Welcome to ITALY Magazine's “Share Your Italian Story” series and in honour of Women’s Day today I am chatting with the fun-loving Orna O'Reilly. Originally from Ireland, she has worked for many years in South Africa and Mozambique, is an author and now a full-time Italy resident with a new lease on life. 

Tell me Orna, why Italy?

I’m originally from Ireland, but I’ve been travelling in Italy for several years. First of all, I used to visit Sirmione on Lake Garda regularly with my parents and the country gradually developed into a lifetime love affair for me. Up until 2013, when I moved here permanently, I had been visiting as many regions in Italy as possible two to three times per year as a solo traveller.

When I decided to retire and sell my house in the west of Ireland, my family were pretty shocked when I told them that I was moving to Italy. Now they’re all delighted to have somewhere so diverse and interesting to come and visit, which they do regularly. Living in Italy is truly wonderful. I love the climate, culture, food, wine and, of course, the Italian people who have made me so welcome in their beautiful country.

Can you elaborate more on your life in the Veneto.

I have been living in the Euganean Hills near Padova in the Veneto since early 2013. I retired from my long-term career as an interior designer where I worked in South Africa and Mozambique and finally in Ireland.  When I decided to retire it was to write and, as soon as I arrived in Italy, I finished off my book “Renovate and Redecorate Without Breaking a Nail” which is for sale on Amazon. This is a handbook which tells the reader how to efficiently manage an interior design project. It is written from a woman’s perspective and, after so many years working in the male dominated world of the building industry, I felt very well placed to write about it.

I have loved living in the Euganean Hills, so close to Venice, Padova and Vicenza; three wonderful cities with which I have spent the past few years familiarising myself.  There are also many Palladian villas in the vicinity and I have always been a huge fan of the architect Palladio. Little did I know that Palladio himself was about to play cupid!

You said you met a local widower and are moving south; we want to know more!

As I mentioned, I have been travelling solo for more than twenty years, though my youngest daughter moved out – in fact emigrated to Australia – almost ten years ago. Since then I have been living completely alone. I had planned to live the rest of my life, on my own, in my little house in the Euganean Hills, writing novels and travel blogging. I was perfectly content to do so. But, one day I went to visit a Palladian villa – Villa Pojana – and met another Palladio fan: an American widower of similar vintage. After that, my life changed dramatically and we are now together. We decided to make a brand new life together and the idea of the warm climate and relaxed lifestyle in Puglia appealed to both of us greatly, so we have bought a new build on top of a hill near Ostuni and plan to move in there as soon as it is ready.

That’s a pretty amazing story Orna. Let’s switch gears, can you tell me about the process of buying a house in the south and what challenges you both face?

The best thing we did was to find a good, reliable estate agent with a thorough knowledge of the local market and with ties to the building industry. We were very lucky to meet Maureen and her daughter Alanna, both Scottish, who have been working in Ostuni for several years and are looking after us magnificently.  The house is in the early stages of being built, but our builder and Maureen have been sending us photos via WhatsApp and I, in my final curtain call as an interior designer, have been drafting up our electrical and kitchen plans. So, I would just say at this point, that it’s a matter of “so far so good!”

What should people know about renovating their home in Italy?

There are many structural differences between houses here in Italy and in the UK and Ireland. For a start, Italians use completely different building materials and techniques, so unless you really know what you are doing, just try to find a reputable builder. Have a look at his previous work and talk so some of his clients. If he is proud of his work he will be eager to show you what he is capable of. Once you have chosen your builder, set about developing a good working relationship with him from the outset.

How does life look for you now Orna?

Extremely satisfying and happy, to be honest.  Being a couple with grown-up families and grandchildren, we want to enjoy the rest of our life together, while experiencing the adventure of moving to Puglia and building our new home. We intend to make it a welcoming place to visit for all our family and friends.
I have a feeling that your words will be a beautiful inspiration for many. Describe your favourite local neighbourhood.

At the moment, I would have to say that the area around here in the Euganean Hills is pretty wonderful. It is full of terrific walking trails and restaurants that we both enjoy. Apart from that, the scenery here is very beautiful. However, we also love Puglia and all the seaside towns which dot the coast. We haven’t yet decided which one is our favourite, there are so many to choose from!

A great problem to have! What does the future hold?

We both write and have our own independent travel blogs. A travel-writing trip to Russia is on the cards shortly and after that we will be planning our move to Puglia. I have been writing a novel set in Venice for a while now. I had to put it aside temporarily as my personal life intervened, big time! But I hope to finish it this year, somehow. Our new house has a purpose-built studio with a veranda outside, which will be just perfect for both of us and I hope we will see many years there together under the olive trees.

Keep in touch with Orna via her blog, on Twitter as @OrnaOR and on Facebook so you can keep up with her adventures throughout Italy and beyond.