Job tourism experience in Italian small towns during Covid19

The view from home in Castel di Tora, the place found to stay (ph Francesco Curti)


Among the unexpected effects of Covid19 on the lives of Italian people is the rediscovery of the fascinating depopulated small towns along the Italian Apennines, where social distancing and connection with Nature, it’s easier.

During the Summer 2020, many small towns benefited from this trend and tourism improved increasingly. People wanted a beautiful, safe and peaceful place. They did not want to be scared of contagion risks.

Today, the challenge is to maintain the same trend, even in low season.

Another effect of the Covid19 is the implementation of smart working at any level of the society, from big companies to small working realities. Many small towns are taking advantage of this effect trying to become attractive for smart workers. The aim is to repopulate those towns affected in the XX cent. by the escape of most of people to the big cities, in order to guarantee their survival.  Therefore, some are strengthening the internet network and are offering special benefits such as homes for free and tax discounts for those ready to move there.

This kind of tourism, the so-called “job-tourism”, will help to cover the costs of maintenance of the town and, at the same time, will ensure a year-round touristic season. Several mayors have perfectly understood that innovative and up to date infrastructures, like excellent internet connections, are fundamental also to encourage new jobs for young people.

The life of these depopulated Italian towns and their communities are seriously at risk. This is the challenge that was taken over by SuSTowns, a EU funded project coordinated and promoted by Anci Lazio, together with the Association I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia and many other international partners across the Mediterranean area.

Anci Lazio has just completed the Action Plan for the development of sustainable tourism in the Turano Valley; an area in the central Apennines of the province of Rieti. The small towns of the Turano Valley are the core of this project. Castel di Tora is the “pilot town”, together with other “pilot towns” of Italy and other European Mediterranean partners of SusTowns.

The “Borgo” of Castel di Tora from above (ph Claudio Bordi).

During the third wave of coronavirus, just at the beginning of 2021, the SusTowns project is experimenting job-tourism in Castel di Tora, thanks to some professional figures, equipped with computers and technological platforms,  and is focusing its effort in creating special “working labs”, involving many actors such as local stakeholders and inhabitants: an approach centered on the person; to make people aware of the effects of Covid19, to stimulate a positive reaction, new behaviors in combining efforts.

The changes we are expecting are specifically focused on stimulating a team building approach in the Turano Valley, trying to overcome the traditional cultural isolation of any single small town.

Our team of professionals experimenting job-tourism in Castel di Tora is proving that changes are possible:

  1.  for local stakeholders and inhabitants providing new services, like job-tourism, developing new business, creating new jobs and thus regenerating local communities;
  2. for tourists and people from abroad or from other Italian regions, for a long stay of several months and keeping working remotely, experiencing a new life in a small town, getting to know the inhabitants, experimenting local genuine food, adapting themselves to a more natural and slow way of life.

Here below is a guideline made specially for those who are interested in experimenting job tourism:

What are the issues that a person has to face, if you would like to transfer your job in a small town in Italy?

  1. How easy is to reach the place?

During winter time, there are very few transports connecting small town with big cities. The only transportations available are based on commuter time tables. Therefore, you probably need your own car to move around.

  • Finding a place to stay

In winter time, many small towns are empty as most of the people are living in a big city and they only return during the good season. Therefore, many apartments or houses are available, but choosing a place, it’s not easy. Apart from your own taste and request, heating and comfort have an important role, especially during winter and a good Internet connection is the most important.

  • How easy it is finding food and other useful services especially during the Covid19?

In some of the villages, especially the smallest ones, there is only a store that sells everything, like a little market with very little choice and strange opening times. If you want to find more, the only chance is to move by car to a bigger center and buy everything in advance. But if you are lucky enough to find a local bakery, a butcher and a local market, you don’t have to worry because it will be of the best quality you can find. The variety and quality of your food will increase as well as your kilos.

The view of Castel di Tora from another small town, on the other side of the Turano lake, “Colle di Tora” (ph Claudio Bordi)

  • How easy is to communicate with locals and how they will react to your arrival?

The most important thing is to know at least basic Italian language. Don’t expect to find someone able to speak in English. At the same time, you have to improve and be ready to use all your communication skills. Usually someone living in a village will look at you as an “invader” and he or she will need a lot of time to adjust to your presence, but if you will be able to demonstrate with big smile, your genuine interest in being part of the community, I am sure that one day you will succeed. The most important thing is to make “friends” that will help you in case of an emergency.

  • Visiting the surroundings, practicing outdoors activities:

This is the best part. Every single small town can offer a wide range of attractions: beautiful panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, a medieval flavor with narrow alleyways, and staircases going up and down, a castle dominating the town and in the main square, a fountain and an ancient church dedicated to the local patron Saint. Besides churches and castles, you can climb up to the surrounding mountains and natural reserves, following well marked paths; probably the best way to enjoy some breath-taking views and immerse yourself in the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Italian Apennines.

Therefore, if you are looking for Nature, sports and walking facilities, the Turano Valley with its beautiful lake, is an ideal place where to stay for job-tourism.

In brief, benefits of “small-town’s life” all over Italy are so many:

  • Slower it is better:  far away from a big city, a more relaxed peace, can be a wealthy change.
  • Less danger: in a small town, it’s safer for kids to play outside, for bicyclists to chain their bikes, and for you, to leave your house door open.
  • Lower cost of living: everything from home rent to groceries is cheaper in a small town. You can get an entire house for the price of a studio apartment in a large city, the price of consumer goods is lower, too.  Not to mention, small towns tend to have lower level of taxation.
  • No traffic, No pollution and No Gym costs: with fewer residents, you can move quickly with no parking problems—commuting is a cinch. You’ll save time and gas money, and if you’re a runner or cyclist or simply you like to walk, you’ll enjoy the fantastic natural and historic heritage of the area as well as keeping you well fit!

Francesco Curti, licensed tour guide in the Lazio region

Claudio Bordi, architect/urban planner

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