Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guardiagrele: Hard to pronounce, but still we pronounce it very liveable

Kurt and Lauren in front of their home in Italy.
This does not show the upper floor and terrace.
We had to wonder why our friends Kurt and Lauren Newcomer, whom we knew from Believers Fellowship church in Gig Harbor, chose to buy a house in Guardiagrele in the Abruzzo region of Italy. We didn’t wonder why they chose Italy, but how did they settle on a relatively remote city in a region that is not widely known? It turns out, they had researched their location carefully, and after Lucy and I visited them in Guardiagrele for three days, we can confirm that they made a great choice.

They are both still working in the United States, so they can only come to their Italian home two or three times a year for fairly short stays. As our good fortune would have it, they happened to be here for three weeks during the two months that we are in San Salvatore. We took a six-hour train ride from San Salvatore to Pescara on Saturday, and Kurt and Lauren picked us up at the station in their rental car and drove us about 45 minutes to their home.

After arriving, we took a walk in Guardiagrele and immediately noticed its charms. It has many of the characteristics that we had been looking for when we chose our own location—yet in several ways, it was even better. Even though they have lived in Guardiagrele for only three months total over the past couple of years, they have met and befriended many people in the town. Because they have purchased and remodeled a home within the city walls, their neighbors recognize them as residents. While the fact that the Newcomers speak little Italian can be a barrier, the neighbors who speak some English seem to jump at the opportunity to show and practice their own language skills.

How is it better than San Salvatore? It is much larger, so Kurt and Lauren just need to go outside their door for all the daily services they need—including coffee or hot chocolate, along with a brioche, to begin the day. But more importantly, they can buy their groceries and other products for their home in minutes. We have to ride a bike for at least 10 minutes to get to a coffee bar or grocery store, and our choices are much more limited. The Newcomers also have many neighbors, and they usually see them when they go for a stroll. Lucy and I live in a rural area and we rarely see our neighbors when we go out.
Lucy took this view of the mountains from the terrace on the top floor.
We had originally thought we’d meet people when we went to nearby Montecarlo, but it is three miles from home and up a steep hill, so we rarely go there unless there is an event in the town.

How did they end up buying a home in Italy, and Guardiagrele in particular?

“We started coming to Europe because Kurt had a job that was incredibly stressful,” Lauren said. “Whenever we took vacations, if we were in the same time zone as his office, he’d be on the phone all the time. He was the boss, and whenever someone had a question, they’d call him.”

They decided to vacation in Europe so that Kurt wouldn’t be so accessible due to the time difference of eight or nine hours.

It worked out really well,” Lauren said. “If someone had a question, they could touch base with him in the morning or the evening. When the Americans were asleep, we weren’t tied to the phone.”

The Newcomers started in northern Europe, traveling in London, Germany and Austria. They found them all fascinating, especially Bavaria.
We loved it,” Lauren said. “We thought it was just beautiful. It was pristine, clean, pretty—it looked like a storybook. The first time we dipped down into Italy, we thought, Oh my gosh, this place is dirty. It was messy and loud and chaotic, and we didn’t know if we’d like it.”

They tried Northern Italy and liked the food, but it wasn’t until they spent a few vacations in Lombardia and Toscana that “we really kind of fell in love with the whole laid-back culture, with great food, and nobody stressed about anything,” Lauren said. “You get out and do your passeggiata in the evening, and we really liked that. The people—it was just crazy! The people were so friendly, so warm and so genuine.”

They rented a house in the Garfagnana area of Toscana from an American friend several times, and they developed some pleasant relationships there. They inquired about the possibility of buying the home from the friend, but it was not for sale at the time. Then Kurt saw something on television that said Abruzzo was a beautiful region with a lower cost of living than Toscana. They began focusing their attention on Abruzzo instead, looking at more than a dozen houses before picking the right one. They initially rejected their house, but they ended up buying after coming back to look at it four more times.

They considered homes in the countryside that included land, but they realized that they would not be around enough to grow flowers and vegetables. Besides that, living in the country would isolate them, and they had discovered that meeting people is the best part of coming to Italy. Now they are surrounded by people, but Guardiagrele is not so large as to render them just another face in the crowd, which can happen in larger cities.

“It all came down to lifestyle,” Lauren said. “We can walk right out of our door and up to the town and to the market. We don’t even have to take our car out of the garage. We can park the car and never go anywhere else, just stay in our city for two weeks and not feel we are missing anything.”

Their house has four levels, with a one-car garage occupying most of the ground floor.
Lauren, Kurt and Lucy relax in a coffee bar while the morning sun shines through the window.
Above that, on level one, is a combined living room and kitchen. Piano due consists of their bedroom and a combination bathroom and laundry, and the upper floor is the guest bathroom and bedroom, which also opens onto an ample terrazzo, where they have table and chairs, a clothesline and barbecue. The house had been unoccupied for many years and was nearly in ruins when they bought it. The total cost of the building and the reconstruction came to around 150,000 euros. Their annual taxes and utilities run a little more than 1500 euros, Kurt estimated.

Guadiagrele has an elevation of about 1900 feet and is only about half an hour from the Adriatic Sea and another half hour from a ski resort in the Appinnini mountains. It is on the same latitude as southern Oregon, so the weather is warmer than Bremerton, where they maintain their permanent home.

“The only downside is that we picked a city that is really hard for our American family and friends to pronounce,” Lauren said. “Also, you need a car to go anywhere outside of the city, so we have to rent one from the airport in Rome whenever we come.”
The Newcomers showed us the sights of Guardiagrele and several nearby cities, but more than anything else, we enjoyed sharing experiences with friends who shared our passion for the Italian lifestyle. We could relate to their joys and struggles and felt they appreciated hearing about our adventures and misadventure in Toscana.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, Paul. Nice job, you captured it exactly. We had a great visit with you. Next time we'll come up North to see you.


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