Affordable Palazzos in Italy

When I tell people that I bought a house in Italy, the usual response is, “How fantastic!”

When I tell them it’s located in Basilicata, they get a blank look and ask, “Where?”

I don’t blame them. Basilicata is possibly the least-known region in Italy. Located at the ankle of the boot, it cuddles up to Puglia, Calabria, and Campania and is the most sparsely-populated part of the country.

From the border with Puglia, the plains turn into wavy swaths of billowing wheat, then to rolling hills punctuated by olive groves and topped with grape vines. World-class wine is made here from ancient Greek grapes.

In the heart of wine country is Venosa, a classy town with Roman roots and a sense of elegance. To the west is Melfi, a pretty town with an impressive history.

As you travel south, the land rises and peaks begin to appear—some 7,325 feet high at the region’s loftiest level. We opted to purchase in the central part of the region, near the regional capital of Potenza, a few minutes from my ancestral village. Eagles and falcons are a regular sight from our balcony and brilliant starry skies mark the evenings.

Here time-worn towns rest on their hilltops and carry on a way of life that is quickly fading in other regions. Most people have a plot of land outside town to grow vegetables and grapes, and we’re the happy recipients of nature’s bounty by the basket- and bottle-full. Neighbors invite us in for a coffee and a chat and willingly lend a hand when asked. They’ve truly made us feel like part of the community.

Because the area has lost residents in the past half-century, there are lots of properties available…but you have to make an effort to find them. Most towns don’t have real estate agents. We found our little 300-year-old casa in the village of Trivigno thanks to the village’s former mayor. We paid just $32,000 for the habitable house with three separate stone-hewn cantinas, used to store firewood and wine. Neighbors have homes for sale by word of mouth, ranging from $26,000 for fixer-uppers to $137,000 for part of a once-noble palazzo to restore.

The palazzo has two interior courtyards and a centuries-old iron key to open the door. It needs work but could easily be converted into four separate apartments to rent out or resell. It sits at the top of town and has great views. In our neighborhood, a friend’s house is for sale for only $63,000—fully furnished. The attractive, one-bedroom house has a spacious cantina carved into the rock below it for storage or entertaining space.

An hour from Trivigno, to the northwest of Potenza, is a pretty, pastel town. Here houses line up along a steep ridge in an orderly jumble, looking more like a sunny coastal town than a hill town. A mountain looms up behind it as a dramatic backdrop. The town’s historic center is a warren of narrow lanes that unfold below the 13th-century castle. There are artisan shops, sidewalk cafes, and a handful of excellent restaurants to enjoy.

The lifestyle is leisurely and friendly and homes can be had for a song. I looked at one newly restored apartment going for only $13,000. It’s unfurnished as are most properties in Italy. And it’s small—about 500 square feet. But it feels more spacious because it is set on two levels, with the entryway and kitchen on one level, and the living room and bedroom down a short flight of stairs. It’s the perfect little vacation bolt hole.

A totally-renovated, three-level townhouse with an ample terrace is on offer for only $79,000. Right off the street for easy access and parking, it has two bedrooms and two bathrooms set on different levels for privacy, with two separate entrances and space outdoors for a bistro table.

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