(CNN) – When Italian cities began offering houses for sale for just over $ 1, they inspired legions of dreamers to risk moving to a remote corner of Italy.
While spending an extra few thousand dollars on property renovation was generally part of the deal, it was sweetened by the prospect of new life in an idyllic location in a beautiful country.
And then the coronavirus arrived, plunging the world into crisis, with Italy among the most affected countries.
So what happens when you are quarantined in a dilapidated house in a remote village where you barely speak the language and can’t get home to your loved ones? Does life quickly turn into a nightmare?
Perhaps surprisingly given the difficulties that followed, the answer seems to be no.
CNN spoke to some people who bought some of the Italian houses that the towns were offering at a low price and who wanted to reverse the downward trend in the population.
We find them optimistic and eager to complete the remodeling of their property and make their Italian dream come true.
Despite the unexpected turn of events, it seems that being stuck in Italy has not been such a negative experience after all.
And the virus crisis has made them appreciate even more the beauty of Italy’s rural villages, so much so that some seek to invest in cheaper properties.
Mussomeli is located on a hill in Sicily.
Salvatore Catalano, Comune Mussolemi
Miami-based artist Álvaro Solórzano is currently trapped in Mussomeli, a picturesque town on the southern island of Sicily, where he bought two cheap properties last year, one of which costs just a euro or just over a dollar.
In March he arrived with his wife, son and son’s girlfriend to start renovating houses. The other three returned to Miami and Solórzano was due to follow them a couple of weeks later, but then their flight was canceled.
“I lost track of time. We came here together and ended up living the quarantine in Mussomeli alone, with no furniture, just a bed and a TV, and no one to talk to,” he tells CNN. “That was the most difficult part. If my wife or my son had been with me, it would have been different.”
One of the Solorzano properties in Mussomeli.
Solórzano had stayed in a B&B, but when this closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, he was forced to move to the less-deteriorated of his two properties, which was almost habitable.
Since then, he has been killing time by watching television, learning Italian, going to the supermarket (“the best part of the day”) and talking on the phone with his family. Little by little, he has made the most of the situation by repairing and painting the walls of the house.
“I did little things, but it helped me use the time, so when my son and his girlfriend come back, their house will be ready,” he says. “Fortunately, the hardware store in the city has always been open and I am very happy to have bought two properties and not just the one-euro house, as it has no water or electricity.”
Álvaro Solórzano of Miami says that local residents have made their forced stay in Mussomeli a pleasant experience.
Maurizio Di Maria, Comune Mussomeli
Despite initial difficulty, he says his new neighbors helped him during the test.
“The first two nights were terrible,” he says. “It was cold, I slept with my jacket over my pajamas but the neighbors were great. I can’t complain. They gave me heaters and even offered me blankets, which I had, but I could use their internet.”
“They kept checking me out, they brought me tons of food for Easter, which took me three days to eat. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
Solórzano was brought Easter cakes by his neighbors.
Mussomeli, surrounded by honeysuckle and eucalyptus, boasts one of the most impressive fortresses in Italy, known as the Enchanted Castle, which clings like a spider to a pointed rock.
The fertile green farmland is dotted with ancient sulfur mines, shrines, Roman necropolis, and remnants of primitive settlements.
The name of the city means “Cerro de la Miel” in Latin.
But for Solórzano, the sweetest attractions of the place are its welcoming residents.
“They are wonderful, I know everyone by name,” he says. “There’s Mario, the guy who delivers the bread. I have no words to describe how grateful I am to have them and I don’t know how I could pay them for everything they did.”
Initially, severe restrictions have now been eased in Italy, allowing her to walk, but at first it was difficult, she admits, since there was nothing to do. “It was terrible, just staying home, sometimes I wanted to be in jail.”
Solórzano says he now knows everyone by name.
Now he enjoys being able to chat with the locals and stroll around the Mussomeli viewpoint, where he can sit on a bench and enjoy the fresh air and panoramic mountain views.
As a painter, Solórzano says that he would have loved to make some works of art, but due to the blockage he could not find a palette or a canvas.
Solórzano wants to buy another property in Mussomeli.
Maurizio Di Maria, Comune Mussomeli
“I am working hard to try to get home, but a flight I recently booked was also canceled, so I really don’t know when I will return to the United States,” he says. “I want to go back before Father’s Day in June. I’ve already missed so many holidays that I could have celebrated with my family.”
Solórzano’s Sicilian quarantine has made him love Mussomeli even more. The terrible experience, instead of having killed the enthusiasm for his adventure in a one-euro house, has fueled the desire to buy a third abandoned building.
“I love this city and the people, even if they don’t know you, help you. It’s like being in another world. You don’t understand this in the United States.”
Stuck in Tuscany
Brazilian Douglas Roque, photographed here with his cousin, has been trapped in Tuscany during the confinement of Italy.
Brazilian businessman Douglas Roque is another ruined home buyer whose enthusiasm for starting a new life has not been affected by the coronavirus.
Roque was in Fabbriche di Vergemoli, Tuscany, overseeing the renovation of a one-euro farm house when the closure occurred and his flight back home was canceled.
Along with their Brazilian-Italian friend Alberto Da Lio, both from Sao Paulo, the two were also in town to oversee the possible purchase of an entire abandoned area for other Brazilian buyers.
If they couldn’t have stayed at Da Lio’s family home near Venice, with the hotels in Vergemoli closed and the abandoned house completely uninhabitable, they would have had nowhere to go, says Roque.
Roque, on the right, is shown here with the Mayor of Fabbriche di Vergermoli, Michele Giannini.
Fabbriche di Vergemoli is a group of villages scattered in the protected forest of the Apuan Alps, protected by UNESCO. The area is dotted with ruins of abandoned miners’ houses invaded by vegetation. Many areas can be reached only on foot.
Roque’s dilapidated three-story farmhouse, which comes with a cellar of chestnuts and old and forgotten wine barrels, is located in the Dogana neighborhood, where a pristine stream runs under a picturesque old bridge.
“The redesign was about to start and then everything was blocked,” says Roque. “It was terrible, our return flight was canceled and we had problems with the Brazilian consulate.”
“I came here in February to carry out the renovation of my house, all the paperwork was done, I was ready to go but I couldn’t go on. And my family is in Brazil, where the virus cases have increased. I am worried about them and them they are worried about me. ”
Piece of perfection
Roque is also trying to buy other houses in the villages for the Brazilians.
Courtesy of Douglas Roque.
The two friends also had to deal with the consequences of an extended stay: the hassle of monthly credit card limits and seasonal clothing changes when they arrived in winter and now it’s almost spring (luckily they found some lighter games in Da Lio’s).
While waiting for global air traffic to resume, Roque is eager to set foot on Vergemoli again as soon as Italian authorities lift restrictions on moving between regions, a move expected in early June.
“All this time I have been trying to work on my project online, contacting construction companies and making contacts with other Brazilian buyers, friends and family interested in buying a property in Vergemoli but who cannot travel now. I hope to finish everything. soon”. ”
Roque says he chose Vergemoli out of all the places in Italy to buy a one-euro house because, despite everything that happened, it remains a dream destination.
“Tuscany is a wonderful region and the main historical and artistic cities are nearby. It is the perfect place.”