OLLOLAI, SARDINIA, ITALY — Ever dreamed of owning a home in a pretty Italian village? The news you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. You can now buy one for just over a dollar.
Ollolai, a destination in the mountain region of Barbagia on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, is selling hundreds of abandoned homes for just €1 ($1.2).
It’s not the first Italian town to try the gimmick, but it seems to be the first to live up to the promise. It’s also got the beauty and history needed to draw people in.
The real estate bonanza comes with a catch, though. The 200 stone-built dwellings up for grabs are in poor condition and buyers must commit to a refurbishment within three years — which will likely cost about $25,000.
Behind the sell-off is a plan to rejuvenate a community at risk of becoming a ghost town. In the past half century, Ollolai’s population has shrunk from 2,250 to 1,300, with only a handful of babies born each year.
“We boast prehistoric origins,” says Efisio Arbau, Ollolai’s mayor. “My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion.
“Pride in our past is our strength. We’ve always been tough people and won’t allow our town to die.”
Formerly Barbagia’s capital, Ollolai remains the most untouched and authentic patch of Sardinia.
Once buzzing, its maze of alleys and mural-covered piazzas are now silent, as younger residents have been lured away to bigger cities.
Abandoned by the families who once occupied them, many stone dwellings have been lying in ruin, covered in cobwebs, for decades.
Some traditional ways of life survive. Local shepherds continue to make the exquisite premium sheep cheese, Casu Fiore Sardo, that the area is known for, while artisans still weave fine baskets.
Arbau likens the town’s struggles to its olden day battles, from an era when surrounding caves were used by separatists and bandits to stow their kidnap victims.
“We once had a fiery king, Dux Ospitone, who united all heathen tribes in a league,” he adds. “Our pagan ancestors never succumbed to the ancient Roman conquerors, who dubbed us ‘barbarians.’
“These hills are Italy’s ‘Highlands’ and we are sons of ‘Bravehearts.'”
Now Ollolai, which takes its name from an ancient battle cry of “alalé,” is fighting back once again.
In a bid to breathe new life into the town, Arbau contacted former home owners — shepherds, farmers and craftsmen — asking them to sign the homes over to town authorities.
“They’re picturesque old buildings made with Sardinia’s typical gray granite rock that grows on mountain peaks and shores,” says Arbau.
“We need to bring our grandmas’ homes back from the grave.”
He approved a special decree and placed the properties on the market, at bargain prices, in 2017.
Despite their poor conditions, three houses have already been sold and Arbau says he’s received more than 100 purchase requests from across the world, including Russia and Australia.
The mayor hopes the refurbishment of the homes will help create new jobs and revive the local economy.