How Covid pushed Italian millennials to reconnect with their ancestors’ lands

The pandemic has affected all our lives, but for some young Italians it’s been a major driver for a radical change. 

23-year-old breeder Vanessa Peduzzi is pictured with her cows at her farm on the mountains above Lake Como on June 25, 2020. Ever-increasing numbers of young Italians are abandoning cities and embracing rural life.
23-year-old breeder Vanessa Peduzzi is pictured with her cows at her farm on the mountains above Lake Como on June 25, 2020. Ever-increasing numbers of young Italians are abandoning cities and embracing rural life. Miguel MEDINA / AFP

There’s a new generation of Italian ‘millennial-farmers’ who have returned to their offbeat native rural villages to start farms, B&Bs and launch climate awareness tourist activities. 

Elio Rubino, a university economics graduate from Naples who now runs an organic farm in the countryside of Atina, central Italy, said Covid was the “trigger” he needed to ditch the city chaos and frenetic life and embrace a simple, stress-free world surrounded by nature.

“I’ve always wanted to abandon my everyday life and move to a rural, quiet area where I could live on fresh produce and animals. But it was just a dream stacked away in a drawer.

“After Covid hit, with the lockdown rules I was stuck in an apartment, my freedom was violated, so that dream turned into a necessity. In April 2020 I suddenly left Naples and escaped to Atina where my family had a rural villa for the holidays, which I transformed into a farm”, says Rubino. 

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The pandemic was like a light bulb switching on in his mind, pushing him to abandon comfort, friends, family and to move to a wild offbeat area, recovering that contact with nature which he believes no longer dwells in the ordinary city man. 

“Straight after graduation I turned my world upside down, it was a rather bold decision but now I’m happy, I finally work in the fields in the open air as I have been wishing for since I was a kid”.

Rubino’s farm, Il Carretto, makes olive oil, wine, honey and breeds different species of animals. 

He says the change, which led him to embrace “the lifeblood of nature”, has led to physical and mental benefits, and he dreams of sharing the rural world with everyone, “creating more responsible people and a more careful, eco-aware generation” with educational projects open to tourists and other young farmers. 

READ ALSO: Why visitors to Italy are ditching hotels – and where they’re staying instead

According to Italy’s top farmers association Coldiretti, in 2020 there was a record 14 percent rise in the number of under-35s starting agricultural businesses in Italy as a result of the pandemic.

Francesco Arena, 25 years old, made an even more radical change. After graduating in service management at Milan’s prestigious La Cattolica University and working as design and luxury project manager, when the pandemic struck he went back to living on his grandfathers’ mountains in the Abruzzo-Molise-Lazio national park, in the countryside near the village of Picinisco. 

People walk by the castle of Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo's national park on March 29, 2022.

People walk by the castle of Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo’s national park on March 29, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Here he opened a farm, Alta Quota 1923, which makes premium honey and grows top quality grains. 

“I wake up in the morning and it’s just the hills, fresh air, and pristine views. It’s my small paradise. The pandemic pushed me to reconnect with my roots and to search for an alternative, humble lifestyle. As I watched the terrible death toll rise each day, I was ever more grateful I had made the right choice”.  

Francesco says city life could not give him the freedom and self-peace he wanted, which he found in such a bucolic, isolated setting.

Another millennial, Elena Galardi, opened a rural tavern and catering service in 2020 despite COVID restrictions, and restyled a historical dwelling into a B&B in the Tuscan village of Gerfalco, where barely 100 people live.

As the pandemic unfolded, Elena decided to leave her job as refugee assistant in Lombardy and kickstart a 14-hectare farm with her father, with vegetable plots and animals. 

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“Before, I was living in a flat in Bergamo without even a terrace. Now I live in our family farmhouse in the middle of the woods, and I feel lucky and grateful for having made such a decision.

“It’s a slow-paced life here: the B&B, called Poggio alla Luna, is just at a 2km drive from where I live right in Gerfalco center, and used to be an old building where sagra food fairs were held”.

Elena says the pandemic has led her to believe that human lifestyles must change and become more “attuned”, or there’s no hope for the future.

She believes such a “salvation” can come from a direct approach to nature and from rediscovering rural, old hamlets where depopulation can be a blessing in COVID times, guaranteeing social distancing. 

“Since COVID and thanks to nature, I’ve come to seek more true things that really matter, less fake targets, and to crave for healthy, fresh foods”.  

TRAVEL: How to spot Italy’s ‘fake authentic’ tourist villages

The impact of climate change has led Elisabetta Moretti, a former tourist consultant from Emilia Romagna, to restyle an old farmhouse and heat it with geothermic energy coming from nearby geysers in the wild Maremma area in Tuscany.

Her new rural ranch Ca’Novae, located on the pristine hills between the villages of Montieri and Travale, breeds Bernese mountain dogs and produces essential oils alongside honey and other fresh produce. Since last year it is her new home.

“Over the past few years I toured several parts of Tuscany like Chianti, but I found peace and wellbeing only in this remote patch of land, which is the region’s most pristine. At breakfast, served around a little natural pond, my guests are treated to views of roaming wild boars”. 

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REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

From robbery and vehicle theft to cyber fraud and blackmail, where are you most likely to be a victim of crime in Italy? Here are the country’s latest crime figures.

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

While Italy is among the safest countries in the world – it ranked 32nd out of 163 in the latest Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace – crime is a concern in many parts of the boot, especially in big cities. 

Milan is by far the Italian city with the highest crime rate, according to data from Italy’s Department of Public Security collated in a report by financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Altogether, as many as 193,700 crimes were reported in the city in 2021 – that’s nearly 6,000 reported crimes for every 100,000 residents. 

But while Milan takes the unenviable title of Italy’s ‘crime capital’, things aren’t much better in other major cities as Turin (3rd overall), Bologna (4th), Rome (5th), Florence (7th) and Naples (10th) all figure in the top 10. 

Italy's crime map in 2021

Milan is Italy’s ‘crime capital’, followed by Rimini and Turin. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

The top of the table is completed by smaller and, perhaps, slightly unassuming Italian cities, namely Rimini (2nd), Imperia (6th), Prato (8th) and Livorno (9th).

READ ALSO: What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?

That said, while the overall crime rate ranking shows us Italy’s crime hotspots, it doesn’t provide any insight into the types of offences committed, which is why it is worth looking into single-offence rankings. 

For instance, Milan, Rimini and Rome are the top Italian cities when it comes to theft-related offences, with all three locations registering well over 2,000 reported thefts per 100,000 residents in 2021. 

Crime card for Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital city, Rome, has the fifth-highest crime rate in the country. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

But while these cities remain the country’s overall theft capitals, other Italian cities seem to have their own ‘theft specialisation’. 

For example, Ravenna ranks first for home burglaries, while Naples and Barletta are first for motorcycle and car thefts respectively. 

As for other types of offences, the northern city of Trieste is first for sexual violence (as many as 25 reported crimes per 100,000 residents) and attempted murder, whereas Gorizia is the worst Italian city when it comes to cyber fraud and online scams. 

Finally, Biella ranks first for blackmail and extortion, while La Spezia is Italy’s ‘drug-dealing capital’.

Trieste's crime card, Italy

Trieste is the worst Italian city in terms of sexual violence offences. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

Il Sole 24 Ore’s report however shows that Italy registered far fewer crimes in 2021 than it did in 2019, especially in big cities.

Notably, in Florence and Venice the number of reported crimes was down by 24.6 and 17.8 percent respectively.

READ ALSO: Rome shooting: What was behind attack that killed friend of Italy’s PM?

It should be pointed out, however, how the presence of Covid-related social restrictions throughout the first half of 2021 likely contributed in some measure to the overall drop in reported crime. 

It’s also worth noting that, in spite of such measures, some smaller Italian provinces still experienced significantly negative trends, with Piacenza, Isernia and Rieti all registering higher crime rates compared to 2019.