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Can an olive grove beat the Colosseum?
From Florence’s magnificent Duomo to Rome’s Spanish Steps or the canals of Venice, few countries in the world bring to mind so many famous landmarks as Italy. Composed of several city-states until the 19th Century, the unified country found itself blessed with a plethora of beautiful, unique cities – so many it almost feels unfair. It’s only natural that Italy’s crown jewels have long guaranteed tourism a massive role in the country’s economy. Steeped in history, forever celebrated in films and literature, and tied to la dolce vita, these cities will never be a hard sell. For holidaymakers in the millions, year after year, the only doubt about an Italian getaway has been the question of where, rather than whether, to go.
However, as these emblematic cities were among the world’s first to deal with the pains of overtourism – clear for all to see in the cramped Fontana di Trevi or the crowded Ponte di Rialto – the countryside has been telling a tale of a different sort: one of silence, emptiness and decay, following successive waves of rural exodus. Amid the urban excess and the rural lack, the sharp contrast was already spurring debate in the 1980s. From several attempts to give the countryside a new lease of life, by pulling visitors away from the big city lights and into lesser-known areas, one would develop into a model implemented from north to south.
“When I was called to Friuli and came across deserted villages of empty houses, I had no idea what to do”, says Giancarlo Dall’Ara. Bordered by Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region suffered a dramatic earthquake in 1976 and was still struggling to get back on its feet in the early Eighties. Dall’Ara, a marketing professor, was brought in to devise strategies for attracting tourists to the area, after funding was made available to reconstruct the devastated region.
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