By Julia Buckley | CNN
You know the drill already: a picturesque hilltop village in Italy with an aging population wanting new blood.
Usually, the next step is to sell the vacant house for € 1.Villages from all over the country have seen foreigners take property for money – with the agreement that they have to renovate the house within a certain time frame.
But some are more adventurous – like Candela di Puglia, who offered prospective residents € 2,000 ($ 2,350) to move there in 2017.
Now comes a better deal. Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a walled medieval village in Abruzzo, a region on the eastern side of south-central Italy, offers to pay people who are willing to move out and start businesses there – and will even support them by providing them with accommodation on nominal rent .
“We’re not selling anything to anyone – it’s not a business move. We just want to enable the village to continue to live, “Mayor Fabio Santavicca told CNN Travel.
The catch? You must be a resident of Italy (or have the legal capacity to become a resident of Italy), and you must be 40 years or younger.
A simple village in the mountains
Santo Stefano is famous for its Sextantio, the upscale ‘albergo diffuso’, or ‘scattered hotel’ whose rooms are located in individual country houses.
But this glamorous hotel is a far cry from other humble villages, perched 1,250 meters above sea level within the beautiful Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga national park.
There are only 115 residents, and about half are retirees. Less than 20 people under 13 years of age.
At least, those are the official figures. In fact, Santavicca said the total population throughout the year was only between 60 and 70 people.
So now the authorities are taking action.
The city council will pay a monthly fee to new residents for three years, up to a maximum of € 8,000 ($ 9,500) per year. And the board will even pay a one-time contribution of up to € 20,000 ($ 24,000) to start an entrepreneurial business.
Residents will also get a property to live in on a “symbolic” lease.
How much is’ “symbolic”? Even Santavicca wasn’t sure. They want to analyze all applicants and decide how much to take before working on the financial details.
About 1,500 people have applied since the scheme launched October 15. But the council wants to keep the number to about 10 people, or five pairs. “We want to increase the number gradually, and we have to work with housing belonging to the authorities,” said Santavicca.
Not that you can move there and start any business. This scheme applies to a specific number of activities, identified as key by the board: guides, staff for the information office, janitors and maintenance, drugstore owners, or those who can work with, and sell, food in the area.
Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 40, and not residents around Santo Stefano. They must be residents of Italy, citizens of the EU, or have the right to remain in the EU for an indefinite period of time. If they are already resident in Italy, they must come from an area with more than 2,000 inhabitants (they don’t want to fight population loss by taking residents from other small communities).
And they must live in the city at least five years. Again, there is no formal process yet to force people to stay full-time, but Santavicca says that because it’s public money, there should be some kind of “restriction” to ensure people don’t come, take the year’s money, and leave.
So what kind of life awaits those who move?
The closest major city is L’Aquila, half an hour’s drive. The capital, Abruzzo, was destroyed by an earthquake in 2009, and is still being rebuilt.
Rome is about two hours away, and the famous Adriatic coast is a 90-minute drive away. The nearest airport is Pescara, 90 minutes.
“It’s a programmed life because you can’t say, ‘Oh, I forgot to buy the parmesan, I’ll bite it back’,” said Santavicca.
“And we’re at the base of the mountains – at 4,000 feet – so in winter it’s not always easy to travel with snow and ice.
“However there is a sense of calm, you live in an independent way and come back to your roots. There is no clutter in big cities, and you can save more on your own free time.
“I live very well here. There’s fresh air, and right from the moment you wake up there is an incredible sight to really lift your spirits and give you a reason to go to work. “
Italy’s remote rural towns, especially in the mountainous regions and in the south of the country, have experienced a population exodus since the end of World War II, with people moving to the cities in search of work.
The albergo diffuso idea was created in the 1970s by marketing professional Giancarlo dall’Ara to try to rejuvenate the village – and create jobs for people to move back in.
And the Covid-19 pandemic, with the move to remote workers, has seen renewed interest in Italians moving to rural locations.
Santavicca hopes that this project, if it goes well, can be replicated by other small cities.
“These villages are alive as long as there are still people in them,” he said.
“To revive Santo Stefano, and give him a new life, more economic and social strength, we need younger people.
“We have a sense of citizenship that drives us in this direction. It’s not about selling anything [in contrast to the €1 house schemes]. We just want to start things that allow the village to continue to live. “
Ready to move? Full details, and an application form, are at council website. Deadline 15 November.
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