A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

Our renovated house, in beautiful northern Istria, is for sale. We have thought since Day One, that it would sell to people like us. People who wanted to either live in it it full time, or use it as a holiday home, for themselves, family and friends. We think this will most likely still happen, as the enquiries which are now translating into serious viewings, are generally from people who want to do one or the other.

However, we’ve started thinking a little bit outside of the box, and have realised that our market – because of where we are located – is actually potentially much wider than we initially thought.

Not Just A Home…

As we drive around Istria, especially in the north, we’re seeing more and more stone houses being renovated. This is wonderful to see, as however beautiful we think they are in their abandoned states, they will just continue to fall into further disrepair. Some of these properties are clearly being renovated to become holiday homes, but some are a lot more interesting to us – they are being, or have been, renovated to become very small, but very beautiful, boutique hotels. Some are one-offs, and some are outposts of other hotels, already established and successful. And this has got us really thinking about the wider possibilities of our renovated house. Presumably, at some point in the past, all of these properties were homes, like ours, and now they have taken on a new character. So, maybe ours could, too…

Constructed of Istrian stone, and built over three floors, our home could potentially be converted into a small hotel. We currently have three double bedrooms, with a further living space (one of three) being perfect for a fourth room, with ample space for an en-suite facility. We have a large living room, a dining room – with a very, very unique exposed and illuminated (although very safe as covered with reinforced glass) well chamber, which guests will love – and a fully renovated kitchen. Although not huge, the kitchen is fitted with everything that a small residence might need initially, but The Well Room could definitely accommodate a larger kitchen if required.

The main bedroom (top photo) is very definitely large enough to accommodate quite a spacious en-suite. The upstairs bathroom is situated in the room behind where the wardrobe stands, so plumbing would be a fairly easy job for someone who knew what they were doing. The other two bedrooms aren’t as large – but for a person with vision, this wouldn’t be a problem. Currently, with a partition wall between them, it would be a fairly easy task to take this down to create a large room, with an en-suite. These en-suites would pinch space from the current bathroom, but as it would be no longer needed, the area left could be the perfect storage space for linens, towels etc etc.

Knocking two rooms together would obviously decrease the number of rooms available for guests, and a boutique offering, however beautiful, but with only two en-suite rooms, would be less appealing as a project than one with three rooms. So, to get that third room – and a large room it is too – we have a very unique room at the bottom of the house, accessed by stairs from the living room. Our Snug…

This room could become perfect private accommodation, with an en-suite bathroom installed under the stairs (behind the curtains), and access either down the stairs from the upper floor – or, with a bit of imagination and investment, the window could be transformed into a doorway, with steps leading up and into the rear garden.

And, talking of which – if a boutique retreat is something which get your imagination going, we also have a small stone cottage included in the sale of the property. This currently in what we like to call a “rustic condition” – it is definitely not habitable, as the roof and walls would need serious attention. But, for the right person, this could be an amazing project. It could become a self-contained annexe, therefore providing additional accommodation space. If demolished, the beautiful stones could be used to create a boundary wall around what would become a very large rear, private garden. Certainly large enough to install a small pool. We think that this additional property, is the icing on the cake of our sale and with someone in charge, who had a clear vision and the finances to allow it, it would become an absolute hidden gem.

Very close by, are a number of properties which have been converted sympathetically and restored, to create beautiful boutique accommodation. Take a look at these and if you feel inspired, why not get in touch with us for a chat? Alternatively, have a look at our website, as a starting point

Casa Ars Natura, Groznjan http://casa-ars-natura.istria-hotel.com/en

Melegran in the Hills, Biloslavi https://melegran.com/melegran-in-the-hills

Fig Tree House, Bale http://fig-tree-house.istria-hotel.com/en

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Our Own

Growing Our Own

2022 is going to be Grow Our Own year. We’ve tinkered around the edges of growing vegetables and herbs before, but it’s always been pretty half-hearted as far too much else has been going on in and around the garden. We’ve had minor success with lettuce and tomatoes and back in Didsbury, we did successfully grow strawberries and potatoes. But this year, the house renovation has finished and we’re focusing on the garden, so being a bit more self-sufficient is the aim.

Along the side of our house and garden, is a long strip of communal land. This was originally the road into the village, but it isn’t any longer. The road is on the other side of house, so this strip of land – owned by the local council and a number of individuals – is largely unused. Somewhere, presumably on hiking maps, it may still be marked as a right of way, because on a couple of occasions, we’ve had people with hiking sticks appearing. And being as startled as us! Maybe once a year, one of our neighbours will bring his tractor along the grassed lane to get to his field, but we can probably can count on one hand, how many times it’s been used by anyone other than us. So, we’ve been working hard to make it good, and frame the house. We have a hammock, in the summer, strung up between two of the trees and patches of wildflower seeds have been sown. This year, we’ve added pots of bulbs and a cluster of potted bamboos. But, it’s the veg we’re working on, more than anything.

If there’s one thing we have an excess of around the house, it’s Istrian stones, so these are being to use and we’ve made a vegetable patch, which sits in front of a small wall, and is in full sunlight. As we also have an excess of logs, we’ve divided the patch up with these and labelled each section. So far, we have sown peas, courgettes, cucumbers, rocket, lambs’ lettuce, carrots and onions – and already, just a week after sowing, the green rocket is pushing up through the soil. The bed was dug down and raked over, before the stone frame was built around it. To save on good soil, we back-filled the whole thing with twigs and branches, then mulch, then our own rich, red soil before adding a layer of top soil. A water butt, which was useless for collecting rainwater as the tap had snapped off, and couldn’t be replaced, was cut in half, and this has made an excellent planter for potatoes.

We have two apples trees and a cherry tree which were planted early last year, but didn’t produce anything very much last year – we did celebrate the one apple! – but already this year, they are heavily budding so we have high hopes for them. Once the much needed rain passes, we’re going to be planting up tomatoes and strawberries, too. It’s fair to say, we are crossing our fingers for a bumper harvest across the board this year.

garden reno : update 10

garden reno : update 10

So, the exterior renovation of our house for sale, continues apace. We’ve largely completed the interior renovation – but we never say never – and so our attention has been turned to the garden area around the main house and the little abandoned house to the rear. We’ve been working away on the piece of land next to our neighbour’s field and this is steadily being sown with seeds and planted up with bulbs, so that we will have ongoing colour over the summer, rather than one hit. But today, we’ve decided to begin on another area, just for a change of scene.

This was the very first photo we ever took of this particular piece of land. To the right is the corner of our house and then we have the abandoned property, which was owned by a neighbour. It was held together by the vines and the ivy, part of the roof having collapsed in on itself. The land around was unkempt – full of stones and rubble and strong vines growing underground, as well as weeds. It was a mess. But we had other priorities four years ago…

We completed on the purchase of the small house in March 2020, with the land to the other side. The land above, to the left of the property, does not belong to us – it is like a lot of land in Istria. Multiple owners, scattered far and wide, and no-one assuming any responsibility for its upkeep. We were initially very reticent to do anything with any land around the house which did not belong to us, but we have gradually come to realise, if we are prepared to do the work, no-one will raise an eyebrow. And why would they when they have someone else, keeping their land tidy and in good order? We’re sure that many people will think we are bonkers for doing this, but things out here are very different to back in the UK. If nothing is done with land here, it is literally left. It is overgrown. Uncared for. And with pieces of land like this, unless you have the patience of a saint, it’s unlikely it’ll sell as all owners need to agree to the sale. But we didn’t want to have a beautiful house internally and then be surrounded by a scruffy exterior – so when we purchased the small house, the improvements just evolved.

Our first foray into sorting this area was done with our first Workaway guests – Mariuz and Julie, from France. With a head for heights, Mariuz was up the ladder and chopping away at the unruly vines, which in time, would have pulled down the house. It took days to do this, but gave us our first taste of what things could be like and so motivated us to continue.

For the past few months, we’ve made do with the ground being weeded and covered in plastic sheeting to prevent regrowth, and covered in bark chippings. We also bought three fruit trees – two apple and one cherry – and these are potted up. The whole area has looked a lot more cheery, since we added some lights, a few decorative balls and a chiminera. But it still wasn’t quite as lovely as we wanted it to be, without spending a lot of money. We’re not that daft 😉

But today – a lovely, sunny March day, quite warm when in the sun – has signalled the start of the next phase of the renovation of this area of the garden. The piece of land just outside of the bark chippings has been dug over and the clumps of grass taken out. The soil has been turned over and levelled out. Before Christmas we laid a bit of a wonky path of flagstones as the grassy ground would just get muddy when it rained – it was done quickly and wasn’t ever right, so that’s now been tackled today. We now have a straight path that runs along side the house and to the rear, so no more getting wet, muddy feet in the rain. A channel has been left between the flagstones and the raised bed under the well room windows (currently bursting with spring bulbs) so that we can sow wild flower seeds, and have a burst of colour in the summer. But, the best bit, has been the inspired laying of a double arc of flagstones – not my idea! – providing a pathway AND a lovely area for sowing more flower seeds, as well as a palette that wasn’t being used, which will now be utilised for potted bulbs.

Our potted fern has always been in the shade, so she’s now been moved centre stage and will benefit from full sun, until early afternoon so may well fare a lot better. The dead fronds need to be tidied up, but we think that the sunshine will do her good. And, our white wrought iron table and chairs, which seem to have been positioned everywhere, now do seem to have found a new home until we get the time to renovate these. Tomorrow, seeds will be sown around the big concrete pot and between the two lines of flagstones, and spring bulbs potted up for the palette platform. Then, it’s onto the other side as we create a natural trellis for honeysuckles, made from thick branches and garden twine, to finally mark out the boundary of our land to the rear, meaning we can bring the potted bamboos to this side of the little house, to thicken out the screen at the top of the piece of land, beyond the vintage garden furniture.

So, it’s coming together, but it’s taking – as ever – a whole lot longer than we anticipated. But at least, we’ve largely finished inside the house and so can concentrate exclusively on the exterior. Oh…apart from the new renovation in Oprtalj, which will hopefully become our one level, open plan, dream home.

 

 

 

 

garden reno : update 9

garden reno : update 9

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We knew we had to tackle this part of the garden, because it was overgrown, messy, full of stones and rubble from previous renovation works and the trees were literally being strangled by vines and brambles.The little stone wall was falling down in places, and in other places, held together only by creeping ivy. Nothing could grow at ground level because no sunlight could get to it. We look onto it from the side of our house and from our garden, and it has always been an eyesore, but there’s always been so much else to do, that it seemed a waste of time, tackling this previously.

We also don’t actually own this piece of land. It was once mooted that we look into the purchase of it, as it’s owned by the local Opcina (local council) and they are often willing to sell parcels of land like this – but, it is actually a huge piece of land in total and would have been difficult to keep on top of, and we weren’t actually sure how we’d make use of it. But, as our house is now for sale, and now that we’ve finished the internal renovation, it’s been decided that we’ll tackle the bit of land closest to us. The wall was rebuilt last year – it’s now much sturdier and falls apart less frequently! We’ve also planted succulents in many of the gaps, so in the summer, it’s actually now very attractive. So, as spring has now appeared, we’ve been dividing our days between design work and garden work. The first phase of this external renovation is now complete – all of the scrubby, twiggy branches and trunks have been removed, now revealing proper clumps of trees. Vines – so strong that they were probably the kind that Tarzan swung from – have been pulled out at ground level and carefully unravelled from the trees. This was a long, hard job as we didn’t want to damage the trees, but definitely wanted the vines out. They’ve all been removed now, and chopped up as they actually make fantastic kindling for the woodburner.

With the vines removed, we could assess what else was wrapping itself around the trees – brambles were prolific and again these were carefully removed and chopped up. Ivy was another plant which we removed – although we were reluctant to do this initially, because the birds feed off the berries in the winter. However, we reasoned that the ivy on the green wall in the garden, and the ivy covering our little abandoned house, provided a very good supply of winter berries. so went ahead with the removal in this area. Storms and winds had also broken many branches which were either just hanging on, or had broken off and were lying intertwined in other branches. All now gone. Meaning that we have enough wood and kindling to see us through the spring. So, what have the last few days looked like in the garden?

WHERE WE STARTED

We had previously put down black plastic sheeting to try and slow down the growth of weeds and vines and ivy. Over the course of the winter however, when we had the car parking area laid, the soil and rubble which was dug out, was dumped in this patch of land, and so this had to be bagged up and cleared before we could do anything. This looks nothing – but this was at the end of the initial clearance.

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We did sift a lot of the soil to go back onto the plastic, as this would form the basis of what would become the lavender patch. This was a particularly horrendous job, as it was raining at the time, and once the red clay soil gets wet, and on your wellies, that’s it.It is impossible to remove completely and inevitably gets dragged across the painted patio and up into the house. And is an utter nightmare to clean off. But, another job we knew we had to do, as there was no way we were buying additional soil when we already had this.

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The next thing that had to be tackled was the undergrowth – and this had to be done by hand, as it was too thick and the trunks too strong for our cutters. The amount that we wanted to cut back seemed daunting, but we knew that the tangled, knotty undergrowth had to be cut back if we were to create something a little bit more magical, so teeth needed to be gritted and the tree saw put into action.

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Once the red soil was down, we then dug a channel around the perimeter to sink in the small fencing, to create the bed for the lavender plants.

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Top soil was added and we started to position the plants – but it became increasingly clear that our optimistic purchase of twelve plants was way short of the mark, having underestimated the size of the patch we’d created, so it was back to the nursery to purchase another dozen. Plus a couple of beautiful mimosa plants, to add to the colour elsewhere in the garden.

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Next up, was quite a bit of fire pit action, to begin getting rid of the dead branches and cuttings etc. I’m sure that anyone who saw us lighting a fire-pit would have thought we were mad. Round here, you just seem to set to fire to things like this, on the ground – definitely not in a garden fire pit. But we didn’t want to be responsible for an out of control fire, and so played it safe…

 

As there is no lighting – yet – in this part of the garden, solar lights are in place for the time being, just so that when it’s dusk, there’s a little bit of light, which does look lovely from the kitchen, which overlooks this area.

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We had a couple of day’s work, cutting back the trees to the side of this piece of land and keeping on with the pulling up of vines. At some point in the past, someone has chopped trees down, as once the undergrowth was removed, the ankle-breaker tree trump stumps revealed themselves, meaning more work, sawing these down to ground level. We could go on and on, cutting and chopping and tidying, but I think we needed to take a view and be realistic, especially as it’s not our land. So, we’ve taken the clearance back to where we think is a reasonable point – and to be honest, we’ve now so much wood to chop for the woodburners, that we needed to stop or we’d have nowhere to store it.

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house for sale in istria, property for sale in istria, three bedroom renovated stone house for sale, istria, additional dwelling for sale

By the weekend the trees were beginning to become more defined – instead of scratty branches and growth around the base, they were now standing in clumps, with the trunks exposed. It won’t be long until the leaves are back on these trees, and hopefully the shapes will be much better too, as we’ve also done a bit of pruning and shaping here and there. You can see the ivy and vines, still twisting around the bases of the trees and which took ages, to pull up and clear. But, it had to be done, otherwise it wouldn’t be long before we were back to where we started.

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The red field will hopefully soon be planted up – we don’t know with what this year, but it always looks beautiful come the summer and so hopefully will continue to be a lovely background to our garden. These tree trunks have never been this exposed – I’d always thought we had inherited quite ugly trees, but it turns out all they needed was a bit of TLC.

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One of the lovely surprises we’ve had since clearing the ground, is that these hardy, wild crocuses have suddenly bloomed over the last few days. Every morning we spot more, and so hopefully we’ll have a few clumps of these until the wildflower seeds which we’re sowing today, start to emerge. Looks like that great big pile of branches and leaves and twigs has kept then warm under the soil and the spring sunlight is now sufficiently warm enough for them to push up through the soil. We’ve definitely not planted them and we’ve not previously ever noticed any colour in this patch, so hoping that our efforts are reviving them.

I think at times we’ve felt a bit defeated by this task. It wasn’t one that was in any way necessary, especially as it’s not even our land. But it was irritating that we looked out onto something so messy, and so we knew that we would tackle it. It’s been really hard work and seems to have taken a long time – but in reality, in just over a week, we’ve done the really hard part. It’s quite amazing looking at the first photograph above and then seeing this one, below and realising how far we’ve come. And, as we keep we reminding ourselves, it will only look better from now, as we have some gorgeous plans for it.

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So, onwards and upwards. We have cold snap this weekend, so the planting of the dahlia tubers will have to wait a little longer, but over today and tomorrow, the rest of the sunflower seeds are being planted and a mix of wildflowers will be sown in front of this wall above (so on the other side of the lavender). Then the big sowing in the patch we’ve cleared above. This summer, one way or another, is definitely going to be a riot of colour in our garden and around it.

 

 

 

 

Winter Walks

Winter Walks

It’s absolutely freezing in Istria at the moment. That’s right, freezing. Not the wall to wall sunshine & heat we’d naively thought we’d be experiencing, all year round 😉 But, we’re also just a little bit stir crazy, having not really left our village (apart from supermarket visits) for over nine months. The same for most people, though, as we live through the craziest times. So, we’re making sure we get out and about in the fresh air every day and walk. Hard to believe, but I’m even doing it in the rain! When it’s especially cold, we don’t stray too far and tend to just walk up to the village and around and back and this gives us a good 2km walk. It’s what we did this morning, getting back to the warmth of the woodburner just before the first snow flurries of the year fell. The picture above is taken from the far edge of the village – if you carried on walking, you’d end up in Slovenia. Those peaks in the distance are the foothills of the Julien Alps. Beyond the ridge, they get higher and higher and there is enough snow for ski resorts – in usual times – to be open at this time of year. To the left of the photo is the Gulf of Trieste and the gateway into Italy. As soon as spring arrives, this view is amazing – the landscape bursts into colour and the trees become vibrant green. A bit different in January, but that’s winter for you.

Anyway, this was what we saw on our walk this morning. As much as we loved living just off Burton Road, in West Didsbury, with all of its amenities. there’s something very special about being surrounded now by the sheep and the abandoned properties and the big, wide, expansive views. And, the silence…

The spring lambs are already in evidence – some seem to have arrived a few weeks ago, judging by their size. Unless they grow very quickly, but I’m no sheep expert. What I do know though, is that the all-white lambs are definitely the naughtiest in this particular field of sheep. Unlike their more docile and peaceful fawny brown relatives, the white ones seem to constantly run around, leaping and jumping, and headbutting any other lambs which get in their way. A lovely stop on the walk – I’ve not seen sheep so close up since I was a child, and it was nice to just stop and take in the nature around us.

Dating back to the 1860s, this is the stand alone campanile in our village of Zrenj. It’s not attached to the church, it stands on its own – and we love that we can see it from various points in northern Istria. The bells do ring out every Sunday morning when a mass is on, and we love hearing this, as it just reminds us of being in Italy, in particular. (Our village is largely Italian and this is the main language spoken).

Like everywhere in Istria, our village has its fair share of abandoned buildings. All of these have stories to tell – people fleeing occupiers, or being forcibly removed during times of war and conflict, or people just dying with no-one nearby to take over the property. Property laws in Croatia are crazily complicated IF ownership of a property is not established and nailed down. Many of these buildings are now in a state of abandonment and disrepair, simply because people to whom the property has passed to, are often spread around the world. And, with out the consent of all owners, a property cannot be sold. We sincerely hope that in the not too distant future, the powers that be, look to Italy as an example for the regeneration of these communities. We avidly keep an eye on Italian property websites where abandoned houses, sometimes whole abandoned villages, are put up for sale for a nominal amount, to attract foreign investment – always with the stipulation that a pre-agreed amount must be spent on the renovation, local workers in the main are employed and the property cannot be flipped. The incentives are there to attract people who want to invest long term and be part of the regeneration process. We so hope this happens here.

We guessed that snow must be in the air, as the sky had that milky, pinky tone to it, which made even the bleak January landscape look very pretty. We did get our snow when we got back – although it was nothing to write home about. Twenty minutes worth of flakes and then it was over. But who knows? These hills might have a dusting of snow over the coming days.