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Castles, country houses and the modern age

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Times are changing, the world is changing and the property market is changing. In Umbria, the ever so green heart of Italy, we nowadays come across a lot of very interesting and sometimes even spectacular properties. Ancient castles with their own farmhouses, monasteries, complete hamlets, and all for sale. To me, being Dutch, it still is very surprising to discover that the owners are not always the kind of people I thought they would be;  wealthy noble people with servants at their fingertips, who play golf and ride horseback all day. On the contrary, a lot of owners are just as plain as me, just as “normal”, low profile, nothing special and without big bank accounts. The majority of them come from families who have had the properties for centuries. And back then a castle or monastery meant a lot of land which in turn meant a good income. The land would be rented out, money and food would come in, protection would be offered and a certain balance and harmony were sustained. But the last two generations and the industrial revolution have changed the picture. Less farmers, more efficient farming methods, no need for protection, newly constructed houses which are way more comfortable and economic and there we  go, over-sized properties end up requiring a lot of money for maintenance, do not of hardly generate an income, and in the end most of them are uncomfortable, it is too expensive to change that, and one by one they are abandoned. High ceilings, tiny windows, thick cold walls, humidity, no decent heating system, lot’s of cramped staircases are not the ideal characteristics for a comfy home.

Some castles have already been bought by people who have earned their money in another way, in the financial or art wold for example. I have been for dinner in a beautiful renovated castle featuring 800 sq m of underfloor heating, and a room temperature of 22 Celsius, even in wintertime which surely costs a fortune.  But I have also been to a castle where the owner inhabited only a small part, without regular heating, and the rest had remained empty as the years went by. Another family was given a property as payment about 120 years ago and now a few of them, in their 70’s live in some renovated corners of a huge structure. A situation which in my home country would completely unbelievable.

It is certain however that it requires large investments and great creativity to be able to buy and maintain a large property,  and to find a way to earn a living with it as well. The hospitality business offers some possibilities but the season is relatively short and having a castle does not necessarily mean understanding that type of business or being able to run it yourself.

In the meantime some gorgeous buildings slowly fall apart, fresco’s and other delicate features are damaged, time takes its toll on anything but the stones. Let’s hope investors are going to take an interest in these ancient treasures and add the money and vision needed to restore and preserve these living pieces of history.