montmaggio estate, 1989-1999
By the late 1980’s, the surge in rural property prices in Tuscany, fuelled by international buyers, particularly the British, had begun to penetrate beyond Pisa and ‘Chiantishire’ to outlying areas of the province and across the border into Umbria. Nonetheless, opportunities still existed to acquire unrenovated but extraordinarily beautiful properties in unspoilt rural areas at extremely reasonable prices. Montemaggio was such a property.
Located in a quiet valley 9km north-east of Cortona, about 25 minutes from the shores of lake Trasimeno, the Montemaggio Estate was unusually attractive, even by Tuscan standards. Surrounded by woodland and bordered by small streams, it occupied a sheltered but commanding position with uninterrupted views across the valley to the neighbouring hills of Teoerina Bassa, several miles distant. The estate comprised over ninety acres of land and several buildings – including Montemaggio itself, a Monastry with its origins in the 12th century, a convent and a large farmhouse. Within the grounds were formal, partly-walled gardens, orchards and an ornamental pond. The estate was accessed through extensive chestnut woodland via a three mile ‘white’ road.
Although for the most part structurally sound, all the buildings required complete renovation, with some rebuilding and reconfiguration to improve the general layout and level of amenity. Whilst the external works required to the Convent were relatively minor, those of the farmhouse were more substantial. Montemaggio itself required extensive reconstruction: though the building itself was structurally intact, the large extensions to the south were derelict.
The Estate was purchased in 1989 for £125,000, with a local firm of architects appointed to prepare designs, planning applications and contracts for restoration. The proposals were enthusiastically received by the authorities, and planning and listed building consent was granted in 1992. Unfortunately, this coincided with the ‘Tangentiale’ scandal, which precipitated, under suspicion of bribery, the calling in throughout Italy of any planning approvals considered to have been passed unreasonably swiftly. Apparently, two and half years constituted something of a record, raising questions as to how such a rapid processing had been achieved. Following review, unconditional approval was finally granted eighteen months later.
Unfortunately, this further delay was not helpful. Whilst the proposition was considered compelling, all funding for speculative development in Italy had by then been withdrawn in what had become the worst property downturn in sixty years. The property, with consent, was therefore sold in 1999 at 100% profit including costs.