After 22 years in advertising and marketing in London and yearning for a change, Penny Radford moved to Italy in 1994. She and her husband had fallen in love with Umbria while on holiday and decided that it would be the perfect location for their downshifting project.
But things ended up not going precisely to plan when her husband (now ex) decided it was not for him after all. Which was how Penny found herself alone at the top of a mountain in Umbria, living in a burned out shell of a house with a dodgy roof that came with several ruined buildings. A mini hamlet really. Many people would have decided that this was a downshift too far, but being a resourceful and determined lady, Penny resolved to make a go of it. She learned Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia, got in touch with local builders and basically learned renovation as she went along.
Today her property, Prato di Sotto, is unrecognisable. The beautifully restored group of buildings with their landscaped gardens and pool overlooking the astonishing Umbrian landscape and the medieval village of Santa Giuliana are testament to Penny’s skills as a restorer and interior designer. She now runs Prato di Sotto as a successful luxury holiday rental business www.umbriaholidays.com and many of her clients are returning for their tenth consecutive year this year, the best testimonial for what she has created. “The business grew organically,” explains Penny. “As I restored more and more of the houses I was able to take more holiday guests. People love it here and my guestbook is full of the most incredible comments. Some actually say it has changed their lives, which really makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Two for the Price of One
Penny has an art school background and this is evident in the beautiful interiors which combine the best of English and Italian country house style. So many people were impressed with what she had achieved that it inspired her to create a restoration consultancy www.radford-restorations.com meaning she now runs not one but two businesses in Italy. “It hasn’t really been complicated to get the businesses up and running,” she says. “I work as a libera professionista (freelance consultant). You need to make sure you get a good commercialista though. In retrospect I would have chosen one nearer here whe I started. I ended up with one more than an hour aay which is not very convenient. Also at the beginning I didn’t question things enough and just paid everything put in front of me, which I have now discovered wasn’t always necessary. Some of the things I ended up paid for were actually optional, for example, INAIL third party insurance, which I already had through my own insurance policy.” Word of mouth is vitally important, especially in Italy, and that is how Penny got her first restoration projects. “A guest loved the area, bought a house here and asked me to project manage the restoration,” she explains. “Another job was a landscape gardener who had heard about me and asked me to help him project manage a property renovation.” After all her experience what advice would Penny pass on to prospective business owners? “Learn the language,” she says. “You can’t do anything without speaking Italian. Also, if you are contemplating a tourist business then consider the location carefully.” Does she mean choose somewhere already popular with tourists? “Not so much that, “ she emphasises, “but make sure the place you choose is not too far from a good airport that has more than just one budget airline using it. If there’s just one company they can change their minds about routes and then you are stuck.”
It is obvious that Penny loves the holiday rental business. “The best thing has been meeting wonderful people from all walks of life,” she says. “And although the properties are self catering, I love to cook and so I always end up cooking guests at least one meal during their visit.” Easy to understand why they keep coming back!