Mmm, this was a sentence I never thought I would write. Life throws us some weird challenges and this was mine!
A year or so after we had completed the restoration of Palazzo Scarsini, our home in Petritoli, we were still scratching our heads as how best to use the space on the lower ground floor.
Our home is a five-floor Palazzo dating from the 14th century, situated in the historic centre of the town and very conveniently placed for the local bars and restaurants.
Apart from the pigeons taking up residence on the terrace, the house had been abandoned for many years. We live in the top three floors, surrounded by original frescos and murals, which we uncovered during the restoration.
The lower ground floor is the Appassionata HQ, a large open space with brick archways and vaulted ceilings. Light floods in from the windows at the far end, behind the desks, offering wonderful, far reaching views. I have to be honest and say the views are very distracting and I can often be found staring out of the window, daydreaming when I should be working. I’m sure I had a few school reports saying the exact same thing.
The floor below the office was once used to house chickens, salami’s, wine and oil. The brickwork and vaulted ceilings are intricate and detailed, although in desperate need of restoration. The Belle Arte, the Italian National Heritage, informed us the space would be listed, owing to the age and artisan interest and was probably used as a small chapel in its early days.
We pondered for a few months on how to use this wonderful space wisely. The engineering and building costs came in high but this was a space that deserved to be loved and cherished for another 500 years.
The idea of keeping chickens and collecting fresh eggs daily was very appealing, but the thought of them not being out in the open, roaming free just wasn’t right. I didn’t think they would appreciate the beauty and space either.
Over dinner and drinks, always a good time to make a decision, we decided to create an apartment. A separate entrance leading from the cobbled streets would give a sense of total privacy for guests.
The original water well for the house with its beautiful curved, low, brick wall was a lovely feature but was situated right in the middle of ‘the bedroom’! I really wanted to keep it, line it with copper and create a circular bath. I mentioned this to our amazing housekeeper, Roberta, who along with her team, keeps all the Appassionata properties in tip-top condition. Roberta rolled her eyes and shook her head. The thought of cleaning all that copper, she likes everything to gleam, was just too much work. I had to agree, practicality had to come before design. This time.
The sandblasting was amazing, but the mess was horrendous and I had to apologise to all the neighbours for the clouds of dust flying out the doors and windows and settling on their freshly laundered sheets.
I also worried about the lighting in the living space. The high ceiling was crying out for a Murano chandelier, but I also wanted to highlight the newly cleaned and repointed brickwork. I phoned Fabrizio, our friendly lighting expert. He advised installing tiny LED strips running behind the edge of each recess. We added a dimmer switch and the effect was wonderful, the walls looked like they had awoken from a long slumber.
After much debate, I decided to carefully remove the circular bricks and well and save them for another project. This space would make the perfect bedroom with an arched window showcasing the view across the hills.
I chose cream coloured travertine floor tiles to complement the warm brickwork and soft furnishings and lamps gave the space a homely, holiday feel.
I am a huge fan of Venetian plaster and use it in all our Appassionata properties. I wanted to use a stronger shade in the shower area, lavender. A bold, but gentle colour, soothing and relaxing, with its marble finish and subtle swirls.
I integrated the modern amenities of everyday life, wifi, TV, washing machine/drier etc into this historic 14th-century apartment.
It was a joy to watch this dark, dusty space come alive. To bathe in its light and furnish it with love for others to enjoy in the future.
I gazed around the Piazza and sipped my cappuccino elegantly, copying the glamorous Italians on the next table. Trying not to get the milky froth all around my mouth.
I love to people watch. The tourists racing to keep up with their flag bearing tour guides. The Nonna’s dressed in black, carrying their heavy bags of shopping back home to their families. I listened closely to the sing song melody of the Italian language, exaggerated with arms and hands waving in the air. Everything about the Italians is passionate and dramatic.
I meandered back to the hotel, absorbed in the sounds of the city. The walk should have taken me ten minutes. You guessed it, luckily for me I took another wrong turning!
I stumbled upon a lovely little shop halfway down a narrow street. The window had a wonderful display of tassels, braids and ribbons.
As an interior designer I am always on the lookout for things fabulous and unique. This was an Aladdin’s cave of colour and texture. I bought tassels in every shape, size and colour. Natural greens, blues and siennas with a hint of gold.
Each item was lovingly wrapped in tissue and delicately placed in a posh paper bag. No sign of plastic in this shop!
Shopping in Italy is a very different experience. Most shops are owned and run by family member. They are proud of what they do and love to tell you how many generations have worked there. Their knowledge is extensive, and they take the time it takes. Note to self, allow more time when shopping in Italy!
I floated back to our hotel, clutching my purchases and feeling rather proud of myself, I had found my way back.
My husband, Michael, was happy. The rugby match had gone well, his team had won and he was celebrating with a cold beer in the hotel bar.
He looked suspiciously at my shopping bag. “What have you bought”? I told him,” gorgeous tassels in natural hues………” I received the typical response from a man who thinks shopping is only to purchase essential items, food and drink. “How many tassels do you need, what are they for, how much did they cost”?!!! I quickly changed the subject and asked about our dinner plans for that evening, while visualising one of the tassels threaded through an antique key, hanging from wardrobe I had recently finished painting.
I eat fish, no meat. Michael loves meat and eats fish. He had spoken to the hotel manager earlier and asked his advice on fish restaurants on the outskirts of the city. Away from the touristy eateries and high prices. He knew the perfect place!
We were picked up in a taxi later that evening, it was the first and only time I have travelled in a taxi in Italy. The manager had given the driver directions to the restaurant so we both sat back and enjoyed the drive across Florence. Thirty minutes later we pulled up outside a large wooden door, with no sign, in the heart of an industrial estate. We stepped out of the taxi and looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. This can’t be right. Before we had chance to get back into the taxi, it roared off into the distance.
We rang the doorbell and waited. I was feeling a little nervous. Not about my surroundings, but it was nine o’clock and Michael was hungry, we needed to find food before he turned all hunter gather on me.
The door opened and we cautiously stepped into another world. Before our eyes was a busy, bustling restaurant. A beautiful, yet simple décor. Delicious aromas wafting from the open kitchen blending with the lively voices of sixty plus Italians all talking at once. In the large walled courtyard, huge interconnecting sunshades provided a soft textured ceiling. The lighting was low and atmospheric, with a blend of candles and fairy lights. Each table dressed with a small vase of fresh flowers. Crisp white linen tablecloths draped down to the cool cotto tiled floor.
We were shown to our table, and looked around. There were large families, three generations enjoying a celebration together. Young lovers with eyes only for each other. Young children out with their parents, babies peacefully sleeping in their pushchairs. Children are always made to feel welcome in restaurants in Italy, however posh or expensive. Family is very important and younger members are never excluded. Another plus for the Italian lifestyle.
Our waiter came to take our order. This was going to be tricky. He spoke no English, we spoke no Italian and had left our phrase book back at the hotel!
We shouted “menu” at him and mimed opening a book. Why do people shout in their own language at foreigners, expecting them to understand once the decibels are turned up?
He shook his head “no menooo, you wanta da otta fish o colda fish”. Whita wine o reda wine? Hot fish we both said, white wine we agreed
I glanced across at Michael, he was looking a little concerned. He’s lovely, but he likes to know what’s happening at all times, in the present and the future. I knew he would struggle with the concept of not being able to converse with the waiter, he loves to talk!
He also likes to see a menu, ask questions and check nothing has vinegar on it. He likes to see the wine list and chat about different grapes, countries, regions, years. He especially likes to see prices and mentally calculate how much the whole meal will cost. He likes to feel in control of the situation.
Our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and we sipped our wine, poured from a glass jug. Michael shared his concerns about not knowing what food would arrive and how many courses would be served. I tried to reassure him. “Let’s just relax and enjoy the experience, it will be fun to try new tastes and not know what to expect”. He looked doubtful and took a large swig of wine, it was delicious, he looked happier.
The more courses we ate, the more wine we drank, the more he relaxed. I wish I could give you a detailed description of the food we ate, but I can’t. I can remember the interiors, because I seem to have a photographic memory for those. I think I drank too much wine and the food detail got lost. It’s a little hazy. What I can remember is that every dish was exquisite, fresh and unpretentious. The seafood was scrumptious the pasta cooked to perfection. I think we had seven courses, to be honest I lost count.
I have never seen Michael so relaxed, enjoying the present and not worrying about the future. We had no idea how much this dining experience was going to cost, we didn’t care.
The waiter brought over bottles of grappa, mistra and limoncello, to help with the digestion! The limoncello was divine. Michael was so, so happy, he tried all three, twice.
We swayed over to the bar to pay the bill and hopefully order a taxi. Michael was very pleasantly surprised when he saw the total, half the cost he had toted up in his head. The bar man generously offered him another drink on the house. I began to wonder if I would be able to get him back to the hotel. The taxi arrived and I managed to steer him onto the back seat and close the door.
We were dropped off at the end of a one way street, only a couple of minutes walk from our hotel. We needed a walk! In the distance we could hear opera music, as we walked closer I recognised an aria from La Boheme, one of my favourite operas. We entered the Piazza, and there under the moonlight of a warm summer’s evening were hundreds of people enjoying an open air opera. I looked up to the balconies of the surrounding apartments, each one crowded with local Italians holding a candle and swaying to the music. It was truly magical and that was the exact moment I fell in love in love with Italy.
With the sparkling Adriatic Sea and the Apennine mountains at a comfortable proximity, a hilly and vibrant countryside as far as the eye can see — you have to wonder why more people don’t talk more about the region of Le Marche. Those in the know however are quite aware of Marche’s positive attributes. And there are many. Central Italy has often been a hot place for expats to call home due to its low prices and stunning natural landscapes. It’s the kind of place where people truly find their joie de vivre (joy of life).
My husband and I left Tuscany behind for a night in Le Marche, our destination the hilltop town of Petritoli which sits pretty with high points offering views overlooking the Adriatic Sea. As we drove through the three arches and 15th century turrets, I knew immediately it was going to be a place I would love. The tiny medieval town boasts only four churches, a few restaurants, and a local population of no more than 2,500. Truth be told, I have always had a very positive view of the Marchigianis, a humble and hard-working people who know how worthy their land really is.
Two such people who have certainly figured out this “secret” destination are interior designer Dawn and successful entrepreneur Michael Hobbs, originally from the UK . Since 2004 they have split their time between England and the beautiful town of Petritoli. They first discovered this area in search of a holiday home after a suggestion by Michael’s business partner. Choosing to stay here was an easy one for them to make, with a natural beauty and charm so less besieged by tourism than neighbours like Tuscany. Also, the proximity to local airports was a huge advantage for Michael and Dawn who travel back and forth to the UK frequently. Petritoli makes for an easy 45-minute drive from Ancona or an hour from Pescara.
[Piazza in Fermo, Le Marche]
They bought their first property around 2005 and started renovations, planning to then sell the property outright but then changed their minds. “This is when the wheels started turning regarding starting our company offering fractional ownership,” Michael said. They founded Appassionata in 2007 with the idea to allow people part ownership of a property that Michael and Dawn completely renovate and furnish. After purchasing and renovating a few more places, they took their time setting up the business “we didn’t want to rush things, we wanted to do this right.” In fact, each property was chosen under careful consideration, for its proximity to the sea and airports, and also its potential after the renovations.
Each owner has a 1/10th ownership in the property which they have total control over and are allotted five exclusive weeks a year to use. The cost is roughly 90,000 pounds to 195,000 depending on the size of the property. With the favourable dollar to pound currency rate at the moment, this is really the ideal time for a property investments for those from the USA. Dawn and Michael’s properties sell off quick, momentarily there are only 9 of 10 shares left in the latest available property “Il Riposo”. None of the places are “cookie cutter,” each comes with its very own personality. Currently owners include people from Australia, South America, England, American and China.
[Dawn and Grandson Lucas]
After checking in with Michael and Dawn, they showed us to an exquisitely designed one-bedroom apartment underneath their own home in the 15th century Palazzo Scarsini in Petritoli. This space is mainly used for discovery visits from potential buyers– but they also rent this apartment on Airbnb, a steal at €125 per night considering I have rarely seen five star hotels this impeccable. Like every other of the properties that they have handled, it has been completely designed by Dawn. She handpicks everything from the liberty tiles adorning the floors and kitchen to each exquisite piece of furniture, a bowl of fruit and welcome bottle of wine finished the welcome.
Their latest property “Il Riposo” a 12th century renovated townhouse is an absolute dream — true to its name which in Italian signifies “the retreat.” Located in the nearby town of Patrignone in the “Terre di Bonfini,” it was known locally as a 12th century artists’ colony founded by the Bonfini family whose names pepper each street corner. First in tribute to the painters Martino and Giacomo Bonfini and later the historian of King Mattia Corvino’s Hungarian court, Antonio Bonfini.
For me, Patrignone, facing east of the Adriatic sea signifies a quiet, picture-perfect example of a small borgo in Italy – think narrow cobblestoned streets which beautifully pave the way towards Il Riposo. It is an area also home to incredible views while the countryside beyond is dotted below with charming countryside villages. Year-around the town boasts only 150 residents, thus making this “retreat” a true reality for those looking to escape the crowds.
Patrignone is a frazione of Montalto delle Marche, the village of Montalto close by, just a few kilometers away and home to a few restaurants, shops, and a bank. Michael informed me of its illustrious past “What put this place on the map was Pope Sisto V” who was elected Pope in 1585, “he made Montalto a Papal State during his reign.”
With all of this in mind who wouldn’t want to call Il Riposo home? This three-floor light-and-airy luxury property is the perfect space for larger groups looking for a true “country and town” atmosphere with designer details. Dawns well-searched for acquisitions for the property from local artisans (like large terra cotta pots) have led to many of Appassionata’s buyers ordering items direct from these Italian small suppliers for their other homes.
[Kitchen – Il Riposo]
Inside you’ll find four spacious double bedrooms, three bathrooms, all in a luxurious 210 square meter (2269 sq. feet) space with plenty of open-plan space. All the better for enjoying the extraordinary views from the huge, airy kitchen. The cozy living room and dining space with its light colours, original wooden beams and custom, colourful furniture looked the perfect place to entertain guests, who like you, will thoroughly enjoy what is truly a slice of Italian paradise.
[Staircase of Il Riposo]
Walking outside, I was surprised to find the walled terraced garden even boasts a pool, albeit discreet for those who want their privacy. More importantly to note, Dawn and Michael hire local artisans and builders, which has gained them trust locally as respected business people that pay their bills on time – a not too frequent occurrence in Italy. “I often go to our carpenter and suggest an idea that he thinks is totally crazy,” Dawn laughs as she shows me around, “but eventually he always surprises me and himself too by creating exactly the one-of-a-kind item that previously only existed in my mind.”
[Outdoor pool of Il Riposo]
Dawn spends hours in her car driving around to look for the next great furniture piece or antique chandelier, everything is kept in a storage space before it finds its home in an Appassionata property. Their daughter India and her husband Charlie live nearby and help out with the business, owners with special requests can turn to them for customised requests.
You might be asking yourself, why not just buy a house outright instead of a fractional ownership? As was quoted in The Times “Owners might be able to afford a holiday home outright but don’t see the point if they’re only going to use it for a limited number of weeks each year. They like the fact that the property is managed and used all year around and they don’t have to worry about it when they’re not there.”
Which is a great point.
After all, imagine you don’t speak the Italian language (yet) nor have the will to weave yourself through endless Italian bureaucracy. Buying a fractional ownership means that essentially all you have to do is show up, everything is taken care for you upon arrival. For those scared to be locked in for life, don’t be. Re-sale is 100% possible, with Appassionata facilitating the deal between the current and new owners.
For Michael, it’s not about the money. In fact, they regularly turn down people who are looking to buy a share as a financial investment. Over coffee he quite rightly pointed out “what you get here in Le Marche is a real lifestyle investment.”
Since the seaside is so close, we decided to have lunch at an airy, beachside restaurant “Il Grecale” in the pretty resort town of Grottammare on Via Cristoforo Colombo. Though it’s January, the sunshine has brought locals out, biking or running along the wide stretch of promenade that runs parallel to the sea. Michael and Dawn know this place well, we order a bevy of seafood dishes, fresh pasta and swapped stories.
[Fresh pasta at Il Grecale]
That evening, tired but happy to come home to pretty Petritoli, we decided to visit a local wine bar suggested by Michael and Dawn, the “Cantina Antisociale,” adjacent to a gas station owned by the owner’s father just outside the town’s ancient walls. Cozy and welcoming, locals gather here amicably for aperitivo or a light dinner, tasty nibbles are brought out with every glass of wine. The young owner Simone is extremely passionate about the business and was more than happy to chat with us about his curated selection of wines. Later that night, we head to Ristorante Re Squarchiò where families were gathered in big groups for Saturday dinner. Though we were still full from lunch and our aperitivo, we dig into delicious fresh pasta and yet another bottle of Passerina wine.
The next morning, we lingered over one last cappuccino (doppio espresso for the hubby) at Bar Tre Archi with Michael and Dawn, who made us feel instantly at home. As I walked back to pick up our luggage, I heard the voices of mass (it was a Sunday) radiating from the steps below to our apartment and a few bellows of a laughter. Apparently, priests around here have a sense of humor. We stood on the steep steps reveling in the peaceful atmosphere, a comforting murmur from the building continued inside and that’s exactly when I realized my Petritoli visit can’t end just here. I have to come back. A reminder about how so many people probably feel who come to Le Marche on holiday, it draws you in as easily as a laughter-filled wine-induced lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Even if it it’s just temporary, it feels like home. Michael and Dawn, we will be back.
Benefits of Buying an Appassionata Property?
Buy the weeks you are actually going to use each year
Align your costs with your usage
Make a lifestyle investment to share with family & friends
Own a more luxurious holiday home than you thought possible
Share the annual running costs of the property
Own a fully furnished interior designed home
Have your holiday home managed and serviced
Start your holiday the minute you arrive
Tips for Petritoli
Cantina Antisociale: a local wine bar, perfect for a before-dinner drink. Address: Piazza Costantino Tamanti,
Bar Gelateria Tre Archi. The place for a morning coffee and a chat with locals. I’ve also been informed that they make excellent homemade ice cream. Address: Largo Giacomo Leopardi, 5
Ristorante Re Squarchiò, excellent eatery to sample local seasonal cuisine form Le Marche, they offer a 25€ tasting menu (with wine). Reservations recommended. Address: Via Largo Tre Archi, 4/5.
Interested in checking out Appassionata’s “Il Riposo” in person or to learn more about fractional ownership? Contact Dawn and Michael here for a chance to see your potential next vacation home in Marche
Italians are arguably the most romantic lovers in the world.
The word “romance” originated ‘from or about Rome’, which would suggest just about anything Italian is considered romantic. Italians have their beautiful nature, fantastic food and wine, their rich history and culture, and a melodious language.
We would like to give you the opportunity to enjoy a little romance here in Italy.
The Palazzo Scarsini Apartment nestles within the medieval town of Petritoli in Le Marche. This luxurious one bedroom apartment is the perfect place for those wanting to relax and unwind amidst the 15th century vaulted ceilings and chandeliers.
Enjoy a gentle stroll along the winding cobbled streets and you will find friendly cafes, wine bars and restaurants, serving traditional Italian food and wine.