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10 Italian towns perfect for social distancing

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As one of the nation's worst hit by the pandemic, Italy went from being a tourist hotspot to a no-go zone within the space of weeks earlier this year.

It's impossible to predict how the European destination will fare in the coming months — daily infection numbers remain high but COVID-19 appears to have had at least one positive effect on its struggling tourism industry.

As social distancing becomes the norm across much of the world, Italy's under-the-radar destinations are receiving a huge boost.

Offbeat spots that offer spellbinding natural scenery, impressive historical and artistic heritage and traditional food with zero crowds have become even more alluring, and their growing popularity is helping to rescue some of the country's depopulated villages.

"This summer the virus and related travel restrictions have pushed many Italians to discover and appreciate places near home, in their so-called 'backyard,' which they never would have seen otherwise", Fiorello Primi, president of I Borghi Più Belli d'Italia, an elite club devised to promote and unite some of Italy's most beautiful small villages and towns, tells CNN.

According to Primi, it's the fascination of discovering the "hidden, unknown and authentic slow-pace Italy" that's pulling visitors in.

"Cities and popular destinations are crowded [and] risky," she adds. "Small villages guarantee social distancing.

"People want a beautiful, safe and peaceful place that holds everything within a small space; they don't want to be scared of contagion risks and want to be able to take in all the plus points a borgo has to offer, to fully experience it."

The club's recent data indicates that tourist flows have jumped up 70% in all of its villages during the last year, despite the significant fall in visitors to the country.

Earlier this year, Giorgio Palmucci, president of the Italian national tourist board, ENIT, told CNN Travel that Italy's projected 2020 loss from overseas visitors is €24.6 billion.

Primi is now focusing efforts on smart working and so-called "job tourist" projects in order to lure digital nomads. By June 2021, all of its villages will have a high-speed internet connection.

They're also investing into creating special "working labs" for foreign professionals that are equipped with computers, printers and conference rooms.

"If a Swedish or American manager wants to come and experience life in one of our towns for a long stay of several months and keep working remotely, there will be full assistance", adds Primi.

While ever-changing travel restrictions suggest it might be a while before this is a reality, those interested in visiting can still book tailored-week tours of the villages through the club's tour operator.

Villages and towns have to meet various standards to qualify for I Borghi più belli d'Italia membership, such as holding historic buildings that are in good condition and have an architectural or natural heritage certified by institutions.

They must also offer good services to visitors, as well as a variety of tourist activities, alongside other "intangible" cultural aspects.

"The idea is that if locals lead a pleasant lifestyle then also visitors will have a good time and feel at home," says Primi.

This year six new "entries" were selected to join the club, which now has 315 villages and towns as members.

Here are 10 of the newest additions to Italy's coveted most beautiful small villages club, which just happen to be perfect for social distancing.


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