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Why are we doing this?

This is the post excerpt.

We have started this blog so you can follow our renovation project – it could go wrong, it could be brilliant. My mother tells me “be brave, jump in the puddles” well this time we might get really wet….we may even sink without trace. However, i’m a great believer that failure is not having a go and not succeeding, it is not even trying to have a go. So here we go, this is a story of the most beautiful sunsets, in an idillic setting, in a tumble down farm that doesn’t even belong to us yet.

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7 pylons removed

Everyone who has stayed with us will know about the collection of ugly concrete pylons and electrical cables that have draped the side of our beautiful home since before we bought it. We acted as a kind of pylon ourselves, and I wrote back in February about the long process of getting agreement with the electric company, to have the cables put underground. We got permission to put the cables underground in February 2021, paid our money in November 2021, got a date for work to start of March 24th 2022 in February 2022 and work actually started last week. If it sounds like just a year of planning, it has actually been 5 years because we have spent that time trying to get permission to get the work done they way we want. You can imagine our excitement and trepidation when on Monday 25th April a team showed up and started the work.

The first week was putting the cables underground but on Monday we were excited to hear that not only would the overhead cables be removed by the end of the day, so would the pylons. We had imagined that removing the pylons would take all week, but with a digger and a circular saw, a team of 6 men got to work. The workmen on site were brilliant, not a spot of damage to plants, home or gardens and power back on and working by the end of the day.

It is difficult to describe what a big step this is for us, many guests don’t even notice the pylons or they certainly haven’t commented. The cable over the swimming pool and the pylons directly at the front and back of our house, were the most troublesome. Every photo we have taken we always said ‘once the pylons and wires are removed it will look so much better’!!

So here they are, the first photos without the pylons and electric cables and we can’t stop wandering around saying ‘doesn’t it look amazing’. If you are due to come back and visit, you may not even clock the difference, but as you swim backstroke across the swimming pool, this time the view is uninterrupted!

Pasqua a Palaia

The last few weeks have been busy with lots of guests, the weather has been terrific in the most part and we have had a lovely mix of friends, family and German & Italian tourists celebrating Easter or ‘Pasqua’ as they call it in Italy. Its one of the most important holidays of the year in Italy, it marks the beginning of warm-season and lots of outdoor activities. We had our own Good Friday lunch inviting some of our local friends and a few new neighbours, a lovely German family who have bought a property to renovate in Palaia. The weather was perfect and it was a chance to have our first pool party, we made far too much food as normal but it was a really special day.

We are always happy to welcome new people to the area, we think it is such a lovely community to live in, so welcoming and hospitable and it seems more and more people think the same as we do.

The seasons are changing our swallows are back and busy nesting in the barn, i’m slightly worried about what will happen next year because we should have rebuilt it by then. I have been busy researching nesting boxes and places we could put them, the nature we have all around is one of the fantastic things about being here, so anything we can do to support it we want to do. I have put my trail camera back up and found the culprit who has been eating our flowers.

It actually may not be this little deer because we have quite a lot close by but it was proof that we aren’t going mad and thinking our plants aren’t flowering, when actually they are being eaten! Luckily at the moment as you can see there is so much grass around, our plants can have a rest from being nibbled!

If you are wondering how the next stage of our development is going, as you would expect we have some delays! The moving of the pylons with the cabling underground is late. In a February blog post I proudly said the start date we had been given for the work, was the 24th March “and hopefully will be finished by the start of the season in April”. Well it didn’t start and we have a new date of tomorrow (26th April) with the pylons being removed on the 2nd May, we are marginally more confident as Andy has the contact details of the actual contractor. The issue this is creating is that we can’t finish the path and steps to the pool and the walls for the landscaping until the pylons are removed. The landscapers wanted to get the plants in before it gets too hot so they can become established, so we may have to just give them extra water. Having said that this week has been torrential rain, which is great for the garden but depressing for our guests. We have Italians and dutch staying this week and are always amazed when people tell us how much they love what we are doing (because it isn’t finished yet). It seems that our guests don’t see how much work there is left to do, only how much work has been done already. We love the feedback and we love our guests!

Spring Sunshine

It has been a splendid few weeks, warm and sunny and dry, possibly too dry but it has been lovely and you can tell spring is here and summer is close by. The gardens are coming along nicely and starting to look established, because of the temperature here the flowers often flower 2-3 times a year, so there is nearly always something in bloom. We are starting to get everything ready for the season to start, which involves spring cleaning the apartments replacing broken items and weeding all the flower beds. Weeding is a bit like cleaning, it never ends and whilst I like it when I have time, when we are busy it is really hard to keep up!

We have had some pre-season guests, regulars who have visited since we first opened our apartments, Stephen & Janet who came for a week had a bracing swim (10 degrees) in the pool but mainly enjoyed re-visiting all their favourite haunts. They bought us some beautiful plants for the garden just before they went home, such a lovely gesture and always welcome given how much ground we have. We had our lovely Cambridge friends, for the first time in 2 years we got together for food, wine, relaxing and fun, it gave us a chance to do a few big dinners and get used to being full with all the washing that entails! The pool had warmed up to a balmy 11 degrees and those sturdy Cambridge folk swam every day. I braved the pool one day, a bit parky for my liking and all the blood rushed to my feet so I thought they were going to fall off. All those wild swimmers out there, I agree it is ‘invigorating’ but I think I will wait until it gets a bit warmer. The pool looks brilliant though now its finished, there is lots of space and the sun-beds, umbrellas and gazebo work really well.

We have more guests coming in the next few weeks and easter is when things start to get busy. Andy’s mum is coming to visit at the end of March, a treat for more reasons than one, firstly she can check on some of my recent sewing attempts, she is a brilliant seamstress and made all of our curtains, secondly we have obviously missed her because since covid started we have had limited visits, but finally every previous visit she has complained about the lack of a handrail up to our apartment (lots of others have complained too) so I am delighted we can show her the new handrail, installed last week by our local blacksmith!

Finally at this time of year the light is really pretty and we have amazing sunsets, so I thought I would share a few to remind you all how wonderful nature is and you can see it all when you come to visit Podere dell’Alloro!

Majestic Gazebo

In the last two weeks we have had some great weather and some terrible weather, note the difference in the skies! Luckily not enough bad weather to stop finishing the gazebo by the pool. We have surprised ourselves yet again, it looks better than we planned in our heads, having never designed anything like this before we weren’t sure if we had got everything right but we think we have. The beams I showed you on the previous blog post have been put in place and joined to the columns, they have been measured, moved and attached. Andy and our builder had to wiggle them into place by hand, once the digger had lifted them, after a few miscalculations they were all sorted and are now waiting for the roof to be finished, it should be completed by the end of today.

We have also had a couple of lovely palm trees delivered, so the digger was perfectly placed to dig those holes too. We reserved these palms last year in September, hence the name tag, but because of various delays, we haven’t been ready to plant them so they stayed at the garden centre. Its a detailed process having them planted, we can’t let the branches down until the tree is established, so lots of watering and TLC for a while before we see the full effect.

With bookings coming in thick and fast, the whole pool area will be completed in time for our guests to use it. We already have twice as many bookings as last year, so are excited to see what a real season will look like for us post covid. A few bits and pieces to move and tidy up and the pool cleaner needs to get busy but you’ll see below how close we are to finishing!

Pylon progress

The 5 year wait to move the large electrical pylons that run along our land and attach themselves to the house is coming to an end. We have been given a date by the electrical company by which it will all be sorted – 24th March. As always we are slightly sceptical because often here in Italy things take a little bit longer than first planned. These vast concrete pylons are an eye sore and we have been all around the houses agreeing with the planners when/if they can go underground. Andy has been brilliant about managing all the calling, chasing and organising, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are if I were involved.

At vast expense the electric board and the commune agreed the cable can go under the ground along the roadside, removing 7 pylons. Part of the work has been competed – the work on our land. The rest of the work – on our neighbours land and the final removal of the 7 pylons will all happen in the coming months, and fingers crossed be ready for the start of the season in April. It’s an exciting milestone, no guests have ever complained but it is something that annoys us and with the pool now in place, removing the pylons each side of the house will give a much prettier and uninterrupted view.

As well as the cables along the road we had to dig a new channel to the house, so that power cables to the house can come from a new junction box. This has been Andy’s job – he digs a good trench! Luckily the weather has been nice, so whilst back breaking work for a man without a digger, it has been lovely being outside. In my role as chief tidier, I have been using the time of year to have bonfire’s, a pretty constant theme of these blogs. With branches falling from trees and bits of garden clippings, having such large spaces and no current bonfire ban has meant bonfire fun, a simple pleasure that many who have visited have been involved with.

Finally, we are tantalisingly close to finishing our pool area, today we had the delivery of the beautiful chestnut beams that will hold up the roof and solar panels. My non expert view is its a bit over engineered, however the beams are beautiful and like all new things, I stood taking pictures while the men and heavy lifting equipment did the hard work. We are hoping to have the pool area finished by the time some of our friends arrive in March, as I write this blog update the electricians have arrived to do the cabling and lights so we may for once be on time, if not on budget!

Christmas in Italy

For anyone who read this blog last year you will know Andy and I had an epic journey home to Italy after getting stuck in Cambridge because of the covid regulations. This year was much more successful and because of the covid regulations I am working from home so Christmas was wonderful and very straight forward. To everyone who sent us cards, we received them and appreciate them given the cost of posting just a card these days. Family who posted presents came up against the new stresses of the UK not being in Europe, but perservered. Lily and her mum came to stay which was brilliant and local friends joined us and we joined them for various celebrations over the yuletide period. We ate more food than we needed, I made Christmas cake, minced pies and cranberry buns and tried to gift some not eat it all! Italians love to celebrate until Epiphany so as I type this, even though I have just taken down our decorations, there is more partying to be done until Thursday which is a bank holiday in Italy. There were some family we weren’t able to see because of all the new covid regulations, which gives an extra poignancy to this time of year.

Andy and I chose not to open to guests this New Year, the last few years we have been busy but we are normally full of youngsters who want to party and let off lots of firecrackers. Whilst we don’t mind people partying when they stay for just two nights income, it is a lot of work and cleaning, so we decided for the sake of a couple of days we would stay closed and use the time to have a break.

We drove for 6 hours down past Rome around Naples and to the Almalfi coast, a pilgrimage of sorts because the place we stayed Vietri sul Mare is famous for its ceramics. We have some Solimene pottery we bought in the UK an age ago and have always wanted to see the actual factory because of its historic significance and also because it is pretty cool! Needless to say we spent any Christmas money we were given on some fabulous new crockery, all ready for more dinner parties.

The Amalfi coast is absolutely breathtaking, the weather was sunny so we took a drive on our first day along the coast and up to villa rufolo in Ravello once the largest and most expensive villa on the Amalfi Coast. It has incredible views and as it was off season it wasn’t too busy. We continued to Positano managing to get parked, for a wander through the pretty streets. We got a bus to Amalfi on our second day, which was a great way to see the coastline and sit in a well known cafe and eat cake. Our final day we attempted the ‘path of the gods’ or Sentiero degli Dei, it was foggy and overcast and I quickly worked out I couldn’t do the whole 6km because I was getting vertigo. Chris and Benita if you are reading this blog, Andy needs team USA for this walk, it is beautiful and mountainous but not one for me, i’m disappointed for Andy we didn’t manage it but we had a lovely day.

2022 has more building works planned, electricity cables going underground and the pool area being finished off. We also have lots of visits already booked by friends, family and returning guests, people who didn’t want to travel last year and are already booked for this. We wish everyone who reads our blog a very Happy New Year and hope to welcome you to Podere dell’Alloro, to show you all our progress at sometime this year.

Autumn in Valdera

I have been tardy about updating the blog, because we have been busy working and sorting things! Moving into autumn the days are shorter and colder, its been raining and just about every Italian is wrapped up warm. They laugh at us Brits still in shorts and wearing thin coats and no hat! The trees are turning beautiful colours and my succulents are wrapped up in a little plastic green house for winter. We continue our project with enthusiasm, our summer season turned out to be busy and successful, even with the delays with the pool. Our barn plans that I talked about in April and the technical specification that goes with it has been sent to 3 builders for quotes, we have had 2 returned already and are waiting for a final quote before we choose who to go with. Prices we are told are 30-40% higher than they would have been two years ago, but with our projects we wouldn’t expect anything less! The electricity pylons that tower over our house and pool are set to be moved under-ground, hopefully by the time next season starts. It is an exciting development because whilst we now forget about the pylons after 5 years of owning Podere dell’Alloro, they are an eye-sore and no longer a boast as in times gone by, that we are a house with power!

The pool area is still being finished, our lovely builder/neighbour Alessandro is painstakingly building the posts for the gazebo and they are looking beautiful and elegant. They seem very substantial for what will be just a wooden roof, but that is Italian planning rules and regulations.

We are starting to make our Christmas plans, if you remember what happened to Andy and I last Christmas being stuck in the UK, we are staying put this year I am buying Christmas decorations and making cake and mince pies. We have a lovely group of friends in and around Palaia, a mix of Italian, Swiss, Swedish and English, dinner parties often have 3 or 4 languages spoken and everyone loves to eat and drink. Reciprocal dinners are held and are planned over the festive season which means we rarely need to be alone unless we want to. We have lots of lovely lunches, get togethers and festive supper’s planned, we have also decided to close to guests in December and January. We could sell New Years Eve accommodation 20 times over, but it is nearly always a noisy hassle and means we don’t get a rest. So this year we are enjoying a good wind down, ready for lots of food, walks and mooching about. We wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and New Year and hope that you all get to see your family and friends over the festive period.

Pool obsession

I can’t quite believe we have a pool, if i’m not in the pool at the moment, i’m looking at the pool or tending to the pool. Its so weird when people come to stay and say “i’ve been for a swim in your pool”, I keep pinching myself because it seems such a long time coming and with all the associated hassle, stress and delay. I swim everyday, saying each time to Andy “i’m going to swim in OUR pool” he has stopped finding it funny now but it still gives me a kick. I’m treating it like a new car, checking it everyday, hoovering round patio, sweeping up all the leaves, cleaning the inside of the pool, brushing the sides and steps and telling anyone who will listen what the outside and inside temperature is.

The temperature is of great interest to everyone, over the last few weeks we have had some of our friends and returning guests staying and over the weeks the temperature has dropped from 23 degrees, to todays chilly 17 degrees. It’s the ladies Lisa, Amy and currently Kira who have been my swim buddies, seems the menfolk think it is too cold to swim, they prefer to lie in the sun. Todays swim even I would admit was a bit parky, but we have some lovely returning German guests today who took pool towels enthusiastically, so there are still people happy to swim. It seems from everything I read that below 16 degrees is the point at which some people think it is madness to swim. It is certainly invigorating so I will keep on swimming as long as someone can join me!

We should be starting the olive harvest soon but the olives have failed, its seems an early frost, not enough rain and too much wind over the last few weeks has seen off all but a few olives left on our trees. It’s disappointing, we have friends coming to help with the harvest and now they will just have to eat, drink and relax.

We have recently had a go at one of the pilgrim routes that runs through tuscany called via francigena – various stages run across Italy and a number are near to us. My friend Kira a keen walker and I tried stage 21 from San Miniato to Gambassi Terme, it was a brilliant route lovely weather and beautiful views. We are going to try some of the other routes too so we can share them with the people who come to stay when its cooler.

The season is coming to an end and after a terrible start to the year, we have had an ok summer, lots of really lovely european guests, some re-booked for next year. We are already getting busy for 2022, July is nearly booked, so we can’t complain after such a tough 18 months. All the original plans to renovate a ruin and run apartments in Tuscany, don’t seem too mad anymore and with all the support and praise we get, we may well get this project finished!!

Bring your swim suits!

The swimming pool is finished enough to swim and we have sunshine, so the first swims have taken place and guests have already told us they love it. In fact the Italian guests that left yesterday have already re-booked for easter. We have had more great guests, including our first family from czechoslovakia, they drove for 16 hours with 3 children, which is a remarkable feat by anyones book, they had an 8 years old autistic son with a passion for cement mixers, so we had to keep our eyes open incase we found cement somewhere we didn’t want it! We probably are one of the only pools in the area with a cement mixer, its become a bit of a feature of all our project stages. We need it because we still have some finishing off to do around the edges of the pool, some walls and more slabs to lay, Andy has lifted every one of the 288 slabs up to the pool for our builder to lay, which was a huge undertaking, no lifting machinery here! We also have the landscaping to complete, but what’s new with our project…..always landscaping to finish.

It is getting towards the end of the season, we still have guests booked through until October, but as the temperature cools down the numbers reduce. It’s a lovely time of year when vines are ladened with grapes ready to be harvested. It is still warm in the day but you almost need a sweater in the evening. Everywhere is a little quieter because children are starting to go back to school across Europe and the adult only holidays begin! We are lucky enough to have some friends coming to visit which is always great fun.

Andy and I have started to plan the next stage of our development the barn or ‘fienile’. We have the plans drawn up already but are trying to get everything priced so we know how much it will be. There are some grants around at the moment but we have to finish the barn by June 2022 to be eligible, so we are going to find another way. It’s an exciting next step but we also wonder when the heck it will all end, we feel exhausted by the never ending costs, planning, phoning contractors, waiting for people to do what they say they will. We have recently been contacted by some Germans and Dutch who are embarking on what we have, looking for advice, they are buying in the area. We try to be positive but realistic, because it is hard work with such a big project, especially went you don’t have endless funds. You have to work as a team, something Andy and I do well, you have to remember how far you have come, something I am better at reminding Andy of than he is and you have to look around at this beautiful, breathtaking place and realise just how fortunate we are.

Views as beautiful as ever at Podere dell’Alloro

August Holidays

It is that precious time of year in Italy when everyone goes on holiday! August holidays are pretty sacrosanct with businesses closing down for 2-3 weeks. Always over Ferragosto, a public holiday celebrated in Italy on August 15th – ‘Feriae Augusti’ was the festival of emperor Augustus, who designated a ‘day of rest’ for all the workers on 1st August. The Catholic Church moved the day to coincide with the Assumption of Mary, which is why it is now 15th August. Family and friends get together for lunch or dinner with food, music and laughter, it seems even more special this year given what covid 19 has done to the world.

We are very excited with the pool progress because as I type this the pool is filling with water, not enough to swim in yet which is a shame as its the hottest week of the year so far, currently 39 degrees! On Monday we have 4 tankers of water arriving and all the pool mechanics will be checked and serviced. The electrician is coming to sort out lights and sockets for things like the pool robot, so we are now making great strides.

Pool progress

We are so tantalisingly close, I think I am more excited than Andy is but then he is still having to move these beautiful slabs around, which weigh a ton! The builders have gone on holiday, there is still work to be done, stairs to put in, walls and more tiling to complete but we can see now how fabulous the area will be.

We have been full through August with really lovely guests, families and couples from Holland, Germany and Italy and some of the most generous of guests. Lots of great reviews, comments on how comfy our beds are, sensible feedback and suggestions on a few things we can improve in the apartments and everyone still loving the chocolate brownies! We have also had a few guests booking a return journey in a few months time, the golden prize for apartment owners. We never tire of hearing people sitting outside their apartments, when the sun goes down, with the cicadas rattling in the night air, hearing laughter and music and chatter. It is what the summers are all about and given the restrictions over the last 18 months, it is nice to feel like things are normal again and people are able to enjoy themselves.

We are hosting our own Ferragosto celebrations with some of our local friends, different nationalities, Italian, Swiss, Swedish and us Brits eating dinner, drinking wine and watching the sunset.

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