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Civita di Bagnoregio: The Italian town that refuses to die

With a population of only six, it’s been dubbed “the dying town”. But on a recent visit to the hilltop Civita di Bagnoregio, The Local spoke to one of the inhabitants, and discovered a fervent desire to keep it very much alive.

Civita di Bagnoregio: The Italian town that refuses to die
Civita di Bagnoregio. Photo: Angela Giuffrida/The Local

There is no post office, no supermarket, no chemist, no hospital and the one school shut down decades ago.

All that is left of Civita di Bagnoregio, the Lazio town founded by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, is a cluster of holiday homes, a B&B, restaurants and souvenir shops, all catering to the tourists who come to marvel at and indulge this gem of Italy’s past.

Oh, and a steadfast full-time population of six, a number that swells to about 100 at the height of summer.

One who decided to stay, as all her childhood friends fled, is Arianna, the 39-year-old owner of La Cantina di Arianna, a restaurant that forms part of her ancestral home.

“At one time, it was a place that had a lovely community spirit, there was a lot of human contact; we were like one big family,” she told The Local.

“All that has gone now, but so much of my family history is here…my livelihood is here… and I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

Arianna, whose ancestors came to the town more than 1,000 years ago and worked as farmers in the surrounding area, grew up on the three or four winding streets that make up Civita, only leaving to cross the footbridge to nearby Bagnoregio to attend school.

Once considered the “jewel city of the Tiber Valley”, Civita started to decline in the 17th century, due to earthquakes and soil erosion which sent many of its medieval buildings tumbling down the cliffs, and the inhabitants fleeing to nearby towns.

Nowadays the town, which sits precariously atop a precipice in a fairytale-like setting, can only be reached by a narrow footbridge – a walk, much of it an incline, that takes about ten minutes.

The town is inaccessible to vehicles other than mopeds, which is how Arianna receives most of the supplies for her restaurant.

Civita’s survival has always been dictated by the forces of nature – landslides in particular – as well as the money then needed to repair the damage.

But it was only in 2013 that a €1.50 fee to enter the town was introduced, in an effort to raise funds for its upkeep.

Some of this effort can be seen in the way the pretty, narrow streets and main square are meticulously maintained.

With road signs leading visitors to “the dying town” from Bagnoregio, the nickname is also an alluring way of attracting curious sightseers.

“There’s been a big increase in the number of tourists coming over the past few years,” said Arianna.

“Especially from China.”

But despite the connotations of a rapidly approaching death, the town has become somewhat of a mecca for hippies and artists, albeit wealthy ones.

The majority of the houses are second homes, used by the owners for holidays and at weekends, Arianna said.

Earlier this year, a group of Italian artists and cultural heavyweights, including Ennio Morricone, the film composer, got together to appeal for Civita to be saved.

The petition, also signed by Italy’s former president, Giorgio Napoletano, called on the town to be classed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

But the locals believe a lot more needs to be done, especially when it comes to protecting the town from landslides.

“There’s been a promise of money to be put towards this,” Arianna said.

“But whether this happens, remains to be seen. There are many towns across Italy in the same situation.”  

But not all as stunning as Civita.

Curious to take a look? Then here’s how to get there:

Unless you have a car, to reach Bagnoregio you can take a train from Rome to Orvieto (1 hour 10/20 mins) and catch a blue Cotral bus from there. Bus stops are near the train station. Bear in mind that buses do not run on Sundays and public holidays. The rambling bus takes about 40 minutes, and Civita is a 30 minute walk from the bus stop, including the bridge crossing.

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TRAVEL

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules

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