ITALY: Clarese Partis, a 39-year-old software designer hailing from Los Angeles, has always harboured a dream of escaping the bustling city life to work remotely from a tranquil oasis.
Last week, she saw her dream come true as she touched down in the charming Sardinian village of Ollolai, nestled at the heart of Italy’s picturesque island.
This adventure, funded by the local municipality, is part of a programme tailor-made for digital nomads seeking respite in an idyllic countryside landscape, far removed from the urban fray.
As the inaugural digital nomad to embrace this unique opportunity, Partis has already dubbed it a life-changing experience. “I’ve been living the life of a digital nomad for the past two years, with my last stop being Zanzibar,” Partis shared.
“But when the chance to come to Ollolai arose, I was thrilled to give it a shot. I yearned for a change of scenery, not a touristy one, but rather a place surrounded by nature, with fresh air, mountains, beautiful beaches, a place where I could find solace, peace, and a slower-paced lifestyle,” she said.
The enigmatic village of Ollolai
Ollolai is tucked away in the untamed Barbagia region, far removed from Sardinia’s glitzy coastal areas, a realm where age-old traditions endure and where caves once harboured bandits.
Over the years, locals sought brighter prospects elsewhere, leaving behind an ancient district now adorned with vibrant street art that narrates tales of rural life.
In the last century, Ollolai’s population dwindled from 2,250 to a mere 1,300, with only a handful of births occurring annually.
In 2018, the village enacted a highly publicised initiative, selling dilapidated homes for just one euro.
“That was a monumental success, numerous foreigners purchased and revitalised scores of abandoned dwellings,” noted Mayor Francesco Columbu.
“Now, after investing in high-speed internet, we aim to transform our village into a haven for digital nomads with our new project, ‘Work from Ollolai’,” he said.
Free stays for remote professionals
Ollolai’s town hall has allocated 20,000 euros (US$21,460) to accommodate 30 remote workers from around the globe, each taking up residence in the village one at a time over the next two years.
Online applications remain open through December, and those selected can enjoy up to three months of free stay, the maximum duration permissible for non-Europeans in Italy without a visa.
For now, Partis intends to stay for a single month, though she contemplates extending her Sardinian sojourn in the future.
The next telecommuter is scheduled to arrive from Singapore, said Veronica Matta, head of the local cultural association Sa Mata, collaborates with the mayor’s office to oversee the “Work from Ollolai” programme.
“We anticipate a significant influx of Americans,” Matta noted. “Our objective is to breathe new life into Ollolai with individuals from diverse cultures and languages who can share their digital nomad experiences with the local populace,” she said.
The budget, funded by the town hall, will be utilised to rent homes from local families, offering digital nomads access to furnished two-bedroom residences for approximately 350 euros per month.
Utilities, bills, and town hall service taxes will be covered, with transportation and airfare excluded.
These once-shepherd and farmer residences, which once shared space with livestock on the ground floor, now come equipped with an office space and high-speed internet connectivity.
Matta revealed that workers will be invited to partake in local fairs and festivals, adding that Partis had already attended a town square party the night before her arrival.
“It’s incredible, I only had to pay a symbolic one euro for renting the house,” Partis enthused.
“The locals here are incredibly warm and welcoming, not because they want to sell you something, like in touristy places. I cherish the opportunity to interact with the people here,” she said.
A reciprocal covenant
Winners of this unique programme may enjoy a free sojourn in Sardinia, but there’s a catch, they must contribute something valuable to the local community before departing, as Matta emphasised.
“This isn’t just a free vacation, applicants must possess a proven background as digital nomads and leave behind a concrete contribution at the end of their stay, be it a conference, an essay, a research paper, or a documentary,” she said.
Partis intends to deliver a lecture on the essence of being a digital nomad, both in general and specifically in Ollolai.
Matta stressed that professionals from various fields are encouraged to apply, including technology, media, finance, real estate, architecture, as well as artists, writers, musicians, scientists, and academics, as long as they can impart a “knowledge jolt” that enriches the village culture.
More beautiful than expected
Partis has already fallen in love with her new abode in the historical heart of the village.
With two bedrooms and a captivating panoramic balcony overlooking a pristine valley and wooded terrain, she finds daily inspiration as she works.
Currently, she’s striking a balance between her professional obligations and exploring the splendors of Sardinia.
“My routine in Ollolai is reminiscent of my life elsewhere: yoga and meditation in the morning, followed by work, a stroll outside, and an excursion to the coast or the mountains to savor the tranquility and breathtaking vistas,” Partis described.
“I don’t frequent bars, so they’re not my preferred hangout. Instead, I adore visiting the farmers’ market to select fresh ingredients like truffles and craft pasta and gnocchi with pesto. The food here is simply divine,” she said.
Ollolai has surpassed Partis’s expectations in beauty, and the warmth of its residents has taken her by surprise.
“Sardinia is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. I’m grateful for the ample time I have here to immerse myself in the island’s culture and its rich offerings,” she said.