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My Italian Home: ‘I’d just found my little piece of paradise in Umbria, and now I’m longing to return’

Florida-based reader Christie Hardwick tells The Local how she found her dream apartment in Umbria - completely by chance - and is now longing to return to her new Italian home after having to postpone plans due to quarantine.

My Italian Home: 'I'd just found my little piece of paradise in Umbria, and now I'm longing to return'
The elegant apartment building overlooking the piazza in Umbertide, Umbria. All photos courtesy of Christie Hardwick.

One of my favorite things about this tiny apartment when I first saw it was the blue wooden shutters on all the windows. The apartment had been renovated by previous owners, who took it from a place in disrepair to a finished, elegant space.

The archways marking the entry to the living room, dining room and bedrooms, the wide brick of the ceiling and the rustic brick of the floor all tied together to make a sweet cocoon. I felt at home immediately.

But we had no intention of buying an apartment in Italy. As a matter of fact, my wife and I had sold our second home and declared we’d never own another!

We had been in Italy for five months already back in 2019 when we came to the town of Umbertide, in Umbria, to visit the market that we frequented twice a week for fresh food and supplies.

I was in Italy for most of 2019 to celebrate my 60th year. We had been coming to Italy together for 15 years, staying in the same farmhouse 15 minutes from the town, and we had another month before our visas ran out.

On this particular day, our friends were having coffee in the piazza in the centro storico. We sat down, with our bags bulging with cabbage, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, faro and rustic bread, to share an espresso.

After our coffees arrived our friends casually mentioned the apartment and of course we wanted to see it. It was just above where we were sitting in the same building as the coffee shop, Bar Mary, which we frequented every week. We loved supporting Irine and Mary, the sisters who owned and operated it.

The building was over 400 years old, but in great condition. Walking up the stone stairs, we were surprised when we counted 67 to the top where the apartment was – and I already surmised that this would be good to keep us in shape.

We walked through the apartment, complimenting our friends on their decor and design choices. It had everything you’d need. A living room area, a dining area, a kitchen, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We sat on the couch and chatted about their life in Umbertide.

Once we were in our car on the way back to the farm house, Jane erupted, “the place is adorable but no way are we buying another house!”

I smiled without protesting, quietly plotting how to get her from that position to mine. I already loved and wanted the place..

The renovated farmhouse where we were staying sat on top of rolling hills overlooking the Niccone Valley and olive groves. The sunsets were spectacular, the grounds beautiful, and the hiking trails plentiful.

We loved it and had been back at least eight different times for up to six weeks at a time. This time we were staying for two months.

One thing I began to notice is that even though we spent the first part of the year in Italian Language school, we were rarely practicing because we were isolated there. I realized that I wanted to be in the village because I wanted to learn the language by using it every day.

Eventually, this argument, and my passion – and willingness to handle the entire transaction – convinced my lovely mate. We got to stay in what we named our Piccolo Paradiso for two weeks before needing to return to the states.

Waking up to the views of the town square or the view of the river and rooftops was delightful. While we were looking forward to returning to our home in St. Petersburg, Florida, and visiting our children in Chicago and San Jose, California we were happy that our little place in Umbertide would be waiting for us.

Our first visit back since October wasdue  to be mid-April. But now that is the expected time for the coronavirus outbreak to peak in Italy. We are shattered for the whole country and all those suffering, and we were so sad not to visit our new home and our friends.

We had friends there before we bought our little slice of heaven. We were regulars at Ristorante Calagrana and the proprietors Albi and Eli are like family now. We met our neighbor Chiara and can’t wait to get back and deepen our friendship, along with our other expat neighbors Nancy, Luther, Joseph and Paul.

I especially can’t wait to get back to the Italian language. It is a dream to be fully capable in this lyrical language before my demise.

But for now, #iorestoacasa where I am.

 

Christie Hardwick is a spiritual teacher, wellness and prosperity coach, performing artist, leadership guru, and the author of The progressive wedding book. Read more about her work here.

Member comments

  1. Love your story and look forward to hearing more when you return. I hope to someday soon spend a couple of months in Italy learning the beautiful language.

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MONEY

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

Solar panels are an understandably popular choice in Italy, and if you're thinking of installing them on your own home there's funding available to help lower the cost. Here's what you need to know.

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

As utility bills rise, more home and business owners in Italy are looking at installing solar panels as a possible way to reduce costs in the long term.

Solar panels are already hugely popular in Italy, with the nation ranking top worldwide for solar-powered electricity consumption.

READ ALSO: Who can claim a discount on energy bills in Italy?

And no wonder: it’s a solid bet in a country where there is sunshine in abundance. But what about the costs of installation?

The good news is that there’s financial help available from Italy’s national government aimed at encouraging uptake of solar energy, as well as other incentives from regional authorities in many parts of the country.

It’s in the government’s interest to incentivise solar power, as Italy has vowed to transition to greener energy with its National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate (Piano Nazionale Integrato per l’Energia e il Clima 2030 or PNIEC).

So how could this benefit you? Here’s a look at what you can claim at both a national and a regional level.

Regional funding for installing solar panels

As well as the national government subsidies available for covering the cost of solar panel installation, some regions have introduced their own bonuses or discount schemes.

The sunny southern region of Puglia and the wealthy northern region of Lombardy have seen the highest number of residential photovoltaic systems installed, according to market research.

it’s not surprising, then, that these two regions’ governments are offering cash incentives to help cover the cost of installing solar panels.

Depending on the type of system you opt for, you could expect to pay between around €5,000 and €13,000 for installation, design, labour and paperwork.

To contribute to this initial outlay, the local authority in Puglia has created a pot to help homeowners on lower incomes move towards renewable energy.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about installing solar panels on your home in Italy

Newly introduced in 2022, the so-called Reddito energetico (energy income) offers households with an annual income below €20,000 a bonus of up to €8,500 for installing photovoltaic, solar thermal or micro-wind systems in their homes.

The bonus is intended for residents who have citizenship of an EU country or, if you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you can still claim the bonus if you have been resident for at least one year in a municipality in Puglia.

The €20,000 annual income refers to a household’s ISEE – an indicator of household wealth calculated based on earnings and other factors.

A worker fixes solar panels. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

For this particular scheme, if you claim this bonus from the authorities in Puglia, it precludes you from also claiming funds at national level concurrently – such as through the popular superbonus 110 home renovation fund (see below for more on this).

Although there are other government bonuses, such as the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione) that offers a much higher maximum total expenditure of €96,000, it can only be claimed as a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return.

For lower income families in Puglia, this may not be as cost effective as the grant from the regional authorities, which may equate to more money towards the cost and supply of solar panels.

For more information and to apply for Puglia’s renewable energy bonus, see here.

Lombardy is also stumping up funds to continue the solar power momentum experienced in the region.

While the coffers for private properties are currently closed, the region has made funds available for those with small and medium-sized businesses – again, in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising energy costs.

Business owners can claim a 30 percent grant for the installation of solar panels. There are more funds available to cover the cost of consultancy during the process too.

For more details on applying for this energy bonus in Lombardy, see here.

Other regions have also taken the initiative with encouraging more homes and businesses to change to solar-powered energy.

The region of Tuscany is offering an incentive on installing solar panels to residents in the form of tax deductions spread out over several years.

Works permitted include installing winter and summer air conditioning and hot water systems using renewable sources. This covers heat pumps, solar panels or high-efficiency biomass boilers.

For further details and information on how to apply, see here.

Each region may have its own solar panel bonus, either in the form of grants or tax deductions, available to private residents and/or businesses.

Check your regional government’s website to find out what may be currently on offer.

Solar panels are an increasingly popular option for those renovating homes in Italy. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

National subsidies for installing solar panels

If your region isn’t offering any cash incentive to install solar panels on your property, there are government funds available, which cover all 20 regions.

The authorities introduced and extended a package of building bonuses in order to galvanise the construction industry following the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

While there is no single, separate package of incentives for installing solar panels in 2022, you can take advantage of other government bonuses that include the cost of solar panel installation and supply.

As noted, you could use the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione), which amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return – or through the superbonus 110, a scheme that promises homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110% on expenses related to property renovation and making energy efficiency measures.

READ ALSO:

The property must make at least a double jump in energy class or reach the highest efficiency rating when accessing these bonuses.

There’s a substantial amount of funds on offer to install your solar panels.

Using the renovation bonus, there is a maximum total expenditure of €96,000 (per single housing, including condominiums). Remember this amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction, so the maximum saving you would make is €48,000.

The renovation bonus has been extended until 2024 and, where solar panel installation is concerned, you can claim for the costs of labour, design, surveys and inspections, as well as VAT and stamp duty.

You must tell Italy’s energy and technology authority, ENEA, that you’ve done the works within 90 days in order to access the state aid for solar panel installation.

If you choose to use the superbonus route to claim funds for your solar panels, however, you can spread out the tax deduction costs over five years. Alternatively, you can apply for it as a discount on the invoice (sconto in fattura) or through the transfer of credit (cessione del credito).

The limit when using this bonus is €48,000, which can now be accessed for a while longer as the government extended the deadline for single family homes.

See HERE for details on how to claim it.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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