Italian Ghost Towns Are Turning Abandoned Buildings Into Alluring Airbnbs

Italian Ghost Towns Are Turning Abandoned Buildings Into Alluring Airbnbs

In a bid to revive rural communities, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Airbnb are creating dreamy getaways out of historic buildings.

With the coronavirus threatening city life, renowned Italian architects such as Stefano Boeri are suggesting a reevaluation of abandoned villages. The Italian Villages project aims to do exactly that.

Launched by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities in collaboration with Airbnb three years ago, the project brings Italian designers and artists to rural villages, resulting in four stunning holiday homes. Each of them is set in a historic dwelling and contains a site-specific art installation, and all proceeds go directly to the local community.

Only 10 people live in the crumbling town of Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy. The Italian Villages project aims to revitalize rural ghost towns across the country. To ensure that funds are reinvested in the community, Airbnb does not take a commission on bookings of redeveloped buildings.

Casa Cuoco in Civitacampomarano, Molise

The latest addition, a renovated palazzo in Molise (the region that made headlines for paying people $770 a month to move there), opened pre-COVID-19 and is now ready for its first guests.

EligoStudio, a young architecture firm from Milan founded by Alberto Nespoli and Domenico Rocca, transformed the rooms into monochrome spaces, using soft colors such as light blue and powder pink. "We wanted the design to be surprising," says Federica Sala, curator of the project. "We figured our guests would expect a rustic-chic interior. By opting for modern furniture and just one color for the walls and ceilings instead, we created an immersive experience."

Civitacampomarano is a hilltop hamlet with fewer than 300 inhabitants.

Once the house of Vincenzo Cuoco, a 19th-century writer and politician, the two-bedroom apartment is located in the medieval center.

Before restoration, Casa Cuoco was set up as a meeting room. "The space remained empty for years. We rarely actually used it," says local Barbara Manuele.

The apartment features a rug by EligoStudio for cc-tapis, lighting by Foscarini, kitchen appliances by Smeg, Vitra chairs, tableware by Bitossi, and a bed by Moroso for Diesel Living.

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The bathroom furniture was provided by Italian brand Ex.t.

The house boasts three works by visual artist Lorenzo Vitturi. He collected stones and trash from the village and combined them into totem-like sculptures, which he then photographed.

Casa d’Artista in Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio

The picturesque town of Civita di Bagnoregio, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Rome, is literally crumbling: It sits on top of a pinnacle that is being eroded by water running through the canyon. It’s also almost abandoned with a current population of 10.

This is where the Italian Villages project started three years ago: The first house to be restored was Casa Greco, a medieval building that was damaged by an earthquake. Located at the far end of the village, it offers spectacular views over the surrounding valley. 

Alberto Artesani and Frederik De Wachter from architecture studio DWA combined contemporary furnishings with traditional materials. "We took the opportunity to work with DWA while they were on the verge of becoming big," says Sala. The firm now has clients like Salvatore Ferragamo and Furla.

The designers decided to keep the original stone walls and floors.

DWA Studio opted for brands like Cassina, Nemo, Kvadrat, and Bitossi to furnish the two-level apartment that can host up to five people.

Brooklyn-based artist Francesco Simeti created a Renaissance-inspired tapestry that doubles as a curtain, visible from the outside as well. The flowers and plants in his work are a direct reference to the landscape that surrounds the village.

Casa Maer in Lavenone, Lombardy

The area surrounding Lavenone, about two-and-a-half hours by car from Milan, is popular for skiing and hiking. The small town itself is often overlooked by tourists, and many of its houses are empty.

The town of Lavenone stretches into the Alps. It has a population of 500.

"We chose this house because we really liked its cave-like atmosphere; it feels very cozy," Sala explains. The designers used warm colors and materials from the area, such as natural lime, to create a cocooning effect.

Before the restoration, the space was used by a cooperative for social inclusion. They now share the building.

The cooperative now regularly uses the apartment for their meetings.

Young visual artist Olimpia Zagnoli, who has illustrated magazine covers for The New York Times, decorated the walls with a colorful mosaic. Her artwork is inspired by the annual amphibian migration to nearby Lake Idro.

Three bespoke room dividers double as storage space.

Casa Panitteri in Sambuca, Sicily

Sambuca is considered one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. It lies in the province of Agrigento, famous for its high-quality wines. Still, the town’s population is declining: It made headlines last year when it sold properties for only €1. Many buildings have been abandoned for decades. 

This 17th-century palazzo was once a residence for clergy members.

Before being turned into a holiday apartment, the rooms were part of an archaeological museum.

Historically, Sicily has been influenced by many different cultures, from the Greeks to the Arabs. "We wanted that same eclecticism for the apartment, so we incorporated different colors, styles, and eras into the interior," explains Sala. "That’s what makes this project so special: The homes are all very contemporary, but they still connect to their surroundings and local heritage."

Curator Federica Sala invited young artist Edoardo Piermattei to decorate the apartment with modern frescoes, using traditional techniques. 

The four-poster bed was also customized by Piermattei.

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