Renovating a little old house in a picturesque hilltop village somewhere in the Mediterranean hills. A dream for many, a reality for few who dare to turn their hands at making it happen, and create their very own “place in the sun”.
This week for our regular Expats series “more adventures in Croatia” our guest is Isabel, who turned her dream into reality by buying an old stone house in the hills of Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in the Adriatic Sea at the confluence of three countries: Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.
Istria used to belong to Italy and in fact retains a lot of Italian influences, from food to language to the architecture of its colourful seaside villages. Today most of Istria is situated in Croatia, while a small strip in the north belongs to Slovenia.
Hi Isabel and welcome to our blog, where are you originally from and how did you end up living in Croatia?
I’m originally from Toronto, Canada but have lived in several different countries during my adult life. My husband and I moved to Croatia in the summer of 2013. Before then we had been living in South India quite happily for several years and then the stars started to realign. My husband decided that he wanted to take a career break and then the purchase of our house in Istria finally came through and we could start the renovation work. It was the right time.
And tell us why you chose Croatia (and Istria in particular) rather than moving to another country?
We bought a house in Gračišće, a village in central Istria, for sentimental and family reasons. Having a house here was a dream we had for a long time and both my parents are from Istria so I have a strong family connection here. During our many trips to Istria, we had noticed how many of the old, almost abandoned villages were slowly going through a process of revival. By buying and renovating a house in Gračišće, we also wanted to make a contribution to this process of breathing new life into old walls.
Share with us and our readers your experiences of buying property in Croatia and renovating it? any funny (or not so funny ) episodes?
For us, the purchase process was a very long one which took years, but we were not in a hurry . We wanted to buy a house in Gračišće, which is a small village, and it took some time until we found a property that was available and for which we were not outbid – which happened on two previous occasions. Then once we found a house and agreed on a price, it took three years for the owner to get the property title cleared and resolve other issues. So from the moment we decided we wanted to buy here to the time we could start renovation work, it took about 7 years!(you can read more at this LINK)
After completely demolishing the interior of the property, one of the initial steps of the renovation process was to dig up the ground floor. This is because traditionally the ground floor of houses was used as a stable, so the ceilings were quite low. However, our village is built on natural rock, so it took workers two months to painstakingly drill and break into the rock, breaking it up into pieces and hauling it away in 15 truckloads!
Do you have any suggestions or word of warning for someone wanting to buy a house in Croatia?
The three words which come to mind all start with a ‘p’: patience, perseverance and pomalo (‘slowly’ in Istrian dialect). Be patient. Know what you want and don’t stop until you find it. And expect things to take longer than planned.
What do you like about Croatia and specifically your area and your neighbourhood? what is there to see and do in your area?
I love the beautiful scenery, the clean air and water, the fresh food grown naturally. The people are friendly and down-to-earth and there’s a spirit of community. Istria has so many beautiful villages to visit and a variety of landscapes, and since this is a peninsula, the sea is close by and no place is more than a 45-minute drive away, so there’s plenty to see and do.
What main cultural differences have you experienced between Croatia and Canada?
One thing that I dislike about Toronto is that people are so busy with their personal lives that they don’t have time to meet and catch up in person but have long telephone conversations instead. In Istria, people take their time – pomalo is a way of life! People drop in unannounced at any time and are always received as if there’s all the time in the world.
Do you have any tips and suggestions for travellers to Croatia?
There are so many beautiful places in Croatia that it’s impossible to see everything. So it’s best to choose one region and take it slow, or even better, plan several trips.
Summarize in a short sentence why you recommend Croatia as a holiday destination
Croatia still has an ‘old Europe’ feel to it, an authentic charm of another time which is no longer easy to find.
Isabel keeps an online Blog of her life in Istria, called Istria Outside my Window, why don’t you go over and read her articles and experiences about this charming corner of Croatia?
you can read more of our Expats interviews by clicking the following LINKS