Lorraine Bracco on 200-Year-Old Tiles, Pasta with Asparagus and My Big Italian Adventure
The actress took the plunge and bought a centuries-old home in Sicily for 1 euro.
How many times have you watched the news or scrolled online and heard reports of properties for sale in idyllic European towns for mere pennies? Those offers to buy an Italian villa or a French chateau for less than the price of dental floss seem too good to be true, right? Well, not exactly.
It turns out those homes and those deals are very real — just ask actress Lorraine Bracco of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame.
A few years ago, Lorraine saw a news notification pop up on her phone, and it mentioned homes in Sambuca di Sicilia — located about 50 miles south of Sicily’s largest city, Palermo — on the market for a grand total of 1 euro. She learned this was part of the mayor’s program launched by Sambuca in the hopes of reinvigorating the local economy through new residents. After visiting in person, she fell in love with the town, saying it was “charming” and perfectly situated near a gorgeous beach. The available homes, however, were another story.
Those deserted properties really were for sale on the cheap, but they were far — extremely far — from turnkey. “They were horrible,” she told us. “Worse than a dump!” They also came with one big stipulation: They must be renovated and completed within three years. She ended up with a corner house that’s nearly 1,100 square feet, located on a hilltop and full of incredible light. But make no mistake: It needed work. All of the work, actually. No one knows home-improvement projects quite like HGTV, so Lorraine, who’s a self-described “big HGTV fan,” partnered with our sister channel to create the all-new series My Big Italian Adventure, premiering Friday, Oct. 30 at 9|8c.
Along with a crew of local artists and workers, including general contractor Piero, who was born and raised in Sambuca, Lorraine will show viewers exactly what it took to turn her crumbling 200-year-old abandoned house into a warm, comfortable and fully livable home. And as is the case for all home-improvement projects, it’s best to expect the unexpected in this new show, because Lorraine said not everything went according to plan. “We had a lot of water issues. I had water in the basement that we couldn’t get rid of. We had problems getting water from the town into the house — that was a long time, a couple months.”
My Big Italian Adventure is indeed a modern production, but the actual construction was “all old-school,” according to Lorraine. “They moved rocks that weighed 300 pounds up by hand, by pulley. Everything was brought in old-school.” Even something as simple as knocking down a wall could prove difficult because in Sicily, 19th-century homes were often made out of plaster, not drywall. “It’s been plastered once, twice, three, four, five times. It was crazy. I never saw anything like that,” she said.
During the reno, they salvaged centuries-old tiles, which Lorraine noted were one of the first things that convinced her of the house’s potential. “That said to me, ‘This could be fabulous,’” she explained, adding how she later used those tiles to make a tabletop. It was important to her and the show to use both local supplies and the local workforce during the construction process. “I had everything made. All the stones were cut for the courtyard. We made sinks for the house. I had the town blacksmiths make the ironwork to hold up the sinks,” Lorraine told us. “We asked everyone, from their mothers and brothers and sisters, if they had any reclaimed wood and doors and windows. We did everything old-school as much as we could.”
Of course, though, it wasn’t all work and no play in Sicily. Lorraine said she had plenty of time to explore the region — and to taste all of its famed dishes. She was a regular at the Tuesday market, and locals called her “Mama Rizzoli,” a nod to her character on Rizzoli and Isles. The community quickly got to know Lorraine’s penchant for cannoli, even offering to specially make them for her sometimes. “I never in my life had a cannoli like I did at this restaurant in Sicily. They were out of this world,” she said, explaining that it was the cream filling (not too sweet!) that made them so good.
She also has fond memories of a particular pasta at a cafe near her home. “When the owner would see me coming,” Lorraine explained, “she’d make the gesture to the mouth, like, 'Hungry? Mangia, mangia?' And I’d say yes, and she would make me pasta with wild asparagus. That was fantastic.” Lorraine said she did learn how to make fresh pasta, but it’s not exactly in her regular dinner rotation these days. “I don’t think that that’s in my stars.”
The kitchen in her home was once in rough shape, as Lorraine found it with a broken oven from the 1900s. “I asked them if they could repair it and they said: ‘Absolutely not. It’s a fire hazard.’” Now, though, the kitchen is her favorite room of the house. She said it’s big enough to welcome around 30 people and includes a new (and safe!) oven and stove.
The house is ready and waiting for Lorraine now, though she’s only been able to visit for a few weeks at a time. When the world opens up to travel after the pandemic, she said, she’s excited to spend several months of the year there because she’s already gotten a great taste of what’s waiting for her. “I got to pick olives and bring them to the presser to press the olive oil. I got to pick out cheese that they just made. I got to do fantastic things that I would like to be able to do every year now.”
Though Lorraine admitted she may have gone a tad over budget, she still feels like it was a good deal. “To accomplish what we did in Italy would have cost millions and millions of dollars here.” She’s quick to look back on the experience with fond memories, and she wants fans to watch the show and see “that anything is possible.”
Catch the premiere of HGTV's My Big Italian Adventure with Lorraine Bracco on Friday, Oct. 30 at 9|8c. Join the conversation on social by using #MyBigItalianAdventure.