American born, Australian influenced, and now Italian resident and business owner: meet Kaila Terraneo, a young woman originally from Vermont who moved to Italy nine months ago with her Italian husband Ludovico, “to begin our new chapter in the Italian countryside,” as Kaila tells ITALY Magazine.
Kaila and Ludovico met in Sydney, Australia, where they lived for more than seven years. In 2018, after Kaila lost her mother and as the newlywed couple felt increasingly called to the Italian lifestyle, they started considering moving to Italy and creating a business together. Thus, their company, Vero, was born: the idea is to connect travelers with wine producers, olive oil producers and artisans in Umbria and beyond through food and wine tours, wine export, and luxury accommodation. Kaila and Ludovico's professional backgrounds have helped getting them started: Kaila holds a Level 3 Award in Wines from the prestigious Wine and Spirits Education Trust, while Ludovico has extensive experience in the design industry.
The couple is currently renovating a 17th-century casale in the countryside of Umbria, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2022.
Let’s hear directly from Kaila about her experience of moving to Italy and creating a business here.
Kaila, where are you from originally?
I grew up in South Hero, Vermont, a small town on one of the many islands surrounding Lake Champlain. Growing up in ‘the islands’ taught me the importance of community, the power of supporting small businesses, and the value of buying produce from local farmers. These principles guide me now more than ever and have laid the foundation for my Italian endeavor – more on that later.
Why did you choose to move to Italy?
Ludo is originally from Lake Como, but spent the last 10 years in Sydney, where we first met. I suppose, in some ways, it was always in the cards to relocate somewhere in Europe, but that wasn't what led us here...
In November 2017, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. No one saw it coming; newly retired, always on-the-go, and a young 61-year-old making plans to see the world. The news stopped us all in our tracks.
I am an only child and was raised by my single working mother. We were attached at the hip and shared a bond that other mothers and daughters longed for. When I heard the diagnosis I immediately flew back to Vermont to care for her as we tried to fight this cancer together. The next 6 months were trying in many ways. I split my time between Sydney and Vermont (a 26-hour flight), working to keep both my relationship with Ludo and my mother alive.
In February 2018, Ludo proposed to me. He knew I needed my mom at my wedding. This was non-negotiable. We proceeded to plan a dreamy Lake Como wedding (as per my mother’s frank request) for that coming June and she managed to be there with bells on. Almost 2 months later to the day, my beautiful mother passed away with me and her husband, David, by her side.
Soon after her death, I flew back to Sydney to start my newlywed life, but there was another new part of me that I had to make room for and that was one of a grieving 27-year-old. It was the combination of my deep sorrow and the beginning of a new life with my husband that was the catalyst for what would come next.
Ludo and I always knew we made a good team, but planning our wedding in a matter of months from 2 different continents confirmed it. The authentic experiences we gave our families and friends during our wedding week solidified the idea that we had something to offer others and we were even better when the subject revolved around Italy.
It was only after a nonchalant comment from a friend that our wheels really started to turn. She said she could ‘totally see [us] running a B&B or Agriturismo somewhere in Italy...’. Why hadn’t we thought of that?!
We went home that night and began searching for homes in the Italian countryside. City life no longer served us and I desperately wanted to find a home that connected me to my childhood in the countryside. Soon, this idea of running a property in Italy became our dream and quickly turned into our goal. We could hardly think of anything else. We would spend the weekends researching, planning, discussing, and dreaming. This was it – this could be our ticket to a life well lived: building a family, a business, and a legacy, together.
And so, we did it! Numerous road trips with my father-in-law and 50 some-odd house viewings later, we found our piece of paradise. What seemed like a drastic change to many just seemed necessary and inevitable to us. We were determined and nothing could stop us.
The idea of ‘waiting until we’re retired’ no longer worked for us since we had just seen retirement get ripped away from my dearest mommy. What we knew we had was the present moment, nothing else could be certain. So, we leaped and landed on our feet.
Since our move, Ludo and I have launched our own Italian brand, Vero (meaning: authentic, real, true). We connect travelers with hidden producers and artisans in Umbria and beyond. We do this through Authentic Food & Wine Experiences, Luxury Accommodation, and Italian Wine Export. We are currently renovating our property to make way for the accommodation component, which will open summer 2022.
I do have to remind myself often to enjoy the journey rather than let myself be consumed by the goal - I am only human after all. Essentially, being present for the journey itself has become the goal. Nothing less, nothing more. My mother’s journey was cut short. It’s difficult to let myself wonder why someone with so much life inside her was robbed of future years. I don’t have the answer to this, nor was I able to control her fate, but what I can and will do is not let my own life pass me by.
These days I try to live every day with a deep awareness. I understand what a privilege it is to wake up every day and have the creativity and time to work towards a legacy I am proud of with my husband by my side (and in Italy no-less). It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it is authentic, honest, and incredibly powerful. The best part? This is only the beginning.
Where have you relocated to and why did you choose that particular part of Italy?
We live in a peaceful spot just 20 minutes south of Perugia in Umbria. We are not entirely sure how we ended up selecting the Umbrian region. I would like to think my mom guided us here, however, there were some realistic factors that sealed the deal for us. Things like: proximity to major cities (2 hours from Rome and Florence), the affordability of property and land, and the untapped potential for tourism. Umbria has often remained in the shadow of Tuscany, but the two regions boast incredibly similar landscapes. Umbria is known to be slightly more off-the-beaten-track, but that is the authentic charm of the region. Every day you are able to find yourself in another peaceful hilltop town and it feels like you have stepped back in time to an Italy that once was. The discoveries one can make here are endless and there is a spiritual energy in these hills and valleys that takes your breath away. Ludo and I both spent many years in the hospitality industry and when we began to uncover the region of Umbria we were giddy at the opportunities we saw available. 9 months later, we are continuously astounded that we have managed to find our own piece of paradise. It gets better by the day.
What was most challenging to adjust to in your new life in Italy?
A cliché for sure, but the language made even the most mundane tasks feel impossible. For example: calling the doctor, making a hair appointment, or even just buying some bread at the shops.
We arrived in the midst of the pandemic and spent a large portion of our time in lockdown and/or with some kind of restrictions. Because of this my immersion has not been seamless, but having in-laws who only speak Italian certainly helps! I am an outgoing person and find it easy to strike up a conversation so to not have a full vocabulary at my fingertips is frustrating at times. I do, however, think that Italians are attuned to the unspoken charisma of a person and they can sense when someone means well just from a smile or a laugh. I trust that my good intentions will shine through no matter what language I’m speaking.
I have improved leaps and bounds, but calling the doctor is still not a solo task. Piano, piano (slowly, slowly) … I will get there.
Have you made friends where you live now? Overall, what was the transition like?
The pandemic has certainly put a halt on socializing with locals and making new friends, but as our region continues to open up again we are able to finally invite our neighbors for the long-awaited dinner and start attending local festivals and events. I definitely had unrealistic expectations of moving to the countryside and fitting right into our new small-town community. I was craving what surrounded me growing up, but I realize that isn’t something that happens overnight. I look forward to continuing to build trust with our new community and nurture lasting friendships.
What are the aspects of Italian culture and lifestyle you love the most?
Without a doubt, the Italian table and all it stands for in this culture. The connection that comes from gathering around the table as a family two times per day is something that is so deeply rooted in the heritage of Italy. Most shops and offices (outside of the cities) close midday and reopen around 3 or 4pm. This is so that everyone can go home, eat a meal, have a rest, and come back recharged. This shift in lifestyle may seem unnecessary to most non-Italians, but I believe it is the gateway to slowing down in other parts of your life too.
What are the aspects of Italian culture and lifestyle that drive you crazy?
The lack of services online. If you walk into any office in Italy you will see their ‘filing system’ consists of stacks and stacks of flimsy folders piled high. This is the perfect image for what the bureaucracy of Italy can be like. Systems still exist that feel archaic, unorganized, and dysfunctional, but cannot really be fixed easily because in order to do that someone would spend their entire career going through the paper filing system to make way for the new one. And by then, the new system they’ve implemented would be out of date too!
I haven’t really had to deal with this part of Italian life yet since I have Ludo to navigate it all, but I must say, even he was shocked coming back to Italy after all those years to discover the insane amount of hoops one must jump through to get anything done. His favorite phrase as we follow home renovations: “It takes longer to file the renovation approval paperwork than it does to actually do the renovations themselves.” The locals chuckle at that one and wholeheartedly agree.
What’s your experience of the expat community?
The only kind of expat experience I’ve had has been online. There are a lot of expat women that I follow through blogs and Instagram. These are women who took the leap and created lives worth living all across Italy. I follow a lot of accounts online like this and took refuge in their stories whilst we were calculating our own move here. I was inspired by their stories and have since connected with some of them further, but I have yet to meet anyone in person – soon, I hope!
Tell me about any goals or desires you have for your new life in Italy.
We are still young and ambitious and look forward to playing a part in the shift of tourism in Umbria. There is a huge community of young farmers and producers who are taking Umbria to the next level. It is really exciting to be a part of it. My background in wine and Ludo’s in design have created a perfect harmony for what we aim to achieve. Our goal is to educate travelers in an honest and humble way about Italian wine and olive oil, the beauty of eating locally and authentically, and the priceless value of reconnecting with yourself and the natural surroundings. We feel it is our duty to give back to these ancient lands and honor the stories and efforts of those who came before us. We want to inspire others to find the beauty in ‘slow travel’ and hope they can take a piece of it home with them in order to create more time and space in their own lives.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of making the move?
Do it! Don’t wait. If you find yourself constantly thinking about a move to Italy then find a way to make it happen. Trust your intuition. Do the research and dedicate time to changing your life, but most importantly follow your heart. There are so many ways to make it happen and endless free materials online that will help guide you. All you have to do is find your unique journey to getting here.
Thank you, Kaila, for sharing your story with ITALY Magazine readers, and good luck with Vero!
All photos courtesy of Kaila Terraneo.