‘We have no visitors now, none’: Italy’s tourist towns suffer under coronavirus lockdown

The gardens and fountains are looking more lavish than ever, the Italian director of the Unesco heritage site notes grimly, flourishing in the absence of an endless trudge of tourists.

'We have no visitors now, none': Italy's tourist towns suffer under coronavirus lockdown
The deserted entrance to Villa d'Este in Tivoli, which usually attracts thousands of visitors a day. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The Villa d'Este, about an hour's drive from Rome, is a 16th-century marvel, a villa and park filled with ponds and manicured gardens first commissioned by a cardinal.

Every day, nearly 2,000 people used to stroll along its paths, marvel at its Renaissance sculptures and take in the views from the terraced hillside.

But it has been closed, along with almost everything else across tourist-friendly Italy, since the first half of March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

READ ALSO: When will it be possible to travel to Italy again?

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The estate's director sounds a philosophical note as he rides around the hillside park on a golf cart, a blazing sun and azure sky his backdrop.

“In our present situation, beauty contributes in a fundamental way to our wellbeing,” Andrea Bruciati says. “I feel an immense sadness that this beauty cannot be shared right now with the people.”

Bruciati is touching on something Italian scientists are growing increasing anxious about — the psychological impact of Italy's near-total shutdown.

READ ALSO: Why our readers say Italy's lockdown must continue despite 'financial strain and heartbreak'


Scientists are reportedly pushing the Italian government to start conducting psychological tests on segments of the population to see how well people are holding up.

Bruciati believes everyone would feel a lot better if they were allowed to visit his gardens.

“Nature gives us a very important message, a message of rebirth, of regeneration,” he says. “It allows us to continue moving forward despite the tragedy.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

There are actually two Unesco-listed villas in Tivoli, a town northeast of Rome: Villa d'Este and Villa Hadrian, which contains ruins from the times of the Roman emperor who ruled from 117 to 138 AD.

Both are closed, and the town's mayor sounds despondent.

“We have no visitors now, none! Zero! Zero!” Giuseppe Proietti tells AFP.

READ ALSO: Will Italy's tourism industry ever fully recover from the coronavirus shutdown?

Local sources of income have dried up, and no one really knows when the tourists will dare return to Italy, whose 23,660 virus deaths are the most officially recorded in Europe.

“The restaurants, the historic centre… The squares filled with outdoor restaurants are all completely closed,” the mayor says.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Tourism is vital to Italy's economic survival, employing just under a fifth of the entire official workforce.

Few places feel the impact of its sudden end as deeply as the small towns built around catering to tourists' universal desire to sit in historic squares, eat, drink and enjoy.

Of Tivoli's 19 hotels, only two are still open, the local accommodation association head Pietro Conversi says.

“They are not closed because of the law — they are closed because there is no demand,” Conversi says. “We are trying to understand how we will last [until the end of the tourist season] in October.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

At Villa d'Este, Bruciati says he sees no clear way out.

Instead, he wants to use whatever resources are left to make the town and its parks look as good as possible for the day the tourists are back.

“The villa is suffering,” he says. “But at least we are trying to improve it for future visitors.”

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Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this February

Travellers are once again set to face serious disruption as Italy will experience a new round of transport strikes in February. Here's what you can expect in the coming weeks.

Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this February

Travel to, from and across Italy was disrupted by dozens of strikes in January

And, while many travellers might have hoped for a change in the trend, strikes are set to continue into February as Italian unions have already announced a further round of demonstrations affecting rail and public transport services as well as airline travel.

Here’s an overview of February’s main strike actions, including a national public transport strike on Friday, February 17th and another nationwide walkout from airport ground staff on Tuesday, February 28th.

Public transport

February 17th: Public transport staff will take part in a national 24-hour strike on Friday, February 17th. 

The strike was called in late January by Italian union USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) to protest against precarious work and “wild privatisation” attempts on the part of the Italian state.

READ ALSO: Should you travel in Italy when there’s a strike on?

There currently aren’t any details as to what percentage of workers will take part in the action. As such, the amount of disruption travellers should expect on the day cannot be estimated yet. 

Air travel

February 12th: Air traffic control staff at Perugia’s San Francesco d’Assisi airport will take part in a 24-hour strike action on Sunday, February 12th. 

It isn’t yet clear how the walkout in question will affect air travel to and from the airport on the day.

Travellers at an Italian airport

A national strike from ground service staff may cause delays and queues at many Italian airports on Tuesday, February 28th. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

February 28th: Baggage handlers and other airport ground service staff will take part in a national 24-hour strike on Tuesday, February 28th. 

It isn’t yet clear how the strike will affect air travel during the day, though a similar demonstration caused significant delays and queues at some Italian airports in late January.

ENAV air traffic operators based in Calabria are also expected to strike on February 28th, with the walkout set to start at 1pm and end at 5pm.


February 5th-6th: Calabria-based Trenitalia staff will strike from 9pm on Sunday, February 5th to 9pm the following day. 

A list of guaranteed services in the region is available here.

February 9th: Staff from Lombardy’s Trenord will take part in a 22-hour strike – from 2am to 11.50pm – on Thursday, February 9th.

Empty train platform in Codogno, Lombardy

Staff from Lombardy’s regional railway operator Trenord will strike for 22 hours on Thursday, February 9th. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

It’s currently unclear whether Trenord will operate minimum services on the day. Any information regarding the strike will be released on the following website page

February 12th-13th: Trenitalia staff in Emilia-Romagna will strike from 3.30am on Sunday, February 12th to 2.30am on Monday, February 13th.

A list of guaranteed services in the region is available here.

February 19th: Veneto-based Trenitalia staff will strike from 9am to 5pm on Sunday, February 19th. 

Guaranteed services are available here.

On the same day, there will be no service between Milan’s Milano Centrale station and Paris’s Gare de Lyon due to a strike from staff at France’s national railway company SNCF.

READ ALSO: Trains and planes: Italy’s new international travel routes in 2023

February 20th: Trenitalia personnel in Lombardy are expected to strike from 9am to 5pm on Monday, February 20th. 

Guaranteed services haven’t been made available yet. 

You can keep up to date with the latest strike news from Italy HERE.