(CNN) — The global pandemic has put a halt to many travel experiences, including the rush to snap up Italian homes at bargain prices, but now that some places are emerging from restrictions, the country’s one-dollar home bonanza seems to be back on.
And the deals seem to be better than ever.
Cinquefrondi, a community in the southern region of Calabria, calls itself a “Covid-free village” after swerving the ravages of the virus, and hopes its status will sweeten the appeal of homes it’s putting on the market for €1, or a little over a dollar.
The aim, like other destinations making similar offers, is to reverse a depopulation trend caused by younger folk heading off in search of work. In Cinquefrondi, Mayor Michele Conia considers the task so serious he’s given it a code name: “Operation Beauty.”
“Finding new owners for the many abandoned houses we have is a key part of the Operation Beauty [mission] that I have launched to recover degraded, lost parts of town,” Conia tells CNN.
“I grew up in Germany where my parents had migrated, then I came back to save my land. Too many people have fled from here over the decades, leaving behind empty houses. We can’t succumb to resignation.”
Despite being surrounded by the natural beauty of the rugged Aspromonte National Park and overlooking both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts, Cinquefrondi’s urban scenery is scarred by ramshackle dwellings, says Conia.
“We rise between the refreshing hills and two warm seas, a pristine river runs nearby and the beaches are just 15 minutes away by car. But a whole district of my town lies abandoned, with empty houses that are also unstable and risky.”
Like many Italian villages and towns, Cinquefrondi has suffered from depopulation.
Nationwide, Italy has begun to open borders to visitors after making significant progress in reducing the infection.
The housing deal here works a bit differently compared to other cheap offers in Italy.
While all other towns selling homes for one euro require a down payment of up to €5,000 ($5,635) that the buyer forfeits if they fail to renovate the house within three years, Cinquefrondi merely requests an annual €250 policy insurance fee until works are completed.
The town hopes it can lure people to stay with cheap homes.
New owners are only liable to a fine of €20,000 in the unlikely event they do not complete the restyling within three years. In other towns offering similar schemes, new buyers tend to complete works ahead of deadline, within one to two years.
“We’re just asking for some kind of certainty once a new buyer commits to the project. The policy fee is very low and the cost of a restyle here is within €10,000 to €20,000, given the dwellings are cozy [and] tiny.”
The available one euro houses are roughly 40-50 square meters wide, a size that shortens renovation time. They’re located in the historical ancient part of Cinquefrondi. Some even have a small balcony with a view.
Cinquefrondi is known as the “Zipper Town” as it straddles the juncture between Calabria’s Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts in the toe of Italy’s boot. It has stunning views of the UNESCO-listed Aeolian isles, easily accessible from a nearby harbor.
The town sits between two seas in the toe of Italy’s boot.
Its unusual name in Italian means the “five villages,” referring to early settlements of Greek and Byzantine origin that were united into one community during the middle ages. Remnants of the town’s old fortifications can be seen in its arched alleyways.
Cinquefrondi has endured natural calamities and foreign invasions but it has survived across centuries, protected from pirate incursions by its hilltop elevation over the seas.
Glorious traces of past civilizations are everywhere. Ancient Greek words survive in the local dialect and in the names of places, streets and arches.
Its history dates back centuries.
Cinquefrondi was a strategic outpost during Greek expansion during the 8th and 7th centuries BCE and was later colonized by other conquerors. Town elders still use old Spanish and French terms when they chat.
The bucolic landscape of olive groves is dotted with ruins of Greek fortresses, a strategic ancient Greek road built to connect the two seas, a Roman villa, destroyed monasteries and pagan temples.
Locals proudly call themselves the “last Greeks.”
“It’s a land of cultural contamination and cross-civilizations,” says Conia. “A melting pot. We’re welcoming people. The door of my office is always open to anyone who comes knocking.”
The town has recently undergone some improvements to its infrastructure. Roads, piazzas, old fountains, public parks and even a church have been neatly restored and painted in rainbow colors.
One renovated district known as “the Future Hamlet” now hosts social and cultural events, while a symbolic “staircase of rights” is there to remind visitors that locals have embraced the rule of law in a land often plagued by criminality and banditry.
The wild Aspromonte National Park offers stunning trekking paths across dry riverbeds, fossil-dotted rocky peaks and cavities where Italian outlaws used to hide.
Cinquefrondi’s mayor says the town escaped any cases of Covid-19.
The houses currently on the market for one euro once belonged to farmers, shepherds, artisans and tanners. There’s currently about a dozen available, but there are potentially more than 50 empty dwellings that Conia plans to hand over to new owners.
“If we receive a huge demand, I can expropriate all other buildings which have been empty for decades and the old owners are nowhere to be found.”
Fully renovated houses are also available at low prices.
A colorful “staircase of rights” symbolizes that locals have embraced the rule of law in a region often plagued by criminality.
Cinquefrondi is a sleepy, off-the-radar place unknown even to most Italians. Its old abandoned districts are partly covered by lush vegetation.
The town is a maze of layered streets and pastel-coloured houses connected by narrow alleys, arched passageways and spiraling uneven stone steps where bits of collapsed old town walls stick out.
Flowers, ferns, moss and tiny palms grow on its walls, green window frames, unhinged wooden doors and balconies of forgotten houses. On its populated streets, rusty aristocratic portals are juxtaposed with sheets and clothes hanging out to dry in the sun.
The town is surrounded by bucolic countryside.
Unusual folklore and picturesque festivals are among Cinquefrondi’s plus points.
The key event is the religious procession of the so-called barefoot “spinati” or “thorn men,” devoted to Saint Rocco, who wear huge bell-shaped bundles of branches on their heads symbolizing thorn crowns that make them look like walking trees.
Macabre funeral happenings are enacted at the end of the local picturesque Carnival to bid farewell to the festival.
An annual festival sees locals dress in unusual bell-shaped bundles of branches.
Fun is guaranteed, assures Conia. Food fairs and festivals run throughout the whole summer. Every single night there’s a special event.
There are farmer fairs featuring creative cooking of potatoes and sweet pepper dishes, artisan fairs displaying handmade chairs and pots and hunter fairs where succulent wild boar lunches are served to guests.
It’s a foodie paradise.
Among Cinquefrondi’s top gourmet specialties are spicy, reddish ‘nduja salami made with tonnes of chili pepper, soppressata cold dry sausage with huge bits of lard and a special kind of pasta called struncatura made with the leftovers of wheat and flour served with olives, grated bread and anchovies.
Desserts incłude zeppole doughnuts made with potatoes and sugar, and handmade twisted nacatole biscuits.
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