We retired to an Italian village where three-bedroom homes cost less than £20k

ROME – With its rural charms, cobbled winding alleys and picturesque old buildings, the village of Cianciana in Sicily claims to have the highest percentage of Britons of any community in Italy.

Authentic and offering a slower-paced lifestyle, it wasn’t even on the map until 2005, when a local estate agency started promoting the town abroad.

Of the roughly 3,000 population, 300 are expats, and Britons make up the largest proportion at roughly 150.

Some live here permanently, while others use Cianciana as a holiday retreat, coming and going. All sorts of different English accents can be heard spoken in the streets and at bars where older villagers meet.

Retired couple Phil Reynolds and Claire Thompson, from Lancashire, bought a nine-acre patch of land just outside Cianciana in 2021, where they built a completely solar-powered, off-grid home and spiritual retreat for guests looking to unplug and tap into their innermost self.

The couple offer bespoke retreats including holistic treatments, meditation classes and horse trekking, at various price points.

we retired to an italian village where three-bedroom homes cost less than £20k

The couple have set up two shipping containers outside their home on a nine-acre plot to accommodate up to four guests and host workshops (Photo: Supplied)

They recently finished setting up two shipping containers outside their home to accommodate up to four guests and host workshops on poetry, journaling, women’s health and wellbeing, as a “self-contained space for people looking for time away from their busy, noisy lifestyle”.

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While Ms Thompson, a massage therapist, manages all the planting and maintenance of vegetables and trees, her 60-year-old husband undertakes the heavy land work, particularly important during this hot time of year when there is a fire risk.

Mr Reynolds, who used to work in the IT industry, says that what makes Cianciana such a great place to live is mainly the “community where people take care of each other”.

“People know you and interact with you, are patient with us practising our Italian, and welcoming. It’s full of creative people who love to involve you within their lives.”

The laid-back atmosphere, mostly quiet except in high-peak season August, is another major lure.

Ms Thompson, a massage therapist, says they are very much on the outskirts of the expat community as they came to Sicily to join the Sicilian lifestyle and community.

“We obviously meet English speaking friends for coffee and lunch, and festa events but it’s not a regular thing,” she says.

The couple moved to Cianciana, where relatives of theirs already lived, because they were looking for a fresh start and a place that was a stark contrast to their previous lives.

“Slower lifestyle – there is no comparison to the UK. Driving is slower. Eating is slower. Things get done – eventually. People have time for you. It’s another reason we came here. We no longer wanted the hustle and bustle of the UK,” says Mr Reynolds.

They say the retreat is evolving as they watch the seasons, and learn more about the land and themselves by interacting with locals and farmers who can share centuries-old knowledge on how to preserve the surrounding environment.

we retired to an italian village where three-bedroom homes cost less than £20k

The village of Cianciana in Sicily is puploar with Britons and other expats (Photo: Piero Frisco)

Cianciana’s community has grown used to a lively exchange of cultural traditions, not just with Britons but also Americans and French people.

Everyone speaks English, there are expat cocktail evenings and dinners and British residents get together for morning espresso and cornetto brioche, and for street parties. Italian language and cuisine courses are popular.

The area is famous for its sulphur mines, harvest and bread festivals and religious celebrations, and expats say they are attracted chiefly to the quiet, simple lifestyle.

“In the past 19 years, we’ve sold more than 400 houses to foreigners, of which more than 150 were to British people,” Carmelo Panepinto, founder of local estate agency MyHouse, tells i.

“Without any help from local authorities or public funds, we travelled abroad to showcase Cianciana’s empty available properties, and so far it’s been a success.”

Although the demand from foreigners has risen since word of mouth spread abroad, particularly in the historical centre, Mr Panepinto says buyers can still find three-bedroom homes in good condition for as little as €20,000 (£16,900).

Some buildings, with ornate balconies and original majolica tile floors need just little fixing, while others require more extensive renovations.

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