In this Lapilli+, we spotlight an initiative addressing the issue of rural abandonment and depopulation through sustainable tourism and the restoration of historic landscapes, all while considering future challenges posed by climate change. The notable case is in Liguria, Italy, specifically on Mount Portofino. Here, a dedicated group of people is reviving and disseminating the expertise needed for constructing dry stone walls. These structures, with their unique properties, are proving invaluable in mitigating the impacts of climate change, including erratic rainfall patterns and drought cycles. We hope this story will inspire you as it has inspired us.

Nestled on the eastern slopes of Mount Portofino lies the Valle di Niasca, protected from winds and abundant with water. Once home to hermit monks and later to Baron Giacomo Baratta, it endured years of neglect from the postwar era until recently, mirroring the fate of many other inner regions in Liguria. However, over the past few years, a group of young people has embarked on a mission to reclaim a portion of this valley. They started by restoring the baronial mansion, erected in the mid-1800s alongside a mill, and transforming it into a refuge for hikers.

"The idea was to recreate a place that was a hiking shelter, a point of reference for sustainable tourism and the revival of the area," Luca Pierantoni, one of the managers of the Eremo di Sant’Antonio di Niasca, explained over the phone.

In addition to offering an alternative type of hospitality to what can be found in hyper-urbanized Rapallo and exclusive Portofino, the mission of the eremo is now focused on recovering its surroundings and bringing back the terraces, also known as "fasce" in Liguria (strips of cultivable land sculpted along steep slopes using dry stone walls), which are a trademark of this region’s historic landscape.

Panoramic view of the Eremo di Sant’Antonio di Niasca (Antonio Marruffi).

In 2023, the eremo won a tender from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan for the "protection and enhancement of architecture and rural landscape" with their project "Aquae." Central to this initiative is the revival of traditional construction techniques aimed at maximizing water recovery.

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