Cortona: a New Comer’s Guide - No.1

...I bought a 400 year old farmhouse in September 2020, in walking distance of Cortona. I’ve come home...

Why Cortona? Considering buying a home in Cortona? Or just curious what it is like to become an Ex-Pat? If so, I invite you to join me here, over the coming months, for a glimpse at my journey of settling into my new life in Cortona and Amsterdam. I’m a 71 year old American, widowed since October 2017. I consider myself a citizen of the world, with food, wine, entertaining, travel, friends, family, and the pleasure of observing the world the core of my being. I’ve had successful careers as a clothing designer/manufacturer (Salaminder), boot designer/manufacturer (Ariat International), horse breeder, food writer, food critic, and high-end real estate agent. I recently published a cookbook, Just Cook with Sally, and maintain a blog at I now create recipes to pair with wine or Molesini Wine Club, here in Cortona.
            It’s no wonder I bought a 400 year old farmhouse in September 2020, in walking distance of Cortona. I’ve come home. Italy has been calling to me for decades, with each of my numerous trips over the years causing deeper roots to take hold. My first introduction to Cortona was six years ago, when my husband Robert performed with a small group of American friends and fellow musicians, on a Sunday afternoon, in Teatro Signorelli. We arrived in the morning, spending a few hours before and after lunch exploring the colorful, tourist-packed, bustling town. I was enchanted. Fast forward to the beginning of 2020: In a flurry of activity, I purchased an apartment in Amsterdam, packed up my USA worldly goods, and in March made the big move. I arrived in Amsterdam 3 days before the lockdown. My children, family, and friends were horrified, urging me to return to America. “You don’t know anyone,” they reasoned. “What if you get sick?”
            In June, when the lockdown finally eased, I began traveling from Amsterdam to visit cities and museums, knowing I would have the unique opportunity to view great masterpieces without crushing  crowds. Florence beckoned.
Walking around Florence’s Duomo, the realization struck me: I could buy a second home in Italy. I immediately zeroed in on Cortona, as it offers so much on my “list” of desired attributes: historic, well preserved, with terrific restaurants, a solid train system, a strong Ex-Pat community, an ideal location for day trips and exploring Italy. My last career, in Bozeman, Montana, spanned 14 years as a real estate agent with a Christie’s affiliate. I know real estate, and how to research. Cortona International is, hands down, my choice for agency. In June, I arranged for Nicola Burazzi and Roberto Ghezzi to show me Cortona possibilities. I thought I wanted a sweet little apartment in the heart of the town.
            Back in Amsterdam, surrounded by city, I came to understand that a country home would be nice: a bit of land to enjoy tranquility, grow some olives and vegetables, let my dog run free. I asked Nicola to expand the search and returned in July to view more properties. I really only needed to see one-- Casa del Gatto, the first on a long list of potentials that Nicola had prepared. The stone house sits on top a gentle hill, surrounded by forests, with expansive views and the sense of absolute privacy. The Sellers, Rob and Sheryl, had painstakingly renovated and landscaped the property, doing all the essential, non-sexy, things that make a home solid: plumbing, electrical, heating, adding a pool. To top it off, from the moment I met the Sellers it was as if we’d known each other forever. We have so many friends in common that we joke, “We’ll soon discover we’re related.”
              “I want to buy it,” I told Nicola as I buckled up my seat belt to head for the second showing. “Wait, wait,” he cautioned. “You need to see them all to understand values, potential, and to be certain.” I told him I really didn’t, as I knew this was home. I humored him and saw the other properties, which only cemented Casa del Gatto as being the One. Around 5 o’clock that afternoon, we signed the contracts.
            I closed on Casa del Gatto the beginning of September, in what ranks as uber-fast by Italian standards, all thanks to Nicola. Have I mentioned the Italian pace of life? It is unique, starting with store hours: Does the shop open at 8, 9, 10, or 11? Does it close for lunch at 12:30, 1, or 1:30? Does it re-open at 2, 3, 4, or 4:30?  Does it stay open until 6, 6:30, 7, or 7:30? It’s all a mystery, but somehow, things get done, at their own Italian pace.
            Originally, I arrange with the Sellers, Sheryl and Rob, that they could stay in the house until November 10th. They planned on moving into a houseboat they owned in Seattle that was rented until the beginning of November. I closed on the property and returned to Amsterdam, with plans to come back to Cortona in early October for two weeks for the olive harvest, then back to Amsterdam until mid-November. I would stay in the guest room of my house, still occupied by the Sellers. This, of course, flies in the conventional practices of real estate in which you keep Buyer and Seller apart.
            In early October, Covid reared its ugly head with a second wave of pandemic. Countries began falling like dominos, locking down borders and issuing tighter and tighter restrictions. Cities turned into ghost towns. Sheryl and Rob decided not to move back to Seattle until Spring 2021, but rather to occupy a Cortona home, starting in November, owned by an absent Brit, all too happy to have the house live-in through the winter. I returned for the olive harvest and asked Rob and Sheryl what they thought of me remaining in Italy, sharing “our” house until they moved. They welcomed me heartily. For a month, Rob, Sheryl, my dog Boo, and I lived together. It was a blessing, and so much fun. We cooked, drank terrific local wines, told tales, I learned all the nuisances of my farmhouse, and most importantly, they provided me a smooth transition during troubling times into the Ex Pat community. My 2 week “Olive Harvest” trip is now into its 5th month. The time has flown by.
            I have grown to value the Cortona community far more than the other items on my list of where to live. Our “Covid Bubble” group keeps me laughing, engaged, and informed; leisurely lunches and dinners, long hikes through the countryside, exploring other Tuscan towns together, and having true friends, wards off the loneliness of not seeing my family and US friends for nearly a year. The wealth of their suggestions, contacts, and directions for navigating daily life in Italy has made for a soft landing. If you’re considering Cortona, include community at the top of your “plus” list. And take it from a real estate pro: hire Cortona International to find you “Home.”
            Until next month, be safe, drink great wine, enjoy fine food, and let yourself dream of the future when travel and exploration is once again the norm.
Sally Uhlmann, 22/02/2021 10:48:36

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