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PROPERTY

The very best Italian towns to move to – according to people who live in them

Where do you begin your search for the perfect Italian town to call home? By talking to those who've already made the move, of course.

The very best Italian towns to move to - according to people who live in them
Ascoli Piceno, Marche. Photo: DepositPhotos

Smaller cities and towns regularly top “quality of life” surveys in Italy, thanks to things like good public services and more affordable housing.

But these places are often overlooked. Many expats looking for work “tend to go where there are more opportunities, like Rome and Milan,” explains Italy relocation expert Damien O'Farrell.

“Those, however, that choose Verona, Piacenza, and so on, are very happy with their choice due to less traffic, lower rents in some cases, and a more human approach to life in most cases,” he adds.

But when pretty much every Italian town is ridiculously beautiful, and every region has something different to offer, how do you even begin to choose one?

It pays to get the advice of those who've made their own move to Italy, so here we've rounded up suggestions of the best places to live in Italy from readers and members of our Living in Italy Facebook group

Photo: Depositphotos

Living in or near provincial capitals, like Ascoli Piceno or Arezzo, is a good choice as they're lively without being chaotic, and tend to have good schools and public services.
 
But if you're looking for more peace and quiet, members also had plenty of suggestions for those looking for a smaller town or village, with mainly Italian inhabitants.
 
From north to south, here are ten great towns and small cities to live in Italy – as recommended by their international residents.
 
Cittadella, Veneto

Population: 20,000

While the small city of Padua is a good option, one member also recommended the small-but-lively nearby medieval walled town of Cittadella in the province of Padua as a great place to live.

Mantua, Lombardy

Population: 49,000

We think the small city of Mantua, or Mantova, is an incredibly atmospheric, overlooked gem. And members agree that it's a fantastic area to live in – if you don't mind a bit of foggy weather. It's surrounded by artificial lakes on three sides and full of Renaissance history, famous for the architectural legacy of the Gonzaga family. A short drive from Verona and Lake Garda, it's safe, lively and friendly – and there's a surprising lack of tourists.

READ ALSO: Mantova, the Renaissance city of the Gonzagas

Salò, Lombardy

Population: 10,000

If instead you're looking for a really small town to call home, right next to Lake Garda, there are quite a few to choose from. One group member suggests his adopted home town of Salò. The location is perfect for nature lovers, he explains, without leaving you isolated.

Ascoli Piceno, Marche

Population: 48,000

This regional capital set in a dramatic landscape is the perfect size, and many of the stunning homes for sale in the surrounding small villages and countryside are particularly good value for money. Long-time foreign residents tell us they love the scenery, the traditions, and the friendliness and patience of local people as well as the supportive expat community in the area.

Senigallia, Marche

Population: 44,000

If you fancy living by the sea but within easy reach of the mountains, the beautiful region of Marche is the place for you. There's a string of pretty small towns, filled with seafood restaurants and art nouveau architecture, running the length of the coast. Several members told us how they'd chosen to live in or near Senigallia, in the province of Ancona. “Good food, good wine, nice medieval hamlet, good hospital and services, and cost of living” were some of reasons members cited for moving to Senigallia.

Arezzo, Tuscany

Population: 99,000

If you love Florence and Siena, but don't love the sky-high property prices in those famous areas, try lesser-known eastern Tuscany. The medieval city of Arezzo is my own personal recommendation as I lived there for just over two years. It's small enough that the pace of life is slow and public services are good, but big enough to have no end of local festivals and events, as well as good shopping and restaurants (it's also quite a wealthy place.) It's surrounded by forested hills and breathtakingly beautiful countryside, just an hour's drive from Siena or Perugia. It's also a stop on the high-speed train line between Rome and Florence.

READ ALSO: 

Bagni Di Lucca, Tuscany

Population: 6,000

If you'd like to be more rural, but with an international community around you, another option is northern Tuscany.

“There are some beautiful places just half an hour north of the medieval city of Lucca,” writes Gill White. “We just bought a house in the mountain village of Granaiola, Bagni Di Lucca. There are both ex pats and locals here – about 40 residences.”

Photo: Depositphotos

Tricarico, Basilicata

Population: 5,000

In the province of Matera, pretty Tricarico is another less obvious choice. The wild southern region of Basilicata, between Calabria and Puglia, is full of picturesque small-to-medium-sized towns with a slower-paced, more traditional way of life. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture while taking your pick of affordable properties (extremely affordable, if you want to renovate), this is a great area to check out

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Population: 106,000

Set among hilly vineyards at the gaetway to the Dolomites, the picturesque, lively, small city of Bolzano is one to keep in mind if you'd like to relocate to the north. Bolzano keeps topping all the quality of life surveys, so it must be doing something right.

Can you recommend a great place to relocate to in Italy? Sign in to leave a comment below or join the conversation in The Local Italy's Facebook group.

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Member comments

  1. I recently received a parcel from Marks and Spencer delivered by Dhl , no problem, very efficient.
    Three weeks later I received another parcel from Marks, contents just over £100 as previous and was met with a demand for €58.20 import costs before I could have the parcel. I didn’t pay and Marks seem baffled by the charge.
    Has anyone had a similar experience recently? And is this reciprocated in the UK I wonder?

  2. Considering relocating for extended stay, from Sun Valley, Idaho. Looking for small mountain town with reliable snow. Prefer alps. My, what a challenge!! Will go check out Cortina. Aosta is central, but low altitude and rain. Mostly nordic skiers. Any great recommendations out there? Thanks. Jamie

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PROPERTY

‘It’s so frustrating’: My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

When US-based Davide Fionda embarked on renovating his mother's Italian property, he couldn't have imagined the obstacles and the timescale in store.

'It's so frustrating': My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

Building a home in Italy was almost inevitable for Davide, as he’s been visiting the same area in the Le Marche region, where his Italian-born mother grew up, since he was five years old.

Although he lives in Boston, US, and speaks with a charming East Coast twang, he’s also an Italian citizen and has long dreamed of having his own place to stay for the summer.

He began making this dream a reality back in 1997, when a barn that had been in his mother’s family for generations, in the village of Schito-Case Duca, was damaged by an earthquake.

“My mother, who had both her mother and sister in Italy, decided that it would be really nice for us to build our own new home instead of relying on family to host us each time we visit,” Davide said.

“The goal was simple. I would acquire the barn from my mom, renovate it and move in for the summers, as I’m a college teacher and can spend time in Italy,” he added.

“Simple” the goal may have been, but the project itself proved anything but, as Davide came up against unforeseen bureaucratic problems, legal hiccups and personal disappointments.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

As a former entrepreneur in his professional life, he said he’s “used to getting things done”, owning five companies and selling three.

But conquering Italian property renovation is his biggest challenge to date: “Never in my life have I had so many complications as I’ve had with this house,” he told us.

The earthquake-damaged barn. Photo: Davide Fionda

“In the beginning, I knew exactly what I needed and the costs to carry out the project. My mother was, and is still, living in the United States: the project started when she was approached by her godson, who is a geometra (civil engineer), to help her rebuild this barn.

“I started with what I could control. I sat down with an architect and we created a design. I did research on furniture and fixtures. But then the problems started,” Davide said.

His mother wanted a simple design: an open plan house with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains, spanning two floors – a ground floor and a first floor for the bedrooms.

When they went to look at the progress in 2004, he said they were “horrified” at what they saw.

Instead of windows across the front as we asked for, with views of the spectacular Gran Sasso mountains, he took the entire view with two hallways for entering the property and for the bathroom. The bedrooms upstairs were unusable,” he added.

Davide describes himself as “not a typical Italian”, at two metres in height ,and says he always looks for suitable showers and beds when visiting Italy.

It was one of the reasons building his own home was so attractive, as he could custom-make it to fit his needs.

READ ALSO: What taxes do you need to pay if you own a second home in Italy?

But when they viewed the build, he discovered the first floor had ceilings of just one metre and 40 centimetres – not liveable for most people, never mind someone with Davide’s towering frame.

The results didn’t match the renovation plans that had been filed with the comune (town hall) – they wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, as Davide discovered Italian regulations deemed this height of ceiling in a bedroom uninhabitable.

He said he grew up with the geometra and knew him well, saying they were “best friends”. However, on raising the problems with him, Davide said the building professional “refused to fix the house”, adding, “he took my mother’s money and built a house with no bedrooms”.

He said his mother decided to stop construction after spending almost $100,000 on a house that they “could not live in”, adding that they “returned many times over the years to see the shell of the building that we thought we were going to call our home”.

READ ALSO: My Italian Home: How one ‘bargain basement’ renovation ended up costing over €300K

Faced with a stalled project and unsure what to do next, Davide tried to sell the property but got nowhere. He said the “market wasn’t right” for selling it, so he considered his options for fixing the botched renovations to date.

His Italian property project has been stalled for over two decades. Photo: Davide Fionda

Then, eventually, in January of this year he decided “he was sick of looking at it and it was time to act”.

He intended to use Italy’s Bonus ristrutturazioni (Renovation bonus), which allows homeowners to apply for a 50 percent tax reduction on carrying out renovation work.

On asking for professional opinions on whether the house qualified for this bonus, he said he asked five different people and got five different answers.

In the end, he discovered it was eligible and so he could, in theory, proceed with his latest plans.

READ ALSO:

The aim is to create his mother’s original vision – an open plan space with huge windows overlooking the mountains and bedrooms on the first floor – but habitable this time.

Since the beginning of this year, however, Davide has been stuck and hasn’t made progress.

Setbacks have included trying to get a permit to renovate the house, which has proved difficult since the first geometra reportedly didn’t update the changes to the building.

This thorny issue goes back to exactly who owned the house, as Davide told us it had been sectioned off and parts of the house were owned by various members of the family.

The building headaches roll on for Davide. Photo by Martin Dalsgaard on Unsplash

“Italian law makes you want to rip your hair out,” he said.

Getting the deed in his name has been a huge obstacle in itself, as his mother wasn’t the sole owner and some parts of the land that belonged to her were never recorded.

It’s meant months of waiting while archives have been searched and deeds have been drawn up and transferred, made all the trickier by coordinating it all from thousands of miles away.

Plus, the house category was never changed to a residential one, listed previously as farmland and therefore illegal to live in.

It’s just more unexpected bureaucracy for a project that seems to have no end.

“It has been months and months of all these twists and turns, it’s so frustrating,” he told us.

“This has been a 25-year nightmare,” he added.

A partly restored, but unliveable barn for Davide now. Photo: Davaide Fionda.

Although Davide had originally planned to sort out the more practical parts of the project by the end of May, with a ticket booked to Italy to choose the windows, he’s still stuck in the paperwork part and can’t move forward.

Nothing has happened since January. Three or four times I said, ‘screw this’. But it’s not in my DNA to give up,” he said.

Although he has a strong will, the house has taken its toll on him.

Every time we go, this house stares us in the face and it’s upsetting. Family always ask us, ‘when are you going to finish the house?’ It’s a real source of heartache,” he told us.

From this point, he hopes the paperwork will be completed by August and then he can meet with the contractors to get the process started.

That in itself was a tall order, due to the construction demand and shortage of building companies Italy is currently experiencing.

READ ALSO:

It’s a problem made even more challenging by the fact that he’s based in the States and had to find a company that would apply for the credit for the bonus on his behalf.

Despite it all, he’s hopeful that he will get the house they dreamed of by next August and says he’s learned a lot about renovating property in Italy.

For other would-be home renovators, he advised people to “adjust their timeframe expectations” and expect “anything to do with land or real estate to take forever”.

So what is his secret for not giving up, despite the rollercoaster of events and emotions?

It seems he’s holding on to his vision of blissful summers in il bel paese.

“The beauty of Italy is to be, sit in a town square and have conversations,” he told us.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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