(CNN) — Remote working has become a possibility for many during the pandemic, meaning the office can now be anywhere from a kitchen table to a sandy beach on the other side of the world.
And while relocating to a picturesque Italian town might also factor on many people’s lists, that prospect just got even better with two destinations offering to pay workers who make the move.
In an attempt to lure newcomers, Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio will pay up to 50% of the rent of anyone who decides to move and telecommute on a long-term basis.
Rents are already relatively low, so the deal is potentially very attractive, but make no mistake, this is no paid vacation.
Applicants must have an “active” job, even if they can do it in front of a laptop on a panoramic terrace overlooking olive groves while sipping a glass of red wine.
It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you’re tech-savvy enough to do it anywhere.
Although Italy is still slowly emerging from its latest pandemic wave, it hopes to reopen properly to travelers over the next few weeks, raising the tantalizing prospect of a proper Italian summer.
And while Covid has hit Italy particularly hard compared with some of its European neighbors, one silver lining has been that people have been relocating to previously depopulated towns, bringing new life to previously declining areas that now offer social distancing and lower contagion rates.
So-called “smart working villages” are now flourishing in Italy as local authorities grasp the potential of boosting high-speed internet and setting up equipped “labs” for telecommuters.
Santa Fiora’s mayor hopes good internet connections will lure remote workers.
Comune Santa Fiora
Located in the heart of wild Tuscany, the medieval village of Santa Fiora is nestled in the Monte Amiata natural reserve and is close to the wonderful Val D’Orcia Valley, Montepulciano’s wine heaven, and Siena.
Today the population is down to barely 2,500 residents but mayor Federico Balocchi believes technology and virtual work can revolutionize the future of his hometown.
Teleworkers willing to relocate and rent a house here under the Tuscan sun will be given up to €200 ($240) or 50% of the total rent for long-term stays of between two and six months.
Local rentals are typically in the range of €300 to €500 monthly, meaning anyone who moves here might end up paying as little as €100 per month.
There are also links to local estate agencies for a wider choice of houses.
But don’t think you’ll get paid to laze around gorging on delicious pasta dishes and going on sightseeing sprees around Tuscany. Balocchi is keen to stress that the rental voucher is not a partly paid-for-vacation. Potential tenants must prove that they will be actually working remotely.
“It’s not targeted at occasional touch-and-go tourists, but people who really want to experiment with our village life,” he tells CNN.
“The goal is to incentivize people to move in and virtually work from here. We want Santa Fiora to become their flexible office. Each time a youth leaves to search for a job elsewhere a piece of our village is taken away.
“This is only the first step of our smart village project, focused on connectivity and technology to lure new residents and firms.”
The village has just been cabled with high-speed fiber internet and “working stations” are being identified amid its narrow cobblestone alleys and Renaissance palazzos.
Beyond the broadband connection, the pace of life in Santa Fiora is slow, offering a sojourn far from city chaos and smog.
It’s ideal for people wishing to spend a part of the year in a quiet and relaxing place surrounded by nature.
Santa Fiora properties rent for about €300 to €500 per month.
Comune Santa Fiora
So what’s the catch?
First, you must be really teleworking and prove it through a detailed document of what exactly it is you do for a living — be it architecture, design, poetry, freelance reporting, online cooking lessons or brokering world peace. It must be forwarded together with your application form.
People on a pension are welcome to move in but won’t benefit from the voucher unless they’re still working as independent contractors, professionals or online consultants.
Secondly, once you find somewhere in the town, you’ll need to forward proof of rental with contract details and your new address. The €200 monthly vouchers work as reimbursements to be paid only after you send rent receipts to the mayor’s office.
Visiting Santa Fiora as soon as global travel resumes might be a good way to get a feel of the village life and personally search for your perfect abode.
Balocchi assures the town’s tourist office will be happy to assist in all procedures and paperwork.
Tenants are of course free to prolong their stay beyond six months, albeit at their own expense, with the mayor hoping that some might fall in love with the village and stay forever.
And if they decide to invest in the local tourist sector, Santa Fiora is willing to give them up to €30,000 to open a B&B or restyle an old dwelling to turn into a hotel or hostel.
There’s even a baby bonus of up to €1,500 for each newborn if anyone decides to take up residency and have a kid.
Santa Fiora is located in the heart of Tuscan wine country.
Comune Santa Fiora
“That would be great if new families actually settled in,” says Balocchi.
“This place is perfect for remote workers who must balance jobs and kids. We have low kindergarten fees, free school shuttle buses and many activities for children to allow parents time to breathe.”
A former mining center, Santa Fiora is an idyllic Tuscan hilltop village where nature and art perfectly combine. There are towers, fountains, panoramic piazzas overlooking the hilly landscape, museums and works of Renaissance artists.
Cut through by the river Fiora it’s surrounded by chestnut forests and a network of streams, waterfalls and pristine springs. There’s an ancient spectacular fish pond surrounded by a lush garden of pine trees, magnolia and orchards enclosed by lavish palazzos and a castle.
Top outdoor activities include horseback riding, biking and trekking along mountain trails.
Santa Fiora has a popular international music festival in summer and regular food fairs starring local mushrooms, onions and chestnuts.
For those who’d rather be closer to Rome, stunning Rieti has a similar deal but for a minimum of a three months stay. Eclipsed by the fame and allure of the Eternal City, it’s an under-the-radar destination worth seeing.
Even though Rieti has some 50,000 inhabitants and is one of the largest cities in the Lazio region, its population isn’t growing.
“We’re kind of stuck,” says deputy mayor Daniele Sinibaldi. “Young people still keep fleeing to Rome in search of work so we’ve embarked on a mission to lure remote workers who will turn Rieti into their smart office and revitalize our city.”
Rieti’s housing offer is even more appealing.
Rent vouchers could be extended beyond six months and a preliminary lease agreement is all the proof needed to get the ball rolling, says Sinibaldi. Teleworkers are free to pick a property even in nearby rural districts where rents are lower compared to the city.
Sinibaldi is confident telecommuting will revitalize sleepy Rieti.
“Rents in town are in the range of €250 to €500,” he says. “For €600 you can have an entire little villa in the peaceful countryside. Also, the voucher can be used in the entire territory of Rieti, including the rural hamlets of Sant’Elia, Cerchiara and the skiing resort of Terminillo but we’d love to have people move in to live in the historical center.”
Rieti’s origins are steeped in legend. It was founded by the fiery Italic tribes of the Sabines who inhabited the wild hills and forests of the area but were forced to bend the knee to ancient Rome after a series of bloody massacres.
During Roman times Rieti was a strategic outpost along the Via Salaria salt route, one of the main highways of the Empire.
Enclosed within protective medieval walls and turrets along the pristine Velino river, Rieti is locally known as “the freshwater Venice” for its network of streams, ponds, springs and luxuriant lake reserves.
It’s a mix of medieval, Renaissance, baroque and modern architecture where monumental piazzas, fortified walls and aristocratic palaces are connected by narrow picturesque alleys.
Standing on the majestic Roman bridge to admire deep red sunsets that set the river ablaze is a popular evening activity.
Since the Roman age Rieti claims to be the so-called Umbilicus Italiae, aka “Italy’s belly button,” the exact geographical center of the country.
The supposed dead center is apparently embodied by a historical billiard table located inside a tiny bar on the main piazza, where a round-shaped monument dubbed “la caciotta” (‘the cheese form’) marks Italy’s navel.
Fascinating treasures are hidden from sight. Strolling along via Roma, the main shopping street, you’d never guess that right beneath your feet runs another ancient Roman overpass from which the city grew and flourished.
The viaduct was built in the third century BCE to prevent flooding on the Via Salaria. The underground city is made of arches that are incorporated into noble residences.
Many dwellings in the historical center boast Roman walls and secret passageways to underground chambers.
Local food specialties include Fregnacce alla reatina, a diamond-shaped pasta with a tasty sauce of softened lard, celery, onion, chopped tomatoes, salt and chili. Pizzicotti are ‘pinched’ gnocchi served with a spicy tomato, garlic and olive oil sauce. Stracciatella are eggs cooked in veal broth while spaghetti alla carrettiera are made with seasoned pecorino cheese and chili pepper.
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