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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

Hilary Shenton?s Italian Job - Crias in Salento!

Hilary Shenton

So here we are in the Salento region of Puglia, three months further on and SO much has happened.

The alpacas have settled in very well. They are in a large pen in our stonemason?s garden, behind 8ft high stone walls so no chance of feral dogs getting in! We have found a local supplier of alfalfa pellets which they have taken to well and a new supplier of hay so all is now much improved on the food front. They have no grazing to speak of but the diet has suited them well. I keep the pen scrupulously clean to avoid any chance of intestinal worms and we have had no upset tummies or mites to deal with.

Our first cria, a black female suri, was born to dark brown suri Atlantic Cosmos on July 9th. Her sire I-Spy Legacy has certainly put his stamp on her. Her fleece has excellent independent locks and very high lustre as you will see from the photograph. Named Nicola del Salento she is, as far as we know, the first alpaca ever to be born in captivity south of Rome. She has hit the headlines and was featured in ?Italia!? Magazine.

A month later she was followed by two more crias: Giuglia del Salento, a black female huacaya sired by our Zarza Rizardo and a fawn male Nando del Salento sired by Wessex Cosmos.

Finally Emilia del Salento was born out of Wessex Frederica by Westcroft Cloud. She is a pure white, very beautiful female huacaya and we are thrilled to have Cloud?s bloodline here in Italy.

We are delighted with the quality of all of these and only sorry we shall not be in the UK with them to show them all off on the show circuit in 2008.

As at the end of November all are thriving well and totally unfazed by their surroundings.

During this period I have been catching up with administration. All the land here in Puglia (and indeed in most areas of Italy) has a building index which dictates how many cubic metres of building can be built for each square metre of land. If you can obtain registration as a farmer with the local equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce ? the Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato Agricultura di Lecce - then you qualify for a higher building index and so you can have a larger house, buildings for animals, porticos and garages etc. Every area of covered space counts as long as the building is permanent. One can therefore use wooden buildings for animals but as soon as a concrete or brick pillar is used and a roof appears it becomes permanent.

It was very important for us to qualify for a high building index so that we could not only build our house but convert the ruin on our ground into a second house which we plan to sell to help finance the rest. A further smaller ruin was going to be used as an alpaca house initially but with plans to be converted to a guest house in future years.

I was very concerned that I might get asked all sorts of things in Italian when I arrived at the Camera di Commercio and further that my Italian would not be ?up to it?. I therefore took with me Roberta, an Italian graduate who I met at the local internet office. She spoke good English and agreed to interpret for me. Thank heavens! It took three separate visits because no written instructions were provided informing us of the documentation they required and whilst the officials were perfectly nice people there always seemed to be another piece of paper needed before moving onto the next step.

Amazingly the one thing I did not need to provide was any concrete proof that I bred alpacas. They were more concerned that I had proof of identity, proof of address and was registered for taxes than anything else. However on the third visit I decided to wear an alpaca sweater (very hot) and by the time the lady on the desk had finished discussing it we were friends and the paperwork veritably whizzed through. I then found out that it took a minimum of one week to register this application on the computer and that until that time they could not print off a certificate. ?Did I want a certificate?? I was asked!!! Why ever was I there if not for that I thought. ?If you do please return with proof of paying five euros at the post office and we?ll give you one? they said. Ho hum??..Italian bureaucracy!

A similar but much more long winded exercise took place in order to get our Italian residency. Again we took an interpreter with us and once she realised the lady on the desk was a distant aunt things moved very quickly indeed. Another hurdle crossed and a necessary one because until that was achieved we could not (legally) own an Italian car.

However on the house front all was not plain sailing. By September we had become very concerned that the final plans for the new house had not been completed by the geometra (a sort of architect/quantity surveyor who is responsible for applying for the planning permissions). Neither had we received a final budget. This was now some ten months from when we first agreed to build a house. A difficult and unsatisfactory series of meetings was held, with interpreters.

We were told there were significant delays in the planning departments throughout Puglia particularly at this time because the authorities were tightening up on applications in order to achieve specific styles of property that were in keeping with the traditional style of Salento houses. Apparently many houses here have not been built according to the permission the owners have received.

We also found out that the budget for the building we had pre-agreed prior to purchase of the land was exceeded by 50% in the plans. No amount of negotiating enabled us to change this. We even agreed to have a house two-thirds of the size but to no avail.

To cut a tortuously long story short we decided that whilst we would go ahead and apply for planning permission there was no way we would wait for what could be over two years in order to get our own roof over our heads. So the search for a house with land commenced.

We saw many properties but mostly we could find either the house with no land or the land with no house. Everywhere we went in Salento we met the same planning problems. Many houses did not have permission for every part of the house or they needed extra permission to achieve what we wanted. Having come this far we were not about to compromise too much.

Eventually we decided to spread the net in our search and to look wider than Puglia but still within southern Italy. We therefore considered southern Campania and Basilicata having found out that planning permission was much more straightforward in these areas.

At the time of writing this piece, end of November, I am pleased to report we have now found a house with land that we love in the mountains two hours drive south of Naples. This is just over the Campania border into Basilicata and is within 15 minutes of the main north-south motorway to Naples, Rome and Florence. Hence we shall be able to get to the rest of our herd in Umbria much more quickly and visitors will be able to access us more easily.

We expect to complete the purchase in early January and to move over there with the alpacas as soon as possible to make a permanent home. As for our land here in Salento, we shall simply wait. It is increasing in value all the time and we are advised it will be a very attractive proposition for someone to buy if it is offered complete with the two planning permissions. Time will tell???.

For more news of our adventure see our website where we have pages in both English and Italian.