“Are you interested in working remotely from beautiful Sardinia for only 1 euro?” reads a message on a one-page website urging foreigners to temporarily move to a small village in Italy.
Located in the heart of Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, Ollolai belongs to one of the five areas in the world known as the “blue zones” – they have a high proportion of people over 100 years old.
But the city’s population is aging and shrinking. Over the past 40 years, its official population has declined from 2013 to 1,174 due to migration to larger cities and declining birth rates.
For a rent of just €1 (US$1.60) per month, the local council promises 10 select newcomers “close proximity to unspoiled nature, delicious cuisine and incredible nearby beaches.” The village is also proud of its traditional basket weaving, sheep cheese production and the ancient Sardinian wrestling style.
This is not the first time the local council has tried to attract foreigners as part of a wider campaign in Italy to settle small towns and villages by offering cheap real estate.
A few years ago, Ollolai made international headlines when it started selling abandoned houses for €1 on the condition that their new owners refurbish them. The offer became so viral that the Dutch broadcaster RTL staged a reality show in Ollolai about the five couples who settled in the village and renovated their assigned homes. The winners received €20,000 ($32,000) and reportedly converted their property into a bed and breakfast for tourists.
To date, the council has sold 13 houses, and three – in poor condition – are still for sale.
The village of Ollolai is located on the slopes of the mountains in the Barbagia region in the heart of Sardinia. Credit: Municipality of Ollolay
Now, local officials are hoping to take advantage of the rise in telecommuting.
In March 2022, the Italian government passed a law on a new “digital nomad visa” for highly skilled remote workers from outside the European Union. But it hasn’t been introduced yet. Residents of non-EU countries can still obtain a temporary visa to work remotely from Italy.
“Revitalizing the country, improving the lives of residents and curbing depopulation are the goals we have set for ourselves,” said Ollolai Mayor Francesco Columbu.
In exchange for virtually free accommodation, participants are asked to share their knowledge and ideas with the local community through presentations, classes, or projects.
Veronica Matta is an anthropologist and president of the Sa Mata association, which is helping the local council with the project. She calls it an interesting social experiment.
“It’s not just about being able to come and stay here, but how newcomers will interact with the rest of the village and how their presence will change the village,” she told SBS Dateline.
Association with bodybuilding
The application is open to all nationalities, but the local council favors Americans due to its “special connection to the United States” through renowned bodybuilder Franco Columba (not related to the mayor).
Born in Ollolai, Columbu was a cowherd-turned-boxer who eventually rose to fame as a bodybuilder. He has won the most prestigious titles in bodybuilding, including Mr. Universe and two Mr. Olympias.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbo on the set of Conan the Barbarian, 1982. Credit: Instagram @schwarzenegger
In 1965, Columbu met the future Hollywood actor and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a bodybuilding competition. The two became close friends. Columbu starred in films starring Schwarzenegger such as The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian. In honor of a lifelong friendship, the action star was made an honorary citizen of Ollolai in 2016.
Although Columbu settled in the US and later became a citizen, he maintained close ties to his native village and visited every year. He has produced three films shot in his native Sardinia.
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