Ital­ian ‘cas­tle in the sky’ draws na­ture lovers

China Daily (Canada) - - HOLIDAY -

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.

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