Founded in 1264, Fabriano remains the European leader in paper production
It is undeniable that “very few companies can claim a longer or distinguished heritage than Fabriano”. This extraordinary Italian paper mill was founded in 1264, at a time in which its fine arts papers were used and praised by the Renaissance icon Michelanglo Buonarroti. However, Michelangelo was not the only celebrity with a weakness for Fabriano paper. The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was also a great fan of Fabriano [...]
To celebrate its 750th birthday, Fabriano just published a new book “Cotone, Conigli e invisibili segni d’acqua. 750 anni di storia della carta Fabriano” (In English, Rags, Rabbit Skins and Invisible Watermarks. 750 years of papermaking in Fabriano). The book, edited by Chiara Medioli, whole reenacting the history of this prestigious paper mill, puts a lot of emphasis on materials and technologies involved in paper production. Indeed, “Cotone” reminds about the materials origianlly used to produce paper; “conigli” about the special glue Fabriano experts created using rabbits’ skin to strengthen paper resistance, and “acqua” about the fact that we can’t have paper without water.
When the entrepreneur Michael Hobbs and his wife, Dawn, an interior designer, swapped life on a farm in Leicestershire for a historic estate in Le Marche, in eastern Italy, they didn’t just buy a home; they bought the entire Italian package. At Giacomo Leopardi, their five-acre property near the medieval village of Montefiore dell’Aso, they are gearing up for the grape harvest later this month, which will yield thousands of bottles of their own montepulciano.
The olive-picking season is imminent, too — the couple produce their own oil, and have just harvested their lavender fields, ready to bottle the aromatic essence. They also recently planted a truffle orchard, where they will cultivate the sought-after — and expensive — black Périgord variety to sell to British restaurants.
They even own a pizzeria — which they bought for €54,000, rather by accident, and let out. “While we were renovating the houses on the estate, we bought a town house in nearby Petritoli to live in, built within the ancient castle walls,” recalls Michael, 52. “There was a mistake in the title deeds, which showed that some of our rooms belonged to the pizzeria next door, so the easiest thing was to buy that too.” His retail career has seen him acquire some rather larger shops, including the Adams Childrenswear chain: he orchestrated an £87m buyout from Philip Green in 1999, and became the chief executive.
Michael and Dawn are doing Italy in style, in a place she describes as “the whole of the country wrapped up in one region”. She loves having Adriatic beaches just down the road and skiing in the Sibillini Mountains less than an hour’s drive away. It’s the classic landscape of vineyards, olive groves, orchards and sunflower fields, but, Dawn says: “It feels real — not like Tuscany, which we found overpriced and overtouristy.”
“We had a gut feeling the moment we arrived here. Hardly anyone spoke English, and when we saw the hill town of Loreto, with its amazing cathedral and medieval convent, as we drove down the coast, we knew this was where we wanted to be.”
Rather than keeping it all to themselves, they are offering others the chance to share the experience by selling properties at Giacomo Leopardi as fractions. The idea struck them when they bought the estate as their family home, renovated the two farmhouses and put up new buildings where the old pigsty was — then realised they didn’t quite know what to do with it all.
“We started to meet holiday-home owners locally, most of whom were only using their property for a few weeks a year and worrying about it once they were back in Britain,” Dawn says. “The expense of buying the home outright, along with the annual running costs, seemed crazy — and their holiday was often spent cleaning the house and pool and weeding the garden. So that’s how Appassionata was born.”
Oil, wine, olives and truffles are produced on the estate run by the Hobbs familyShe’s referring to the hands-on, family-orientated fractional-ownership scheme that the couple have set up to sell the estate’s two farmhouses. The four-bedroom Casa Giacomo’s 1/10th fractions, allowing five weeks’ use a year, started at £90,000 when they were launched at the height of the European recession — and sold out within four months. “Half of the shares were bought by British people, the rest by Italians, other Europeans and Americans,” Dawn says. “Most of them have owned holiday homes outright before and say they’d never do it again.”
Five out of 10 shares remain in the five-bedroom Casa Leopardi, which has a gym and a private pool. Owners each pay a £3,800-a-year service charge, which gives them free run of the estate. They get a deeded stake in the property and an equal share of the fruits of all wine, olive, lavender and truffle production.
The family-run element is a big part of the ethos. The couple’s 22-year-old daughter, India, and her husband, Charlie, deal with management and maintenance. They live on the estate full-time with their five-year-old son, Lucas, and baby, Millie.
Dawn and Michael also spend six months of the year in Le Marche. (Two of their four children, Thomas, 29, and Camilla, 18, live in Britain, while Sebastian, 20, is studying in Florence.) They encourage owners on the estate to share in their lifestyle, whether it’s riding Dawn’s horses or joining the couple for dinner at their village house.
“We love Italy because it’s family-orientated, and our owners are the same — they come with parents, siblings or grandchildren and use the house as a meeting place,” Dawn says. “There isn’t a concierge service, it’s just us recommending where to eat or places to go. It means buyers actually meet the people who created the place, which is unusual with fractional ownership.”
For people who want a place abroad, but can’t justify the cost of running a property they will visit for at most a few weeks a year, the fractional concept has distinct benefits.
You pay for what you use, which means partial costs and none of the hassle of a full-ownership home. It makes sense for Britons, judging by the results of a recent survey carried out by Schofields, a holiday-home insurance provider, which found that those of us who own properties abroad use them just twice a year on average.
“Owners want to say they have a house in Italy, which they can with this,” Dawn says. “They want somewhere to start the holiday immediately, with food and wine in the fridge and a clean pool and house.”
Yet fractional ownership has always had an image problem. It’s often confused with timeshare, although it’s a different proposition, with investors buying a tangible share in the property, not only holiday weeks. There can also be a question mark over how easy it is to sell your share, which will attract a far smaller market than a fully owned property for sale. In Appassionata’s case, Dawn and Michael will act as sales agents — “We’re the best people to do the marketing,” Michael says. “We’re not trying to sell anything else.”
To build their “affordable luxury” family brand, they stayed in other fractional developments around the world, including Italian projects such as Borgo di Vagli, a restored hamlet, and Castello di Casole, a large, high-end scheme owned by Timbers Resorts. “We also saw some huge, horrendous ones in California,” Michael says. “Many of the projects we looked at felt sanitised, offering a cookie-cutter solution. We wanted real Italian lifestyle, not just a luxury product that could be anywhere.”
The couple have even turned down potential buyers looking purely at the rental potential. “It’s not for them. It’s a lifestyle purchase. Our owners could cover their year’s expenses by renting out the house during one of their weeks — or they can exchange them for weeks at other properties through fractionalexchange.com — but they all choose not to. They just want to come here.”
The interior design is done by Dawn, who has been renovating houses since she bought one in Nottingham, aged 19. She has since completed 16 properties while bringing up the children. Her eye for detail in every element makes Appassionata a personal project — she can spend up to two months simply tracking down the right lamp. “I know exactly how the room should look as soon as I see it. Then I have to find the things I need.”
The fractional-ownership scheme has a personal touchShe works with local blacksmiths, potters and other artisans to produce one-off items. “I’ve learnt that if you see something old and gorgeous, buy it — which is how I ended up with five chandeliers one day, which are now all in Casa Leopardi.”
The model seems to suit everyone involved. Buyers get Italian luxury at a budget price — and without the exorbitant management fees that large fractional developments charge. (Owners at Appassionata can see an open book setting out all the running costs of the estate.) Local shops and restaurants benefit from people staying in the houses 52 weeks a year. And Michael can sell his properties in a tough climate, with a business that means he and his family can enjoy Italian life together.
“We would get our money back far quicker if we sold the properties as standard full-ownership homes — but there aren’t many people prepared to pay €3m, which is what each house would be worth,” he says. The couple plan to “fractionalise” more properties, including a listed 14th-century palazzo they are renovating in Petritoli, as well as their town house there.
The family-run fractional scheme has certainly changed a few opinions. “Since we set this up,” he says, “friends of mine have gone from saying, ‘I wouldn’t bloody do that,’ to coming out and saying, ‘Now I get it.’”
No doubt a big part of the appeal for newcomers is the knowledge that so much at Appassionata, from the wine on the dinner table to the lavender spritz on the pillows, has been made in famiglia.
Although it is still very early days for Italy's new government, it is refreshing to see the first signs of progress for the economically troubled country, after months of political deadlock. Prime Minister Enrico Letta has caused cautious optimism in global markets, with borrowing costs on Italy's 10-year bonds dropping below 4% for the first time since 2010. The recent commitment by Letta to reduce the burden on tax payers will have come as welcome news to Italy's citizens. In particular, the commitment to halt the June installment of the controversial IMU property tax will come as a relief to both existing home owners across the country and potential buyers. Although Italian real estate prices have suffered in recent years - the Federation of Professional Estate Agents' 2012 data showed total values had fallen by almost 12% - industry experts feel that they have begun to stabilise, going so far as to predict no change in prices over the course of 2013.
The luxury property market is looking even more hopeful, with one online high end property sales company reporting in April 2013 an increase in demand of 5% for luxury Italian properties in the last 12 months, further fueled by the recent news that Italy will be leasing its disused castles, islands and fortresses to ambitious developers looking to bring in a further influx wealthy tourists.
The dessert is said to have been invented in the 1970s by the mother of the current owner of Le Beccherie, a restaurant in the northern Italian town of Treviso (The Italian restaurant credited with inventing tiramisu is being forced to close down ...
A sad consequence of the struggling Italian economy....
Moving abroad, particularly when the destination is a long way from home, can be a daunting prospect. It can also be a way for families to achieve their dream of an inspiring new lifestyle set in a different culture.
For Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs and her husband Michael Hobbs, Italy’s Le Marche region represented everything they were looking to gain from an overseas move. Dawn and her family lived in Duxbury, MA, on the South Shore approximately 35 miles south of Boston. They arrived in Massachusetts in 1994, with three young children and a fourth on the way. Michael was working for Laura Ashley at the time and Dawn, as well as looking after their young family, worked part-time as an interior designer.
After three years in Boston, the family moved to England, as Michael had been head-hunted for a role there by the Sears group. They remained in England for several years before moving to Italy in 2007. Their son Sebastian and daughter India, along with India’s fiancé Charlie, went with them. Eldest son Tom was settled with his job in the UK and chose to remain there, as did daughter Camilla who was happy at her boarding school – although she looked forward to spending her school holidays in Italy.
Dawn, Michael and Sebastian – who has just completed his studies in Florence – live in the quiet town of Petritoli, with India and Charlie, along with their five-year-old son Lucas, just around the corner. Escape from Americaspoke to Dawn about what it was that motivated her to leave behind everything that was familiar and head off into the unknown for a new life.
Why did you choose Italy?
I fell in love with Italy the moment we first arrived here. The Italian culture, family values and way of life have always appealed to me, and as an interior designer Italy’s reputation for style and iconic fashion was also a major attraction. But Italy has so much more to offer – the food and wine are outstanding and the scenery in our part of the country is just incredible. Living in Le Marche is perfect. We are only minutes from the Adriatic Sea with its myriad sandy beaches, while in the distance we have views of the stunning Sibillini Mountains.
We chose Le Marche as we were looking for the ‘real Italy’ – not somewhere where we would find ourselves constantly bumping into tourists or other ex-pats. We wanted a peaceful, rural life surrounded by rolling hills, with vineyards and olive groves stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see. It seemed like a rather idyllic dream when we first began discussing it, but in Le Marche that is exactly what we found. There is just something in the air here. Maybe it’s the combination of the sea and mountain breezes, or the scent of the lavender swaying gently under the sun. Whatever it is, it is simply intoxicating. We’ve travelled all over the world and lived in various places, but since moving to Italy we simply can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What did you do before moving?
My husband headed up Adams Childrenswear in the UK for a number of years, as well as holding chairmanships at several other companies. I worked as an interior designer and between us we also bought and renovated houses. Our careers were demanding and life was enjoyable but hectic. We yearned for a more peaceful lifestyle, where we could enjoy spending time outdoors with our family.
We still have business links with England and Michael has remained as the chairman of a specialist search company for the retail sector. We go back periodically both for work and to spend time with our family and friends, but Italy is where our hearts are firmly rooted now.
What do you do in Italy?
We moved to Italy with a plan to buy, renovate and sell houses, as we had done in the UK. However, our plans quickly changed. We spoke to a number of holiday home owners about their frustrations with having a second home abroad. Instead of spending their holidays relaxing in the sunshine, they spent the majority of their time in Italy working on their houses and gardens, which sat empty for long periods of time while not in use. No matter who we spoke to, their ‘holidays’ always followed a familiar pattern, beginning with a large-scale clean of the house, and followed by trying to find the garden from beneath the jungle that it has become.
That was when we hit on the idea of fractional ownership, where families share ownership of the property and each use it exclusively for a set number of weeks per year. We bought the run-down Estate Giacomo Leopardi near the hilltop village of Montefiore dell’Aso in Le Marche. When we purchased it, the estate consisted of five acres of land – mostly dead vines and out-of-control olive trees – and a cluster of ramshackle farm buildings. As soon as I saw it I knew we had found something special. I could see beyond the weeds, the broken windows and the crumbling walls, and I knew it was the place for us.
Michael quickly understood my vision for the estate, as did India and Charlie. We set up our family-run company, Appassionata (www.appassionata.com), and immediately got to work. The plan was to create two houses on the land, using as much of the existing buildings and materials as possible in order to retain their original character. The scale of the project was massive and our limited knowledge of Italian did create some initial barriers, but everyone we worked with was so friendly that we got things moving along quickly.
Casa Giacomo was the first house to be finished. It’s a four bedroom/three bathroom property that provides a quintessentially Italian space for comfortable living and entertaining. Split over two floors, the property features a combination of traditional building methods and modern amenities. We worked with local artisans to make bespoke pieces such as light fittings and stair rails, and I scoured Italy’s antique markets for authentic, unique touches to add to the design.
We worked on the estate’s grounds as well, replanting the vineyard and toiling for seemingly endless months to turn the sloping farmland into gardens, rockeries, terraces, swimming pools, a tennis court, olive groves, a lavender plantation and a truffle orchard.
Next we finished Casa Leopardi, which at 420m2 and laid out over three floors is just over twice the size of Casa Giacomo. It has five bedrooms and five bathrooms, along with its own private swimming pool. We kept up our emphasis on high quality interior design and luxury furnishings, as we want our owners to enjoy every moment of their time here.
We kept the outer walls of this property and were able to reuse most of the original terracotta roof and floor tiles, bricks and lots of lovely old pieces of wood. We weren’t able to save the original windows, but I managed to find a joiner who copied the original window and shutter. I have stored all the original ones and plan to make some cupboards out of them – I love to recycle and never throw anything away! We managed to raise the roof to create more head height on the third floor. The rooms up there have the best views in the whole house, over the gently undulating hills, down to the sea and across to the mountains.
With both properties we have maximised the use of outdoor space, creating pretty terraces surrounded by flowers, which are perfect for outdoor dining. We wanted our owners to enjoy the Italian sunshine and outdoor lifestyle as much as we do, so we designed every aspect of the houses with that firmly in mind.
How welcomed did you feel when you first arrived in Italy?
We spoke very little Italian when we arrived and didn’t know anyone in the area, so we did have a few last-minute nerves about our Italian adventure! Our son Sebastian was particularly nervous – he was fourteen at the time we moved and due to attend an Italian school where the teachers spoke no English.
Our worries evaporated when we arrived. The locals were so friendly and helpful and we will always be grateful for their early kindness in helping us to settle in and bearing with our clumsy attempts at communication. My efforts to buy antiques or to describe how I envisaged the shape of a particular lampshade I wanted designed for the house were often tricky, but with a combination of my terrible Italian, drawing pictures and waving my arms I somehow always managed to be understood, and the local artisans I worked with were extremely gracious in their attempts to understand me!
Sebastian’s teachers were wonderful. Although they didn’t speak English they went out of their way to make him feel welcome and to provide him with extra support. Five years later, he speaks fluent Italian and has just finished studying in Florence.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to share in the dream Italian lifestyle?
Think carefully about what it is you are looking for. If you are looking to Italy as the place for your second home then consider the advantages of fractional ownership before committing to buy a place outright. With fractional ownership your property and grounds are managed and cared for throughout the year, meaning you can relax as soon as you arrive.
Fractional ownership also means you can buy a much more luxurious property than if you are buying outright. Shares in Casa Leopardi are £185,000, for which our owners get exclusive use of the house for five weeks every year, as well as a share in the produce from the estate’s vineyard, olive groves, lavender plantation and truffle orchard. Not bad for a five bedroom/five bathroom property!
For anyone considering a permanent move to Italy, I would recommend committing some serious time to learning Italian before you get here, particularly if you are planning on living in a remote area. Every extra word you learn will make your life a little bit easier when you arrive.
Renting a property for a while before you commit to buying somewhere is also a good idea, as it gives you time to get a feel for an area and know if it is definitely the right place for you. If after six months of life in the countryside you find yourself craving the lights and noise of the city, then you can simply move on and rent somewhere new, rather than having to wait to sell.
I would also recommend a giant dose of patience and humour for anyone moving overseas – life will not always be what you expected and certain cultural aspects of your new country may seem strange at first, but life abroad will certainly be full of excitement, surprises and new experiences, whichever country you choose.
This week we launch the second cycle of our “Share Your Italian Story” series with Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs's story about how she fell in love with Italy and moved to the stunning region of Le Marche. If you too want to Share Your Italian Story get in touch HERE
My first visit to Italy in 2005 was all I had hoped for………and more. After 24 hours in Florence I had completely fallen in love with the country, people, language and food!
Whilst taking a late night stroll through the narrow streets we stumbled across an open air opera, staged in the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce. On this warm summer evening I was transfixed by the music and the magical, intimate setting of the ancient Piazza. Glancing upwards I saw the locals sitting out on their candle lit balconies, faces glowing, singing along to the famous aria’s............... click to see the rest
Italy has a reputation for high quality local crafts, but the country’s artigiani – traditional artisans – have struggled to compete with the increasing commercialisation of their country in recent years. Indeed The Guardian reported that Italian artisans were turning increasingly to the internet and the convenience of selling to supermarkets, in order to try and make a living. It seems that the traditional crafts of Italy are in danger of being lost to mass production, with the demise of uniqueness and quality that such a move usually entails. However, my wife is determined to fight for the country’s artigiani. From our Italian base in Le Marche Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs, a co-founder in our family-run company Appassionata, is supporting and working alongside local artisans. The individuals that Dawn works with are often the third or fourth generation of their family to carry out the specialist local crafts. Their workshops range from tiny warehouses to ramshackle wooden huts. Dawn explains,“I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet and support so many talented artisans in Le Marche. Appassionata’s ethos is to support small local businesses and to help the region’s economy wherever possible. Many of the artisans we work with have tiny facilities at their disposal but what they produce is incredible.”
The National School of flight "The Sibillini" is affiliated with the Federazione Italiana Volo Libero (Italian Federation of Free Flight) and certified by the Aero Club of Italy with the No. 7. It was the first flight school in Le Marche and one of the first in all Italy. The school offers base and advanced courses and tourist flights flight for:
A natural substance found in olive oil called oleocanthal helps to block and destroy plaque build up in the brain that causes Alzheimer's (A new #research identifies yet another beneficial characteristic of olive oil!
Looks like it's time to start producing more olive oil!!!
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