The Italian region of Molise, a rugged area east of Rome, has offered to pay people more than $27,000 to put down roots in one of 106 underpopulated villages to prevent these towns from disappearing. The region will provide $770 a month for up to three years for settlers to repopulate an area famous for its green pastures, olive groves and snow-covered mountains.
The new residents are expected to start a small business, in order to grow 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 developed the idea, told CNN Travel. "We need to safeguard our roots."
The project, which will launch on September 16, hopes to draw younger people and couples with children. Tedeschi, who was born in the small Molise village of Filignano, which has fewer than 700 residents, knows how towns and traditions can disappear.
"The goal is to breathe new life and revamp the local economy," he said. "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."
In recent years, thousands of people have abandoned Molise. Official statistics show that the number of people living in the area has decreased by roughly 9,000 since 2014, lowering the region's population to just 305,000. Currently one of Italy's most underpopulated regions, 106 of its 136 villages have fewer than 2,000 residents.
In Italy, many towns are at risk of disappearing as younger generations move to larger towns and cities looking for work. Recently, numerous villages from the northern Alps to the southern vineyards of Sicily, have sought to award homes to anyone willing to renovate and live in them. Molise hopes to lure even more people by actually offering money to move in.
Among the towns participating in the project are Fornelli, known as the City of Oil because of the olive groves that cover the landscape, which also contains premium truffles and endangered legume species. The town also has a medieval center that was once guarded by a drawbridge and now contains narrow alleys and arched entrances.
Pesche, on the rocky cliffside of Mount San Marco, features a majestic castle and lush vegetation. The village has been preserved for centuries and the doorways of homes and aristocratic buildings are ornamented with stone images.
Riccia hosts an annual grape festival that celebrates the end of the harvest and draws wine lovers from across Italy. Floats decorated with grapes parade through the town’s cobbled streets as performers hand out gourmet snacks.
Other villages looking to attract new residents include Campitello and Capracotta, both winter resort towns; Pietrabbondante and Sepino, home to former Roman citadels; San Giovanni in Galdo, which hosts ancient folk festivals; Castel San Vincenzo, a pilgrimage site; and Duronia, which dates back to pre-Roman times.
For those looking to escape the stress of urban life, these villages sound like paradise, so gather your family or friends and a business plan, settle in an idyllic Italian town and start a new life today.