The Italian village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio has all the charms of a medieval mountaintop town: cobblestone walkways winding through boutiques and restaurants in ancient stone buildings, adorned with brightly colored flowers. But with an official population count of 115 — 41 of them being over the age of 65 and 13 under the age of 20 — the walled medieval town is looking ahead to secure its future. As such, it’s hoping to draw in new residents by paying them.
The municipality will pay future residents a monthly grant for three years, up to a maximum of €8,000 (about $9,399) a year, plus up to €20,000 (about $23,498) to start a business. They will also provide a home with a “symbolic” rent, their site says. (That’s over $50,000 total.)
But there are some catches: You must be between 18 and 40 years old and can’t currently live in the region, but must be either an Italian citizen of a city with a population of 2,000 or more (they don’t want to cause the same issue for other areas) or an EU citizen with the right to be a long-term resident indefinitely. Plus, you must commit to at least five years there, in which you’ll start a business in one of six fields: tourism or cultural guide, tourism informant, cleaner, maintenance technician, drugstore operator, or perform work with the local food industry. Applications must be submitted by Nov. 15, 2020.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio “considers it essential to give a new demographic impulse to the area, considering that the current situation does not allow to have the human capital necessary for a sustainable and lasting development of the territory,” their official site reads.
So far, about 1,500 people have applied, according to CNN Travel. Mayor Fabio Santavicca tells the news site that they hope to up the number of residents gradually, but will likely start with around 10 people or five couples. He also said the exact amount of the “symbolic” rent is yet to be determined.
The mayor also wants to make sure people know what they’re getting into before they make the leap. “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,” he told CNN. “It’s a pretty programmed life because it’s not like you can say, ‘Oh I forgot to buy parmesan, I’ll nip back out.’” The closest major town is L’Aquila, about a 40-minute drive away, while Rome is about a two-hour drive southwest. But he says there is an upside: “There’s a sense of tranquility — you live in a self-sufficient way and go back to your roots.”
Sitting in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, the village is also home to the luxury hotel Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, a 26-room boutique property started by philanthropist Daniele Kihlgren to try and draw more visitors to the area.
Other Italian towns have also tried to recruit new residents with incentives over the years. Last year, Sicily’s Cammarata offered a free house to raise a child there, Molise paid newcomers $27,000 to start a business there, and Locana lured families with $10,000.