Italy’s Town With 1,000 Balconies Is Giving Away Homes for Free

Cammarata Italy
Andreas Zerndl/Getty Images

Every few months, another tiny European town decides to start giving away property in a bid to lure foreigners to move there. Italy popularized the scheme with municipalities in Sicily and Naples selling homes for about $1. Now, the town of Cammarata is upping the ante by giving away homes for free.

The landscape around Cammarata is the textbook definition of idyllic: Sprawling green pastures peppered with sheep, olive groves, and family-owned vineyards. Located about 40 miles southeast of Palermo, the Sicilian comune of Cammarata has been called “the town with 1,000 balconies.” The homes of many of its 6,000 residents enjoy incredible views of Mount Etna and sunsets over the Italian countryside. The millennia-old town is a charming maze of narrow alleys, stone walkways, brightly painted walls, and palazzos. Near the center of town, an original carriage road made of massive river stones winds its way up to ancient castle ruins. So, why would anyone want to leave?

The short answer is opportunity. As in many rural European towns, former residents are flocking to more modern urban centers with better access to jobs, technology, and community. The massive depopulation is leaving many towns literally in ruin. Homes, businesses, and large swaths of land have been abandoned with little hope of renewal. In the case of Cammarata, its mayor, Vincenzo Giambrone, is pledging to do whatever it takes to stop his town from dying.

“I can’t stand to see this gorgeous, old historical center empty and turn into a ruin. It hurts me,” he told CNN Travel. “The owners are oblivious to the damage they cause when they ditch their homes and refuse to restyle their ancient dwellings. It leaves a deep scar on the townscape with the risk of dangerous collapses.” His solution is to convince residents and former residents to donate their disused property to the local government to save the town.

Of course, nothing is ever really “free,” right? Would-be Cammaratans must plan to renovate their new property within the first three years. A refundable 5,000 Euro (roughly USD $5,500) deposit is also required but will be returned once renovations are complete. The renovation plan, however, can include rebuilding the structure as a private single-family home, hotel, bed & breakfast, coffee shop, or restaurant. The town is considering all applicants but is giving priority to young couples, especially those with children. They can even score a 1,000 Euro (USD $1,100) bonus if they have a baby after moving there.

Mayor Giambrone confirms there are currently a dozen empty buildings waiting to be revived in Cammarata. At least 100 more abandoned structures could become available in the coming year. If you’ve been seeking the perfect opportunity to pull the ripcord on society and move to a picturesque Italian village to open your own boutique cafe, now’s the time. Just be sure to take our crash course in grappa before you do — if you expect the locals to take you seriously.

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