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She moved to Italy and bought a palazzo for a fresh start. Her ex-husband came with her

As they walked through the stunning palazzo and gazed up at its frescoed ceilings, Kelly and Jesse Galloway, originally from Australia, knew that their lives were about to change.

The pair, who’ve been divorced since 2013, decided to purchase the historic property, situated in the village of Stimigliano in the central Lazio region of Italy, almost instantly.

“The agent led us through this covered walkway, opened the door and brought us into this beautiful big kitchen,” Kelly, a former furniture manufacturer, tells CNN Travel.

“Then [we went] through the kitchen and into the main entrance, and I stood and looked up the staircase and began to cry.”

Italian dream

Kelly Galloway and her ex-husband Jess purchased Palazzo Menichelli for €123,000 ($132,700) in 2020. - Kelly Galloway
Kelly Galloway and her ex-husband Jess purchased Palazzo Menichelli for €123,000 ($132,700) in 2020. - Kelly Galloway

Kelly and Jess, who were previously married for 18 years, are now the proud owners of Palazzo Menichelli, which had been left empty for around three decades.

So how did this former couple end up moving to a new country and buying a palazzo – a grand Italian residence - together?

“We’ve been platonic for many years,” explains Kelly. “But we’re good friends. And I saw it as a chance for Jess to have a home of his own and for me to have a home of my own and [for us to] live happy ever after in this beautiful place.”

Kelly had dreamed of a “happy ever after” in Italy long before she’d ever even visited the European country and originally planned to relocate there in 2014.

However, things didn’t work out on that occasion and her dream “got put back on the shelf.”

When she traveled to Italy for the first time in 2018, Kelly says she fell in love with the country “more than ever.”

By the following year, her home in Australia was on the market and she’d put down a deposit on a palazzo located in the town of Alvito in the Lazio region.

But as the global Covid-19 pandemic developed, Kelly became nervous about taking on such a big project and pulled out of the deal.

Despite this setback, she was determined to move to Italy as soon as she could, and decided to ask Jess if he’d be willing come along to help her settle in.

“I had said that I thought he might end up deciding that he wanted to stay in Italy,” she says. “So he came with me under that set of circumstances.”

Kelly goes on to explain that she and Jess, who have three children, stayed close after their split, and continued to work together.

“We still dabbled in a lot of stuff together and sometimes traveled together to deliver things and so on,” she adds.

Historic property

The pair have spent the past few years renovating the stunning property, which had been left empty for three decades, themselves. - Kelly Galloway
The pair have spent the past few years renovating the stunning property, which had been left empty for three decades, themselves. - Kelly Galloway

In July 2020, the pair flew to Italy with two greyhounds, Vonny and Gooee, in tow.

Although Jess, who’d never traveled to Italy before then, only intended to stay for a short time, he became “besotted” with the property, which was rebuilt by an Italian family named the Menichellis in 1901, when he and Kelly went to view it the following month.

After negotiating with the owners, they agreed to buy Palazzo Menichelli for €123,000 ($132,700).

“We just went to the agent’s office, went through all the documentation and signed it that night,” says Kelly.

Once the sale was finalized later that year, the pair, who entered Italy with a Elective Residency Visa, a long-stay permit for non-EU citizens who intend to take residence in Italy, which requires a passive income of €31,000 (about $33,600,) spent the next few weeks getting to know the area and making plans.

“There was always the proviso that we could cast his [Jess’s] name off the contract if he ever changed his mind,” Kelly explains. “I looked into it, and it was relatively straightforward.”

They quickly set about beginning the renovation work on the historic property, which measures around 500 square meters (5,400 sq ft) and has a rooftop terrace that stretches across entire top floor.

“The place was in such fundamentally good condition, which was kind of amazing because it was so cheap,” says Kelly.

Kelly and Jess went on to complete most of the work themselves over the next three years, transforming a huge empty space into a functioning kitchen, giving the bathrooms a facelift and painting the huge property’s many walls.

According to Jess, one of the hardest jobs was building a garden “from scratch” and creating a landscaped space.

“That garden has been quite a challenge, because it was ‘crazy paving,’ which is random pieces of stone,” he says. “And there was absolutely no earth.”

Restoration work

Jess and Kelly have been painstakingly removing the paint covering some hidden frescoes in the property. - Kelly Galloway
Jess and Kelly have been painstakingly removing the paint covering some hidden frescoes in the property. - Kelly Galloway

Once Kelly and Jess began working on the interior of the property, they discovered many more frescoes that were painted over and have been painstakingly removing the paint in order to restore them.

“The removing of the paint over the frescoes is a long-term project,” explains Kelly, acknowledging that some areas may be “unfeasible to do.”

“We’ll keep persisting with that.”

Aside from this, they have pretty much completed the work on the six-level, 17-room property, which had four bedrooms, two dining rooms, two kitchens, four bathrooms and two entrances – one formal entrance and one side entrance.

“It’s big, but it’s not crazy big,” says Kelly. “You hear about some palazzos over here that have 20 bedrooms.”

They’ve converted one of the bedrooms into a salon/music room, where they plan to hold small concerts for family and friends and have also purchased and restored a Venetian harpsichord – a keyboard instrument that became popular during the Baroque period.

Kelly and Jess have also created two new dining areas that open out onto the rear terrace.

They eventually plan to transform two of the bedrooms on the second level into luxury B&B suites, and a separate section into a restaurant.

Although they’ve put a lot of work into the property, Kelly and Jess feel incredibly lucky, as the process has been “so darn easy.”

“So many movies have been about this hard slog renovating a place, and getting this arranged and that arranged,” says Kelly, explaining that the property didn’t require any structural, plumbing or electrical work.

“And we just do it all ourselves. All we’ve got to do is the fun stuff.”

They estimate that they’ve spent less than €50,000 (around $54,000) on materials, such as paint, so far.

Close-knit community

Kelly and Jess love the slower pace of life in Stimigliano, situated in the Lazio region of Italy. - numbeos/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images
Kelly and Jess love the slower pace of life in Stimigliano, situated in the Lazio region of Italy. - numbeos/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images

While Jess had only planned to stay in Italy for a short time, he’s taken to the country immensely and feels settled in Stimigliano, which is located just an hour from Rome.

“Everyone’s been extremely friendly and helpful,” says Jess. “It’s a really great community.”

However, the pair admit that they’ve found learning Italian and communicating with the locals to be hugely challenging.

“I’m quite shy,” says Kelly. “So I sort of feel embarrassed. I beat myself up a lot, because I don’t understand as much of what the locals are saying.”

And while Jess has been picking words up along the way and can “sort of scrape by” at the supermarket, he’s far from fluent.

Kelly concedes that they haven’t been able to socialize with locals as much as they would have liked, partly due to the language barrier, as well as the fact that they arrived during the pandemic and spend much of their time working on the property.

“I’d be lying if I told you that we go to lots of get togethers with locals and we all go around to each other’s houses,” she says. “That hasn’t really happened very much.

“But we do go to all of the local events. And the wonderful thing about little Italian towns is that there’s constantly events going on.”

Kelly’s been hugely impressed by the warmth and kindness of the local community, describing how their neighbors will sometimes ”turn up at our door and give us a lasagna,” because they often “make dozens and hand them to friends.”

“Things like that blow me away,” she says, adding that Jess often finds himself being handed a free coffee or bottle of wine while out and about.

Kelly loves the slower pace of life in the Italian town and admits that she sometimes felt like a “duck out of water” while living Down Under.

“I was a terrible fit for Australia,” says Kelly, who was based just outside of the city of Melbourne before moving to Italy.

“Australia is kind of painted as this place where it’s a very chill life. In reality, it’s very ‘rush.’

“You’re always kind of working for something. Whereas here, you’re in this tiny little town and everybody sort of knows each other.

Fairytale ending

The pair are close to finishing the work on the property, and say that they've only spent around €50,000 (around $54,000) on materials so far. - Kelly Galloway
The pair are close to finishing the work on the property, and say that they've only spent around €50,000 (around $54,000) on materials so far. - Kelly Galloway

“And if you’re walking past, everybody says ‘hello’ and they just give each other a helping hand.

“It’s like something out of a fairytale book. It really is.”

While she notes that some expats living in the country take exception to Italian bureaucracy, Kelly refuses to let it get to her.

“People complain about the bureaucracy,” she says. “But what I point out is, we spend a tiny fraction of our time each year dealing with bureaucracy and 99% of our time just living this beautiful life in this beautiful place.”

Their four-legged companion Vonny has also adapted to his new home well. Sadly Kelly’s dog Gooee, who also traveled to Italy with them, passed away last March.

Although she and Jess are very happy with their setup, Kelly admits that their platonic relationship can cause confusion, particularly when meeting strangers.

“I guess we’ve got better at dealing with it,” she says, stressing how well they’ve always worked together as a team.

“But I’m 60 and Jess is now 62. Pardon my bluntness, but at our age a lot of people aren’t doing much anyway. So we’re kind of like a lot of married couples would be at this point.

“Unless somebody specifically points out otherwise, it’s not something that we really think about.”

While she’d talked of moving to Italy for many years, Kelly says that many of her friends back home didn’t take her seriously, and even her family question it at times.

“Everybody said, ‘No, it won’t happen.’” she says. “But once I sold my house, they knew that I was definitely coming over here.”

Kelly stresses that their children are thrilled by the way that things have worked out for she and Jess and their son is planning to come over to visit at some point this year.

“He would be on the next plane to get here if he could,” she says, before explaining that their two daughters are less enthusiastic about making the long trip from Australia to Italy.

Kelly points out that she’s seen a number of expats return to their home country after moving to Italy, with one of the main reasons being the aforementioned bureaucracy.

She goes on to explain that the fact that most expats from outside the EU can only use their driving license for a year before having to obtain an Italian driving license, which involves taking the Italian driving test, is another factor.

“Things like that, people kind of dwell on,” she says. “And they end up being the reasons that they go back.

“What I would say to people is, ‘Just don’t worry about that.’ It’s such a little part of your life.

“Some people adore life here and some people end up literally hating it because they focus on those two things.”

Thankfully, both she and Jess are focused on little else but completing the work on their treasured palazzo, and making the most of their new life in Italy, a place that Kelly had fantasized about for so long.

“It’s hard to imagine anywhere else being home other than this place for either of us anymore,” she adds.

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