(CNN) – Without crowds even before the pandemic, pretty villages, proximity to Rome, access to ski slopes and incredible scenery, the Italian region of Abruzzo has a lot to offer as a destination.
Everything has changed now. Abruzzo has finally joined the â¬ 1-house club with the launch of a new program in the picturesque town of Pratola Peligna.
Set in the Apennine mountains, close to some of Italy’s best ski slopes, it’s a secluded location with a medieval quarter full of abandoned properties that local authorities say will soon give them new life.
Like many other villages and towns that sell cheap houses, Pratola Peligna has suffered from a population decline. In the 1930s, it numbered around 13,000, but local authorities say there are only 7,000 left.
Some houses have already been bought and restored.
Courtesy of Guerino Petrella
Many homes were left behind as families fled in search of a better future elsewhere. The dilapidated state of their old homes has been exacerbated over the years by several earthquakes, including a powerful one in 2009 that devastated the nearby town of L’Aquila.
Before launching the â¬ 1 sale, local authorities mapped abandoned properties and tried to contact former owners – difficult work, says city councilor Paolo Di Bacco.
“Our goal is to make them shine again and to regain the beauty of the old center, although this may take some time.”
Details and photos of houses deemed ready for sale are regularly uploaded to the website of the Town Hall of Pratola Peligna. A few have already been purchased.
Di Bacco indicates that to speed up sales procedures, new rules have been introduced to encourage buyers to quickly revamp their new home within a maximum period of three years.
In the air
The city hopes to reverse a trend of depopulation.
Courtesy of Paolo Di Bacco
Unlike other cities with similar projects, Pratola Peligna will not require buyers to post a deposit of up to â¬ 5,000 to guarantee they will renovate their new home. Instead, they face a fine of â¬ 10,000 if they fail to register a detailed construction plan within six months.
“It’s really the worst-case scenario,” says Di Bacco. “We just want to make sure that buyers really stick to their commitment and don’t just buy for $ 1 and then disappear.”
Mayor Antonella Di Nino wants things to go well, but with certainty. She complains that in the past there have been people, including a few strangers, who grabbed a cheap ruined house and then disappeared, apparently, into the air.
“It makes the situation worse and kills our efforts,” she said. “Especially with foreigners, tracking them down across the world and forcing them to complete the renovation becomes impossible. It’s something we want to avoid this time around.”
There are also stricter rules for previous owners. Either they agree to renovate their family home to avoid a dangerous collapse, or they must turn the property over to local authorities. Many have done this to avoid the burden and expense of maintaining falling buildings.
“If in the meantime a roof collapses or a wall crumbles, endangering public safety, the town hall intervenes to secure the building and will make the former owners, or their heirs, pay for the damage and repairs”, says Di Bacco.
Buyers will not have to pay a deposit but will face fines if they do not file restoration plans.
Courtesy of Paolo di Bacco
The abandoned stone houses of Pratola Peligna are crammed into its historic quarter, known as Schiavonia, where the alleys are only wide enough for donkey carts.
Some properties are in good condition, with elaborate stone decorations and fancy arched portals. Some are even furnished. But most of them are ruins housing abandoned goods.
They are all relatively small – around 70 square meters (750 square feet) over two floors. Some have several wrought-iron balconies, a cellar and steps leading to the front door. In the past, houses were built this way in case heavy snowfall blocked access to houses.
Most of the city’s â¬ 1 buildings have two separate entrances – one main and one further down the street leading to an underground storage room. Larger houses even have an attic and patio where housewives washed clothes and dried grains and beans.
Back then, families and animals lived in common spaces. It was a tight-knit community where people took care of each other, says Di Bacco.
Some buildings, once belonging to the rural bourgeoisie, are still adorned with wall emblems and coats of arms and have painted wooden doors.
Other dilapidated moss-covered houses have holes in their roofs and empty windows.
The occupied areas of Pratola Peligna are a labyrinth of recent pastel-colored houses connected to the old ones by a network of arched passages.
The town overlooks a pristine valley crossed by streams and surrounded by ski slopes and forests, once attacked by pirates. Prehistoric fossils have been found in the area, including the skeleton of a mammoth.
The hiking routes wind through the wild nature of the Majella National Park, always traversed by wolves and bears.
Carnivals and fairs
Some houses have collapsed roofs. Others are still intact.
Courtesy of Paolo di Bacco
Pratola is said to have been founded by fiery tribes who refused to surrender to Imperial Rome. The city’s name comes from the Latin word “pratulae”, which means “vast cultivated meadow”. Once a thriving rural center under the reign of powerful bishops, its decline began when farmers could no longer survive on the fruits of their hard work.
The so-called “Quarter of the Earth” is the oldest part of the city, surrounded by crumbling walls and accessible by a stone portal in the image of a serpent coiled around a cross.
Its rural past is presented in a picturesque peasant museum.
Some old traditions continue. There is a religious parade in which the faithful walk on their knees and pilgrims cross the mountains barefoot to celebrate the victory over the plague in 1456.
A picturesque carnival and food and craft fairs attract day trippers. Local specialties include dishes with special beans called “cannellini” and “poverelli”. The Christmas menus offer seven different soups and spaghetti with trout sauce.
Local cakes include the moon-shaped “cecio ripieno” (stuffed chickpeas) pastry filled with chickpea cream, chocolate and candied fruit, and “pizzelle” waffles, traditionally made by housewives and chefs. who participate in a cooking marathon once a year.
Pratola Peligna produces some of the best wines in the region, such as the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the RosÃ©s Cerasuolo and Trebbiano.
The popular ski resorts of Roccaraso and Pescasseroli are nearby, while the town of Pescara on the Adriatic coast is relatively close. The village of Sulmona famous for its artisanal confetti is only 9 kilometers (95.6 miles) away.