Our dear fellow travellers, come discover why one of us has fallen head over heels in love with this country and decided to adopt it as her second home
Much has been up for debate in recent years about the ever-increasing number of tourists to major Italian hot spots and the social and cultural impact on these destinations. While must-see sites, the likes of Rome’s Colosseum and Venice’s Piazza San Marco, are struggling to deal with the pressures of mass tourism, the economic contribution trade-off is often a main contention point. But for a country so rich in heritage and an inimitable pizzazz for life, Italy is beginning to realise untapped opportunities in its quaint villages and sleepy towns where the true cultural identity lives.
In the wake of a new tourism movement driven by the seasoned travellers’ growing interest in the authentic discoveries and experiences, Italy launched the Year of Villages in 2017 to put the spotlight its charming yet lesser-known towns. Apart from inaccessibility, it would certainly take a few regional train changes to arrive, these villages offer little or no lodging for visitors. But the new age traveller thrives on these inconveniences, citing them as part of the travel experience. An ingenious collaboration between Italy’s Tourism Ministry and Airbnb gave the project traction and paved the way for travellers to be able to truly immerse in these destinations.
Dubbed ‘Italian Villages’, it is a collection of featured hosts and homes in villages promoted as part of Italy’s initiative which includes Torella del Sannio in Molise and Aieta in Calabria, places nearly unheard-of outside of the country. "There is Rome, Florence and Venice, but then there are also hundreds of small wonderful places. Countryside, coastal areas and mountains with no equal in the world,” says Francesco Rutell, ex-mayor of Rome and current advisor to Airbnb. With more UNESCO sites than any other country in the world – many of which are off-the-beaten path – the initiative has brought life to otherwise under-visited cultural and natural treasures from ancient necropolises to pre-historic monuments.
The Year of Villages initiative has recorded significant economic returns for the twenty destinations as part of the initial phase and the success has prompted for an expansion of the project to now put the spotlight on other villages. “Staying in a private home offers an unique opportunity for both travellers and hosts as it opens up the possibility to travel to places without conventional lodgings,” says Francesco Palumbo, the tourism director general of Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. “We realised the important role of hosts offering their private homes and how this brings about a more spontaneous and authentic hospitality,” he adds. For guests, it’s invaluable insight into a locality beyond rehearsed tour guide speeches and travel guides.
The Airbnb collaboration extends into architectural preservation of significant historic buildings – projects that involves local institutions and communities. The pioneering project, Casa d’Artista, saw the restoration of a historic home in Civita di Bagnoregio, a 800-year-old village that sits on a crumbling hilltop with the only access point being a suspended bridge. The home, belonging to the municipality, is now the first public space to be offered on Airbnb and revenues go into the preservation of the village. A bespoke installation entitled ‘Plunged into Gullies, Entangled in Orchids’ by New York-based Italian artist Francesco Simeti depicting the layered landscaped around Civita finds its space in the home.
“This project is an incredible extension of our commitment to supporting rural villages around the world,” said Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb. “Our aim is to celebrate the heritage of these areas through art and design, while providing concrete ways for the towns to sustain their cultures and traditions.” Working with artists and architects with specific territorial knowledge and connections, the project is now focused on the revival of spaces in Lavenone, Civitacampomarano and Sambuca in Sicily. Milan-based interior design firm, Eligo Studio, worked their magic on The Panitteri House in Sambuca, a land of fertile vineyards with Arabic influences. The home, adjacent to an archaeological museum, was reimagined with strong local design influence with modern amenities. In Lavenone, the design studio along with artist Olimpia Zanoli bring to life Casa Maer, a one-bedroom apartment combining functionality and design with access for the disabled.
“We understand that the search for authentic experiences is one of the most influential factors driving tourism in the coming years,” explains Palumbo. “It’s encouraging to see the positive results of this initiative and that it will be a great opportunity to take our tourism competitiveness to the next level.