'Italy is not for the faint-hearted'

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Diana Baur has lived in Piemonte for ten years. Photo: Chris Salvo
15:48 CEST+02:00
Diana Strinati Baur, a former marketing executive, has found peace as an author, innkeeper, artist and creative coach in the wine country of Piemonte, northern Italy. She talks to The Local about life in the town of Acqui Terme and busts a stereotype about northerners.

So what brought you to Italy?

My husband and I were living and working in Germany - he in particular was in a high-stress executive job, as President of Staples Germany. I had left a high-stress executive position in the States to go to Germany, where I worked as a language and cultural coach. We always said to each other that if the situation should change, we'd cash in all of our marbles and do something together. At the point when the company wanted Michael to take over its European online operations from Belgium, requiring us to once again change countries and languages, we knew it was time to make a move to a country where we wanted to be and into a culture where we wanted to integrate, on our own terms. So we bought the farm in Piemonte, quite literally!

What was it about Piemonte that drew you there, are there any particular characteristics that set it apart from anywhere else in Italy? 

We looked in a fairly widespread area, from Umbria and Tuscany to Liguria, but we found that Piemonte had a specific set of characteristics that we really liked. We love the wine country, and we have very good proximity to the Italian riviera; it's only an hour away. Because my husband is German, we really like being within a day's driving distance of Germany. We also have many guests that come to us from Switzerland - another great advantage. It's beautiful and pristine here. Our guests love that it's not overrun with tourists and that the restaurant menus are rarely in languages other than Italian. There's true authenticity here in Piemonte, along with a solid infrastructure, good airports, and of course, the best food and wine in the country!

Would you agree that the northerners are cold-hearted compared to the southerners?

No, I would never say they are cold hearted - not at all. I think that they are shy, and a bit removed - especially in the smaller towns. It takes the people here a little time to warm up to you. Once you get to know them and make an effort to speak their language, they are very warm and extremely helpful and kind.

So you've written books since coming to Italy. Had you written any before, or did Italy provide the inspiration?

I have always journaled, but Italy was the inspiration that led me to become a writer. My latest book, a novel entitled True Vines [published by Gemelli Press in October last year] , is based here in the wine country of Piemonte. There are many layers to living here; unraveling each one brings a different type of inspiration. There are the colours of each season, the grapes, the mountains, the exquisite vistas, sunsets, and such overwhelming nature. Coming into contact with each of these things brings with it its own joys and many beautiful moments. As Piemonte is not "that" well known in America outside of the wine and food crowd, I feel like an ambassador of sorts, spreading the good news of this amazing region.

You also run a B&B. Is there anything else you do there?

During the season, from April to October, we focus primarily on the B&B. But I am a ceramic artist - I apprenticed in ceramics while we lived in Germany. I write books and articles, and I am also a life coach, helping people who are looking to manifest change in their lives. The B&B experience has been incredible - we have been blessed to have visitors from 21 countries. While three rooms seems quite small, we do it with a great deal of attention to detail. Long, luxurious breakfasts, lots of communicating with our guests, planning their days trips, giving wine tours, holding cooking classes. I also run women's retreats here. We'll be holding a photography, art and story telling retreat at the end of the month for women from New Zealand and the USA. So we have lots going on!

After 10 years here, would you say you 'feel part' of Italy...maybe more so than the US these days?

I would say at this point I feel like a 'world citizen'. I feel as much at home in Frankfurt or in New York as I do in Acqui Terme. Every country has its good points and I truly feel blessed for having been able to have a multi-cultural life.

Is there anything you don't like about living in Italy?

Of course! The bureaucracy, and the difficulties associated with getting the most simple things done will drive a person mad some days. It's hard times right now with Italy being in a recession. So many people are unemployed. There is so much native talent here in Italy that if the economy was stronger and had more opportunity, this could be one of the most successful economies in the world. Sometimes it's hard to watch the suffering that people go through.

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Is there anything you miss about the US?

The ease of getting things done! And some days, I miss living in my language. I go home once a year to my small home town on the Delaware River. This is very, very important to me, as I feel it centers me. Anyone that lives this expat experience knows - it's bittersweet. The longer I am away from the USA, the more bittersweet it is, as I become more aware that time is passing and I don't know if I'll ever go back there to live. It can be quite hard sometimes. But on the other side, I am surrounded by beauty here, and have learned more from this experience of living abroad than from anything else I have ever done.

Do you have any tips for anyone else dreaming about living in Italy?

Do your homework. Understand that taking a long vacation is not the same things as coming here without a return ticket. Even if you overcome the visa issues, know that the learning curve is extremely steep. I will say this - Italy, in general, is not for the faint-hearted. It will challenge a person in unexpected ways. The payoff comes through living in one of the most beautiful places on earth - not because there's great economic promise or opportunity. One should be clear about that. It's not a bad thing! Money becomes less of a driving factor after you've lived here for awhile. The best thing a person can do is prepare him or herself though learning the language, having a financial cushion and doing lots of research. Preparation is everything if you want to move to Italy. 

To find out more about Diana's writing, ceramics and B&B, visit her website:

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