Frankie goes to Italy - and stays there

Frankie and Joe with Gran Sasso Mountains behind
Frankie and Joe with Gran Sasso Mountains behind

FRANKIE Maguire’s love affair with Italy started on her first visit to Florence.

At the impressionable age of 16-years Frankie was overwhelmed by the ‘allegria’ (cheerfulness – love of life) in the Italian psyche.

The 40-year-old said that family holiday started a mounting determination to make the holiday destination “my home”.

“My aunt’s husband had an Italian mother and he took us to Italy to visit his grandmother and aunt who lived in Florence,” she said. “At the time the grandmother was 98-years-old and full of beans. I really liked her ‘allegria’ and though I didn’t understand a word that was being spoken at her dinner table, I was drawn to the family atmosphere and sense of togetherness over a meal.

“The food also captured me; Italian regional cooking is so diverse and is so much more than pizza and pasta. On that first visit I was also impressed by the young Italian men and the fact that you could buy beer without being asked for identification.”

After that first visit Frankie started putting the wheels in motion for her new life. During her degree - a BSc Hons European Regional Development at the University of Ulster - she spent a year studying in Southern Italy at Università degli Studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria completing a diploma in area studies.

Although she found a “completely different experience of Italy in the south of the country” at age 20 where “life was erratic and disorganised” it did not puncture her dream.

“After this, on subsequent journeys back to Italy it just felt right…. it felt like ‘home’,” she said.

Leaving Northern Ireland for good was made easier for Frankie when she found it “impossible to find work”.

Initially she moved to London and then Middlesborough for employment. After a few years of building up savings she took the plunge to Italy’s heel - Puglia.

This is a dream location to start a new life with dramatic coastlines, untouched nature reserves and reportedly some of the country’s best food.

“I bought a house in a town called Ostuni in Puglia at the start,” she said. “Then I did a few jobs teaching English, training teachers of English, I worked for a manufacturing company as their export manager and I even provided the voice over for a promotional video for a travel company,” she said.

“Since leaving the UK, when required, I also work as a freelance management & soft skills training consultant and have contracted in Italy, Azerbaijan, UAE and Equatorial Guinea.”

It will come as no surprise that during her four years in Puglia her story came full circle when she met and married local man 52-year-old Joe Iannelli. The pair met when Frankie decided she wanted to try her hand at the property market by buying and restoring a rusctic farmhouse. Their friendship was initially cemented over a mutual love of restoring property - and making money at the same time.

“Joe and I met when he came to my house in Puglia to quote for some building work. I had a limited and unrealistic building budget and couldn’t afford his quote,” she said. “We became friends and started to go as part of a group to salsa dancing lessons. Eventually everyone else dropped out and it was just the two of us…….neither of us could dance. I like to lead and we had no rhythm…..we eventually became an item. I like to say that he didn’t get the job but he got the girl. We got married in Venice in 2010.

“Joe has a beautiful daughter Natalia who is 21, lives in Cyprus and visits us regularly. We have a dog and a cat - and hope to add some chickens and geese to our household in the next year.”

Their first project saw Joe restore ‘Il casolare’, the traditional stone farmhouse from scratch. It was set on a hectare of land and had 170 olive trees and 1,800 vines.

“We were really pleased when our first venture was even featured in Ville Giardini magazine, which is Italy’s version of Home and Garden,” she said. “But as much as we loved it Puglia wasn’t working for us financially. So after the property was sold we moved to Abruzzo.”

Abruzzo, a region in south/central Italy, lies less than 50 miles east of Rome.

“We then moved to our current house Villa Leonardo in the town of Bucchianico. Apart from my freelance work I focus on creating, promoting and building our holiday rental business. It took a long time to find the right property and Joe has done all of the building work himself creating two independent holiday apartments on the top floor of our villa. One is a one bedroom rental (sleeps up to three) and the other is a two bedroom rental (sleeps up to five). Our ground floor holds plenty of space for expansion in the future should we see a demand.

“ We also bought a town-house in Orsogna, restored it, and it is now on the market for sale.”

Frankie says it was by “pure chance” that she ended up in the property business in Italy. She said she quickly realised that paying rent was “throwing money down the drain”, so she got on the property market as soon as possible. But after moving to Italy and falling in love with an Italian building contractor, all the pieces fitted together.

“Italian property has some very attractive characteristics,” she said. “If you look carefully, stay realistic and take your time you can still find some great bargains out here.

“With our current house Villa Leonardo we have no regrets about our decision to buy. We did our homework, we knew its true value, we had seen everything else out there on the market and of course we had learned from our previous experiences and mistakes.”

Frankie advises anyone who wants to follow in her footsteps to “do it if you really want to”.

“Try to learn some of the language,” she said. “Don’t act in haste, take your time, think and plan and be realistic about your needs.

“Throw away the ‘buying a house and living in Italy’ type books as they will scare and confuse you. Join a forum or make a visit and speak to people who have had the experience.

“I am not saying that it is easy and it is perfect here, there have been some hard times over the years but it is worth it.

I have no regrets, I love it here.”

Anyone who wants more information should email Frankie on: