In 2007, the German travel company TUI, bought an almost abandoned Italian village plus its surrounding land, to turn it into an 11.000 hectare holiday resort. Our PhD candidate Els Leclercq wonders if this approach is desirable and if so could this be a solution to the problematic shrinkage of other European villages.
Castelfalfi, once a thriving agricultural village with 500 inhabitants, located near Florence in Tuscany, depopulated rapidly during the ’60’s. Only two people remained while buildings deteriorated rapidly, until the German tourist operator TUI bought the village and surrounding countryside in 2007 with the intention to develop the village into a luxury resort, including a top-notch golf club. The local government of Montaione, under which Castelfalfi falls, were of course interested in the capital injection by the German tour operator and the rise of employment possibilities for local Italians.
In the masterplan that TUI presented, the authentic Tuscan aesthetics were used meticulously to renovate the facades of the buildings. Inside though the houses and apartments are fully equipped with all modern comforts. The overall aim was not to create a gated community for wealthy foreigners but to also attract locals in order to create the ultimate authentic feel. In addition a market, local shops and a public pool are part of the proposal. So far a boutique hotel has opened its doors and a number of houses have been sold but only to other Europeans.
Of course this is not the only project of this kind and many Germans, English and Dutch have bought houses in France, Italy and Spain, but projects at this scale have been scarce so far. The question arises how a village made for wealthy foreigners can retain a certain authentic feel? With the renovated facades as the single element referring to its glorious past it might quickly feel fake or Disney like. The question at stake is if people mind the fake authenticity; probably not the new home owners who come to enjoy the Italian pleasures without having to deal with Italians altogether. And maybe also not the locals as a waiter at the local pub says to an interviewer: For us, it is work. If that is the case could this be a solution for shrinking villages that happen to have a touristic value? And do we end up with numerous tourist resorts in otherwise empty regions? Should we worry about this trend or salute it as another step forwards to European integration.
See for more on this subject:
– ‘Ein birra grande in Toscane’, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, in Vrij Nederland 03.07.2012
– ‘It takes a village: TUI Builds Tuscan Playground for the Wealthy‘, Fiona Ehlers and Thomas Tuma, in Speigel online 14.06.2011.