Spring Planning in the Garden

Spring Planning in the Garden

I finally feel we’re coming to the end of a very long winter. Although we’ve still got to see February out – and this is the month when for the past four years, we’ve had snowfall in Istria – there are signs of spring. The bulbs we planted around the base of a big tree and along the side of the house are beginning to push up through the soil. Tiny buds are appearing on the branches of the trees. Birdsong is much more in evidence. The days are most definitely getting longer. And we feel ourselves, that we are beginning to uncurl, stretch and slowly start to come out of our hibernation, beneath furry throws on the sofa and bed. So, although the temperature has just plummeted – a thick covering of ice has formed over the water in the butts – we decided to brave the cold and get out into the garden this afternoon. Although we are selling the house, we keep remembering it is still our full time home and so we will continue to improve it and keep making it as beautiful as it can be, so that we can still enjoy living here.

The Mini Orchard

This sounds rather grand, but in reality it’s currently a collection of potted fruit trees. However, come the spring, we hope it will look a lot more plentiful. We’ve tidied the little patch of communally owned land to the side of the abandoned house we purchased from a neighbour. With hindsight, we maybe should have also pursued the purchase of this parcel of land, but we didn’t – however, no-one has taken any real responsibility for it, so for very little expenditure we’ve started to improve it. It was cleared of rubble and weeds and vines, which were knotted through the soil, last autumn and covered with thick sheeting to prevent weed regrowth. When we cleared it, we also uncovered a bay tree, which we’d never noticed before – this is now thriving and the smell is wonderful. Perfect for picking for the kitchen. The ground has now been covered with reddish-brown bark chippings, and we’ve continued the little stone wall, so that it now an enclosed piece of land. As the land doesn’t belong to us, we didn’t want to go the expense of doing anything permanent – and what we have done, we’ll likely take away, as the plants are all in pots. But, so far, with potted bamboos, a cherry tree and a couple of apple trees, as well as our potted Norwegian pine from Christmas and the unexpected bay tree, it’s beginning to look quite lovely.

Obviously, it’s going to take a while for those trees to bear fruits, but we’re hoping that with the addition of two or three more sapling trees, come spring, we’ll have some foliage going on. A few pots of bulbs will also be spread around to add a few pops of colour, to what was a seriously neglected piece of land.

The Lavender Patch

For anyone who’s been to visit, you’ll remember another scratty piece of land, which was behind the little wall, opposite our kitchen window. Again, communally owned and left to its own devices – but in the summer, our hammock is hung between two trees at the little wall and so this area is to your right and has always been on our “to-do” list. Well, we’re now doing it and are hopeful that come the summer, it’ll be filled with the aroma of lavender and butterflies. We’re a bit of a way off that lovely scene, but today we did make a start…


The trees in this little copse are quite spindly without leaves and are pretty gnarled and twisted. Vines and brambles wind around the base of them and it’s all been a bit of a mess. So. in the autumn, we started the clearance and put down thick black sheeting again, to prevent regrowth of weeds and to keep the thick, red soil as dry as possible. Today, a couple of the trees which were in the worst condition were cut down (good wood and kindling to dry out for next year) and the area cleared of ground level vines. This weekend, big wooden sleepers will be sourced and cut to size to make a bed, which will be filled with soil and planted up with a variety of lavender plants. Around it, the idea is to plant bluebells (or similar), so that we can create a little magical wooded copse. Last summer, strings of blue and grey bauble lights were threaded through the trees – you can see a couple of the strings which were never taken down – and looked so pretty, that more of these will be installed.

It’s hard to imagine right now that these two areas around the house, will become real features. In my head, they look magical and ethereal – let’s see if my vision comes to life…




The Start of Something New

The Start of Something New

2020, as everyone knows, was a pretty unbelievable year, all round. If someone had told me the following, in January 2020, I’d have thought they were daft:

  • that we’d have to have official travel permits to drive to the supermarket
  • that wearing a mask would become the norm
  • that apart from a couple of local people, we’d see NO-ONE else socially the whole year
  • that we could count the number of meals we had out, on one hand – we had three
  • that apart from a night in Rijeka in January, we’d not be away from our house for the whole year
  • that we could not make the very easy trips to Slovenia and Italy – usually a once a week occurence, if not more
  • that we would have absolutely no visitors at all, for a whole year
  • that we could not make the annual roadtrip back to the UK at Christmas to be with family and friends
  • that Zoom would become our lifeline
  • that we would put our house on the market and begin the renovation of another property…

All of these points sound incredibly mad, but perhaps the last one, most of all, because yes folks, in the middle of a global pandemic we did actually embark on a house sale and purchase. When we viewed the property which will become our next renovation, it was when the world was “normal” and the viewing (and subsequent ones) set us off on a path it was hard to get off. This new property was potentially everything we had ever wanted – it had a view, it was near amenities, it was where friends lived, it was huge, it would enable us to have proper open plan living, and it was affordable. And all things considered, meant that we decided to sell up and go for it. Then the pandemic took hold.

To cut a long story short, our house is still on the market because interested potential buyers cannot easily travel to view the property and with COVID, we don’t feel it is appropriate to be doing viewings anyway. However, the guy who owned the property did want to sell it to us and so the upshot is, we are leasing it until our house sells. We have a contract in place, which allows us to begin doing work to the property – we could renovate it fully, if we wanted to, but until ours sells, we won’t be able to go at it hammer & tongs, as we need to free up the capital. However, with a strong contract in place, which was thrashed out between solicitors, we feel in a very fortunate position. We still have our warm, cosy, renovated property to return to but can begin the initial clearing of the new property.

It was, quite a long time ago, a commercial unit, where a printing business operated – hence the name we’ve chosen for it. The Printworks. It had been up for sale for quite a long and was full of machinery and the mess of a long abandoned business, but fortunately for us, the vendor agreed to clear it before we signed the documents. Pre-signing, this was what it looked like…

I know. Just. Awful! But, after having imagined for so long how it could eventually look, we were able see beyond and through the horror show and we weren’t daunted by the project that lay ahead. Having already renovated a property in Istria, albeit not on this scale, we also felt we were in a much stronger position than we had been four years ago, when we knew nothing and no-one. So, we said good-bye to 2020 with leases and pre-contracts signed, and got the keys to the property. A nice way to end a not-so-nice year.

The property is on one level and is kind of rectangular in shape. Although we have a very clear idea about what we want it to eventually look like, we will be involving architects as we want to ensure that we can actually do what we want to do – and to take their professional advice. We are working to a strict budget at the moment, and so we are doing as much of the preparatory work as possible, ourselves. Where we can remove walls, we’re removing them ourselves, and this is what has been the main focus recently. Two small rooms were divided by a wall which didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so it was pretty obvious this wasn’t a supporting wall and this has now been knocked down and the larger space we have now opened up will eventually become one of three en-suite bedrooms.

The first task was to rip up the mock parquet linoleum and remove the main internal UPVC doors and frames so that we could begin to assess the space we were starting to play with. The lino came up pleasingly easily and we were very relieved to find solid concrete floors underneath. Hopefully, a starting point for the eventual laying of underfloor heating – and if not, at least we won’t be worrying about wrecking wooden floors as the work progresses.

All of the UPVC frames are white and are all actually in really good condition. However, all of the windows are at the front of the house and to maximise on light and space, we think that most of the windows (and certainly the ones in the three bedrooms) will be widened and sliding glass doors fitted. However, we wanted to see what the frames would be like in an anthracite colour and so did a quick spray paint job, touching up the walls around in white to see the contrast. What an immediate difference! The darker frame, quite literally, framed the view and there and then the decision was made – whatever the windows were going to be like, the frames were going to be dark. I cannot wait for the summer when everything is vibrant green outside and we’ll see for definite what inky frames will look like.

So, this week’s demolition has involved knocking down the partition wall between the two small rooms, to begin creating a larger space, which will hopefully become one of three (simple) ensuite bathrooms. As I said earlier, we knew we were OK with demolishing this wall as it didn’t go to the ceiling. Despite one of the rooms having a toilet in it…

Today, this wall was finally down – it’s been a bit too chilly to work on the house recently. And, to be honest, we’d have been mad to leave a fully renovated, fully working and very warm house to work on our new project. However, the sun returned today and the wall was dealt with…

The plan is to have a corridor that runs along the rear of the three bedrooms (behind the wall where the toilet is currently situated) and have access to the rooms off this corridor. The walls that currently block off the views (to the left of this photo) will be demolished and the dividing walls extended to the front of the house. By doing this, all three rooms will have uninterrupted views. We’re hoping to install sliding glass doors in each room, instead of the windows which are there now – and each set of doors will hopefully lead out onto a balcony which will run along the length of the front of the house. Because of the incline that the property is built on, the bedrooms are much higher up from the road and so a long balcony will still be private.

Two of the bedrooms will be guest rooms and will be similar in size and design. Both will have simple – but beautiful – ensuites, and as we have plumbing already in, the job will hopefully be easier than starting it all from scratch. We envisage the ensuites being back to back to further cut down on plumbing problems.

The work has definitely started, but once we’ve done the clearance we can do, it’ll be over to the professionals. We need the electrics to be looked at – and we’re preparing ourselves for a complete overhaul in this department, especially as we want this house to be as intuitive as possible. We need architects to help us with the plans. And we obviously need to start the investigation into the boundaries again. Although at least this time, we know what to do and what to expect. It’s been a long time in the planning and we’re very happy that in the midst of everything that is going on, we have a renovation project to keep us occupied. Think we’ll definitely be kept busy…








It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

Ah, Christmas Eve. Snuggled up on the sofa, the woodburner roaring away, lights twinkling, candles flickering, the scent of mulled wine filling the room as we wrap gifts and eat chocolates and watch festive films. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s certainly what our plans were on the morning of the 24th, having done the last of the chores and put fresh new bedding on, with the washing machine humming away, in the background. Luckily, we needed something from the outside cellar – if we hadn’t, what next unfolded could have been so much worse, as it would probably have been well after Christmas when we next went into it. It was at this point, I heard the words I didn’t really want to hear on Christmas Eve – “I think we have a leak…

It did certainly appear that we did – the floor was wet. The first thought was that the new boiler might have sprung a leak – but all the piping was dry and there was nothing dripping. We had had very heavy rains and we wondered if perhaps the strong winds had blown the rain under the door – but it was dry around the door. We were perplexed as we just couldn’t see where the water was coming from. The floor of this cellar room is concrete and in the centre we have interlocking black gym mats – and suddenly we started to see water coming up through the joins. We pulled them back – and we don’t recall ever noticing this before – and saw that water was indeed coming up through the sides of a concrete cover. This was opened – and there was the problem. The washing machine was on its spin cycle and the water wasn’t draining effectively. The level did drop slightly, but not sufficiently and so we knew there was a blockage – and we realised that this drain led to the septic tank outside, and the thought of having an issue with that over Christmas meant we had to act. Fast.

We knew there was no chance of getting anyone out on Christmas Eve, but did work out that our refuse company also empty septic tanks, but they wouldn’t be able to come out until possibly after New Year, so there was only one thing for it. One of us had to roll up our sleeves and armed with a bucket and a big can, start emptying the chamber…

I shall spare you the details, but it soon became very, very apparent that it wasn’t just the washing machine water which was causing the problem. As the level of the water dropped, due to it being emptied manually, we could see that the pipe which fed into the main chamber, under the patio, was blocked, meaning that what was going into the small chamber in the cellar – everything from the dishwasher, shower, sink, washing machine, bath, toilets – wasn’t draining correctly and so was slowly starting to back up. Like I say, if we hadn’t ventured into the cellar on Christmas Eve, I dread to think what would have greeted us next time we went in! The decision was made to then investigate the main chamber under the patio.

When we bought the house, we asked the pertinent questions you would probably ask about a septic tank, never having had one before – and we were assured that we wouldn’t even need to think about it for about ten years. I, in particular, liked that answer, and so we haven’t really thought about it. A quick google search however – which in hindsight, I should have done when we moved in – indicated that domestic septic tanks should be emptied around every 3-4 years. We’ve lived here four years…

So, Christmas Eve afternoon, we’re in the garden. It’s icy cold, rainy, windy and the cover is off the septic tank. A quick peer inside told us that we needed to get the pipe unblocked pretty quickly – without plumbing rods, and nowhere to buy them from this close to Xmas, we had to use the first thing to hand. Let’s just say one of the garden umbrellas will need to be replaced come spring time 🤢 Luckily, one of us has a much stronger constitution than the other, and the gross task was tackled – and thankfully, we soon had water running much more freely. We knew that we hadn’t resolved it, but at least we’d bought ourselves a little bit of time over Xmas. Although, we definitely considered the implications of using any appliances etc and really tried to keep everything – and I do mean everything – to a minimum.

So, how do you sort a blocked septic tank in Istria?

Luckily, we’ve found out, so the new owners of our home can be rest assured that all is sorted, and we can advise what to do and who to go to. It is indeed our local refuse company – although it took a bit of persistence to get someone to assist, as emails and calls were going largely unanswered. Maybe because it was just after New Year, maybe not, because in our experience you have to be very teancious in your dealings with utilities companies who don’t seem to possess high levels of customer service skills. However, we did finally crack it. An invoice was emailed – as I didn’t know if our septic tank was considered large or small, I went for the large option, as I knew if I’d paid for a small tank to be emptied and we had a large one, the process would have to start all over again – and was paid immediately. Then, silence. Nothing. Nada. Not even an acknowledgment of payment. The phone number I had been given to find out a date for clearance, would ring once then I’d get the “User busy” message. This went on for a good few days and just as I was about to implode, I got a call. The lorry was on its way! As happens here – you rarely get a time, even an approximation. You just need to be prepared. And of course, at home.

I can honestly say, I’ve never been as relieved to see a big orange lorry. Within half an hour, we were all unblocked and it was nowhere as horrific as I had thought it might be. Nor was it anywhere near as expensive as I thought it would be. I suppose we still compare things with UK prices, and so we’d thought that for a job like this – where they do kind of have you over a barrel as it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to do it yourself – we’d be paying at least €200. Not a bit of it! €40 – result! The guys who did the work were quick and efficient and spoke perfect English – always a bonus when you are trying to establish the workings of something quite technical, and they definitely deserved the couple of bottles of wine we gave them as a small thank you.

So, a Christmas Eve was not quite as we imagined and a festive couple of weeks followed, being very careful about what entered the septic tank, but all’s well that ends well. The tank is now cleared and although we won’t be giving the advice we were given about the tanks, we think the orange lorry may not be needed for a couple of years at least. And, whoever becomes the new owner, will at least have all of the necessary contact details to hand. They’ll just need to sit tight until the lorry arrives, and not leave the house…




New Year, New Project

New Year, New Project

Almost four years to the day, since we bought our first renovation project in Istria, we have the next one within our sights. I think we have always known that the stone house was never going to be the house. We have been so happy in it and we’ve worked so hard to transform it from a cold, dark shell into a vibrant, contemporary, warm and stylish home. But sometimes you can only take things so far and you know that it’s time to move on. And that has happened to us.

We’ve found a very, very different property to be our next project. It’s not a traditional stone house. In fact, it’s currently not even a house. It’s a single storey, old industrial unit, with a corrugated metal roof. It’s also, in terms of floor space, huge. Much, much bigger than anything we’ve ever lived in before.

Although we have very clear ideas about what we want to do with this property, we’re going to take professional advice. When we renovated our stone house, the structure was essentially in place, and without spending money we didn’t really have, what we did was essentially dictated by this structure. It’s different this time though, as once the initial work is done, what we’ll have will be four walls and a roof and a floor. How exciting is that?

If you want to follow the renovation journey, you can do so on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. We’d love to see you there.

And, if you fancy joining us in our Istrian adventure, you could become the new owners of our beautifully renovated stone house


Creating a Car Park

Creating a Car Park

We’ve never had a garden big enough to accommodate our cars. In every house we’ve lived in, parking has always been outside, on the street. Apart from having to usually fight for parking space outside our house in West Didsbury, we’ve never really considered parking. Until now.

When we moved into the house, we had a big elderflower tree and a grassed area. The shovels and spades etc were being used to mark out what we thought might be a pool – that was knocked on the head pretty quickly! Cars used to be parked along the side of the house, but the grassed area there was starting to become worn, so we decided to use the grassed area below. The tree wasn’t very healthy so it was removed and we then had somewhere better to park the cars.

However, over the three and half years we have been here, this area has become more and more messy. Constant driving across it meant that the grass all but disappeared – although hardy weeds survived. With much building work going on in the house, lorries would often park up here, to drop off sand or stone or wood, and so the soil would be constantly getting churned up. And the soil we have here is thick, rich red soil, which, when it’s rained, is like clay. Looks lovely in the fields, not so much when dragged through the house on the soles of your shoes. So, a decision was recently made. The area was going to be sorted. With the house up for sale, it was another project on the list of jobs we wanted to do to ensure that our home was looking her very best.

Like all jobs we attempt ourselves, we grossly underestimated both how long it would take and how difficult it would be. But, you live and learn.

The first attempt involved the purchasing of a lot of flagstones – these were pretty inexpensive and we figured with a bit of leveling of the soil and plastic sheeting, we’d be good to go.

Of course, first rookie error – we didn’t think it through, because we wanted a hard surface down quickly, before the winter rain arrived – was that as soon the cars were driven onto the flags, some of then cracked immediately. We hadn’t really dug down and embedded them, so we had to have a rethink. Concrete was an option which we considered, but however we did it, it was agreed that the digging had to commence so that we could make the area as level as possible. And again, we didn’t think this through. With a wheelbarrow and a pick axe, we thought it would take a couple of hours or so – but how wrong we were…

We soon discovered where the outbuilding, which had been demolished before we bought the house, had gone. Buried. Under the soil. From slates to huge corner stones, the outbuilding was still there…

We quickly figured that we’d still be digging this time next year and that we needed a bit of advice. Working with our builder it was decided that a digger was needed and that the best solution, once the area was flattened, would be to backfill with a mix of stone and sand, compressed with a proper machine and then a top layer of Istrian stone chippings put down. This sounded like the perfect solution and all was arranged.

A full lorry load of rubble and soil was excavated and taken away, although we did retain some of the more beautiful stones as we had an idea for a wall…

Very early, on a very cold Saturday morning in later November, the first delivery arrived and not long after, with some good rake action, the area was covered, and the cars were driven back and forth to begin the process of compressing the material.

One of the things which has delighted us the most about doing this work, is that the excavation has now properly revealed the curved edges of the patio. Once this is repainted in the spring, it will definitely come into its own.

To finish this part of the job off properly, a machine was used to totally flatten the stones and when done, we had the hard area we’ve been wanting. And no more red soil.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the delivery of the top stones – beautiful milky white Istrian stone chippings.

And, within a couple of hours, it was done. What a transformation, for relatively little cost and done much more quickly than us attempting it with a pick axe and a shovel. The stones we’d saved were used to create a little wall at the front of our property, to finish things off. Heather plants and pink oleanders – which we hope will burst into colour, in the spring – create something more visual and definitely enhance the entrance to the garden now.

We are delighted with the finished result. No more trailing mud into the house and with a specific area for the cars, the garden just seems so much more complete. Depending on how long we are here for, the plan will be to maybe construct a pergola over this area, which will be planted up with climbers. But, that may be something for the new owners…

Our house for sale can be viewed here.
Green Wall Maintenance

Green Wall Maintenance

If you’re a follower of what we’re up to, you’ll know that our renovated stone house in Istria, is currently for sale. You might also know that we have a very unusual feature in our front garden. We are right next to an abandoned house and one of its walls forms one of our garden walls. Now, this might sound alarming – and I have to say if we were living back in the UK, the thought of being adjoined to an abandoned house, would fill me with fear. But abandoned houses in Istria are part and parcel of the landscape. These buildings were once family homes – dwellings – and all have fallen into disrepair because families either escaped or were forcibly removed, depending upon the regime they were living under at the time. Many are now being renovated and restored, as descendants lay claim to them or as sympathetic buyers bring life back to them. A lot, though, have multiple owners, often scattered around the world, and Croatian property laws dictate that every single living owner has to consent to the sale, so some are destined to probably never be purchased/renovated. The one next to us, is one such property. It has seventeen owners – we know this for definite as all had to be contacted when we were establishing our boundaries – and some of these owners live in America, some in Australia, a couple in the village and most places in between! So, one thing’s for sure – it’s not going to be sold any time soon.

So, what we do have, is a very, very unique boundary wall, which is covered in ivy and vines. It is an absolute haven for bees and butterflies and birds, and so we have “adopted” the Green Wall. We take responsibility for its upkeep and ensuring that it is kept cut back. The ivy is very heavy and although the strong, thick vines keep it in place, we don’t want to risk it being pulled down with the weight. There are windows (without glass) in this wall, and we always ensure that these are uncovered, because when the sunlight streams through them into our garden, it is beautiful, and we don’t want these to be obscured any more.

But, you do need a head for heights to do the big, once a year, chop back. Or a friend with a head for heights. And we have one of these. And he came to visit with his extendable ladder, a few weeks ago. All of the vines which were beginning to work their way into our roof tiles, were removed and the cracked roof tiles we discovered were replaced, mortared and sealed. This year, we actually had the vines cut well away from our house – there’s now a space of over a metre where there are no vines at all, so we’re hopefully all OK until next summer. The guttering at this side of the house was all cleaned out, too.

Next job was to completely cut back the bulk of the outgrowing ivy – we’re always a bit reluctant to do this, because the bees and butterflies do love it, but we can’t just let it grow wild. Tied onto the very long ladder, our friend chopped it all back – and to get to the highest branches, he unstrapped himself and walked along the top ledge, chopping away as he walked. Health & safety is shall we say, a little less stringent than in the UK…

We left the smaller wall to the right and just trimmed the ivy here, rather than cut it all back at this stage, as we still wanted the berries for the birds, and the late flowers for the bees and butterflies. It’s late October now, but still warm enough during the day for them to all be buzzing around.

So, that’s one of our big autumn jobs ticked off. In the past, when we had our little garden in West Didsbury, winter prep would largely consist of putting pots away and brushing leaves. It’s all a little bit more involved now, but once done, we can rest easy over the winter, knowing there’ll be no water ingress caused by leaves in the gutters or tiles being lifted because of ingrowing vines. It’s always a good day, too, when we know that the weight of the vines has been removed and that we’ll better growth next spring. Just need to get through the next few months of darker days, less vibrant foliage and no stretching out in the garden in warm sunshine…


Hello, October

Hello, October

So, our long, hot – but very strange – summer, has drawn to a close. As in previous years since we’ve been here, I’m sure we’ll still have days which are warm and sunny, but the intense heat of the sun has gone. Days are obviously getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. Our thoughts are definitely turning to getting the garden and the house, autumn/winter ready. All summer, the kitchen windows have been wide open and as they open internally, the shelf we put up last year, in the one that overlooks the front of the house, has been down. As it doesn’t seem likely that the window will be thrown wide open again until next year, the shelf is back in its place…

I want this shelf to bring colour into the kitchen. The room is painted in Farrow & Ball Hague Blue – walls and ceiling – and so in the winter, can be dark. I also didn’t want to go and buy more “stuff” so have searched around the house and repurposed old bottles I’ve kept, because I liked the colours or the shapes. The apothecary style gin bottle was spotted in Lidl – as cheap as chips and now very pretty, full of artificial orange berries. A rose lemonade bottle, sprayed gold, has taken on a new lease of life, rather than being condemned to the recycling bin. A cork bottle stopper, sprayed gold, makes a perfect candle stand for a collection of fat, squat candles I have – all, pleasingly, in autumn colours. I’ve also found that our potted basil plants seem to fare well in this window, and so the shelf has a *use* too – fresh basil leaves can just be plucked from the plants, which, surprisingly, given our track record with them, do seem to be thriving.

The window ledge was tiled over the summer and because it’s quite deep, it’s a good storage area. This year, we’ve gone a bit pumpkin mad, and it’s the perfect place for these autumnal beauties. The colours – oranges, yellows, greens, shades of blue – are gorgeous. Definitely too pretty to be hidden away in a cupboard. And they add to the joy of our autumnal window. A window which, until we renovated our kitchen, wasn’t even there…

The area outside the front door has also been tackled. Although we’ve painted the concrete pale blue, and the well was moved out here, we’ve not really done anything with it, to prettify up the front of the house. Well, we’ve made a start on making the entrance to the house just a little bit more attractive. The more delicate potted plants have been moved up onto the platform and now they create a much nicer scene outside the front door. Especially as the Virginia Creeper, which we planted quite late on in the summer, and so didn’t hold out too much hope for, is beginning to attach itself to the wall and turn red. The shutters to the kitchen side window are never closed, so hanging pots have been brought up here and twines of ivy have been round the bar. Plus some tiny lights which will twinkle away in the dark.

A sturdy willow wreath was sitting in the shed, basically asking for something to be done to it to make it a whole lot more attractive. A few lengths of artificial ivy, some orange leaves and russet berries did the trick, and the bare wreath is now resplendent in green and orange – and looking quite the autumnal thing, under the metal cattle skull. Very Istria.

As we have no plans to go anywhere very far this month, we’re making absolutely sure that our home (which is for sale, by the way), will be the cosiest it possibly can be. Looking forward to a winter of hygge inspiration…


The Shed Upcycle

The Shed Upcycle

It was back in May that we finally bought a shed and started the job of building it. We made the initial mistake of thinking we’d bought just a shed, like the B&Q one we used to have in our garden back in West Didsbury, which was functional, but a bit on the cheap and flimsy side. We thought that sheds in Istria were a bit pricey because this one definitely wasn’t cheap, but we went for it, because we were becoming frustrated with the search for somewhere that sold these. I’d spotted a beautiful image on Pinterest of how I imagined it might look, and the shape of the one we found was exactly the same, so the search was over.

However, once unpacked, we realised that what we had bought was actually what was known, in shed circles, as a Dutch Log Cabin – a much grander description, I thought 😉 Unfortunately, this particular cabin had to acclimatise and as such, all of the wooden components had to sit out for three days. Not good for someone as impatient as me! But, despite instructions being in Dutch, over the course of a week, we worked it out and soon we had the structure built. The wood was a lovely golden pine – much nicer than the floorboards we inherited and which we’ve only recently finished treating and making good – but we didn’t want pine. The external (and internal) woodwork in the house is a very soft pale blue and so we chose a complementary soft grey satinwood for external use. The bonus with this paint, was that we didn’t need to use undercoat. The tongue and groove wood was caulked inside the shed, for extra protection against the rain, and painted white. Two coats were necessary for the outside, but it was fast drying satinwood and after a couple of additional days painting, the shed was ready. To accessorise!

We couldn’t just be content with the shed, though, because the lovely new colour really showed up the cheap look concrete patio. I love a bit of concrete, but not this kind, and the decision was made that this would be painted, too. As the patio area is a high traffic area, we went for a specialist, waterproof (no undercoat needed) paint, which wasn’t the cheapest option, or the quickest option, but wow, what a difference when we were finished.

Yes, sorry, that is a big tub of cold water for feet and an electric fan outside! On the day this photo was taken, the temperature was mid-thirties and it was VERY hot!

But, a few days later, this was the scene in the garden – and this is where the shed has come into its own. In previous summers, when a storm was approaching, we’d be dragging garden stuff that we didn’t want to get wet, indoors. It would all sit in The Well Room, taking up lots of space, until the weather improved. Now, it’s all found a new home in the shed.

We didn’t buy the shed to use it as a “garden shed”, full of plants pots and garden tools etc. All of that is stored in the external cellar. This was specifically for the quick in and out storage of cushions, sunbed pads, candles, lights, the hammock, sun sails etc. And, so far, it’s been worth every penny (or kuna) we paid. A couple of sets of white metal shelves were bought and fixed to the back wall, so they didn’t topple over – these are perfect to slot in seat pads, cushions, the rolled up hammock and sun towels. Two or three wooden crates are used to keep things together, which we always need in the garden, but have always had to search around the house to find them – one crate for suncreams and mosquito sprays, one for citronella candles, lighters, battery operated lights, and a smaller one full of batteries, bbq lighters etc.

As well as providing great storage, the shed also now gives us privacy. We’ve potted up quite a few tall, thick bamboos and these now sit to either side of the shed, meaning that we don;t have to consider building a wall at the front of the house anymore. The BBQ will have a winter home, as will our wellies and umbrellas and general winter stuff we don’t want in the house. The quality of it is in no doubt, having had some very strong and ferocious summer storms – no leaking or water ingress and it’s solid. Who knew you could love a shed as much?



Then & Now

Then & Now

I’ve been sorting through hundreds and hundreds of online photos, from when we first viewed what was to become our home in Istria to now. To a couple of days ago, when weather stopped DIY play in the garden. We’ve been sorting because, as we have now decided to sell the house, we wanted to reflect on how far we’ve come. And boy, just house-wise, we’ve come a LONG way!

We’re not interior designers and we’re definitely not builders. We knew absolutely no-one when we landed here. Although we had recently renovated our house in West Didsbury, we had not a clue how to begin renovating a very different style of house in a completely new and unfamiliar country. But, needs must – and we realised pretty quickly that it we wanted some creature comforts around us, we just had to work it out. Looking at these before & afters, from around the house, we feel pretty proud of ourselves because we think we did work it out…


So called, because now, in the winter, it is so snug and cosy. But, as you can see, it wasn’t quite so snug when we moved in. This room is under the living room and was partially decorated – a couple of the walls had been plastered and painted but it was mostly in a very unfinished state, The stairs down into it were very precarious, to say the least. But – and this was a real positive – it was dry. Not a sign of damp, we knew we could make something of it. The installation of our Dovre woodburner (and new internal chimney) has made a huge difference to this room – especially on colder days. And, only very recently, we found out that this room used to be where the cattle were housed. Where the chimney is now, there used to be a huge arch with double doors, with a ramp leading in front of the garden area. The stairs weren’t there and it wasn’t open, up into the rest of the house. I wonder what the cows would make of it now?


The living room very dark, with much exposed stonework and even though it’s a large room, it felt claustrophobic. The dark furniture which we inherited, didn’t help. One of the first decisions we made was to get rid of all of the furniture -ours was on its way from Manchester – and to paint all of the walls and ceiling brilliant white, and the woodwork, a very soft pale blue. The pine floorboards were also painted, which really lifted the room. Eventually the wall opposite the grey sofa above was painted a deep, rich navy blue, as were the stairs, but we think we’ve still retained a feeling of space and lightness in this room.


Oh, my word. The kitchen! Although it was probably the most “complete” room in the house, it was also the one we wanted to tackle first.The units were ill-fitting, the floor tiles definitely not to our taste and the one window (to the right hand side) also poorly fitted – it wouldn’t open because the sink tap was in the way… This room had to be dealt with by the professionals – we had the kitchen designed and fitted by a company in Slovenia, and all the building/electrical work done by a small of team people we’ve got to know. *Networking* – absolutely key to build up a trusted group of people. Everything was ripped out of the kitchen, including that low, false ceiling, to reveal the original beams. New lighting was installed and new plumbing to accommodate the sink being moved to below the new window we had fitted. The room isn’t the largest, but we’ve accommodated everything we need, including a lovely new breakfast bar with integrated hob on the other side. Perfect for perching with a vino, while the other cooks 😉 Underfloor heating, new flooring and accent lighting finishes off the room, which we painted completely in Farrow & Ball Hague Blue. (We couldn’t squeeze in our condenser tumble dryer, but this is accommodated under the stairs down in The Snug, behind floor length curtains, and our old fridge freezer is in the outside cellar as an overspill).


Now, this was a curious room. The front door opens straight into this room and when we bought the house, it was a bit like an outdoor space, but indoors. The walls were exposed stone, the beams were rough and ready and the floor was big slabs of cold, Istrian stone. Plus, slap bang in the middle of the room, therefore making it completely unworkable as a space, was a stone well, with a big metal bucket, suspended by a chain and pulley, sitting on top of it, and used for drawing water. Yes, when the lid was lifted it was apparent that this was still potentially a working well, as it was full of water.

A big stone platform, against the rear wall, completed the cold, outside feeling of the room. The door to the right, led into a very dingy downstairs bathroom – meaning that all in all, this room wasn’t creating the best impression as the entrance to our new home. Things have been done gradually in this room, because of necessity it has been a makeshift kitchen, a storeroom, a work room and a place for dumping various builders’ tools and pieces of machinery. But we’ve reclaimed it and are delighted what we’ve achieved :

  • The well was drained over four days, and re-sited outside the front door, and the down-pipe diverted so it didn’t begin to fill again. Once the chamber was fully dry, LED lighting was installed underneath the rim of the hole in the floor and a triple glazed, reinforced safety glass cover fitted – strong enough to take weight. We don’t think about walking over it now, but it takes a bit of nerve initially!
  • Once the well was out of the way, we had space for a dining table and so had a concrete table built, in-situ.
  • The big stone platform was painted white, a wooden side built and foam pads used as a “seat”. Many cushions, throws and faux sheepskins have helped us to create a very comfy sofa/day-bed. Also perfect if you need somewhere for an unexpected guest.
  • The walls (with the exception of the wall outside the bathroom, which was painted the same colour as the floor), the ceiling and the beams were painted white and a false wall was built behind the stone platform as we decided to insulate this part of the room. A shelf was created with soft LED lighting.
  • The cold stone floor was thought about FOREVER, but it became increasingly clear that what ever we did with it was going to be costly and complicated because of its uneveness and the fact that the walls it meets are also very uneven. Hence we think, why the previous owners might have just left this room. However, we really didn’t like the cold stone so the whole thing was eventually painted with very durable, navy blue concrete paint and covered in rugs to soften the space. Perfect.


As soon as a we moved in, this little room was immediately whitewashed, as it was straight off the Well Room and we just needed it be brightened up and looking a bit, well – cleaner. But, as with all of the rooms in the house, there was only so long we could live with it. Unsurprisingly, for a house which was not used very often, the sanitary ware wasn’t the sturdiest or the prettiest, the shower cubicle was quite frankly, horrible, and the room was poorly laid out. As in, a cheapo toilet, visible to all when the door was opened. A complete no-no, in my book! So, as with the kitchen (and, perhaps with hindsight, stupidly, at the same time) the downstairs bathroom was smashed out and reconfigured with new sanitary ware. A wall-mounted toilet was moved to where the shower cubicle used to be, therefore completely private. With underfloor heating and big concrete tiles, a wet room was created, meaning that without a cubicle, we created a sense of much more space. Much, much more pleasant a showering experience!


The stairs down in to The Snug and up to the first floor, and spindles and handrail (there was nothing going down into The Snug – health & safety alert!), and floorboards, were not of the best quality pine. And not fitted very well, either. However, over time, we’ve addressed all of this. The treads on the stairs were pulled forward and all secured, with a back attached to each flight, so now you don’t see through the treads. They’ve been painted in a deep navy blue, as have the floorboards and the handrails and spindles. Industrial piping and fixtures have been used to create grabrails going down into The Snug – we scratched our heads for along time trying to work out a safe solution here. The angle was difficult, butu we think we’ve found a super stylish – and unique solution!

All walls and the apex ceiling are painted white, and we’ve finally sorted the exposed beams, which are now also white. The upstairs doors are on our “to replace” list, but we’ve just not had the chance yet, so they are painted the same soft baby blue as the windows and shutters.


If I’m honest, I’m hard pressed to say which is my favourite room. It depends on the time of day, season, whether it’s hot or chilly. But, I’d say this bedroom was a contender. When we buying the house, this room was almost a game-changer. We came out to see it with the couple who were selling, and we stayed overnight in this room. Because no-one had been in the house for over a year, nature had taken over, and this room was clearly home to one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen in my life. It seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies and after being convinced that a spider could not possibly be a good enough reason for pulling put of buying our dream home in the sun, I vowed that this room would be spectacular, to banish the memory of our eight legged visitor.

I think we’ve achieved a spectacular room. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but we LOVE it. It’s huge, with a soaring apex ceiling and two windows with amazing views across fields and an orchard, up to the village. It’s painted completely white, with floor length curtains, which we never need to close as we have complete privacy.


From an unpainted room, with bare pine floorboards and two sets of bunk beds, we tackled this bedroom first, as the big bedroom, in the early days, was full of packing boxes. White walls, white ceiling, pale grey beams and very soft pale blue blue woodwork, coupled with a navy blue wooden floor transformed it. As this is primarily a guest bedroom – although we do tend to move into here in the winter, as it has the internal chimney from the woodburners below and is so cosy – we decided to glitz it up a bit with gold spray paint…


Same story as Bedroom Two – a bit of a sorry room, this time with a sad looking single bed. For this room, we bought two new single beds, which are usually joined as a double, but give us flexibility for visitors. The walls, ceiling, woodwork, beams and floor were painted the same as the other bedrooms and voila… A whole new room!


A full rip-out was again all we could really do with this room. While everything else was being renovated, we limped along with this bathroom, but the bath was so small, it was impossible to actually have a bath. This has now been sprayed black and is in the garden, planted up with three blooming honeysuckle climbers – *that* is how small it was 😉 A full size bath has now been fitted with a gorgeous new square ceramic sink and matte white and silver taps. Like the rest of the house, it has been transformed with white walls, pale grey beams and navy wooden floor. A new boiler, with an increased capacity, makes bathing an absolute joy.

It’s been a long journey and it’s been bloody hard work – even given that the big jobs have been done by the professionals. But, we want to live in a home that is cosy and comfortable and has an element of style and individuality. We think we’ve done it – and now cannot wait to get going again!

If you are interested in finding out more about about our property, drop an email to helen@escapetoistria.com

Property For Sale In Istria…

Property For Sale In Istria…

Renovated Property for Sale in Istria

In March 2017 we moved lock, stock and barrel to Istria, in northern Croatia and set about renovating a very traditional stone house. Fast forward three years, and the big renovation is complete :

  • Completely new and updated kitchen
  • One bathroom gutted and completely remodelled, wet-room style
  • Second bathroom totally renovated with new sanitary ware
  • Internal cellar gutted and now utilised as an additional living room
  • Living room and dining room (with an uplit internal well chamber with a reinforced glass cover) completely renovated
  • Three bedrooms decorated to a very high standard
  • Additional land (including a small house with potential for renovation/development to the rear) acquired
  • All boundaries established
  • Garden to the front created, with various zoned areas

It’s now the house we always imagined it would be, and whilst we’re still pottering around, now doing the “nice” bits of DIY, we’re thoroughly enjoying our new home in the sun. But – and it’s a big but – we’ve got itchy feet. Because we’ve seen another property. It caught our eyes when we first moved here, but it was nothing more than a bit of minor flirtation as we had our hands full with getting to grips with our stone house. But, over the months and now years, that minor flirtation has grown and we have to be honest and say our heads have been really turned.

The reasons behind our decision to make a move…

The property we have our eyes on now, is so very different to our current home. Although we’ve renovated it in a very contemporary way internally, the exterior is still quite traditional, built as it with Istrian stones and with the traditional Istrian red roof. The new property is absolutely at the other end of the spectrum. In fact, it’s not even a house, It’s a former industrial unit, sitting on one level, and with only partition walls internally, making open plan living something more of a reality.

We do genuinely love our stone house, and we had absolutely no intention of renovating it to sell it, but sometimes opportunities present themselves and they feel like they are meant to be. With the help of people we’ve got to know here – builders, electricians, plumbers, stonemasons – we’ve created what we know to be a very unique property.

Living here full-time…

We live here full time and have very quickly adapted to the Istrian way of life. It’s a slower pace of life than back in the UK, but we are so close to so many wonderful places, that in normal times, we can still have a similar kind of life to the one we had in Manchester. Larger supermarkets are about 30 minutes away, Pula and the airport about an hour. The border to Slovenia is 10 minutes away, and Trieste less than 40 minutes. The sea on each of side of the peninsula can be reached from our house in less than 45 minutes to the east and about 25 minutes to the west. We can be in Ljubljana, the uber stylish and trendy Slovenian capital within an hour and a half. Venice is two hours away, by motorway – or by catamaran, if you prefer.

Anyone who wished to purchase our home and make it a full time move as we have done, we’d be on hand to offer support and guidance and share our valuable network of contacts and expertise.

Holiday home/rental potential…

The house has been renovated to an incredibly high standard, because it is our home. This would mean that it would literally be ready for any new owner to just turn up and unpack their suitcase, if bought as a holiday home. Much of the furniture is included in the sale, simply because we’d have to dismantle much of it, to get out of the house. Our website details what is included and what is not.

The small house to the rear of the main house, is also included in the sale. This is NOT currently habitable – it is what we call one of the abandoned houses of Istria. However, it could be renovated or demolished and rebuilt, either as an annexe or joined onto the main house. We have chosen not to have a swimming pool, but this could be the ideal space for one…

The rental market for holiday homes in Istria is huge. With good marketing, our property could be a great source of income. We have considered doing it ourselves, but we think our industrial unit will take up all of our time going forward and so we have made the decision to move on and pass our home into the hands of new owners, who we know will fall in love with it it, as we have. And, if you don’t believe us about how amazing, see what family and friends who’ve visited, have to say.

Safe Viewings

The world is now a very different place to how it was a few months ago, when we designed our website and suggested how viewings could be done, in person. Like everyone the world over, we’ve had to rethink how we do things, and so can now offer the following…

We have uploaded a virtual tour of our home, where you can walk you through the house, room by room and the outside area.  If this then whets your appetite, we’d suggest that you drop us an email via the contact form and we can arrange to delve deeper via Zoom or FaceTime or WhatsApp. We’ll also be able to answer any questions you have in real time.

We would still welcome serious viewings in person, but we would obviously insist on all safety measures being adhered to, including the wearing of masks and use of hand sanitiser. In a move that is just not us, because we are very much “people people”, we’d also request, sadly, no hand-shaking and no touching of anything around the house. As the visit would be relatively short, we would ask that our bathrooms not be used. We are so very sorry that we need to ask these things, but we would much prefer to be safe than sorry…

Detailed information is available on our website, so do please check it out in the first instance. To then make an enquiry, or to request further information, please complete the contact form on our website or email helen@escapetoistria.com

The Well Room : the original well is now situated outside the front door and the chamber has been drained. It has been fitted with a triple layered reinforced (safety) glass cover and is uplit.