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Godzillavilla is in the Val di Vara, an area of Liguria where you still hear few languages other than Italian, even in high tourist season. It’s not quite on the international destination map.

The little town that could

Sometime around our fifth year in Italy I’d come across an article in Io Donna, a women’s magazine, about the valley and its main town, Varese Ligure. The photos were beautiful, its story more so. Like many rural valleys that twist their way into the central spine of the Apennines, it had experienced a population exodus post-war. Young people had moved to the larger towns for work, rejecting life on the land, and the towns became phantoms of their former selves.

By the 1980’s it was a dire situation. Then Varese Ligure’s enlightened government had a brilliant idea, well ahead of its time: since their valley was in the middle of nowhere and offered pretty much nothing, why not make something of that?

Making the most of the middle of nowhere

Through a remarkable application of both will and action, in 1999 the Val di Vara became Europe’s first valley to be certified ISO 14001, the international benchmark for environmental management. Chemical free, energy-sustaining, and boasting fine organic cheeses, produce and meat, it has become an organic haven in an industrial world.

People returned to take up organic farming, bee-keeping, and cheese-making. Varese Ligure, an ancient borgo with its own perfect castle and a unique, circular town plan, began to be spruced up. Good restaurants opened. Artists and craftspeople arrived. And so did we, drawn to its energy, inventiveness, and the purity of its landscape.

Varese Ligure’s story reflects the character of its people. What better folk to be around when attempting something as audacious as bringing Godzillavilla back to life? I’m hoping some of their resolve and resourcefulness rubs off on me. If they can resurrect a whole valley and its towns, surely resurrecting one old house is possible.

Varese's castle, still privately owned