Few foreigners had heard of Gangi until earlier this year, when locals came up with an idea that put the Sicilian village firmly on the map.
Faced with a dwindling population – down to around 7,000 – the municipality put 20 empty properties in the village up for sale, with a €1 price tag.
Word quickly spread internationally, with 8,000 would-be property owners contacting Wester to ask about the sale or arrange visits to rural Sicily.
“Around 150 people came to Gangi from all over the world,” she told The Local.
“There were British people, French, Australians, Americans and many Brazilians. A lot of the Brazilians are second generation Sicilians and want to come back,” Wester said.
Aside from the €1 fee, buyers must pay purchasing costs of around €6,000, while the cost of renovation work could run to €35,000.
Despite the additional costs competition remains tough, with local authorities currently scrutinizing 50 applications via Wester’s property agency, in addition to others directed to the municipality.
Potential buyers also needed to come up with ideas for developing the village.
“The municipality wanted to prioritize people who can do something for Gangi, so with each application people had to say what they would create,” explained Wester, who presented her clients’ proposals to the local authority.
Among the proposals were B&Bs, an international cookery school, a dentist “who does movie stars’ teeth” and a producer wanting to set up a film set.
Buyers from all walks of life and of all ages have applied; couples, mother and daughter duos and families are all keen to move to Gangi, Wester add.
A few young single people also submitted applications, which Wester said is unusual in the Sicilian property market.
Although residents of the sleepy Sicilian village were “very surprised” by the sudden influx of foreigners, Wester said they have been supportive of the initiative.
“It’s also something that makes them proud; they realize they have a very nice little town and people want to come,” she said.
Gangi’s success has prompted other municipalities – where budgets are low and citizens’ face high unemployment – to come up with similar projects to revitalize their communities.
“It’s been an inspiration,” said Wester, who will head to another village this week to discuss a similar proposal.