These trulli homes are more affordable than they look….
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Small, conical, dry-stone-roofed houses, or trulli, cover the hill like barnacles on a turtle’s shell. The Lord of the Rings is what first springs to mind when you see Alberobello in Puglia’s Itria Valley, between the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
Legend has it that the local farmers and peasants built these unique houses to escape heavy land duties—some are more than 400 years old. News of the tax collector’s arrival would spread through the area and the trulli dwellers would swiftly pull apart their dry-stone home to make a pile of stones. The rubble was not worth a second look, and the farmers could rebuild their home as soon as the bothersome tax man had left.
Today, it’s the day-trippers who come to inspect and the homeowners who are looking to make money. Alberobello is a full-blown attraction with the UNESCO seal of approval and no hidden corners for you to go “off the beaten track.” From the trullo church at the top of the hill right down to the main square and the endless trulli cafés and gelateria (ice cream parlors), no opportunity is lost to sell you souvenirs.
But for all its commercialism, it’s certainly a town worth visiting. Nowhere else can you see such a concentration of these ancient dwellings, with their whitewashed walls and gray roofs daubed with pagan or Christian symbols.
Steenie Harvey first wrote about them in February 2002. Back then, you could pick up one of the cone-roofed homes with three bedrooms—already fixed up—and plenty of land for $102,000. Today, it would be worth at least $240,000 with a rental income of between $1,400 and $2,000 per month over the summer months.
If you want to buy one of these unusual buildings in Alberobello, the trulli capital, you’ll need at least $133,000 for a three-cone structure on the outskirts. And you’ll need to fix it up. For better value—and a decent-sized yard to go with it—I’d look elsewhere.
The trulli-hunting ground stretches from Castellana Grotte to Martina Franca and Ceglie Messapica. Simply by driving around the countryside here you’ll come across them, from the plain and run-down to the proudly maintained. The area between Martina Franca and Ceglie has gentle hills as well as the usual olive groves, and is a good place to start.
I asked Tony from Gruppo d’Amico Immobiliare in nearby Cisternino to show me several versions of a trullo, from the fixed up to the totally rustic. The first was a modernized two-bedroom home in the countryside 11 miles from the sea, with in-floor heating, a stone fireplace, electric blinds, and fly screens for $172,000. The grounds include a large olive grove, orchard, and small wood, far from any other houses.
An architect had restored the next place on our tour—a five-cone cluster. ­­Any ideas of trulli being cramped vanished as soon as I stepped inside. This was a luxury three-bedroom, two-bathroom home—airy, spacious, and light, with typical cream-colored chianche stone flooring. And a price to match: $374,000.
Our last port of call was a trulli cluster so hidden among the olive and almond groves that it took us several phone calls and u-turns to find it. A perfect hideaway. For $180,000 you get four cones and four alcove extensions, three acres of olive groves, almond and other fruit trees, and a panoramic view of the valley. Full renovation will cost around $156,000.
Cheaper trulli are available—in the agency’s website I saw a habitable two-bedroom home for $87,000, and a small one to fix up for $31,000. Don’t forget, though, that if a trullo has only one cone, there’s no way it’s going to be roomy inside, even allowing for an extension (check with the local councils to see what the rules are, as they differ from town to town). But a cluster of three or more cones can make a comfortable home.
During my short trip to Puglia, I was offered more visits to trulli than any other type of property, and my feeling is that they are now well established as vacation or retirement homes, not just a peculiar home for the locals (who are still proud to live in them). It’s easy to find builders to fix up, expand, and modernize them; be prepared to wait for their services, though, as they are much in demand. The little stone towers are popular in the summer as rented accommodation with both Italian and foreign visitors. Tony himself enjoys spending time in his family trullo, making a welcome break from the dust and bustle of the local towns.
Roving Europe Editor, International Living
Editor’s note: Leigh Fergus and Steenie Harvey will be sharing their tips for making the most of the low cost of living, pleasures, and practicalities of life in southern Italy at the Ultimate Event in Cancún, Mexico, May 28-31.
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