Adventures in Ascoli Piceno – Vintage finds for Villa Veneto

Every third weekend of the month there is the antique fair in the main Piazza of Ascoli Piceno.

I love the antique markets in Italy, but I don’t get to go as often as I’d like to, weekends always seem to be so busy.

This month however, I was determined to go. I needed to start browsing for our next project, Villa Veneto.  I had it all planned out, be on the road by 12.30 and home again around 6pm, just as the light is fading. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but I find it more and more difficult to drive in the dark.  I crawl along like an old granny, nose pressed against the windscreen, blinded by those dreadful neon headlights.

I asked my friend Eddie if she wanted to come along too, she loves to see what I’m buying but always makes a hasty retreat when I start my negotiation with the stall holder! I also wanted her to take some photos and video footage, she’s becoming quite the professional.

We set off at 1.45pm, not a great start, but there wasn’t too much traffic around, the Italians were all still eating. Ascoli Piceno is a great place, but I have never entered or exited the same way.  

Those of you who have read my previous blogs are familiar with my sense of direction, it’s not great, well, none existent really, but this time I really thought I had cracked it.  After a slight detour, I parked in a resident only space, where we were politely asked to leave and directed to another car park by a lovely man and his dog. When someone kindly gives me directions, I repeat them back, thank them and head off. Then something strange happens, I make the first turning, no problem and then my mind goes blank, was it left or right at the church, straight across at the traffic lights? We never found the carpark but as we were heading along the one way system for the second time, Eddie spotted a free parking space on a small side street.  I impressed myself by doing the perfect parallel parking and without the help of a friendly local holding up the traffic and guiding me in. This scenario always brings me out in a cold sweat.

We headed straight for Piazza Popolo, with its impressive architecture and travertine floors, one of the most impressive towns in Le Marche and the perfect place to browse antiques.

We stopped off at Café Meletti for a light lunch and a glass of wine. The weather was warm, and we sat outside….. a wonderful place to people watch and check out the stalls from a distance.

I noticed some interesting pieces of furniture and we quickly paid the bill and headed straight for a pair of liberty period chairs. I had bought a few pieces from this trader before and he always has a great eclectic mix of furniture.  On closer inspection, the chairs were just what I was looking for, elegant comfy and velvet, with nice button detailing on the back. A couple of liberty glass wall lights also caught my eye. They were in great condition and would be perfect in one of Villa Veneto’s bathrooms, either side of a mirror.  A small circular wooden table was hidden at the back of the stall. It was the ideal size to place between the two velvet chairs in the entrance hall.

I arranged for Fabrizio to deliver the furniture the following week and we set off again to explore the other stalls.

I lose all sense of time while strolling round antique markets. I have learnt over the years to scan each stall, look a little closer and then dive in, checking to see if the mirrors are bevelled, turning chairs upside down to see if the seat is falling out underneath and counting the crystal drops on the chandeliers.

I saw a beautiful wall clock laying on a table. The stall holder was extremely enthusiastic about its chime but didn’t seem to be able to find the key to wind it up.  I told him I would return in half an hour to check it out. I found a beautiful sideboard with ornate detailing, and although I tried to convince myself this piece could work in the dining room, I knew in my heart it was too big and heavy to work in this elegant Villa.

We headed back to hear the clock chime. To my surprise, it was all packed up and ready to go. I looked a little puzzled, but he assured me everything was good. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it until I heard it chime. He unwrapped it and fumbled around with the key….. it didn’t fit, he tried to force it. Obviously, it wasn’t the right key.  I thanked him and moved along to the next stall.

A lovely liberty style lamp wearing a hideous shade was looking at me, I moved closer. Although quite old it was in good condition and had nice dimensions.  I work with a local artisan who makes wonderful lampshades in every size, shape and colour and knew he could make something more in keeping with the base. It was very heavy, so I paid for it and arranged to collect it later.

I spotted a couple of small chairs, covered in a sickly yellow, aged fabric, but the shape and the slender black legs were interesting. They both needed a little TLC and recovering but would be ideal to place in a couple of the bedrooms. I knew just the person to reupholster them. I have worked with Fabrizio for years, recovering chairs, sofas and headboards of all different shapes and sizes.  I bought the chairs and suddenly realised unless someone had kindly hitched up a trailer to my car, I couldn’t buy anything else, we were full.

We set off to find the car, balancing chairs, mirrors and lamps between us. Time had flown by and it was now dark, not a problem I confidently announced to Eddie, I remember the way home.  We set off along the one-way system and saw the green road sign for the A14. A slightly longer route, but almost in a straight line.  

We chatted away in the car, happy with our purchases and adding more to the wish list. We drove on for about twenty minutes, we were still in the centre of Ascoli, which we must have circled several times.  I assured Eddie we would behome soon. I can’t really explain what happened next, one minute we were in a busy town and then we were literally in the middle of nowhere. I must have found a short, cross country route.  Up and up we went, Eddie looked a little worried, the sat nav had given up and we didn’t have a phone signal. It was pitch black, not a flicker of light to be seen, or any other vehicles on the road. We bounced off the tarmac onto a white gravel road and still we were going up.  Eddie looked a little pale, maybe it was altitude sickness, I opened the window, but it didn’t seem to help. I was trying to play it cool, but I did get a little worried when I saw a signpost for Rome.

To cut a very long car journey short we arrived home two hours later than we should have.

Another adventure over and we had a car full of treasures for Villa Veneto. We were ready for a glass of wine.

Please contact Dawn for more information on Villa Veneto and their special pre-launch price. /


Visions for Villa Veneto – Dawn’s Story

The search for our next project came quite out of the blue. We were just contemplating when, where and what type of property we wanted to add to the expanding Appassionata portfolio.

A phone call that afternoon from our local estate agent suggested we should meet up, he had recently come across a few properties that might be of interest to us. Over the years we have become good friends, he knows how fussy I am and patiently drives me around the region and waits for my reaction, sometimes I don’t even get out of the car!

I am like a child on Christmas morning when it comes to looking at property possibilities. I love the thrill and excitement of the search, finding ‘the one’. The place that ticks all the boxes, has the ‘wow’ factor, and most importantly the ‘one’ that just feels right. When I walk through a property for the first time I like to walk alone, in silence, and absorb everything around me.

We viewed a few properties the following morning, a mixture of restored and partially restored farmhouses. All were in great locations, but the quality of the restoration was poor. We didn’t know the engineer or builders who completed the work, which was a concern. Often the extra work involved in redoing shoddy workmanship is very fiddly, time-consuming and expensive on a restored property.

We stopped off for a light lunch and a glass of ‘pick me up’ prosecco to refresh and regroup.

We headed down towards the coast, to Lapedona, a lovely medieval town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. I love Lapedona, famous for its classical music festivals during the summer months and the restaurant Didicus, serving some of Italy’s poshest pizza’s.

We parked up in one of the small Piazza’s in the historic centre of the town, opposite an ancient three-tiered fountain.  We took a short walk along the cobbled streets and I glanced up ahead and fixed my eyes on the beautiful detailed brickwork of a Liberty Villa.  

The house was previously owned by the former wife of Diego della Valle, the creator of the luxury brands Tods, Hogan and Fay, based here in Le Marche. The house hadn’t been lived in for several years.

The agent opened the door and it was love at first sight. The house had been restored by a highly respected building team, engineer and architect we had worked with before.

The heady height of the ceilings and the winter sunlight dancing across the beautiful floor tiles in the hallway, made me smile and nod my head.  Tall elegant doors led into the large, open, living space. The marble fireplace and parquet wooden floor lit up as we threw open the shutters. This definitely had the wow factor and my stomach was performing backflips, the visions were endless, and I had only seen two rooms.

The intricate black wrought iron railings and gentle stone steps lead up to the kitchen, added to the overall elegance of the space.  The kitchen was quite small and separate from the living space. It’s a standing joke with our building team….I always find a wall or two to knock down somewhere.  Here it was, the wall connecting the kitchen and living area was crying out to be removed. A flowing living, dining and kitchen space, ideal for entertaining, was needed here.

Upstairs, the three bedrooms and two bathrooms were all good sizes, they needed updating, redecorating, a little TLC and some fabulous furnishings.

We opened the French doors leading from the master bedroom onto the first of three terraces.

I made a promise never to become too nonchalant about the views in Le Marche. We are surrounded with the most amazing vistas. This view was stunning, the sea felt so close you could almost reach out and touch it.  Rolling hills dotted with olive trees and the air was divine.

The terrace walls needed repointing, and the floor tiles were grubby with moss and dirt. The drainpipe was hanging off the wall and all the windows and shutters needed a good sand and a few coats of paint. I had a strong vision of the finished space, with large terracotta tubs and vases filled with an assortment of brightly coloured cascading plants. A dining table at one end, with a bbq close at hand and a lovely L shaped sofa with comfy cushions to curl up on with and a good book.

The third bedroom also had its own terrace, overlooking the Piazza. This one also needed some TLC, but an ideal space for a bistro table and chairs and red geraniums. I could imagine our owners sitting here and enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning. A delightful spiral staircase led us up to the rooftop terrace.  I have seen many, many wonderful views in Le Marche, but even I wasn’t prepared for this one. I can think of many words to describe this vantage point, but I could never do it credit. You have to see it to believe it. 360-degree view of mountains, hills and sea whilst standing on a roof terrace reaching into the sky… in a beautiful medieval town.

A private solarium, ideal for soaking up the rays and leaving behind the stress and worry of daily life.  I have never been a fan of the hot tub and this property was so close to the sea, a daily dip in the Adriatic followed by a delicious lunch on the beach would be my choice. But our owners deserve another wow factor and if I could find an elegantly designed spa this would be the ideal place to relax, with a glass of chilled prosecco close at hand.  

We headed back downstairs to the entrance hall. There was a strange, custom built bench sitting to the left of another staircase leading down to another floor. I mentally removed this hideous piece of furniture with it’s 80’s floral fabric seats and replaced it with the beautiful iron railings upstairs. Yes, that would work, and the house would flow more easily.

As we walked downstairs, I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers, for windows and natural light, otherwise, this space wouldn’t work.  I breathed a sigh of relief, this was a great space, with lots of natural light! Another good size bathroom, a great utility room and a spacious corridor leading into two further rooms, unrestored but with lots of possibilities. Another living room, with TV, desk and sofa bed for extra guests? A games room, pool table?  We had recently returned from a family holiday and most evenings we had enjoyed happy hour with a cocktail and a game of pool. A great game for all ages, although it did get rather competitive amongst the male members of the family.

A tall wrought iron gate led off one of the rooms, but it was so dark we couldn’t see anything.  We all turned on our torches and waited for our eyes to adjust. The dim spot lights lit up a long narrow cellar with interesting old brickwork and detailed recesses. This was incredible, another wow factor.The area needed lots of work, bricks replaced, walls repointed and a new floor. A carefully thought out lighting design, to make the most of this special space would be key.

I walked back up to the top of the cellar and noticed the light from the other torches washing up the ancient brickwork.  This could make a wonderful cantina, wine cellar. Each of our owners could have their own section for their wine. We could start off their collection and gift each owner a selection of wines from the boutique vineyards of Le Marche.

I glanced over my shoulder and noticed some large orange cardboard boxes with the Tods logo neatly inscribed. I slowly lifted the lid of each one, hoping to see a beautiful pair of Tods boots in my size, sadly each box was empty….

The agent asked my thoughts on the property, I nonchalantly replied there was an awful lot of work to do and I would need a few days to think about it!

I just couldn’t believe it, what a find. I had always dreamt of finding and restoring a liberty villa and here it was. The perfect size property with amazing outside space in a lovely town, so close to the beach.

The adventure begins, sleepless nights of visions, colours, furnishings and all things fabulous. I put my heart and soul into all our projects, it’s the only way I can work. I restore each property as if it was my own. I love to watch each room evolve and come back to life, carefully choosing each item to compliment the age of the building.  

I hope you will enjoy sharing this unique restoration journey with me over the coming months. The stress and strain, laughter and fun and plenty of wine!

For more information on Le Marche and fractional ownership opportunities with Appassionata’s Italian lifestyle brand go to , or contact Dawn directly at