Italian villages crumbling in cash as EU hands out 420m euros

This is an Italian concept in which a number of empty historic houses are converted into accommodation, grouped around a central reception building, restaurant and bar.

The idea was launched in a nearby village, Santo Stefano di Sessanio – the luxurious “albergo diffuso” has been celebrated by travel magazines all over the world.

There will be a school for shepherds to teach youngsters the art of herding sheep – Calascio once grew rich on wool, its past wealth evident in the ornate palaces lining the streets.

Abandoned buildings will be transformed into a space for new start-ups, with high hopes of attracting digital workers who will have the freedom to live wherever they want.

As far as the castle, paths will be laid out and ruined walls repaired. An archaeological dig will be commissioned to explore the site, including an area in which damage from the earthquake and winter rains have revealed human bones from bodies once buried under a church.

“I hope that directly and indirectly we can create a hundred jobs in the village,” said the mayor.

He is well qualified for the task ahead – in 1993 he and his family restored an abandoned house just below the ruined castle.

Other villages in the region complain that if Calascio is about to receive 20 million euros, they will get nothing.

But the mayor and his supporters say there will be repercussions across the region.

“There is definitely a bit of jealousy. But they didn’t understand that what is good for Calascio will also be good for them,” said Franco Cagnoli, the castle’s caretaker.

“If a thousand visitors arrive in one day and find nowhere to eat in Calascio, they will look for restaurants in other villages. The money invested in Calascio will benefit the villages located within a radius of several kilometers.

At the village bar, owner Franca Fulgenzi, 71, is cautiously optimistic about the future of the village.

“There is enormous potential. But we will have to educate the locals a little, teach them how to welcome visitors. We are a mountain village with a somewhat closed mentality. There are locals who just find the presence of tourists annoying. But if we don’t attract young people, the village will die,” said Calascio-born Ms. Fulgenzi.

The goal of investing in a select group of picturesque but struggling villages “is to create sustainable growth and spread it across the country,” said Dario Franceschini, the culture minister who pushed the initiative.

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