Digital nomads can live for free in Sardinia — here’s how to apply

Clarese Partis, a 39-year-old software designer from Los Angeles, always wanted to work somewhere offbeat, away from the crowds.

So when she was offered such an opportunity, she immediately grabbed it.

Last week, Partis landed in the Sardinian village of Ollolai in Italy for a free stay paid for by the local municipality. It is part of a program for digital nomads who want to settle down temporarily to work in the center of the island, among farmers and grazing sheep.

She’s the first digital nomad to arrive – and she’s already said it changed her life.

“I’ve been traveling as a digital nomad for two years, most recently in Zanzibar,” Partis said, but “when the Ollolai opportunity came up, I was excited to try it.”

“I felt I needed a change of place,” she said, “but not touristy, but (on the contrary) surrounded by nature, clean air, mountains, beautiful beaches, where I could find more solace, peace and a slower paced way of life.”

The small village of Ollolai

Ollolai is located in the Barbagia wilderness, far from the VIP shores of Sardinia, a place where ancient traditions survive and bandits once lived in caves.

Over time, residents left in search of a better future elsewhere, emptying the old neighborhood, now covered in street art depicting rural life.

Clarese Partis works from her home in Ollolai, Sardinia.

Source: Antonio Meloni

Over the past century, Ollolai’s population has fallen from 2,250 to 1,300, with only a handful of babies born each year.

In 2018, the village adopted a highly publicized measure to bring the old neighborhood back to life: selling ruined houses for 1 euro.

Gone and Francesco Columbu, the major of Ollolai.

Source: Véronique Matta

“It was a major success: many foreigners bought and renovated dozens of abandoned homes,” Mayor Francesco Columbu told CNBC. “Now, after investing in high-speed Internet, with this new project ‘Work from Ollolai’, we want to make our village a hub for digital nomads.”

Free stays for remote workers

Ollolai Town Hall has allocated 20,000 euros ($21,460) to accommodate 30 remote workers from around the world, who will be able to stay in the village, one at a time, for the next two years.

Online applications are open until December. Those who are chosen can stay for free for up to three consecutive months, which is the maximum length of time non-Europeans can stay in Italy without a visa.

For now, Partis plans to stay for just a month, although she said she might consider extending her Sardinian experience at a later stage.

Partis overlooks the view from her balcony, with Veronica Matta, who oversees the “Work from Ollolai” program.

Source: Antonio Meloni

The next teleworker is arriving from Singapore, said Veronica Matta, head of the local cultural association Sa Mata, which runs the “Work from Ollolai” program with the city hall.

“We expect a lot from Americans,” she said. “Our goal is to revive Ollolai with new people from different cultures and languages ​​who can share their experience (as) digital nomads with residents.”

The budget, coming from the town hall’s coffers, will be used to rent accommodation to local families for digital nomads, at a cost of around 350 euros per month for furnished two-bedroom accommodation. Utilities, bills and taxes on city hall services will also be covered, Matta said, but not transportation and plane tickets.

The houses, which belonged to families of shepherds and farmers who once slept on the ground floor with their animals, are equipped with a desk and high-speed internet..

Workers will be invited to local fairs and festivals, according to Matta. Partis said she had been invited to a party in the town square the previous evening.

Partis gives 1 euro to its owner as a symbolic gesture.

Source: Véronique Matta

“I just had to give my landlord a symbolic euro for renting the house,” Partis said. “The locals are so warm and welcoming, and it’s not because they want to sell you something, like in tourist places.”

“I like mingling with the people here,” she said.

A reciprocal arrangement

Winners can stay in Sardinia for free, as long as they agree to give something back to the local community before leaving, Matta said.

“It’s not a free vacation,” Matta said. “They must have proven experience as a digital nomad and leave concrete work at the end of their stay, whether it is a conference, an essay, a research paper or a documentary. “

Partis and Matta join a welcome party in Ollolai, Sardinia.

Source: Véronique Matta

Partis plans to give a talk on what it means to be a digital nomad, in general and specifically in Ollolai, she said.

Matta emphasized that “professional remote workers from all fields are encouraged to apply: technology, media, finance, real estate, architecture – as well as artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics.”

But it is provided they leave behind a “surge of knowledge” that enriches the village culture, she said.

More beautiful than expected

Partis already loves her new home in the village’s historic district. It has two bedrooms and a beautiful wraparound balcony with views of a pristine valley and woods, where she finds inspiration while working, she said.

Clarese Partis with Veronica Matta, watching from Partis’ balcony.

Source: Antonio Meloni

For now, she said she’s balancing her work and her desire to visit Sardinia.

“I’m still settling in. There are days I spend traveling to explore the beautiful places around, and others I hole up at home to catch up on work,” she said .

She said a typical day at Ollolai is similar to her life elsewhere: yoga meditation in the morning, followed by work, then a walk outside and a drive to the coast or mountains to enjoy the silence and view.

“I don’t drink, so the bar isn’t my best place to hang out,” she said. “Instead, I like to go to the farmers market to pick fresh ingredients like truffles, make pasta and pesto gnocchi. The food is amazing.”

She said Ollolai is more beautiful than she ever imagined and that the kindness of its people surprised her.

“There is so much to explore in Sardinia. I’m happy to be here with enough time to immerse myself in the island and its culture.”

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