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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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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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