Your Own Farmhouse in Italy (That Generates an Income)

When American Diana Strinati Baur and her husband, Michael Baur, started dreaming of living in Italy and owning a bed and breakfast, postcard-perfect images of la dolce vita and easy-going hospitality filled their heads and fueled their plans.

“Fantasy is important,” says Diana. “Unless there is fantasy there will never be a reality. But there’s a time to let the fantasy go. It’s important to reckon with reality when doing a project like ours.”

Her reality has surpassed her dreams: a pastel-painted farmhouse complex that hosts guests from around the world, and a pottery studio where she creates artistic pieces and writes.

It started with their first vacation to Italy in 1997, when they fell under the spell of the bel paese (beautiful country). They began making annual trips from their home in Germany, where Michael held a high-stress corporate job. “Whenever we would cross the border into Italy, we’d exhale and immediately feel at home,” says Diana. In 2002 Michael was offered a job transfer to Brussels. Instead, they chose to ditch the corporate routine and try a new venture they could do together.

“We redefined our lives and goals, wanting to live more in accordance with nature, and we wanted to be together more. But we still had to make a living! We felt we had the skill set to run an inn. And, having traveled, we knew what we were looking for: an authentic, elegant, and natural ambience in an idyllic setting.”

They discovered Piedmont purely by chance. They were on a hapless house-hunting trip in Liguria that had turned into a cold, wet nightmare. It left them both sick with colds and demoralized.

To distract them from the misery, Michael proposed a spontaneous jaunt to neighboring Piedmont. Diana agreed—solely in the hopes of finding clearer skies on the other side of the mountains. As they descended, the fog dissipated, the rain lessened, and the skies lightened. They found cozy scenery of stone farmhouses with smoke curling from the chimneys amidst rows of vineyards. Smitten by the beauty, they knew they’d found their piece of paradise.

They started looking for the right property for their bed and breakfast, searching for a house with enough existing space to have at least three guest rooms.

They eventually found their way to the ancient spa town of Acqui Terme.

They quickly discovered the property that would become their home and business. “When we saw the abandoned farmhouse we knew immediately that this was something special. But all the buildings needed to be gutted and completely restored,” says Diana.

They plunged in and started ripping up, rebuilding, and patching things back together all winter long. They mixed paint, stained walls, whitewashed furniture, planted gardens, repaired weather damage, and cleaned until they collapsed. Guests arrived in the spring, and Michael and Diana served as hosts throughout the tourist season.

This was their routine during an eight-year building cycle.

Today, Diana says they’ve completed about 80% of the structural restoration and are happy with the results. They maintain an annual rhythm. “During the season we’re totally dedicated to the B&B—we hand-wash, hang and iron the linens, we make a beautiful breakfast with fresh produce, and we bake bread daily. We garden, clean, give cooking classes, and lead winery tours.”

Off-season they cut and stack firewood, go for long walks with their Labrador, and cook together.

“It’s a wonderful rhythm of having tons of social time with guests and then plenty of down time and introspection in the winter,” she says. “We lead a very simple life and have reduced our costs and needs to the basics—except for good food ingredients and wine.”

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