Moving On…

Moving On…

The phrase “End of an Era” has been used a lot over recent days, and although not on quite the same scale, it’s also the end of a bit of an era for us. In December 2020, we finally signed a pre-contract on the purchase of a very unusual building in Oprtalj, which had been up for sale for a long time. Constructed on one level, this expansive industrial, concrete building filled us with excitement, as we could see its immense potential for open plan living. We had already put our renovated Istrian stone house on the market, as the negotiations were carried out with the seller. We firmly believed that our house would sell quite quickly as it was fairly priced, based on its age, condition, location and the fact we had taken into account we do not have a pool. However, what we didn’t take into account was the impact of the global pandemic.

The pre-contract was excellent, as far as we were concerned. It was for eighteen months – more than enough time, we thought, to sell our home. A monthly rental was negotiated and it was agreed that these payments (and the deposit) would reduce the agreed sale price. We were also given permission to begin works on the property, whilst we were still under the pre-contract. All seemed very hunky-dory and we went as far as to engage the services of an architect who would help us to realise our vision. But, a global pandemic doesn’t make the selling of a house – however beautiful and desirable you think it is – very easy, as people were largely no longer travelling. And if they were, a house purchase probably wasn’t too high on their agenda. This would have been the prefect time to start on the structural work on the new property, but without the injection of cash from the proceeds of the sale of our home, we were a bit limited as to what we could do. With hindsight, it’s a good thing that the only things we did actually do, were the demolition of the internal partition walls. Otherwise, we’d be very much out of pocket.

Things started to pick up regarding our house, in summer 2021 as viewings started. We were selling it ourselves, via Right Move Overseas and our own website, as well as via our social media channels, but it became increasingly more difficult to manage the viewings. It was difficult showing people around, and trying to be dispassionate, as viewers made judgments about our home. So, we appointed a real estate agency in April 2022 and interest went through the roof, culminating in an offer being accepted and legal documents drawn up. But, sometimes things don’t go as you expect them to and people often turn out to be flakey at best. Seriously unhinged, at worst. And this particular one decided to pull out just as the contract was about to be signed and the deposit paid. We were furious and devastated in equal measure, having felt that finally Lady Luck was on our side. But, a couple of weeks later, we’ve calmed down and have realised that what happened, was likely for the best.

Looking at it now, objectively and without the desire to get everything over the line, we think that in the long term this buyer would have been a potential nightmare, so we’re probably well rid. Had our sale gone ahead, we’d potentially have been looking to store our furniture and rent, as work was carried out on The Printworks. And, this would have been over the winter, as she wanted to move here full time, and as soon as possible. The other complication is that the original pre-contract expired at the beginning of May, but thankfully the summer has meant that things have progressed very slowly as annual holidays are taken VERY seriously here. We have kept up the rent payments, in good faith, but have now decided that the time has come to end things. The signs are telling us, very strongly and loudly, that the property isn’t right for us at the moment, so we’ve been clearing it out, ready to hand back the keys.

We’ve also taken out house off the market. Not forever. It’s going back on, hopefully in Spring 2023. By which time, Plan B should have been executed, meaning we can still realise a big part of our dream…

For now though, we’re looking forward to an autumn and winter of interior and exterior planning, plenty of demolition and rebuilding and a lovely house to be cosy and warm in, instead of the prospect of renting somewhere we don’t really like. Onwards and upwards!


Volta Gin & Wine Bar, Oprtalj

Volta Gin & Wine Bar, Oprtalj

Anyone who’s been to stay with us, will know that, as beautiful as Oprtalj is, it could be described as a “sleepy” little town. We have a restaurant, a gorgeous loggia, numerous festivals throughout the year, a mini-market, a post office, a cash point, a gift/interiors shop, an antique shop, a primary school and a boutique hotel. Plus, views to die for, across to the Adriatic. But, it’s definitely not Party Central. We did have a second restaurant and pre-Covid, a wine bar was just beginning to establish itself. The second restaurant is no longer and the original wine bar closed, as the owners decided to focus on their expanding olive oil business. So, when I spotted on Instagram a new account, describing itself as a Gin & Wine bar – in Oprtalj, no less – they got an immediate follow! Contact was established with the owner, and it was confirmed that this new venture would be opening where the original wine bar used to be located. Countdown was on to summer opening…

The owners, a couple from Zagreb, clearly have a long term plan. They know that everything won’t happen overnight, especially as they have only opened towards the end of the summer season. But with apartments they now run, above the bar, already fully booked for the remainder of the summer, they’ve clearly decided not to put all of their eggs in one basket. We recently visited quite late after eating in the local restaurant, but could see that they had had a steady stream of customers, which was a good sign. Food – probably along the lines of the traditional Istrian charcuterie boards – will be added at a later date, but the drinks menu was extensive, and with some unusual offerings, included a range of beers and ales from an independent craft brewery  – BruMan – in nearby Buzet. Wines ranged from the extremely reasonable to quite expensive, if you wanted to push out the boat, and a good range of cocktails are also available.

By a twist of fate, the bar is called Volta. For those of you familiar with West Didsbury, you’ll know we have a huge fondness for a bar of the very same name, run by our old friends, Luke & Justin, from way back when we were at Manchester Polytechnic and flat sharing. So, Volta in Oprtalj was always going to be a winner for us…





project printworks : update 3

project printworks : update 3

So, we’ve finally made a proper start. The old industrial unit, which has sat unloved and empty for as long as we’ve lived in Istria, is being internally dismantled in preparation for the major renovations. A scaffold unit, an extendable ladder and a demolition drill have been added to our arsenal of tools and equipment, and we’re off! Sensibly, we’re largely staying away whilst our builder smashes down the walls – we’re on hand to offer words of support and photograph what’s going on. It’s not very pretty at all at the moment, and won’t be for quite some time, but you’ve to crack some eggs to make an omelette, as the saying goes…

The walls to be dismantled were clearly identified and the mallet swung into action.

Unless you know the layout of the building, none of what we are currently doing will make much sense. But, in a nutshell, we are creating three ensuite bedrooms, all with big windows overlooking the valley and Oprtalj, with simple ensuites. Access to each room will be from a newly created corridor to the the rear of the bedrooms. This idea is to work with the main structure of the building and create a very simple, minimalistic, open plan space inside. We’re still negotiating on outside land, so as there is much space inside, we’re stealing some of it from the other end of the building, to create an internal courtyard/potted garden. But that’s all way, way in the future.

At the moment, we’re just delighted that we’re surrounded by rubble and masonry – oh, and wasps because we’ve uncovered a wasps’ nest – because this all means one thing. PROGRESS.

In the meantime, we are selling our current renovated house. It could be the perfect holiday home for someone out there. Check out our website – and if you’re interested, get in touch and let’s see what we can do.


Easter 2021

Easter 2021

It really only seems a couple of weeks ago that it was Christmas, and yet here we are, having just had Easter weekend. Sometimes we feel that we don’t seem to do much with our time, but with a quarter of the year already gone and the fruits of our labours beginning to show in the garden, I think that we must occupy ourselves quite well, despite not really – until very, very, very recently – being able to really go anywhere. However, slowly, slowly things are beginning to awaken. Although Istria is still in a kind of lock down state, restaurants and bars which have outside areas have started to re-open and tourists are beginning to return. From 1st April, people who have been vaccinated or have a negative PCR or EU-approved Antigen test, can enter Croatia. We’ve started seeing cars from different countries – definitely not as many as we’d normally see at this time of year, but there is something nice about seeing a license plate other than from Croatia.

We’re spending a fair bit of time in the garden, getting it ready for the summer. And hopefully, for new owners. The lavender plants are now bedded in and the crocus bulbs are beginning to push up through the soil. Where we’ve cleared the trees, we’ve sown wild flower seeds and these are now beginning to show. No sign of the sunflowers, yet, though. The dahlias have all been potted and have been sitting in the warm spring sunshine. Under the well room windows, we have a long raised bed which is now filled with varieties of hyacinths – the blues and purples are utterly gorgeous, and the aroma is just intoxicating.

Good Friday was glorious – very sunny and very warm, so we took the opportunity to begin the job of finishing off the shed which we built last year. When it was constructed and painted, it took quite a long time and I think we were just a bit of sick of working on it, and so a top coat was never applied inside and the door, on the inside, only had one coat of satinwood, so it was all looking a bit sorry for itself. Also, we wanted to investigate why wasps were beginning to find the shed interesting – everything was taken out as we thought there might be a nest. No nest in sight, but an empty shed, so we decided to crack on and get it finished. I didn’t want a shed in the garden to be filled with tools and be a bit of a mess – we have an external cellar that can accommodate work stuff, so the idea has always been to use it for storage of sun bed pads, seat cushions, the hammock – the kind of things we’d use throughout the summer and need easy access to. As well as sitting pretty in a garden we’re now investing a lot of time and effort into. I’ve always been taken by this photo and all along this has been my shed inspiration…

Over Easter, we made good headway with finishing the shed. All of the paint pots and tools have a new home in the cellar and now everything is easy to find. It felt good getting the cushions, pads, throws and hammock out of their winter wrapping and getting order in a little space which we think we finally come into its own over the summer. Hanging baskets, bursting with lilac and white and purple petunias have added immediate colour and our purple clematis has been repositioned against the side of the shed, and this will hopefully grow up and over.

The garden furniture has had an Easter makeover too. The table and chairs – originally brown, but spray painted in an anthracite colour by us – have been spruced up. Two years of sun and rain had weathered them and the colour was starting to fade, but they look as good as new now. Equally, the sun loungers – originally brown wood – were sprayed at the same time as the table and chairs, but were also faded and weather beaten. It’s proving to be quite a slow job, as we’re finally doing them properly – tightened, washed, sanded, two coats – but the one that is almost finished is looking so much better now that it’s been painted in the same soft blue satinwood as all of the exterior woodwork.

We could also finally actually eat outside of our own house this weekend, and after a stop off at the new renovation to begin making a plan with our builder, we had our first visit of the year to our local Konoba in Oprtalj. Overlooking hills and valleys and vineyards, with a sliver of The Adriatic in the distance, it is in the most perfect location. It was a real treat to eat some fresh pasta with local wine, sitting under the big chestnut tree on the terrace, as the sun started to set.

A gorgeous weekend, filled with sunshine, good food, hard work and the thought that summer is tantalisingly close. Fast forward to Tuesday morning. Let’s see how all of those budding bulbs and shoots of wild flowers have fared when the snow has melted away. Just as well we checked the weather, as we managed to get the potted dahlias into the warmth and cover the long raised bed of hyacinths, but we’ll have to wait and see what carnage lies beneath that very pretty snow…

project printworks : update 1

project printworks : update 1

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