A Sardinian village welcomes its first digital nomad in a scheme offering remote workers rent free accomodation.
Fancy working from home in surroundings so picturesque they put chocolate boxes to shame?
Well now you can bed-in beneath sweeping hills and sloping terracotta rooftops for three months rent free, thanks to a new initiative in Sardinia.
The first remote worker to take advantage of the offer was Clarese Partis, a 39-year-old software designer from Los Angeles.
Keen to escape the crowds and work off grid, she boarded a flight from the US and landed on the island last week, making her new home in the tiny village of Ollolai.
"I felt I needed a change of place," she explains.
"Not a touristy one" Partis insists but one "surrounded by nature, fresh air, mountains, beautiful beaches, where I could find more solace, peace and a slower-paced lifestyle."
It’s something many workers have been craving since the COVID-19 pandemic, and digital nomad-focused accommodations and travel packages have been scrambling to keep up with demand.
In central Sardinia, Ollolai is a world away from the country’s popular – and often packed – coastlines. It’s a time capsule of sorts with the country’s cultural heritage still very evident. It is reflected in the lifestyle that can be found there.
“I love going to the farmers' market to pick fresh ingredients such as truffles, making pasta and gnocchi with pesto," Partis says. "The food is amazing."
Why is Ollolai offering digital nomads a free stay?
Though beautiful by any travel standards, Ollolai’s population is dwindling. In the last 100 years it shrank from 2,250 to 1,300 people. It’s a problem Italy has been battling for years and one they deem a national emergency with 2022 seeing an all-time low in population growth.
The country has since been trying to entice visitors – both short and long term. Their ‘buy a house for €1’ initiative enticed residents from all over the world. Ollolai participated, hoping foreigners would invest in revamping its old district.
"That was a major success - many foreigners bought and restyled dozens of forsaken dwellings," Mayor Francesco Columbu told CNBC.
Now, Columbu is putting his money where his mouth is. The ‘Work from Ollolai’ program plans to transform the location into a digital nomad hub, with €20,000 euros of investment earmarked to make it happen. Over the next two years, the village will host remote workers one at a time for up to three months (the limit for non-European visitors without a visa). Hopeful digital nomads must apply online before the end of December.
What is the accommodation like for digital nomads in Sardinia?
If getting to grips with local life sounds appealing, Ollolai is a great place to do it. Workers looking to stay there will find themselves in homes previously occupied by farmer and shepherds who once slept on the floor with their animals. Now, they come with an office and high-speed internet connection.
As the only nomad in the area, socialising is easy.People are keen to get to know the visitor and send out invites to local fairs and festivals.
"Locals are so warm and welcoming,” Partis says, “and it's not because they want to sell you something, like in touristy places."
The municipality covers rent, utilities, bills and service taxes for the nomads, but not transport.
Not quite a free stay
There’s a small catch, if you can call it one.
"This is not a free holiday," said Veronica Matta, head of local cultural association Sa Mata.
"[Workers] must have a proven background as a digital nomad and leave a concrete piece of work at the end of their stay – be it a conference, an essay, research paper or documentary."
She stressed that "professional remote workers from all fields are encouraged to apply: technology, media, finance, real estate, architecture — also artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics."
Everyone is welcome as long as they are open to the reciprocal agreement, agreeing to leave behind a "knowledge jolt" that enriches the village culture.