Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Quintessential Fixer-Upper

photo credits: Carlo Boccacci

Renting or owning a beautiful villa in Tuscany has become the dream of many. When you begin your search, you'll almost always read the words "renovated" or "restored" in the property description. This is because these luxury properties are all historical dwellings or ancient farmhouses which have undergone substantial work to bring them to their present state. However, I would bet that most people are not really aware of just how extreme this intervention has been.

Many of these properties were rescued from total abandonment and work was initiated on something more similar to ruins than to a house. Imagine no electricity or running water; perhaps even no roof, or at best a collapsing one. Basically, the owner began by purchasing a vision, a dream to realize, which required infinite imagination, loads of patience and plenty of money.

In Tuscany, during the 1950s there was a great migration away from the countryside as people went to seek work and a better quality of life in the city. Rural communities lost much of their population and large farming estates were forced to leave many of their farm houses uninhabited. Over the decades these buildings fell into disrepair and their value plummeted. 

Then, starting about 20 years ago, there began a boom to find these rural gems and restore them. In many cases, the trend had inverted and city dwellers were looking to escape urban life and move out to the lovely countryside. The housing market was florid and these unique pieces of real estate became very fashionable, representing an exclusive type of residence thanks to their limited availability and historic origins - after all, you can’t replicate a 17th century farmhouse. This also gave them superior commercial value which attracted investors (even foreigners). Some farmers were able to reap the benefits of this trend by selling their dilapidated old hay barns and farmhouses for previously unimaginable sums of money.

Also, many wealthy families (often of noble lineage) possessed a number of these rural dwellings that were costly to maintain and for which they had no use. Yet family history and pride had made them reluctant to sell. Although some just left them to decay, others began thinking about how to make these properties profitable. The idea of converting them into vacation rental homes started to take hold and the local governments got on board to support the effort, recognizing that by restoring these old buildings they could salvage the cultural heritage and beauty of the area while also boosting tourism.

An ancient hamlet in Chianti reduced to ruins, before the renovation below.
The growing popularity of countryside holidays in Tuscany was an added incentive. Slowly the quantity and quality of properties on offer started to rise, giving a major impulse to the tourism sector. Today, Tuscany is full of excellent accommodation options that range from majestic 5-star villas to simple country B&Bs. The thing to remember is that most of these wonderful places are the result of a courageous project and the hard work of people who believed that saving Tuscany’s rural heritage was worth the effort, and as a result the whole region (and perhaps even the world) has benefited. 

The renovation of the ancient hamlet above was completed in 2012, it's now a luxury B&B.


  1. Thanks for including my pictures in your blog, beautiful realized and with many informations ! Compliments ! :)

    1. Thank you, Simona! I have seen many of your photographs on Facebook and you are very talented. I appreciate your letting me use your pictures to make my blog even more attractive!