Finding THE House Starts with Finding THE Town

In January of 2020, just as stories of a new virus in China were starting to make the news, I began looking at houses in Sicily. 

I had made arrangements to work remotely for six weeks while I explored the 1 euro towns of Sicily. My goals were to find a house for my family while also collecting information to launch a website to help others navigate the process. 

Prior to leaving, I contacted every 1 euro house town in Sicily by email requesting to meet with someone and/or see the houses. Only two towns responded, Cammarata and Bivona, so I scheduled visits in each and just planned to visit other towns along the way. 

I flew into Palermo, rented a car, and made Airbnb reservations for just the first couple of days to give me more flexibility. And my return flight was out of Catania so I wouldn’t need to double-back as I traveled.

Since that first visit, I have made several other trips to Sicily to visit towns and tour houses. All together, I have spent nearly four months in Sicily, visited 11 of the 1 euro house towns (some of which are no longer running the program), and several other small villages. And I have toured probably 75 houses in eight towns. 

Below are some of the towns that I visited. You can see a spreadsheet of current one euro house programs here. 

Why Sicily?

I started in Sicily because that’s where the majority of the 1 euro houses are located. But I stayed in Sicily because of the people. 

It is truly an incredible island. I could spend three lifetimes exploring it and never see everything. With mountains, beaches, art, islands, history, food, and even a volcano it is full of things to do and see. But what really won me over was the incredible warmth and hospitality of the people. 

In San Piero Patti, our Airbnb host arranged for the recently renovated convent to be opened, just for us, to take a tour inside. And when we tried to give a donation to thank them for their time, they wouldn’t let us. His mother also baked us an apricot tart to have for breakfast and gave us some homemade jams to take home. 

In Cammarata, my Airbnb host invited me to dinner with his family and when I got sick he took me to the clinic and then to the pharmacy to get some medication. Another Airbnb host there brought us fresh peaches from his house and took us for gelato. One day while walking down one of the little streets in the very old part of town, a man opened his window and offered us a glass of homemade wine. He had heard us speaking English and wanted to welcome us to his town. 

In Sambuca, my Airbnb host took me on a drive around town to show me the sights. She also brought fresh oregano and olive oil from her family’s farm for us to try. The local real estate agent took my family to the beach with her family and invited us to watch the EU Cup Final with her friends. On a recent visit, I was sitting at the only cafe that was open on New Year’s Day when someone I had just met asked me what my plans were for lunch. I explained that since this was the only place open, I’d planned to eat there. She said, why don’t you join my family for lunch, we can just add another seat at the table. And half of the times I’ve ordered a coffee in town someone pays for it before I can do it. 

I have endless stories like these of the incredible generosity of the Sicilian people. I’ve never felt as welcomed in any other place I’ve ever visited. I want to live in a place that feels like a community, where people look out for each other, say hi in the street and welcome new comers. 

The Short List

In the summer of 2021, I took my family to three of the towns that I thought they might like, for different reasons, to hear their thoughts. 

We spent a couple days in San Piero Patti, then a couple days in Cammarata, and finally a few days in Sambuca before leaving.

San Piero Patti is a friendly town of about 3,000 people in the Nebrodi mountains near Mt. Etna. It is just 25 minutes to the beach and about 2 hours from the Catania airport. 

Cammarata is located in the heart of Sicily, just under 2 hours to the Palermo airport, just over 2 hours to Catania, and under an hour to the beach. Sitting on Cammarata mountain, it is 1500 meters above sea level surrounded by forests. Combined with its sister city San Giovani Gemini, it has a population of around 14,000. 

Further west, Sambuca is lower level than the other two and surrounded by olive farms and vineyards. It is about an hour away from both the Trapani and Palermo airports and 25 minutes to the beach. It has a population of around 6,000 people. 

We had a wonderful time in all three towns, with incredible hospitality! But my family decided that Sambuca was their favorite. 

San Piero Patti
Cammarata
Sambuca di Sicilia

Sambuca di Sicilia

Sambuca is one of the most well-known 1 euro house towns, largely because of the TV series, My Big Italian Adventure, with Lorraine Bracco. Unlike most of the towns that operate as a mediator between the sellers and the buyers, Sambuca actually owns their 1 euro houses. Also unlike other towns, Sambuca auctions their 1 euro houses in batches. 

In total, the town has sold around 30 of their 1 euro houses, but in the stampede of people who have visited, they estimate that another 200 houses have been sold privately. 

While I was initially drawn by the 1 euro houses, they were just a bit too small for what I hoped would be a place where I’d eventually spend a large part of the year. And I really wanted a house with a garden, which is very difficult to find in the historic centers of these small villages. 

The town has a handful of grocery stores, shops, restaurants, museums and an active performing arts theater. In 2016, it was named one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. There are also 2 well known wineries just 5-10 minutes away, Planeta and Di Giovanna.

So, it was a town that ticked a lot of boxes for us. Convenient to reach from overseas, lots to do in and around the area, and super friendly, welcoming people. Ultimately, it just felt like home for us. 

Suggestions

If you are considering purchasing a home in one of these small villages, I highly recommend going to visit. Every town is completely different – vibe, culture, food, architecture… It is impossible to tell what they are like from pictures online. 

And if possible, try to visit several towns and stay in as many as possible over night. Some towns come alive at different parts of the day. 

Even if you don’t speak Italian, try talking to the residents, in the bar, at the grocery store, or wherever. They will likely be curious about you and it gives you a chance to make a personal connection. 

Once you find a place you like, go visit it again at a different time of year to see how it changes.

Keep in mind that most available properties are never posted online. But if you let people know that you are looking for a house, people will come find you. 

My suggestion is to pick the town first, then look for the house. 

You can follow our Sicilian home renovation journey by clicking on “Our Sicilian Home” under topics on the right side of the page or following us on Instagram here

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