In a bid to combat depopulation and rejuvenate its economy, the Italian island of Sardinia is tempting remote workers with free stays and a dose of local culture. Gemma Harris reports

The tiny village of Ollolai, centrally located on the Italian island of Sardinia, has launched a pioneering initiative to lure remote workers in. The digital nomad scheme offers workers accommodation for the symbolic rate of €1.

Part of the Blue Zone, one of the five areas on the planet with a significant concentration of individuals living beyond 100 years old, Ollolai’s population has witnessed a gradual decline from 2,250 to 1,300 people in the last century.

A country-wide problem across Italy, and in 2022, declaring it a state of national emergency with population growth at an all-time low. To counter this trend, various villages, including Ollalai, experimented with selling houses for €1 to attract newcomers.

Mayor Francesco Columbu tells CNBC: “That was a major success – many foreigners bought and restyled dozens of forsaken dwellings.”

Since then, the village has launched this “Work from Ollolai” programme intending to boost their community by seeking out experienced professionals to live in the village in exchange for knowledge share with the population, to promote the exchange of information and experience between rural communities and the rest of the world.

The initiative has secured €20,000 of investment to transform the village into a digital nomad hub. Over the next couple of years, the village will host these workers, covering rent, utilities, bills and service taxes, one at a time for up to three months – the maximum duration for non-European visitors without a visa.

Clarese Partis, a 39-year-old software designer from Los Angeles, is the first digital nomad to join, tells CNBC: “I felt I needed a change of pace. Not a touristy one but surrounded by nature, fresh air, mountains, beautiful beaches, where I could find more solace, peach and a slower paced lifestyle.”

“I love going to the farmers market to pick fresh ingredients such as truffles, making pasta and gnocchi with pesto; the food is amazing,” she adds.

The accommodation provided to digital nomads are private homes once occupied by farmers and shepherds, now redeveloped to include an office and high-speed internet connectivity. With only one nomad in the village at a time, locals are keen to integrate them into the community.

“Locals are so warm and welcoming, and it’s not because they want to sell you something,” says Partis.

Applications must be submitted before the end of the year, but as part of a reciprocal agreement, workers must have a proven background as a digital nomad and be willing to impart knowledge to the village.

Veronica Matta, head of the local cultural association Sa Mata, says: “Professional remote workers from all fields are encouraged to apply: technology, media, finance, real estate, architects, writers, musicians, scientists and academics.”

The next digital nomad is expected to arrive from Singapore.