Of the countless dwindling Italian towns that have opted to sell dilapidated homes for just one euro, Sambuca di Sicilia has undoubtedly been the most successful.
Approximately 16 dwellings have been snapped up for €1 here since the scheme was first announced by CNN Travel in 2019, and Sambuca has been in the spotlight ever since.
The global attention led to an influx of reporters and foreigners on the lookout for a bargain home, and flabbergasted locals could only look on as their town, located deep in the heart of Sicily, became a go to spot overnight.
Nobody’s totally sure how Sambuca managed to outshine all of the other unpopulated towns across Italy struggling to dispose of crumbling properties, including Campania’s Zungoli and Sicily’s Mussomeli.
Perhaps it was due to the fact it shares its name with the famous Italian anise-flavored liqueur Sambuca and the Sambucus elder flowers it’s made from grow in the nearby fields? Or could it have been due to its rich heritage, sights like the ruins of Al Zabut’s stunning palace, or its exotic vibe?
Whatever the reason, Sambuca is hoping to replicate that success by putting a second batch of abandoned homes on the market, this time for a symbolic €2, which is still less than the cost of a slice of pizza.
Two years on from the 2019 scheme, local authorities still get requests from foreigners interested in buying one of the town’s bargain homes, and have decided now is right the time to sell off roughly 20 more abandoned buildings, many of which are adjacent houses, giving buyers an opportunity to buy more than one property and knock them through.
Up for auction
The chosen properties, all located in the old “Saracen” neighborhood of Sambuca’s historical center, were abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake rocked Sicily’s Belice Valley in 1968 and devastated the area.
They have just gone up for auction at a starting cost of two euros, to be sold to the highest bidder, as was the case in 2019. The new scheme was launched on July 15, and application forms can now be downloaded from the town’s website.
The application process closes on November 5. Once all requests are analyzed and considered, a public auction will take place, likely after a few weeks.
Back in 2019, the town hall was flooded with thousands of requests from interested buyers, which prompted organizers to auction the available properties.
Although the homes were eventually sold at prices ranging from one euro to €25,000, most went for somewhere between €5,000 and €10,000.
CNN has been given exclusive photos of the next round of properties going on the block, and there’s an eclectic mix of styles and sizes.
The homes for sale include a selection of single, one-level homes measuring between 50 and 80 square-meters featuring small Moorish interior courtyards with lemon trees.
Meanwhile, larger 120-square-meter multi-story reddish-pink stone buildings with balconies and terraces overlooking green fields dotted with grazing sheep are also up for sale.
And it’s not only houses that are up for sale. Empty town spaces and patches between homes are also going on the market, giving buyers the option to build pretty much whatever they want from scratch in the spot they go for.
“We had a lot of interest in these open-spaces from Middle Eastern buyers, it gives people more room for creation and inspiration, to shape how they want,” explains the town’s deputy mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo. “Plus they’re cheaper, about €500.”
Some of the homes on offer are in an incredibly good shape, with old painted majolica tile floors designed by Sicilian art masters and golden brown colored walls dating back to the 1920’s, and look set to be the most coveted of the bunch.
However, most of the properties are badly in need of repair work, with some still filled with forgotten items and heaps of broken, dusty furniture.
The launch of the auction was timed to coincide with Italy’s reopening, as the country begins to open its doors to tourists again after the border closures and restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This means many interested buyers will actually be able to visit Sicily, depending on which part of the world they’re based in, as well as their vaccination status in some cases, and see the homes for themselves.
Just last year, the town postponed the launch of a similar scheme due to the impact of the pandemic, which saw Italy particularly hard hit during the first wave.
But now the situation in the country is under control, case numbers are low, and its vaccination roll out is in full swing, Sambuca is ready to welcome newcomers again.
According to Cacioppo, local authorities are sticking to the same rules as before, as they believe that the simplicity of the regulations, as well as the allure of an already revitalized town, will prove to be a big draw.
“The regulation has worked well and has been very transparent and easy, so we’ll stick to it,” he says.
“People taking part in the auction will be required to pay a deposit guarantee of €5,000, if they lose the bid the sum is immediately returned to them but if they win, it will automatically be their deposit guarantee.”
Once the sale has gone through, buyers, who are not required to take up residency, must finish renovations on the property within three years.
However, this time around there will be tax exemptions for green upgrading investments.
“People who bought a house in 2019 were brave, they dived into this adventure blindfolded,” says Cacioppo. “But those who buy one now are clever and know exactly what they’re signing up for and all the plus points.”
“They’ll find a revitalized town full of energy and life, where many buildings have been given a makeover and where their neighbors down the street speak English and French. Sambuca today has an added value, enthusiasm fills the air”.
The impact of the 2019 one euro sale scheme offset a social and economic revolution in the town, creating a lot of buzz.
Its real estate market flourished, as locals followed the town hall’s lead, resulting in over 100 private sales of low priced homes.
This led to a host of new art ateliers, artisan boutiques, photo labs and wine bars opening up, while Italian language courses have been set up for foreigners. One of the €2 homes on sale has even be reserved for artists keen to open an art studio.
According to Cacioppo, there are plans to open remote-working hubs to lure global digital workers to Sambuca.
While only four of the 16 of the €1 homes sold in the 2019 batch are currently under renovation, a few of the new owners ended up buying at least two more properties in town, so it’s likely they’ll be focusing on one property at a time.
Unlike some of the other dwindling towns who have come up with similar housing deals to lure newcomers, the authorities of Sambuca actually own the abandoned dwellings.
This has helped to speed up the procedures, as there’s no need to liaise with former owners, who have not returned since the 1968 Belice earthquake, which saw many families flee the area, while some migrated from town after World War II.
Known as the “City of Splendor,” Sambuca is based inside a natural reserve and surrounded by gorgeous beaches, woods and mountains.
Despite its growing popularity, Sambuca remains a peaceful place.
With roots dating back to ancient Greek settlers, it’s something of an open-air museum thanks to its contrasting architecture, including churches with Arab-style domes and Baroque palazzos adorned with cherubs and gargoyles.
If the sky is clear, you can spot Sicily’s Mount Etna Volcano from the Belvedere Terrace, where a luxurious palace previously stood.
Selinunte, considered to be one of Sicily’s best Greek archaeological sites, is situated nearby, as is UNESCO World heritage site the Valley of the Temples.
The area is also home to several vast vineyards that stretch all the way to the sea.
The renaissance of Sicilian wine started in Sambuca, and red grapevines such as Nero d’Avola are grown in the 1500’s Spaniard estates around the artificial lake of Lago Arancio, where the ruins of an Arab fortress are often revealed during low tides.
As with most Italian towns, local food specialties are also a big selling point.
Sambuca’s culinary highlights include pasta dishes of savory snails and the unique minni di Virgini – or virgin breasts – which are essentially huge buns.