Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco boosts Italian village's €1 homes offer
For anyone yearning for a new start once the pandemic is over, it could prove hard to resist.
A picturesque hill-top town in Sicily is preparing to offer 15 historic houses for sale, each for just €1 (88p).
The village of Sambuca has been buoyed by the success of the first phase of the initiative, in which 17 properties owned by the council were snapped up by people from around the world for the price of an espresso.
The town was overwhelmed with international interest when the first phase of the project was announced, when it put up for sale 17 houses – all of them requiring a substantial investment to make them habitable again.
“It was crazy, we had 110,000 calls and emails from around the world. People contacted us from Mexico, Canada, the UK, Russia, South Africa, Japan – everywhere,” said Giuseppe Cacioppo, the town’s deputy mayor.
This time around, there is likely to be even more interest, given that Sambuca recently featured in an American TV programme starring a former Sopranos star.
The programme followed Lorraine Bracco, who played the sultry psychiatrist Dr Jennifer Melfi in the long-running series about a mob family in New Jersey, after she bought one of the first batch of properties for €1.
When she arrived in Sambuca and first saw the house, she had a shock.
“There was a dirt floor, caving in walls, there was a bamboo roof, no plumbing, no electricity,” she told the chat show host Jimmy Fallon. “It was a lot of work but all my stars seemed to align in Sambuca.”
The HGTV documentary, My Big Italian Adventure, described in the States as “Under the Tuscan Sun meets the Sopranos”, documented her struggle to turn a dusty husk of a house into an enviable holiday bolthole, with white-washed walls, exposed brick and stone sinks.
“It’s to die for,” said the actor, who admitted that before buying the property she had never been to Sicily and did not speak a word of Italian, despite her father’s family hailing from Palermo.
“There are rolling wheat fields and vineyards and olive groves and when I arrived I saw a shepherd with 100 sheep crossing the road. I thought, this is fantastic,” said the Oscar-nominated actress, who also appeared in Scorsese’s classic 1990 film Goodfellas.
“We’re expecting even more interest from America as a result of the TV programme when we put the second group of houses up for sale,” Mr Cacioppo told The Telegraph.
The €1 scheme has had a welcome knock-on effect for the rest of the property market in Sambuca, which like so many rural communities in Italy has seen its population dwindle over the decades as a result of emigration.
Outsiders who were not able to buy a house for €1, because there were not enough to go around, ended up buying more than 80 properties in the town from private sellers.
Sambuca, which was founded by the Arab invaders of Sicily in the ninth century, has been revitalized and turned into “a little United Nations,” said the deputy mayor.
“It’s been good for us because a lot of the buyers have been under the age of 40, which is important for a town like ours with an ageing population. We are surrounded by woodland and fields and we are a 20-minute drive from the beach. Sambuca is a little paradise.”
The attraction of country towns and villages like Sambuca has proved even more alluring during the pandemic.
“A lot of people have cottoned on to smart working and realised they can live in places like this,” said Mr Cacioppo. “The houses sold so far have been bought by writers, artists, entrepreneurs. We hope to offer the second batch for sale as soon as the coronavirus situation allows us to – probably in March or April.”