New Life, New Business, New Friends in Affordable Florence

San Gimignano is just one of the historic spots Lisa Condie (61) gets to enjoy in her new life. ©

For Lisa Condie, Florence is where her soul feels most complete.

“I adore the Oltrarno area of the city, as well as my new neighborhood around Borgo Pinti,” she says. “Here, I love the sandwich shop Borgo alle Fate, or meeting a close friend for a lovely long lunch at Natalino. Both areas are quieter than central Florence and have a great neighborhood feel to them. Once I step into the Oltrarno area (other side of the Arno), I feel like I have escaped the crowds. Neighborhoods of artists, small trattorias, and shops are friendly and slower paced. Once you spend time in a neighborhood, you begin to become part of the community. I like knowing my barista, servers, and artisans that I pass and wave to each day.”

Lisa has taken the concept of “a new lease on life” to the next level. She currently lives in Florence part-time, traveling back and forth from Salt Lake City several times a year. She is owner and founder of Find Yourself in Tuscany, a luxury boutique tour company offering week-long tours for women in spring and fall to some of Italy’s most romantic locations: Florence, San Gimignano, Cortona, and more.

It all happened for Lisa after age 56. Until then, she hadn’t ventured much out of her native Utah. But when she went to Italy in 2012, she was coming out of one of the hardest periods of her life. Eight years after a painful divorce, and reassessing her assets at home, she felt the urge for something more. And she found what she was seeking in Rome: This was her happy place; it was Italy.

“I had an epiphany of sorts outside a coffee shop in Rome in 2012, when I realized that I had felt more joy the previous two weeks than I had in the previous decade. I had assumed, at first, that it was because I was on vacation. But I noticed the Italian people enjoying everyday life in a way I didn’t see in the U.S. It was as though every gathering, meal, or event was a celebration—and I wanted more of that in my day-to-day life. I didn’t want to wait until I retired at 65 to begin to savor each day.”

But how to make it happen?

After selling her house back home and closing ties with her fitness business, she decided to use her nest-egg to live in Italy. Naturally, some friends thought she was crazy or was having a mid-life crisis, chasing a dream that would not end well.

But Lisa remained determined. “In the U.S., people work like dogs until they are 65, and then retire. In Europe, it’s different. People enjoy life, every single day, and I wanted to experience that.

“The work ethic in the States seems to involve more hours with less enjoyment than anything I see in Italy. Lunches eaten at the office, long hours at the office, and few weeks of vacation are worn as badges of honor. Whereas, in Italy, you expect to still enjoy life while working a job.

“After selling most of what I owned back in Utah, I knew I had enough to last me one year in Italy on a reasonable budget, after figuring out rent, food, and expenditures. I knew I could stay for three months [the legal time you can stay in Italy] and did just that. I decided I wanted to stay longer, so I started the application for an elective residence visa, which would allow me to stay longer than the 90-day period,” she says. This type of visa is typically used by older—and wealthier—citizens who want to enjoy Italy’s slower lifestyle, and who don’t need to work to support themselves.

“The most frustrating thing about applying for an elective visa is that there are no solid criteria. Each consulate can decide on every individual case, and no set amount of money seems to be required by all. Basically, a person needs to show enough income to cover a year’s worth of expenses in Italy. It is designed so that the applicant will not need to acquire a job in Italy, and can show a rental contract for the year desired. As with all things in the Italian bureaucracy, it’s not easy to navigate. It was a tiresome process, but I filed the paperwork and remained honest about my finances and situation.”

Lo and behold, this positive attitude paid off. Her visa was approved, and Lisa embarked on her new life in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance. By making smart choices, she figured out how to live on around $30,000 a year.

“I had met American women who were in Florence, spending €2,000 to €2,500 [$2,220 to $2,770] or so a month on rent, with incredible views of the Duomo. Which is great. However, I would rather just walk out into the piazza and get my views there. Finding a place for around €1,000 [$1,110] a month is completely possible.

“I have rented apartments for €800 to €1,000 [$880 to $1,100] a month. I shop about three times a week at the Sant’Ambrogio market, where I can buy sacks of fruits and vegetables for €5. Cooking at home is much cheaper here than in the U.S., and I find dining in Florence to be expensive, so I generally opt for lunches out rather than dinner. However, I eat out about five times a week, as great food and social interaction are a high priority.”

About a year into her new adventure, Lisa started to write for the Huffington Post, offering tips for living in and traveling to Italy. Soon enough, she was inundated with emails from women writing, “I love your articles, I’m coming to Tuscany, what do you think I should do?”

She then had another epiphany that changed her life. “It just dawned on me that I could help these women have a truer, more authentic experience on their trip here. Many times they are just searching on Google or TripAdvisor, so they lack the knowledge of a true insider on the ground in Italy.”

She first opened a tour company in 2013 with her then partner. Most people who took part in that first trip knew them personally. The trip went well, and Lisa realized this could eventually fund her life.

A year later, Lisa and her partner parted ways. She now runs her own boutique tour company, showing small groups (around eight to 12) of women around her favorite haunts. More importantly, however, she introduces them to people she’s met and has cultivated relationships with along the way.

“I know when we go on our tours we always go with Andrea, our driver and a close friend. The ladies also get to meet Ivan in his shop in the historic town of Cortona, while sipping prosecco and tasting his olive oil. He treats them all like family, and that’s what I want people to experience. Every detail of the tour is taken care of. All the ladies have to do is show up.”

If you’re looking to set up a U.S.-style business in Italy, Lisa has some sage advice: “It should be organic; when dealing with people abroad, you have to shelve your U.S. ‘time is money’ attitude. Here it’s about relationships, and rushing things can be rude. People aren’t as motivated by money as we are; they want to get to know you over time. And email isn’t their favorite form of correspondence; a face-to-face conversation or phone call is much preferred.”

Lisa also makes plenty of time to enjoy the city she loves so much.

“There is no such thing as being bored in Florence. I soon realized, upon my arrival in 2012, that my education had been woefully inadequate in art and history. I took it upon myself to go to every museum exhibit, and study before and after on what I was seeing. I walk all over the city and in and out of churches and museums. This walkable city is filled with more fabulous treasures and history than you could explore in a lifetime.

“I love the location of Florence for day trips, and often leave early in the morning for a town nearby and return by bedtime. The trains allow inexpensive travel, and the first year I spent in Florence, I traveled every weekend.”

“Also, I have been so fortunate to make close friends with Italians, both in Florence and nearby communities. I will often spend a day or two with them, and this was an unexpected gift from my time here. I have heard people say that Italians, and Florentines, are a closed community, but I have had many experiences to the contrary.”