Escaping the city is squarely on trend. As renters grew tired of living and working from cramped homes, applications for urban properties dropped 23 per cent in August. While, between April and June, 41 per cent buyers from cities bought a home in a town, suburb or countryside location. Some went a step further, opting to become digital nomads.
But, for those who wish to try out a completely different existence, Robert Zupan, founder of the Back to the Village project, could have the answer.
He explained: “We will restore like it used to be a century ago. In each house [I want] to place one person from each state in Europe, typical British, typical Spanish, typical Italian, German and so on. They’ll restore this village and make it self-sufficient.”
So far, he has a growing team behind the project, including German structural engineer Dr Christine Lemaitre as head of sustainable building and Alessio Princic, an architect, acting as an advisor.
Covid-19 has slowed down a process, which has included pitching the idea to television networks: Mr Zupan has big ambitions for this nascent scheme.
The first step, though, is choosing a village, Italy is Mr Zupan’s preference, but Spain and Slovenia are also under consideration. A vineyard, goats (for cheese), beekeeping, tourism business could be valuable additions to one of these hamlets, said Mr Zupan. "We could bring prosperity, promote local food and tourism. Maybe this way we could help the region," he added.
Italy’s deserted towns have already pulled global coverage through the selection of €1 schemes that see empty houses, many of which have been left to decay (some damaged in earthquakes), auctioned off to buyers from around the world. However, such deals are often contingent on the buyer investing in restoring the property.
“People buy €1 houses, then don’t know what to do with them. We are going to show what they need to do, how to grow their own business in foreign country, how to build a community,” said Mr Zupan.
There have been other fresh suggestions for how to use Italy's thousands of forgotten hamlets. In May, some of Italy’s best-known architects, including Stefano Boeri, suggested that a move away from cities could help to reduce the risk of future pandemics. Mr Boeri, whose tree-covered, high-rise apartments are a distinctive feature of Milan’s skyline, proposed that the Italian Government "adopt" ghost villages and attract new residents there.
He pointed to tax incentives as well as improving transport links and installing broadband to allow working from home.
However, the lure of Back to the Village would be temporary, at least for some. Mr Zupan said the “contestants” would be paid for their participation in the experiment, which would last a few months.
However, if any contestants chose to stay on long-term, Mr Zupan insisted he and his colleagues would support them in doing so.
For those weary of the day-to-day grind, which now comes without many of the perks of life pre-pandemic, a stint in an Italian village could be an opportunity to start anew.