The Italian town with Europe's oldest residents

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Gorreto, the Italian town of 94 inhabitants with an average age of 65.1. Photo: Davide Papalini/Wikimedia
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With an average age of 65.1 years, the Italian town of Gorreto in Liguria has the oldest population in Europe.

Home to just 94 citizens the town has one bar, one food shop, a small hotel, a restaurant and a shop selling building materials.

Gorreto lies in the Trebbia Valley between Genoa and Piacenza, a valley author Ernest Hemingway once dubbed the world's most beautiful. But beauty aside, Gorreto is facing a problem common to many small towns in rural Italy: the risk of becoming a ghost town.

“If we go on like this, in 10 years we will definitely be a ghost town,” an employee of Gorreto's town hall told The Local.

“But it's a difficult problem to resolve and it's unlikely to get any major attention because being so small we are politically unimportant.”

If an average age of 65.1 years didn't seem bad enough, it could have been much worse for the elderly town. In 2013, a Romanian couple, Eusebio and Gabriela Garbin, who moved to the town in 2004,  had a baby.

The couple moved so Eusebio could work on restoring vacant farmsteads which are then sold on as holiday homes.

The arrival of their child was an event which made national news headlines.

But one swallow does not make a summer and many of the town's elderly residents have a tough time making it through the winter in the isolated valley which is an hour and a half from Genoa to the southwest and the same distance from Piacenza in the northeast.

“I'm quite young – just 50 – and I have a car and three children so I get by okay. But for some of the older citizens who don't have anyone, it's a long, lonely and difficult winter spent holed up here with very limited services,” the council worker said.

But in summer and at sometimes during weekends, the population swells to over 2,000 as holiday makers flock to the idyllic town for some peace and quiet.

Drawing them is a pristine environment which contains the lowest population density in Italy, just 0.7 people per square kilometer. To put that into context – the state of Alaska has a population density of 0.4 people per square kilometer.

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It is an internationally renowned spot for fly fishing too.

“Tourism is all we have now – it's the same story for many small Italian towns and even if German and Swiss tourists do come here and throw their cigarette butts and sweet wrappers on the floor, we have to accept it.”

Good for fly fishing: the pristine waters of the River Trebbia. Photo: Davide Papalini/Wikimedia

Given the importance of tourist revenue to Gorreto, the town is aware that its only hope of survival lies in protecting and managing its only resource.

“It's really vital that we maintain the environment of the valley and exploit sustainable endeavours such as the 'agritourism' movement, which can offer us a way to keep going. It's risky - if a polluting industry opened up nearby we'd be absolutely ruined.”

The future of Gorreto might be in doubt but the renowned Italian hospitality is certainly not lacking even in Europe's oldest town.

“On November 1st we'll be celebrating our good local chestnuts at our annual Sagra della Castagna – if anybody would like to pay us a visit, we will make sure they have a great time,” the council worker promised.

Across the Italian peninsular many towns face going the same way. One town in Lazio, near Rome has just six inhabitants left – and has reinvented itself as a tourist attraction 'Civita di Bagnoregio - the dying town'. 

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