Everyone is familiar with Italy’s €1 home programs. But what if the city offered free housing? Cammarata has vowed to waive the normal symbolic fee for those who wish to start a new life in the city. The Sicilian village of Cammarata grabbed international news in 2019 with its bold bid for new residents. There was just one problem. The number of persons who applied for the project overwhelmed the local authorities. Due to a shortage of dedicated staff, the project stalled, and then came Covid. There was not a single home that was given away for free.

“Thanks to all the publicity, we had a lot of requests,” says the mayor of Cammarata, Giuseppe Mangiapane, who took office in the middle of the pandemic in October 2020. He also adds, “Cammarata is a stunning town — it’s like the panoramic terrace of inland Sicily because you can admire all the marvels of the island — even Etna’s eruptions, many miles away, from here. Anyone who comes falls in love immediately. However, unfortunately, the pandemic starting the same year as the project was launching, blocked everything.” As the infection spread, though, something else started to happen. Cammarata’s younger generation began to return home. Ornella Ancona, 28, is one of them. She’d spent the previous five years in the United Kingdom after leaving Sicily a decade ago to study and travel abroad.

She did, however, return in January 2021. She claimed that the epidemic had changed her outlook on life. And, it had made her want to return to Sicily for a while. She also returned with a wish to re-establish a connection with the people and place from where she came from. After such a tough year, the locals’ tranquil setting and genuine warmth have been her best medicine.