It's an incredible offer for anyone dreaming of a fairytale wedding in Italy: a hilltop castle is available for exclusive hire for just €100 a day.
With historic wedding venues in Italy often charging thousands of euros for just a few hours’ hire, the offer could be a gift to couples who want a special day without the astronomical price tag.
And it’s in an idyllic rural Italian setting. Roccascalegna, a medieval village in the central Abruzzo region, has announced it will be leasing its newly-renovated castle for weddings and other lavish, once-in-a-lifetime events for the bargain price in a bid to attract ‘elite’ visitors.
“It's a really low fee, practically a tip,” Mayor Domenico Giangiordano told CNN Travel.
“Our goal isn't to raise cash but to use this unique setting to revamp the local economy by luring an elite clientele who loves tiny, offbeat spots.”
Giangiordano is offering his own services as wedding planner and says local businesses can provide the catering, including a grandmother known for her traditional wedding cakes.
The castle, perched dramatically on a rocky outcrop, has its own chapel for ceremonies, a tower transformed into a cocktail bar, and the renovated dungeons are now open for candlelit dinners. From the battlements, views stretch from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic sea.
The sleepy village of Roccascalegna itself has a handful of bars, B&Bs and cafes, but few tourists. Like so many small villages in Italy, the population is dwindling.
Italy is a country of ghost towns, with 2,500 villages across the peninsula estimated to be at risk of total depopulation.
The problem has led mayors to come up with various inventive solutions, from reinventing them as artist's comunes or quirky tourist spots, to taxing residents who don't go for annual medical check-ups in a bid to keep the population alive and well.
This area was once ominously known as Death Valley after a series of invasions from barbarians and even pirates.
And the castle itself, Giangiordano says, was until recently “a ruin where sheep and dogs slept.”
But following renovations, it could make the perfect wedding venue.
The only problem is that it’s really difficult to get to – and couples will need to swap their formal shoes for hiking boots.
The castle can only be reached on foot, and the steep walk up rough stone donkey trails is not an easy one – but the mayor says this only makes the venue more exclusive.
No roads lead up to the castle, or even into the village itself. Cars must be parked at the perimeter of Roccascalegna.
The castle steps. Photo: Comune di Roccascalegna
Hiking or running shoes are recommended, or maybe going barefoot.
“One couple couldn't stop laughing,” said Marcello Giangiordano, the castle's keeper and guide, and no relation to the mayor. “The bride was wearing a long silk pink dress and peep-toe stilettos. The groom, barefoot, swept her up in his arms and carried her all the way up to the altar.”
Another slight drawback may be a spooky atmosphere in the banqueting room – a former torture chamber.
Food is served in the spooky dungeon rooms previously used as torture chambers. The underground dungeons are shaped like Dante's Inferno: the nastier the crime, the deeper the cell.
Plus, the venue is said to be haunted, with spectral guests including the headless ghost of Baron Corvo de Corvis, who apparently ruled that he had the right to sleep with all newlywed women in the village – until an angry husband stabbed him to death.
For centuries the baron's bloody hand print stained the castle walls. His armour is on display, without its helmet.
“Ghostbusters have slept here: they heard the baron screaming, running around like a madman,” said Marcello.
For some, the grisly torture instruments displayed on the walls along with the potential sightings of a headless baron could dampen the romantic atmosphere somewhat.
But for adventurous couples who love hiking and horror movies, this could be the most perfect wedding venue yet.