The Italy Tourists Never See

When Giacomo, Zia Emilia’s beloved Husband passed, she was left as the last resident of a neighborhood once home to 38 people. On her daily walk up the hill to the cemetery, Emilia is surrounded by the patina of time. This is the Italy, tourists never see.

Empty Homes Out Emilia's Backdoor
Empty Homes Out Emilia’s Backdoor

The Italy Tourists Never See

On the days we visit, there’s no traffic, no kids playing in the street. The only signs of life on our walk to the cemetery, are three dogs barking like mad.

It should be said, visiting Zia Emilia is inspiring. Emilia is 80. She still farms her land, raises her chickens and grows bold flowers in her windows. Her garden is a riotous celebration of life. Herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers grow in abundance. One Rooster and three happy hens give her fresh eggs and I would imagine, a little company.

Inside, Emilia’s home is in perfect order. Spotlessly clean, full of warmth and family photos. Each time you visit, you leave with gifts from her labors. Fresh eggs, a rosemary plant and a warm hug that say “thank you for coming.” Her strength and independence are those of pure steel.

Leaving her home, is stepping back into the reality of modern Italy.

Emilia’s colorful balcony is surrounded by brown, worn, empty buildings. Stacks of tools, now covered in dirt and dust sit abandoned. It is a stark juxtaposition that’s intriguing and symbolic.

The other remaining residents of Campo Canavese are similar to Emilia. Of retirement age and not leaving. Unfortunately the homes they will leave behind, will have little to no value. Chances are good, they will sit empty. All their warmth, charm and tender care will be covered with the dust of time.

There are few signs of renovation in the area and the next generation has no plan to return. It’s been called Italy’s brain drain.

Italy’s Brain Drain

From the Northern Alps to the central plain all the way south to the rugged seaside cliffs, the youth of Italy are continuing to leave. Italy’s countryside is dotted with ghost-towns.

Headlines like No Country for Young Men (and Women) highlight youth unemployment rates as high as 39% in 2014. While others point more directly to small towns declining population with stories like Italy Mountain Town Celebrates First Baby Born in 28 Years. 

Like Campo Canavese, the towns in these articles offer none of the life youth seek. No theatre, no shopping, no restaurants, no jobs, no schools and no bars. What they do offer is peace, quiet and the ability to live among nature and friendly, if few, neighbors.

I can not say for sure, if Paolo and I will ever live full-time in Italy now or in the future. Like many of our generation, we are still looking for opportunity. Even though there is a lot to be said for the peace, quite and beauty of small towns in Italy, the prospects to make money the way we know how, are simply not there.

What I do know is, I truly look forward to visiting Zia Emilia in her home each year. The same wooden wheel barrel, porch chair and baskets are sure to be in exactly the same place. It’s strangely reassuring.

Empty Homes of Campo Canavese
Empty Homes of Campo Canavese

Walking her gardens and taking coffee in her living room, relaxing to the rhythmic floating white curtains lifting from a cool mountain breeze. These are among the most impactful and sweet sensory memories from all my travel in Italy.

Zia Emilia this Summer
Zia Emilia this Summer


  1. Really interesting article and nice to read something different. Sad and poignant reminder of a way of life that will soon pass into history.


    1. As an American spending real time in Italy, it’s fascinating to see a culture with traditions so much stronger than our own. It’s certainly given me a deeper appreciation for connecting with parts of the countries we visit, that are far outside mass tourism. I know from your blog you’ve spent some real time in Italy as well. Like you, I’ve visited many of the UNESCO sights throughout Europe. It’s fascinating! Here’s to appreciating all that travel has the ability to share the tales we see from around the world. Thank you, Tracy, for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.


  2. I find your article very interesting and relevant. I have been visiting Europe for the last three years and I have been hearing the same story over and over again. I have talked with people from Spain, Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic and they say the young wait to graduate from college to leave. I have a friend from Greece and it is the same story. She miss her children but she does not want to see them unemployed in Greece. I keep thinking how this will affect the continent as a whole. #WeekendWanderlust.


    1. You bring up very salient points Ruth. Thank you. We noticed there are areas, mostly rural dotted throughout these countries. My hope is that this is a pendulum situation that swings back. Many of these areas are rich with beauty and fertile land. It leaves me dreaming of returning to farm and live off the land. Something tells me though, were it that easy more people would be there.


    1. Thanks for reading and taking a minute to share your thoughts. I dare say I hope to be around long enough to see a change of tides with Italy. Between the low birth rate and youth not returning Italy has an interesting road ahead.


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