Live La Dolce Vita in Italy Without Breaking the Bank

Guardia Sanframondi is a typical medieval Italian hilltop town, with a formidable ancient castle, pretty squares…beautiful frescoed churches…flower-bedecked old palaces…and friendly locals saying “hello” to strangers. Situated in a lesser-known part of Italy’s southern Campania region, it is a hidden gem that is slowly being discovered by expats who want to enjoy the Italian “la dolce vita” without breaking the bank.

Carlo Roberts, a California native, now a full-time resident in Guardia Sanframondi, says life in the Italian town is affordable beyond belief.

“You take all your friends out for breakfast for the price of one large mocha at Starbucks. For just over $1, you can have a cappuccino, or a glass of beer, or a gelato. For less than $5 you can have yourself a little party. There is even a bar here where you can get a glass of wine for 50 cents…because everyone has vineyards here,” says Carlo. The town is renowned for its wine with Europe’s biggest winemakers’ cooperative based here, so neat vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see.

Carlo often goes out for lunch or dinner. “There are two restaurants here, and I love them both. In La Meridiana they do excellent grilled salmon for $11, and in the pizzeria La Vittoria I love their vegetarian pizzas. A whole pizza, bigger than a plate, costs less than $3.”

It is not just the food that costs little in Guardia—low property prices are one of the main draws for expats here. Carlo bought a 14th-century house about two years ago, for less than $16,000. “I’ve had 15 friends coming here over the past year to buy houses and they range from $12,000 to $98,000, so when you buy here, you don’t even necessarily need to take out a mortgage,” she says.

For just $59,000 a small, restored, three-story house in the town’s center is listed. It has one bedroom, a beautiful kitchen with a wood stove for pizza nights and modern Italian appliances, and handcrafted wooden doors and windows. Another house that caught my attention is a four-bedroom fixer-upper priced at $71,000. It boasts a wonderful terrace on the top floor with panoramic views over the town, the mountains, and the valley stretching to the horizon. If you are after a large property, you might like a 4,300-square-foot, centuries-old house complete with garden, spacious balcony, and ancient wine cellar. Ready to move in, the house costs $168,000.

There are not many houses or apartments available for rent in Guardia, but if you talk to the locals you might find something for a few hundred dollars a month. Although life in Guardia is relaxed and peaceful, there are many festivals and celebrations that take place throughout the year. In summer, the ancient castle becomes a venue for shows, movie nights, and celebrations. In August, there is a week-long wine festival, while during Christmas time, local artisans display handcrafted nativity scenes in the town’s historic center.

The local expat community is growing fast there with Americans, Canadians, South Africans, British, and Singaporeans buying and restoring homes in the historic center. Most of them come to Guardia for the summer months, although several are applying for permanent residence.

Carlo insists if Guardia Sanframondi was just a picturesque, affordable town it would not have attracted so many expats—what makes it special is the warm, welcoming local community. “I have never experienced this kind of hospitality anywhere. The locals say they are happy to see that their ancestors’ homes have lights on again, decorated with flower boxes and taken care of, so they are incredibly welcoming.” The local mayor has even thanked the expats in Guardia. “He says that the town has come back to life and that without us expats, the old historic center would have been lost,” says Carlo.

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