Rome: A lot of people dream about living the rural Italian life but only a few get to make it a reality.
But for three months one Australian woman will. Photographer and University of Melbourne agriculture studies graduate Anne Tachado has been chosen by AirBnB to move to the sleepy, historic town of Grottole in southern Italy as part of a push to revitalise the village.
The location may be picturesque, but Grottole’s population has dwindled from a few thousand to just 300, and 600 of the village’s homes are now vacant.
More than 280,000 people entered AirBnB’s “Italian Sabbatical” competition. After a worldwide search, just five people, including Tachado, were selected. AirBnB wants the quintet to help revitalise the town and work with the local “Wonder Grottole” committee to attract more tourists.
The five volunteers were chosen based on their motivations, their willingness to commit to the project and their readiness to share their skills to serve the local community. At 24, Tachado is the youngest of the five, with the others ranging in age from 36 to 62.
Tachado, who moved with her family to Australia from the Philippines when she was 17, has always dreamed of visiting Italy.
“My aunty worked in Sicily,” she says. “She was a nun and she was always telling us stories about Italy and that’s when I became interested. She gave us books, let us watch documentaries and I just found it so beautiful. The rustic way of living. I have this idea of Italy in my head because of her.”
During Tachado’s Italian sabbatical she will become a temporary citizen of the town, receiving language lessons, learning local cooking techniques and helping develop the local gardens and community vegetable patch.
She’ll also get to explore the nearby countryside which is dotted with ancient caves, all while receiving free accommodation and a €900 ($1537) allowance a month. The town also has a beekeeper that makes some of the region’s famous honey, an olive oil producer and a castle that dates back to the 10th century.
“Our dream is to repopulate the historic centre of Grottole,” says Silvio Donadio, a founder of Wonder Grottole. “Within 10 years we’d like to see the village full of people from different cultures, perfectly integrated with the local community.”
Grottole has become increasingly deserted, like many rural southern Italian towns, as younger generations choose to move to the city.
Tachado has had previous experience volunteering in rural towns in the Philippines and Japan. She wants a career in rural development and sustainability.
“Issues and concerns that matter to smaller communities don’t get addressed the same way the big cities do. They get forgotten,” she says. “Young people are moving to the cities and not a lot of people are interested in agriculture as a career. Farmers are getting older and farms are getting smaller.
“I want to use social media and photography. When I researched Grottole it was kind of hard to find information about it aside from the AirBnB article and Wikipedia. I want to change that.
“They have heaps of local recipes, for example, passed down through generations. I want to do a documentary and photo-series about that.”