Hilltop town in Sicily hopes to attract new blood by offering old stone houses for €1

With its terracotta-tiled stone houses perched on a rocky crag overlooking rugged countryside, it might seem like the perfect Italian hill town.

But San Piero Patti has been losing inhabitants to ageing and migration for decades and has now decided to offer its empty houses for sale at €1 (90p) each in a bid to inject new life into the community.

New owners will be obliged to restore the often dilapidated homes, using traditional stone, timber and terracotta roofing and employing, where possible, local artisans.

On the plus side, they will be a 15 minute drive from the nearest beach and on the edge of the Nebrodi national park, a protected zone of lakes and forested mountains.

The council of the tiny town, known as “the pearl of the Nebrodi”, voted unanimously this week to embark on the project, which was first mooted earlier this year.

San Piero Patti has taken its lead from another town in Sicily, Gangi, which attracted worldwide interest in 2014 when it started selling off its abandoned houses for one euro.

“It all started with the example of Gangi, which has been a great success – a lot of their houses have been sold,” Salvatore Fiore, the mayor of San Piero Patti, told The Telegraph.

A Holy Friday procession in San Piero Patti, where houses will be sold for one euro eachCredit:

The task now is to identify how many houses will be offered for sale, with the council contacting their owners.

The hope is that the first homes will be available by early next year.

“We in the very early stages and I can’t yet say how many houses will be up for sale. But they will be available to anyone – foreign buyers will be welcome, absolutely.”

He is taking advice from the former mayor and now deputy mayor of Gangi, Giuseppe Ferrarello, where dozens of houses have been sold to foreign families.

While not in as sharp a demographic decline as many towns and villages in Italy, San Piero Patti has nevertheless dropped from a population of around 4,000 two decades ago to 3,000 today.

The town’s problems are emblematic not just of Sicily but of the whole of the “Mezzogiorno” as the south of Italy is known.

Gangi, another town in Sicily, pioneered the idea of offering old and derelict homes for sale at a price of one euroCredit:
Alessandra Siragusa/Alamy

A report released this week painted a dispiriting picture of the economic and social decline of the region.

The number of families in which every adult is unemployed has nearly doubled since 2010, from 362,000 to 600,000, according to the study by  Svimez, a business association.

High rates of unemployment are leading to “rising marginalisation and social decline”, the report said.

In the last 16 years, 1.8 million people have left Italy’s south, half of them young people aged between 15 and 34, in search of better opportunities in Italy’s north or abroad.