Italian ‘castle in the sky’ draws nature lovers
For more and more Chinese tourists who are willing to explore natural scenery other than follow the traditional routes of grand capitals, the hilltop village of Civita di Bagnoregio in central Italy has become a popular holiday destination.
About 130 kilometers north of Rome, Civita di Bagnoregio in Italian region of Lazio is actually composed of two parts: Bagnoregio with around 3,800 residents, and Civita, the main attraction with yearround residents of only seven.
At first glance, the spectacular setting of Civita may take your breath. It perches on a plateau of volcanic rock overlooking the Tiber River valley. In foggy days, the towering bell tower and other picturesque medieval buildings look like they are floating in the air and people aptly call the site “castle in the sky”.
Founded more than 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans, the whole village is twined with narrow cobblestone streets, where flowering plants dot the vine-covered stone houses with bars or restaurants hidden among them.
“Local residents are very pleased to see tourists from all over the world, among whom Chinese tourists are a very important group,” says Roberto Pomi, communication official of the municipality of Bagnoregio.
However, suffering from constant erosion of its volcanic rock into the valley below, Civita used to be nicknamed the “dying city”. In recent years, as hundreds of thousands of visitors — large number of them Chinese — are thronging into the natural beauty of Civita, the tiny village has experienced a new life.
Only 40,000 people visited Civita in 2013, but the numbers are surging now, says Pomi.
Last year, Civita was visited by 850,000 tourists, with Chinese accounting for 18 to 20 percent. And in 2018, the number of visitors is estimated to reach 1 million, according to Pomi.
The influx of Chinese tourists epitomes the desire of Chinese tourists to see not only cities but also the countryside in foreign countries, according to tourists and guides interviewed.
“I hope to understand the ancient civilization of Italy,” says a young visitor.
Antonella Decandia, general manager of Dongyifang Tourism Consulting Company, says Chinese tourists now put emphasis on comfort and personal experience when traveling.
For example, they’d like to learn to cook Italian food, take children to learn Italian music and art, and take children to participate in football training. That trend partly explains why the ancient village of Civita is attracting more Chinese visitors.
“There are many Chinese tourists coming to our restaurant every day,” says Diana Giacobbi, a local resident in the larger Bagnoregio village who worked as waiter in a restaurant in Civita.
The local people’s standard of living has been improving, thanks to the booming tourism in Civita di Bagnoregio.
The arrival of large number of tourists has promoted the local economy and has reduced the unemployment rate.
Several neighboring towns are planning to team with Civita di Bagnoregio in extending the sightseeing route to attract more tourists, too.
“We need to provide more attractions such as the beautiful scenery of other ancient towns nearby which (are) worth visiting, so the tourists can stay,” says Pomi.
As the number of Chinese tourists is growing, the Italian tourism industry is working to improve services. Some hotels have begun to supply Chinese translation services and Chinese breakfast.
Asked about criticism that a large number of tourists may affect the daily life of the local residents, Pomi says the benefits of a booming tourism outweigh the downside.
“Some people may complain that the arrival of tourists has left their homes without parking spaces. But zero taxation, lower unemployment and the promotion of the town’s international popularity have brought a series of benefits, and some unpleasantness is always acceptable,” he says.