This US couple bought a 400-year-old Italian tower on a handshake. Here’s what happened


Bargain home: 
US couple Tom and Aileen Winter, who are based in Colorado, bought a 400-year-old tower turned vacation home in Italy back in 2017.Tom Winter

<strong>Medieval village: T</strong>hey tracked down their Italian home after seeing it listed online and took an instant shine to Exilles, located in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.<br />
<strong>U</strong><strong>nique home: </strong>The couple purchased the tower, which they've named 'Torre Piccolo', for 19,000 euros (around $21,000).
<strong>Making changes:</strong> Once the sale was finalized in early 2018, they set about the process of transforming the four-story home into a suitable vacation house for the two of them.<br />
<strong>Strong community: </strong>They quickly got to know the locals, who were surprised that they'd chosen to purchase a home in Exilles, which is close to Gran Bosco national park.<br />
<strong>Renovation process:</strong> They spent a total of $94,000 on remodeling the house. This is what the upper level, which was previously used as guest accommodation, originally looked like.
<strong>New look:</strong> It's since been converted into a bedroom, with two single beds.
<strong>Full makeover:</strong> "It's a very small place," says Tom. "There's only so much you can do. So it's quite an easy process compared to some of the projects that people get involved in."
<strong>Home improvements:</strong> They've replaced the staircase with an open stairway in order to bring more light into the property.
<strong>Modernizations: </strong>The old kitchen on the first level, which featured a kerosene stove, has been converted into a living area.
<strong>Kitchen area: </strong>The Winters have built a new kitchen on the second level of the house.
<strong>Warm welcome:</strong> "Everyone's been incredibly kind and patient with us," says Tom. "They appreciate that we love their village because they're quite proud of their little village.
<strong>Italian dream: </strong>"This started an idea [that we thought] could be something fun to do," adds Tom. "But the thing that's really blown us away, is how it's been an investment in our soul. And how kind the people are." <br />
<strong>Bargain home: </strong>US couple Tom and Aileen Winter, who are based in Colorado, bought a 400-year-old tower turned vacation home in Italy back in 2017.
<strong>Medieval village: T</strong>hey tracked down their Italian home after seeing it listed online and took an instant shine to Exilles, located in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.<br />
This US couple bought a 400-year-old Italian tower

Before they fell for each other, Aileen and Tom Winter had already fallen head over heels for Italy.

The US couple, who’ve been married for around 18 years, spent a lot of time in the European country over the years, separately and together, with Aileen regularly returning for month-long visits.

“I just had a passion for Italy,” Aileen tells CNN Travel. “I made a bunch of Italian friends all over the country.”

The pair, who are based in Boulder, Colorado, had long fantasized about buying a home in Italy, wistfully gazing at realtors’ windows during their many visits.

But it wasn’t until around 2016 that they began seriously pursuing this prospect, focusing their attention on the area near Susa Valley in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

After about a year of actively searching, Tom, who previously worked in action sports, stumbled across an online listing for a 400-year-old tower turned vacation home in the medieval village of Exilles that piqued his interest.

Italian dream

Tom and Aileen White purchased a home in the Italian village of Exilles back in 2017.

Tom and Aileen White purchased a home in the Italian village of Exilles back in 2017.Tom Winter

As no address was given, he decided to head to Exilles, situated about an or so from from Turin by car, to try to locate it himself.

On arriving, Tom was immediately impressed by the village, which has a population of around 250, and quickly tracked down the unusual home.

After speaking to some locals, he was able to find the owners and set about convincing them to sell him the property.

“They met us the next day and we bought the house on a handshake,” explains Aileen, who runs a real estate consultancy.

They purchased the tower for 19,000 euros (around $21,000) in October 2017.

<strong>Life-changing purchase:</strong> Ellen and Joseph from the US, who had dreamed of living in France for years, came across a tiny rundown home in the historic village of Lonlay l'Abbaye in Normandy online back in 2014, and decided to purchase it unseen.

The couple say they faced some minor issues during the sale process, particularly with regards to opening an Italian bank account, but were able to overcome this hurdle with the help of an Italy-based attorney.

Once the sale was finalized in early 2018, Tom flew into Italy from the US, “picked up the keys over pizza in Turin” and set about beginning the process of transforming the four-story home into a suitable vacation house for he and Aileen.

“I arrived in a snowstorm and everything was gray and dark,” he says. “The village is quite lively in the summer, but it’s very quiet in winter.

“I fell into a weird kind of despair, where [I was thinking], ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’”

Fortunately a visit from a friend raised his spirits, and he focused his energies on ripping out the old carpet and linoleum and cleaning out the home in order to prepare it for the renovation.

“The old kerosene stove worked for approximately five minutes,” he recalls.

‘Magical place’

The couple say that they've been embraced "like family" by the local community in Exilles.

The couple say that they’ve been embraced “like family” by the local community in Exilles.Tom Winter

Once Aileen had arrived, and the couple found an architect for the project, they quickly got to know the locals, who were surprised that they’d chosen to buy a home in Exilles, which is close to Gran Bosco national park.

“The big question was, ‘Why are you here?’” explains Aileen. “This is a real working village where people live off the land and there’s a lot of trading of vegetables, fruits and potatoes.

“So they would ask, “Why here?’ And we just kept saying, ‘Because it’s a magical place.’”

According to the Winters, the renovation process took around six months, with the total cost amounting to around $94,000.

“It was kind of habitable to start,” explains Tom. “But we’ve modernized it and made it quite nice.”

They transformed the ground level of the home, which previously featured a small bathroom with just a sink and a toilet, to a large bathroom with a shower and laundry facilities.

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They also replaced the staircase with an open stairway in order to bring more light into the property, and added a new hot water system fueled by a pellet stove.

In addition, the Winters have built a new kitchen on the second level of the house, which has a balcony, while the old kitchen has been converted into a living area.

“It’s a very small place,” adds Tom. “There’s only so much you can do. So it’s quite an easy process compared to some of the projects that people get involved in.”

In the years since they purchased the property, which they’ve named Torre Piccolo, the couple, who visit Piedmont four or five times a year, have formed strong friendships within the village and say they’ve been welcomed generously.

“The people in the village have embraced us like family,” says Aileen, recalling how they were initially known as  “Li Americani.”

They’ve since bought a second property in Exilles, and say that the strength of the community has been a huge part of the village’s appeal.

“Everyone’s been incredibly kind and patient with us,” says Tom. “They appreciate that we love Exilles. They’re quite proud of their little village and rightfully so.

“It’s an interesting place surrounded by beautiful balance in nature, and it’s been really well preserved. So they should be proud.”

The couple have developed a close friendship with the previous owner of the home, who Aileen describes as one of her “dearest friends in Italy.”

“Her son just had a baby and we went to visit,” she adds. “So a beautiful friendship came from this purchase.”

As few people in Exilles speak English, Aileen and Tom have both made a huge effort to learn the language, enrolling in immersive language courses at language schools.

However, the Winters concede that Aileen has picked the language up more easily over time, which is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed among the locals.

“I was telling them that I was going to language school for a few weeks,” Aileen says of a recent conversation with some of their neighbors.

Slower pace

The Winters spent around $94,000 renovating Torre Piccolo, which has five rooms.

The Winters spent around $94,000 renovating Torre Piccolo, which has five rooms.Tom Winter

“And the first question was, ‘Why isn’t Tom going? He needs it more than you do.’”

While they’re very much enamored with Exilles, the pair admit that there are some aspects of life in a small Italian village that they’ve had to adjust to.

“We’ve learned to understand that if you show up at the grocery store on a Tuesday at 10 a.m, it might be closed because that particular store has their own hours,” says Aileen.

“And sometimes you’ll go to a restaurant at eight o’clock at night and it’s closed, because there’s a family birthday party. So you just have to understand and be adaptable.”

According to the Winters, the slower pace of life has helped them to become less “uptight” about things.

“It’s a good adjustment. You learn to slow down and become a little more relaxed about the processes,” says Tom. “And that’s been beautiful. We really do disconnect when we go there.”

Although the Winters say they’d love to eventually be able to spend half of the year in Piedmont, they don’t have long stay visas, and tourist visas only permit them to stay for 90 days at a time.

However, Tom believes it will be a long while before they’re ready to think about settling in Italy for good, noting that they’re keen to hold on to their properties in the US.

“I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” he says, adding that there are some things about life in Italy that they’d find “challenging” to deal with permanently.

“It would be hard for me to be subjected to the notorious Italian bureaucracy full time and the tax ramifications for us. So the ongoing conversation that we’re having is [about] how that would work.”

For the time being, the Winters are working towards being able to spend four or five months of the year in Italy, and say that they’d love to bring their cat over and spend more time in their garden planting.

The couple are sometimes asked for advice by other US families hoping to move to Italy, and say that they always advise them to spend time finding the destination that suits them best, pointing out that while Exilles has been ideal for them, “it isn’t right for everyone.”

“That ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ dream that people find is really, really cool,” says Aileen.

“So if you have a dream to go live in Provence. Or if you want to be in Tuscany, or in Spain somewhere, then do it.

“Don’t just talk about it. Go make it happen. But I encourage people to seriously find their space.”

This sentiment is echoed by Tom, who stresses that while he wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a house on a handshake, he’s thrilled with the way things have turned out.

“This started an idea [that we thought] could be something fun to do,” he says. “But the thing that’s really blown us away, is how it’s been an investment in our soul. And how kind the people are.

“The ROI is really that human experience. That’s exceeded every expectation we ever could have had.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the couple’s family name in the first paragraph.https://nutriapel.com/

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