Foreign buyers are swooping on deserted villages in Sicily to snap up homes for as little as 10,000 euros ($13,000), propping up a property market in freefall as Italy suffers its longest-ever recession. “When you go to the pizzeria now, you often meet more foreigners than Sicilians,” said Salvatore Sansemi, mayor of Cianciana, near the southern city of Agrigento. Half the population of the village — set against the stunning backdrop of the Sicani mountains and close to the sea —has emigrated to Canada, France or Germany in recent years, leaving only around 3,500 inhabitants. “We have just signed off on 140 sales to British, French, Norwegians and Poles, as well as a few Canadians and Chinese,” said Sansemi. One of the latest buyers is Ray Winstone, a British actor and producer who bought an old farmhouse for 50,000 euros ($65,000) and is entirely redoing it to the tune of 1.3 million euros.

“Prices are very low. A house needing repairs can cost from 10,000 to 30,000 euros. An apartment or a renovated house from 60,000 to 80,000," he said. Cianciana already has around 800 British home owners and the number is growing. Raffaele Impallari, a local tourism board official, said: “Thanks to our hospitality, here they have the feeling of being at home,” he joked. Cianciana's success has inspired neighbouring villages to do more to attract foreign buyers. Aragona, which now has 9,500 inhabitants after over 8,000 upped sticks, has launched a campaign to try and persuade Belgians and Russians to move there.