the welcoming locals and with that and an extensive range of gestures I managed to befriend local artisans and antique sellers tucked away in tiny villages. These new acquaintances enabled me to design the interiors of the Appassionata properties with a signature blend of antique pieces and bespoke Italian items.
2. Embrace everything
One of the things the family and I definitely got right was our open approach. We came to Italy willing to embrace and absorb everything, from trying unusual local delicacies to soaking up the culture. It’s a spirit that we maintain to this day and is part of the reason that we manage to pour so much of our love of Italy into each property that we renovate.
3. Beware bureaucracy!
If there was one thing that I would do differently if I had to move to Italy again it would be to meditate until I learned the art of patience before I arrived! Paperwork here is a long, slow process. A calm approach is essential and planning for delays is an important part of any process that is likely to involve any paperwork that is out of the ordinary. Which, when you are an expat, is just about all paperwork!
4. Make your own wine
Italy has such amazing cuisine and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to explore Le Marche so thoroughly, tasting my way around the seasonal recipes that have been cooked here for generations. What has also inspired me is Italian wine. Our first two fractional ownership properties were nestled in the countryside with a fabulous estate spread around them. Hand-planting hundreds of vines may have been a tiring task, but it was worth it when we finally got to taste the wine made as a result of our hard work. It was a process that involved the whole family and one that the owners of the two properties enjoy being a part of each year.
5. Be open to friendships from all sides
I have felt very welcomed by the locals here in Le Marche and have made some strong friendships since moving here. I’ve also made some great business partnerships and of course some that blur the boundaries between the two. An open, friendly approach is definitely something that goes down well in rural Italy. One individual that I have been lucky enough to meet is Andrea Ribichini, who I have had the pleasure to go into business with through my other venture, Appassionata Boutique.
Taking the time to get to know business contacts is important. Thankfully, with so many wonderful restaurants and some great golf courses in the area, doing this in Le Marche really does seem to be more pleasure than business.
6. See the funny side
Just like any other business venture, renovating properties in Italy has the scope for things to go wrong. Delays can crop up for all manner of reasons, but I’ve learned to see the funny side and be creative in my approach to resolving problems, which has definitely helped.
7. Expect the unexpected
Even after a decade of living here, Italy is still packed full of surprises for me. From unexpectedly rescuing a horse to discovering ancient, hidden frescoes in the palazzo that we are renovating, Italy never fails to charm, surprise and excite. Appassionata’s latest renovation, Casa Tre Archi, is an urban property that allows owners to experience the pleasure of true Italian town life – a world away from the touristy cities with their overpriced chain stores. I can’t wait to see the owners of Casa Tre Archi’s fractions begin to discover the Le Marche that I have come to know and love over my seven years here.