(CNN) – When Italian cities started offering homes for sale for just over $ 1, they inspired legions of dreamers to make a bet in moving to a remote corner of Italy.
Although spending a few thousand dollars more on renovating the property was usually part of the deal, it was sweetened by the prospect of a new life in an idyllic location in a beautiful country.
And then the coronavirus hit, causing the world to fall 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 can barely speak the language and cannot return home with loved ones? Does life quickly become a nightmare?
Perhaps surprisingly given the difficulties that followed, the answer seems to be no.
CNN has talked to some people who have bought some of the Italian homes offered at low cost by cities that want to reverse the declining population trends.
We found them optimistic and eager to complete the renovation of their properties and fulfill their Italian dream.
Despite the unexpected turn of events, it seems that being stuck in Italy was not such a bad experience after all.
And the crisis of the virus has made them appreciate even more the beauty of the Italian rural villages, so much so that some are trying to invest in cheaper properties.
Mussomeli is located on a hill in Sicily.
Salvatore Catalano, Municipality of Mussolemi
Miami artist Alvaro Solorzano is currently stuck in Mussomeli, a picturesque town on the southern island of Sicily where he purchased two cheap properties last year – one of which only costs a euro or a little over a dollar.
In March he arrived with his son’s wife, son and girlfriend to start renovating homes. The other three returned to Miami and Solorzano was supposed to follow them a couple of weeks later, but then his flight was canceled.
“I lost track of time. We came here together and ended up living the quarantine in Mussomeli alone, without furniture just a bed and a TV, and no one to talk to,” he tells CNN. “It was the most difficult thing. If my wife or son had been with me, it would have been different.”
One of the properties of Solorzano in Mussomeli.
Solorzano had stayed in a B&B, but when it closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, he was forced to move to the less dilapidated of his two properties, which was almost habitable.
Since then, she has wasted time watching TV, learning Italian, going to the supermarket (“the most beautiful part of the day”) and talking on the phone with her family. Gradually, he 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 home they will be ready,” he says. “Fortunately, the hardware store in town has always been open and I’m so happy that we bought two properties and not just the one-euro house as it has no water or electricity.”
Alvaro Solorzano of Miami says that local residents made his forced stay in Mussomeli a pleasant experience.
Maurizio Di Maria, Municipality of Mussomeli
Despite the initial difficulties, he says that his new neighbors have helped him throughout the ordeal.
“The first two nights have been terrible,” he says. “It was cold, I slept with my jacket over my pajamas, but then the neighbors were fantastic. I can’t complain. They gave me the heaters and even offered me some blankets, which I had, but I could use their Internet.”
“They kept checking on me, 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.”
Solorzano was brought the Easter cakes by his neighbors.
Mussomeli, surrounded by honeysuckles and eucalyptus, boasts one of the most breathtaking fortresses in Italy, known as the Enchanted Castle, which clings like a spider on a pointed rock.
The fertile green agricultural land is dotted with ancient sulfur mines, sanctuaries, Roman necropolises and traces of primitive settlements.
The name of the city means “Hill of Honey” in Latin.
But in Solorzano 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 ever repay them for everything they did.”
Initially severe restrictions have now decreased in Italy, allowing him to get around, but at the beginning it was difficult, he admits, since there was nothing to do. “It was terrible, staying at home, sometimes I felt in prison.”
Real estate empire
Solorzano says he now knows everyone by name.
Now he likes to be able to chat with the locals and walk towards the Mussomeli viewpoint, where he can sit on a bench and enjoy the fresh air and mountain views.
As a painter, Solorzano says that he would have liked to do some work of art, but due to the blockade he could not find a pallet or a canvas.
Solorzano wants to buy another property in Mussomeli.
Maurizio Di Maria, Municipality of Mussomeli
“I am working hard to try and get home, but a flight I booked recently has also been canceled, so I don’t really know when I will be returning to the United States,” he says. “I want to go back before Father’s Day in June. I’ve already missed so many celebrations that I could have celebrated with my family.”
The Sicilian quarantine of Solorzano made him love Mussomeli even more. The ordeal, instead of killing the enthusiasm for his one-euro adventure, fueled the desire to buy a third abandoned building.
“I love this city and people, even if they don’t know you, help you. It’s like being in another world. You don’t understand it in the United States.”
Trapped in Tuscany
Brazilian Douglas Roque, pictured here with his cousin, was stranded in Tuscany during the blockade of Italy.
Brazilian businessman Douglas Roque is another dilapidated home buyer whose enthusiasm for starting a new life has not been taken away from the coronavirus.
Roque was in Fabbriche di Vergemoli, in Tuscany, overseeing the renovation of a one-euro farmhouse when the blockade was struck and his return flight home was canceled.
Together with his Brazilian-Italian friend Alberto Da Lio, both from São Paulo, the two were also in town to oversee the potential purchase of an entire abandoned area for other Brazilian buyers.
If they had not been able to stay in the Da Lio family home near Venice, with the hotels in Vergemoli closed and the abandoned house totally uninhabitable, they would have had nowhere to go, says Roque.
Roque, on the right, is pictured here with the mayor of Fabbriche di Vergermoli, Michele Giannini.
Fabbriche di Vergemoli is a group of hamlets scattered in the protected forest of the Apuan Alps, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The area is dotted with ruins of abandoned miners’ dwellings invaded by vegetation. Many areas are only accessible on foot.
The dilapidated three-storey farm of Roque, which includes a cellar of chestnuts and old forgotten wine barrels, is located in the Dogana district, where an uncontaminated stream flows under an ancient and picturesque bridge.
“I was about to start the restyle 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 continue the renovation of my home, all the paperwork had been 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 they and they are worried about me. ”
Piece of perfection
Roque is also looking to buy other houses in the villages for Brazilian comrades.
Courtesy of Douglas Roque
The two friends also had to face the consequences of an extended stay: the hassle of monthly credit card limits and seasonal changes of clothes when they arrived in the winter and now it’s almost spring (fortunately, they found some light contours from Da Lio) .
As he waits for global air traffic to resume, Roque is eager to get Vergemoli back on its feet as soon as the Italian authorities lift restrictions on transfers between regions – a move scheduled for early June.
“All this time I have tried to work on my online project, contacting the construction companies and collaborating with other Brazilian buyers, friends and relatives interested in buying properties in Vergemoli but who cannot travel now. I hope to finalize everything soon.”
Roque says he chose Vergemoli in all places in Italy to buy a one euro house because, despite everything that has 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.”