Owning A Home In A Ghost Town Of Italy: It’s A Growing Trend

| February 22, 2014

As many of you will probably know, Italy has a bountiful treasure for visitors and home buyers to discover! Among its riches are mesmeric landscapes, centuries-old culture and identity, but also its borghi dotting the entire peninsula.

These hamlets dating back to the Middle Ages are towns composed of ancient stone-built farmhouses and barns with courtyards and gardens, a chapel or a small church of course, and usually situated in a dominant position. They’ve been cornerstones of the Italian demographic distribution until the years immediately following the Second World War at least, when with the industrialization people moved off of the farms and out of the countryside. This left many hamlets empty and unused, and several of them fell into decline becoming real ghost towns.

According to a survey by the Italian Revenue Agency (Agenzia delle Entrate) there are about 1.26 million housing units that are not registered yet, including quaint farmhouses and small abandoned villages, 3,000 of which facing extinction. That’s a real pity because there are still many jewels of the Italian property heritage to be discovered as off-the-beaten-track, but that you could purchase for little money.

For this reason, in recent decades some entrepreneurs have bought and requalified some of these borghi that were then sold or rented out as houses and apartments retaining intact their original character and features. The association “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (the most beautiful hamlets of Italy) belongs to one of these profitable initiatives. Indeed, from the ’90, maybe due to a renewed interest in different life styles other than the metropolitan one, there has been a rebirth of projects seeking to recover these little Italian gems that are now repopulating with tourists, but also new inhabitants looking for a quiet retreat far from the city buzz without being isolated from the main services and major cities that are always within easy reach.

So the demand for this type of properties is growing steadily, and lately it involves also some territory which were once unknown. Tuscany, Umbria and Liguria are likely the most popular areas.
For instance, in Umbria, just 20 km from Spoleto, you can buy for about € 750,000 a quaint medieval hamlet to refurbish which is plunged in the greenery of Valnerina area, and comprising several units made of stone with a private land of 20 hectares approximately. Anyway, other regions have been high on the agenda recently, such as Marche and Abruzzo, but also Basilicata which boasts fairytale-like villages. Matera is undoubtedly the most magical one, but also one of the most expensive of the area probably because it became worldwide famous for its ‘Sassi’ (its rock formations), and has been chosen as natural set for several movies, such as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. From its status of abandoned town it turned itself into a symbol of rebirth and investment!

According to the numerous properties for sale which are present on Gate-Away.com, prices for a property in the very heart of the ancient and authentic Matera vary greatly. Anyway in the majority of cases is between 1,650 €/m² and 2,200 €/m² for a wide restored grotto-like apartment in the very old town centre, that is about 17% higher than in the rest of the territory. On the contrary you can purchase a small lovely property of about 50 m² to renovate in a characteristic old town center, such as Tursi, which is a picturesque hamlet climbing on a hill and spreading around the castle, just 20 km from the Ionian coast, for € 20,000, or for € 50,000 if already refurbished.

In some cases people choose to buy in one of these hamlets a property which has already been renovated and ready to be lived in to be utilized as primary or holiday home. In other cases they purchase a heap of rubble to restore and then move in or use as an investment. In effect, this last option is always more frequent in recent years, as both locals and overseas buyers have initiated great renovation projects to give new life to these villages and sell apartments and farmhouse. But sometimes they also turn them into the so called ‘alberghi diffusi’, a real throw-back to the Middle Ages. It is an innovative idea launched in Italy in the early ’80s as a means of reviving small, historic Italian hamlets and town centres off the usual tourist tracks. They consist in hotels composed of various ancient buildings that have been renovated with green techniques and characterized by craft work made by villagers, restoration-revived traditions and rustic simplicity maintaining their mediaeval charm. We can see this, for example, in the well-known town of Matera as well, Italy’s startling cave town, but also in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a typical Abruzzese mountain borough with narrow alleys and stone houses, many dating back to the 15th century.

You just have to choose one of the manifold hamlets that Italy boasts and settle down!

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