When Italian villages began selling houses for $1, it seemed too good to be true. But the latest offer from Italy is enough to make even that deal look like a ripoff.
The region of Molise, a wild, beautiful but overlooked area that lies east of Rome, has announced it will pay people more than $27,000 to settle in one of 106 underpopulated villages in an effort to prevent their communities from dying.
Anyone who takes up the offer will receive 700 euros a month (about $770) for up to three years to help them settle in an area known for its green pastures, olive groves and snowy mountaintops.
There’s a catch – they’ll also have to commit to starting a small business, in order to contribute to the local economy.
“I want my region to undergo a renaissance and avoid its authentic villages turning into ghost towns,” Antonio Tedeschi, a regional councilor who came up with the idea, tells CNN Travel. “We need to safeguard our roots.”
Young people and couples with children are particularly encouraged to apply to the scheme, which is to be officially launched on September 16.
Tedeschi, who was born in the small Molise village of Filignano – home to barely 700 residents – says he knows what it means to see old traditions and historical places fall into oblivion and wants to stop the decline in its tracks.
“The goal is to breathe new life and revamp the local economy,” he says. “Newcomers are free to kick-start anything they please in order to get our financial support: a small inn, restaurant, bar, B&B, a tiny rural farm, artisan boutique, library or shop selling local gourmet excellences.”
Thousands of people have left Molise in recent years. Official statistics say the number of people living there has fallen by almost 9,000 since 2014, pushing the region’s population to just 305,000.
Now one of Italy’s most depopulated regions, 106 of its 136 towns have fewer than 2,000 residents.
Many communities across Italy are at risk of being lost as younger people migrate to bigger towns and cities – or abroad – in search of work as Italy’s fragile economy struggles to support its more remote, rural areas.
Recently, there’s been a spate of villages from the northern Alps to the southern vineyards of Sicily, virtually giving away homes to anyone willing to spend the money on renovating them to move in.
Molise’s offer has the potential to be the most lucrative yet for anyone willing to take the plunge.
So what exactly can applicants expect if they take the plunge? Here’s a look at some of the most picturesque villages among those inviting people to move in.
Fornelli is known as the City of Oil because of the olive groves dotting a landscape that also harbors premium truffles and species of endangered legumes.
Nominated for the 2019’s Italy’s Most Beautiful Town contest, it has a medieval center that was once protected by a drawbridge and is now a web of narrow alleys and arched entrances.
Seven towers are incorporated in the town’s defensive walls, within which cars and even motorcycles are banned, making it peaceful and unpolluted.
Clinging to the rocky cliff side of Mount San Marco, this village takes its name from the Italian word pietre, meaning “rocks.”
The white-yellowish stone dwellings at the feet of a majestic castle contrast with the green-brownish stones covered in lush vegetation that cover the landscape.
Isolation has preserved the village from centuries of Barbarian raids and the doorways of homes and aristocratic buildings are adorned with weird stone images.
One of the high spots of the year in Riccia is a picturesque grape festival that celebrates the end of the vendemmia or harvest and attracts wine lovers from across Italy.
The event sees floats decorated with grapes parade through the cobbled streets as actors hand out gourmet treats.
Riccia, clustered at the feet of a cylindrical tower, is part of an élite club uniting Italy’s “authentic villages” where traditions and ancient recipes survive.
Molise’s premium amaro liqueur is made with special herbs found in the nearby woods.
Capracotta and Campitello Matese
These villages are for ski lovers.
One of the attractions of Molise, Italy’s second smallest region, is that it has everything in one place: sea, lakes, forests and even the Apennine mountain range.
Capracotta and Campitello Matese are the region’s top winter sports resorts, pulling in snowboarders and cross-country amateurs.
Skiing pistes aren’t as long nor as steep as those found in the Alps, but there’s the added attraction of thick woodlands where wild animals still live, including bears.
Pietrabbondante and Sepino
It’s hard to believe, but Molise rivals Rome or Pompeii for ancient architecture and archeological attractions.
The two small villages of Pietrabbondante and Sepino both contain the secret, largely unknown ruins of once-glorious citadels.
A large chunk of Molise used to lie within the kingdom of the fiery Samnite tribes who refused to bend the knee to Ancient Rome but were eventually slaughtered.
Pietrabbondante’s archeological area, close to the town and set at an altitude of 1,000 meters, has a spellbinding view over Molise’s rugged hills and features a sanctuary and several temples.
Saepinum, or Sepino’s ruins, is incredibly well preserved with statues of imprisoned barbarians greeting visitors at the entrance.
San Giovanni in Galdo
Grazing sheep, cows and buffalo dot the bucolic landscape here.
It’s still possible to spot forgotten dusty trails winding up the mountains and the ruins of a majestic Italic temple built in the third century BCE.
San Giovanni in Galdo is located near one of Molise’s main routes used by shepherds to move their livestock between low and high pastures.
The old town, dubbed Morrutto or “broken walls” in local dialect, is a maze of caves and underground chambers.
Old festivals survive such as the performances of the Zig-zaghini folklore group, which enacts something known as the “anti-jinx dance.”
Castel San Vincenzo
The clear waters of its blue lake makes Castel San Vincenzo one of Molise’s most visited towns by day-trippers.
Set in the Alta Valle del Volturno, it’s known as the Valley of Faith, because monks and pilgrims have, for centuries, come here for meditation and prayer.
Today the nearby stunning abbey of San Vincenzo Al Volturno lures soul-searching travelers craving an unplugged stay and artists in need of inspiration.
The village, dating back to pre-Roman times, is a collection of pastel-coloured peasant houses connected by staircases and nestled at the feet of an overhanging fortress.
The town’s symbol is a huge stone cross. Its belvedere piazza offers a unique panorama of surrounding meadows dotted with the ruins of Samnite towers.
Duronia is popular for guided trekking tours along rural routes.
The foodie Scattone festival celebrates an iconic pasta dish made with red wine and pepper that’s said to offer strength and ward off influenza.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the map on this story misidentified the location of Molise. This has been corrected.