This American couple shakes hands to buy a 400-year-old Italian tower

(CNN) — Erin and Tom White were in love with Italy before they fell in love.

The American couple, who have been married for about 18 years, spend a lot of time in the European country, both together and apart, with Erin often returning for a month.

“I’m passionate about Italy,” Erin told CNN Travel. “I made a lot of Italian friends all over the country.”

The Boulder, Colorado, couple had long dreamed of buying a home in Italy, looking longingly at real estate store windows during multiple visits.

But it wasn’t until 2016 that they became interested in the possibility, focusing their attention on an area near the Susa Valley in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

After about a year of active searching, Tom, a former extreme sports enthusiast, saw an advert online for the conversion of a 400-year-old tower in the medieval village of Ecclesias into a holiday home, which piqued his interest.

italian dream

italian tower renovation

Tom and Aileen White purchased a house in 2017 in the Italian village of Exilles. Photo credit: Tom Winter

Since he was not given any address, he decided to travel to Exilles, about a drive from Turin, to try and find the property in person.

Upon arrival, Tom was immediately impressed by the small town of approximately 250 residents and quickly found this unusual home.

After talking to some locals, he found the owners and began convincing them to sell the property to him.

“They welcomed us the next day, we shook hands and bought the house,” explained Erin, who runs a real estate consultancy.

They bought the tower in October 2017 for €19,000 (approximately $21,000).

The couple said they encountered some hiccups during the sale, particularly in opening an Italian bank account, but overcame the hurdle with the help of an Italian lawyer.

After the sale was completed in early 2018, Tom flew to Italy, “picked up the keys while eating pizza in Turin” and set about transforming the four-story house into a retreat suitable for him and Eileen.

“I arrived in the middle of a snowstorm and everything was gray and dark,” he said. “The town was lively in the summer, but quiet in the winter. I fell into a strange kind of despair,[I thought]’Oh my God, what have I done?'”

Fortunately, a visit from a friend lifted her spirits, and she focused on ripping out the old carpet and linoleum and cleaning the house in preparation for renovations.

“The old kerosene stove worked for about five minutes,” he recalled.

“A magical place”

Excellesta, Italy

The couple said the local Exilles community welcomed them “like family”.Photo credit: Tom Winter

When Irene arrived, the couple found the project’s architect, and they soon met locals who were surprised by their choice to buy a house in Excelsior, near the Grand Bosco National Park.

“The big question is, ‘Why are they here?'” Erin explained. “It’s a real working town, people live off the land and there’s a lot of trade in vegetables, fruit and potatoes. They ask us why we come here. We tell them: ‘Because this is a magical place.'”

According to Winters, the renovation process took about six months and the total cost was about $94,000.

“It was more or less habitable in the beginning,” Tom explains. “But we modernized it and made it really beautiful.”

They transformed the first floor of the house into a large bathroom with shower and laundry room, where there had previously been only a small bathroom with a sink and toilet.

They also replaced the staircase with an open staircase to allow more light into the house and added a new hot water system powered by a pellet stove.

In addition, the Winters built a new kitchen with a balcony on the second floor of the house, while the old kitchen was converted into a living room.

“It’s a very small house,” Tom added. “There’s not a lot you can do. So it’s a pretty simple process compared to some of the projects people get involved in.”

Since they bought the property and named it Torre Piccolo, the couple has visited Piedmont four or five times a year, developing strong friendships in the town and said they have been welcomed with generosity.

“The people in town welcomed us like family,” says Erin, recalling how they were first known as the “American Lees.”

They have since purchased a second property in Exilles and say the strength of the community is a big part of the town’s appeal.

“Everyone has been so kind and patient with us,” Tom said. “They appreciate that we love Excellus. They are very proud of their town and rightfully so. It’s an interesting place surrounded by a beautiful balance of nature and it’s very well preserved. So they should Feel proud.”

The couple developed a close friendship with the house’s previous owner, who Irene calls one of her “closest friends in Italy.”

“Her son had just given birth and we went to visit her,” he added. “So the purchase resulted in a wonderful friendship.”

Since so few people in Excelsior spoke English, Erin and Tom put a lot of effort into learning English, signing up for a language immersion program at a language school.

However, the Winters admit that learning the language has become easier for Irene, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by locals.

“I told them I was going to language school for a few weeks,” Erin said of a recent conversation with some neighbors.

slower pace

italian tower renovation

The Winters spent about $94,000 renovating Torre Piccolo, a five-room building.Photo credit: Tom Winter

“The first question is, ‘Why doesn’t Tom go? He needs it more than you do.'”

As much as they love Exilles, the couple admits they have had to adjust to certain aspects of small-town Italian life.

“We’ve learned that if you go to the grocery store at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, it may be closed because the store has its own hours,” Erin said.

“Sometimes you go to a restaurant at eight o’clock at night and it’s closed because there’s a family birthday party. So you have to understand that and adapt to that.”

The Winters said the slower pace of life has helped them feel less “intense.”

“It’s a good adjustment. You learn to slow down and relax a little bit in the process,” Tom said. “It was so beautiful. We really lost touch when we went there.”

Although the Winters said they would love to spend half the year in Piedmont, they do not have long-term visas, and tourist visas can only stay 90 days at a time.

However, Tom thinks it will be a long time before they consider settling permanently in Italy, noting that they hope to keep their property in the United States.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said, adding that some things in Italian life would be “difficult” for them to deal with permanently.

“It’s difficult for me to be beholden to the famous Italian bureaucracy and the tax implications for us full-time. So the conversations we’re having are (about) how this is going to work.”

Currently, the Winters are planning to spend four to five months a year in Italy, saying they would love to bring their cats with them and spend more time growing plants in the garden.

Sometimes asked for advice by other American families who want to move to Italy, they say they always advise them to take their time to find the best destination for them, noting that while Excelsior is ideal for them choice, but “it just wasn’t for them.” Everyone. “world”.

“People find the dream of ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ very, very cool,” Erin said.

“So, if you dream of living in Provence. Or if you want to go somewhere in Tuscany or Spain, just do it. Don’t just talk about it. Make it happen. But I encourage people to seriously seek out your space .

Tom echoed the sentiment, stressing that while he wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a home on Handshake, he’s happy with how things turned out.

“It started as an idea (that we thought) might be interesting,” he said. “But what impressed us most was what an investment it was in our souls. How friendly the people were. The return on the investment was the human experience. It exceeded all our expectations.”

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