Your interactive family guide to Italy as recommended by local mums | Last updated 9 months ago

Interviews with Mums

Helen Harrison - Alsagra (Umbria)

"I was lucky to be able to experience both private medical care and state care. Poppy was born whilst I was still covered under my company medical scheme. I had excellent care with visits to the Obstetrician every month, blood tests and scans every month. I was late 30’s when Poppy was born so the Obstetrician was very good at checking everything she could. The hospital was excellent, I sang during my delivery (by section) as I was so relaxed. The care was great- I did not see my daughter for 5-6 hours as they were looking after her. I actually had to ask to see her as before they would bring her in. At night time she was looked after by the nurses and only brought in for feeding which was great. For Michele, he was born under the state system. The care was equally good but the staff were a lot more surely and unfriendly. My husband was allowed into the operating theatre (section again) for Poppy but with Michele he had to wait outside until it was all sorted out" (HH, March 2013)

 

  • What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Alsagra?
    Helen Harrison, 46, lived in Italy for 13 years now. 3 years in Como/Milan area and 10 years in Umbria at Alsagra

    Why did you move there?
    I worked for a number of years with a large International Company and had spent many years travelling the world in my job. In the later years I was based in Italy near Milan as Italy was a central point to hop to most European destinations and also was in a timezone that meant I could work with Asia in the morning and Americas in the afternoon. After 3 years I came to love Italy for its culture and challenging way of doing things. A year after having my first child I took the opportunity to leave my corporate lifestyle and take on the challenge of being self employed and using our investment in Property to provide our income through rental of family focused self catering apartments.

    What is the area like and how far from Perugia is it?
    We are about 20 minutes from Perugia but live in a little village overlooking Perugia, Assisi and Monte Tezio. The area is rural and traditional Italian values are still here. We have lots of friends who live with their family in one building and are happy to look after our children or work with us to sort issues out. We are close to Perugia with all its modern amenities but can “escape” to the rural life easily.

    What nationality are you and your partner?
    We are both British nationals.

    How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
    2 children. Poppy Sofia born in March 2003 and Michele Thomas born August 2005.

    What was your experience of having a baby in Alsagra (if relevant)?
    I was lucky to be able to experience both private medical care and state care. Poppy was born whilst I was still covered under my company medical scheme. I had excellent care with visits to the Obstetrician every month, blood tests and scans every month. I was late 30’s when Poppy was born so the Obstetrician was very good at checking everything she could. The hospital was excellent, I sang during my delivery (by section) as I was so relaxed. The care was great- I did not see my daughter for 5-6 hours as they were looking after her. I actually had to ask to see her as before they would bring her in. At night time she was looked after by the nurses and only brought in for feeding which was great. For Michele, he was born under the state system. The care was equally good but the staff were a lot more surely and unfriendly. My husband was allowed into the operating theatre (section again) for Poppy but with Michele he had to wait outside until it was all sorted out.

    What was your experience of relocating to Alsagra with children (if relevant)? 
    Not really happened more of a migrate than relocate.

    You own and run ‘A place in Umbria’ , can you let us know what this is and how the idea came about?
    After nearly 15 years in corporate business with all the pressures of international travel and internal politics we both decided that it was time to have a lifestyle change. We were already living in Italy so decided to buy an old farmhouse. The plan, like many other expats was to restore it and live in part whilst renting out the extra space that we did not need. We were also aware that income from our rentals would not be enough to live on so also took on the management of a number of properties in the area and set up a property management business “Umbria Property Services”. During the time of our restoration whilst looking at marketing our apartments I became aware that a “normal” self catering apartment would not ensure our income as there are so many properties available here already in the market. We made a conscious decision to restore our apartments in such a way that they would be great for families and meet their needs. We were already building up our experience with our own family so knew what was available locally and what young children needed. During the past 8 years our business has grown as has the now large number of offerings aimed at making apartments somewhere unique that families want to come, relax and enjoy having family facilities actually at the same place as their accommodation.

    How did you find the process of buying a property?
    Like all purchases in Italy it was not smooth. 12 hours before the final completion we were told we were actually buying 2 properties not 1. But not to worry as it would be beneficial from a tax perspective – which it certainly has not turned out to be. The Geometra “came” with the building which was not a good thing as he had defined ideas about what he wanted to do with it which were not always the same as ours. I would always advise to find a separate Geometra than one who knows the building.

    How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
    I would say as parents are 75% integrated. The children are 100% integrated and enjoy parties, events the same as the Italian friends. They are accepted into their lifes totally. This is probably due to the fact that they were both born here and have grown up with their Italian friends. It has been slower for us as parents because there is not the social events to allow you to integrate. A great time to get to know parents is at drop off and pick up and all the school trips which we attended so that we were accepted. The use of our Property Service business has been a great integrator and we have some brilliant people working with us who are all Italian.

    What language do you speak to your children?
    English. It is the only place they get to hear English spoken so we feel it is important to leave the Italian speaking to school.

    What is your impression of childcare and education in Alsagra?
    We have found that generally the Italian education is good. It seems to be very thorough (too much sometimes) and they do encourage children to bring in their own sense of adventure and ideas into the classroom. Childcare for the young is currently very limited in our area of Umbria. 3 nurseries have opened up in the last 5 years however before that it was very much the case that family had to look after children. There is very little in the way of kids clubs etc.

    What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Alsagra? Our children are having a great experience from living in Italy. There are very few/not any expat groups/clubs so you do not feel as if you are kept in a group on your own and not allowed to integrate. The only disadvantage is that it does take a number of years to become accepted and trusted amongst locals for the parents however children are more open and accepting to non Italians.

    How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Alsagra?
    When we lived in Milan/Como area the locals outside of the work environment were very difficult to integrate with. We made a point of using the local bar and restaurant as much as we could however it never felt as though we were accepted. When we moved to Umbria the barristers and restaurants were a lot more accepting of us. Not sure if this is due to the fact that we had children with us or the openness of Umbrian people.

    Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
    Our area is family friendly, there are lots of activities to do locally such as white water rafting, dinosaur museums, lots of parks, horse riding, cooking , painting classes, play areas etc. The main challenge is finding them as the Umbrians are not very good at marketing their products and services. Suggestions for changing childrens lives would be more children focused events as well as the local festas. There are some events but maybe one per month would good.

    What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Alsagra or the Perugia region with children?
    The area is great for families and children. The people are very accepting of families and provided that you put the effort in to integrate with them they will try their best to work with you. There are not the huge number of baby clubs and activities that seem to abound in the UK so if you want the network or support of other mums/dads it is a bit harder to find.

    What couldn´t you live without in Alsagra?
    The lifestyle here is very important to us. Whilst there is an element of stress and frustration from living here the lifestyle is great. The sense of community and ability to call on people when you need help is wonderful. Whilst we live in a rural farmhouse the services and amenities of larger places such as Perugia are closeby should we need them.

    What could you live without in Alsagra?!
    The high utility bills, all service industry bills are very high compared to other countries.
     

    March 2013