(CNN) – You already know the exercise: The idyllic mountain village in Italy with an aging population wants new blood.
Usually the next step is to sell abandoned houses for € 1. In villages all over the country, foreigners have bought real estate for pennies – with the deal that they have to renovate the house within a certain time.
Now comes an even better offer. Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a walled medieval village in Abruzzo, a region in east-central-southern Italy, is offering to pay people who are willing to move and start a business there – and will even support them by giving them one Give space to live with nominal rent.
The village is in the Apennines.
Mauro Flamini / REDA & CO / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
“We don’t sell anything to anyone – this is not a business move. We just want the village to go on living,” Mayor Fabio Santavicca told CNN Travel.
The catch? You must be a resident of Italy (or have the legal ability to become one) and you must be 40 years of age or under.
A simple village in the mountains
However, the glamorous hotel is a far cry from the rest of the simple village, which sits 1,250 meters above sea level in the beautiful Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park.
There are only 115 residents, around half of whom are retirees. Less than 20 are under 13 years old.
At least these are the official numbers. According to Santavicca, the number of year-round residents is between 60 and 70.
Now the authorities are taking action.
It is a typically pretty Italian village
The city council pays new residents a monthly fee of three years up to a maximum of € 8,000 per year. And the council will even pay a one-time contribution of up to 20,000 euros to get an entrepreneurial company off the ground.
The residents also receive a property to live in for a “symbolic” rent.
How much is “symbolic”? Santavicca is not yet sure either. They want to analyze all of the applicants and decide how many to take before working out the financial details.
Around 1,500 people have applied since the program started on October 15. However, the Council wishes to limit the number to around 10 people or five couples. “We want to gradually increase the number and have to work with the apartments that belong to the authorities,” says Santavicca.
Not that you could move there and start a business. The program covers a selected number of activities identified by the council as key: guides, information office staff, cleaning and maintenance workers, drug store owners or those who work with and can sell the area’s food.
The council aims to attract under 40s.
Applicants must be between 18 and 40 years of age and not live in the Santo Stefano area. You must either be an Italian resident, an EU citizen or have the right to stay in the EU indefinitely. If they are already resident in Italy, they must come from an area with more than 2,000 inhabitants (they do not want to combat population loss by taking residents away from other small municipalities).
And they have to stay in town for at least five years. Again, there is still no formal process in place to force people to keep full term, but Santavicca says that since it is public money, there needs to be some kind of “constraint” to make sure the people are don’t come and take the money for it a year and go.
The new life
So what kind of life awaits those who take the step?
The nearest big city is L’Aquila, half an hour away. The capital of Abruzzo was destroyed by an earthquake in 2009 and is still being rebuilt.
Rome is about two hours away and the fabled Adriatic coast is a 90-minute drive away. The nearest airport is Pescara, 90 minutes away.
“It’s a pretty programmed life because you can’t say, ‘Oh, I forgot to buy parmesan, I’m going to retire,” said Santavicca.
“And we’re at the base of the mountains – at 4,000 feet – so in winter it’s not always easy to get around with snow and ice.
“Whatever the feeling of calm, you live self-sufficient and go back to your roots. There is no chaos in big cities and you can save more free time.
“I live really well here. There is good air and from the moment you wake up there are incredible views that really lift your spirits and give you a reason to go to work.”
Italy’s remote rural towns, particularly in mountainous areas and the south of the country, have suffered an exodus of residents since the end of World War II, and people moved to the cities to look for work.
The village is best known for Sextantio, its upscale “scattered hotel”.
The idea of the Albergo Diffuso was coined in the 1970s by the marketing professional Giancarlo dall’Ara in order to try to rejuvenate the villages – and to create jobs for the people who want to withdraw.
And the Covid-19 pandemic with the move to remote work has shown renewed interest in Italians moving to rural areas.
Santavicca hopes that this project, if it goes well, can be repeated by other small towns.
“These villages live as long as there are people in them,” he says.
“To bring Santo Stefano back to life and give him a new life, more economic and social strength, we need younger people.
“We have a sense of civic duty that urges us to do so. It’s not about selling anything [in contrast to the €1 house schemes]. We just want to do things that enable the village to go on living. “
Ready to move? Full information and the application form can be found on the Council’s website. The deadline is November 15th.