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MOVING TO ITALY

‘What we’ve learned from running an Airbnb in Sicily’

Moving to Sicily and running holiday accommodation has brought challenges, rewards and unforgettable moments for one French family who won an Airbnb competition last year. Silvia Marchetti finds out what they've learned from the experience.

'What we’ve learned from running an Airbnb in Sicily'
The Gautherie family in Sicily. Photo: Eva Gautherie

Relocating to Italy to open a B&B or become an Airbnb host in a picturesque rural village is an idea that has likely popped into the minds of many foreigners looking for a life-changing adventure, even if for a limited period.

The Gautherie family, from Périgueux in the Dordogne, France, last spring won an international competition launched by Airbnb to live as host for one whole year rent-free in a renovated €1 home in the Sicilian town of Sambuca, retaining all earnings from the rental of one double room within their abode. 

Mathieu and Eva Gautherie, together with their children Iban, 13, Jeanne, 7, and Pierre, 6, arrived in July to a welcome party thrown by local authorities. 

They’ve learned a lot since then, mainly that settling in a little village with a slow-paced life where people are friendly and warm is much easier, and more pleasant, than doing so in a larger town.

“Locals welcomed us with open arms and made a huge effort, ‘folding themselves into four’ (se plier en quatre) to help us integrate”, says Eva, a psychoanalyst and yoga teacher.

Alongside her husband who works in trade, remote working in Sambuca has turned out ideal in balancing work with the new Sicilian job, and looking after their children.

The Airbnb house in Sambuca, Sicily. Photo: Giuseppe Cacioppo

One of the main challenges was trying to understand how tax declaration works in Italy on rental income earned during their one-year stay, which ends in June. 

“It’s not quite clear whether a simple statement to the tax office will suffice, and we just pay tax on that. But if we have any issues and must get in touch with tax authorities, we fear reaching them by phone, and the dialogue, might be hard and all very complicated”, says Eva, who like many foreign nationals moving to Italy has found it’s always better to rely on a local accountant or tax expert for help. 

EXPLAINED: What are Italy’s rules and taxes for Airbnb rentals?

Another issue has been living in an old house with lots of humidity, even though restyled, which is an aspect people longing to follow in their footsteps should take into account. 

The house, located in the ancient Saracen district at the feet of the belvedere where an emir’s palace once stood, belongs to Sambuca’s town hall but has been elegantly restyled by Airbnb.

However, despite the upgrading and extensive makeover, the family found some of the walls drenched with damp, which turned out to be bad for the kids’ health. 

“The house is part of the ancient castle walls and when it rains, drops fall inside and the curtains get wet. We hope this will be fixed for the next hosts”, says Eva. 

She suggests people wanting to run an Airbnb should also consider the type of accommodation they plan to offer, noting the potential complications of renting out one room.

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“Given we’re renting just one super spacious king size room within our residence, not a detached, independent wing of the building, being a family of five with three hyperactive kids running around the house at all times could frighten guests and couples longing for silence and more intimacy”, says Eva.

Another challenge is dealing with the potential homeschooling of children. “They have to integrate in a new, local school and it might be tough for them, not just for the language barrier but for the different school pace.

“In France kids stay at school eight hours a day and have after-school activities, in Italy only until 2pm. So you have to know what to expect and weigh up what’s the best thing for your kids”. 

The Gautherie family were surprised to discover that Italian pupils have fewer holidays than French ones, who enjoy five days off each month and a half, she says. This can weigh on the kids, and the parents, if they’re used to another system with more leisure time. 

In September the Gautherie’s two younger children were homeschooled, while the eldest son Iban attended the local village school, but didn’t integrate well, says his mother. This pushed the family to return to France in mid-October to enrol the kids back into a French school, but they’ll be coming back to Sambuca in April to continue their experience and continue to handle bookings online in the meantime.

“Anyone with kids who embarks on such an adventure must take into account that at some point, if the local school doesn’t work for them or the kids are too small, the parents might have to become their momentary teachers”, says Eva.

The Gautherie family with Sambuca mayor Leo Ciaccio (centre). Photo: Leo Ciaccio

Discovering Sambuca and mingling with residents has of course also led to pleasant surprises.

The way people went out of their way to communicate in both English and French to make the newcomers feel at home, showing off their multilingual skills, was unexpected. The Gautherie were given free Italian language and cooking lessons by the town hall with tutorials by local housewives.

They were given a proper “Mediterranean welcome” each day and treated like “princes and princesses”, says Eva. 

“We never thought such a small place like Sambuca was thriving with regular summer events, so culturally rich with street art and paintings decorating the alleys”.

She admits she was however quite amazed that very few people attended her yoga lessons, from an initial small group she eventually found herself down to just one person at the end, probably due to the summer heat.

The Gautherie family are grateful that they learnt the Sicilian driving style, more “instinctive” than the French one. “We had to get used to it at first, then we just copied their way of driving,” says Eva. 

Their first time in Sicily has exceeded their expectations, the family say – the gorgeous blue sea, the art and islands – but warn that the car trip from mainland Europe is long and tiring. 

“Getting to Sicily on a plane is certainly more comfortable and practical,” says Eva. 

The family are now looking forward to welcoming more international guests and contributing to the social regeneration of Sambuca.

While they’re not currently planning to prolong their stay beyond the one-year Airbnb project, they may spend most of next summer touring Sicily to learn more about the local culture and make the most of their stay.

“No matter how little you know at the beginning, or the challenges and obstacles, it’s always worth the experience so never hesitate,” says Eva.

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MILAN

What are the 5 best Milan neighbourhoods for international residents?

Whether you're moving to Milan for the first time or are looking for a new neighbourhood to live in, here are the best 'quartieri' for foreign nationals.

What are the 5 best Milan neighbourhoods for international residents?

With its extraordinary international appeal and wealth of job opportunities, Milan is one of the most popular Italian cities among foreigners.

Suffice to say that the northern economic powerhouse is home to as many as 280,800 foreign nationals, who make up around 20.3 percent of the city’s total population.

Also, Milan is the second-most popular Italian destination for native English speakers, with plenty of UK and US immigrants living in the city. 

But, like most other European metropolises, Milan has a very diverse urban area and some of its neighbourhoods are more suited to foreign nationals than others.

READ ALSO: Five things you’ll only know if you live in Milan

So, in no particular order, here are the city’s top five quartieri for foreign residents.

Porta Romana

Located in the south-eastern corner of Milan’s urban area, Porta Romana is one of the most liveable areas in the city. 

In particular, the area is known for its very laid-back vibe, which makes it perfect for young professionals looking to bask in some blissful tranquillity after a long day at work.

But, the neighbourhood is also suited to university students as it is relatively close to some of Milan’s most prestigious colleges and rents are not as expensive as they might be closer to the city centre.

While being very residential, Porta Romana still has a good share of leisure and entertainment venues – the Fondazione Prada exhibition centre and the iconic Plastic Club are located in the area – and several bars and restaurants line the sides of most streets. 

Finally, the neighbourhood is also very well connected to central Milan, with no shortage of buses, trams and metro lines servicing local residents.

Città Studi

Located in north-east Milan, Città Studi is by far the best neighbourhood for foreign students. 

Once a fairly run-of-the-mill rural area, Città Studi was converted into a state-of-the-art hub of medical centres, university campuses and residential lofts over the second half of the 1900s. 

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy: How much does it really cost to live in Milan?

Today, the neighbourhood is home to plenty of both local and foreign students, especially those attending courses at the Polytechnic University of Milan. 

Granted, the area is not as close to the city centre as others but public transport will still get you to central Milan in a fairly reasonable amount of time.

Finally, due to the young age of its residents, the area offers several dining spots and nightlife venues.

Porta Venezia

Porta Venezia, which sits just a couple of miles north-east of Piazza Duomo, is the most multi-ethnic quartiere in Milan, thus naturally lending itself to foreign nationals.

Indro Montanelli garden in Milan

The Indro Montanelli garden is one of the most enchanting places in the Porta Venezia area, especially so during the cold months. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

People of all races and cultural backgrounds populate the area, making it one of the most eccentric (and fun) places to live in. 

With its wealth of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, Porta Venezia keeps its residents busy on weekends as well as most weekdays.

However, this also means that the area might not be the right fit for those looking for a more quiet and relaxed environment.

Finally, Porta Venezia is also a very LGBTQ-friendly neighbourhood as it is home to lots of gay bars and alternative nightlife venues. 

Brera

Nested at the heart of the city, Brera is one of the most glamorous areas in Milan.

From high-end fashion boutiques to art galleries, to quirky dining spots, Brera’s swanky atmosphere is unmatched anywhere else in the city.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

Unsurprisingly, the neighbourhood is also one of the best locations for celebrity-spotting, should you ever be interested in that sort of thing. 

That said, all the glitter and gold come at a cost and Brera has some of the most expensive rents in the whole city. 

As a result, it is mostly populated by successful businessmen or high-profile figures working in the art or fashion industry. 

Porta Genova and Navigli

The Porta Genova area sprawls around the Navigli canals, a few miles south of the city centre. 

This is by far the most bohemian neighbourhood in Milan, with cobblestone streets, tram tracks and antique stores giving the surroundings an oddly wistful (but very pleasant) atmosphere. 

Porta Genova area in Milan

With its canal-side bars and cafès, Porta Genova is one of Milan’s most fascinating areas. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

While being relatively quiet during the day, the area collectively switches on in the evening, with plenty of residents heading down to the numerous cafès and bars peppering the banks of the local canals. 

This might be ideal for those looking to get in on south Milan’s nightlife, but would hardly be a good fit for those who love an early night as the streets can be pretty noisy until late. 

That said, Porta Genova is still home to many people – from students to young families – and local rents are not as expensive as in more central areas.

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