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‘What we’ve learned from running an Airbnb in Sicily’

Moving to Sicily and running holiday accommodation has brought challenges, rewards and unforgettable moments for one French family who won an Airbnb competition last year. Silvia Marchetti finds out what they've learned from the experience.

'What we’ve learned from running an Airbnb in Sicily'
The Gautherie family in Sicily. Photo: Eva Gautherie

Relocating to Italy to open a B&B or become an Airbnb host in a picturesque rural village is an idea that has likely popped into the minds of many foreigners looking for a life-changing adventure, even if for a limited period.

The Gautherie family, from Périgueux in the Dordogne, France, last spring won an international competition launched by Airbnb to live as host for one whole year rent-free in a renovated €1 home in the Sicilian town of Sambuca, retaining all earnings from the rental of one double room within their abode. 

Mathieu and Eva Gautherie, together with their children Iban, 13, Jeanne, 7, and Pierre, 6, arrived in July to a welcome party thrown by local authorities. 

They’ve learned a lot since then, mainly that settling in a little village with a slow-paced life where people are friendly and warm is much easier, and more pleasant, than doing so in a larger town.

“Locals welcomed us with open arms and made a huge effort, ‘folding themselves into four’ (se plier en quatre) to help us integrate”, says Eva, a psychoanalyst and yoga teacher.

Alongside her husband who works in trade, remote working in Sambuca has turned out ideal in balancing work with the new Sicilian job, and looking after their children.

The Airbnb house in Sambuca, Sicily. Photo: Giuseppe Cacioppo

One of the main challenges was trying to understand how tax declaration works in Italy on rental income earned during their one-year stay, which ends in June. 

“It’s not quite clear whether a simple statement to the tax office will suffice, and we just pay tax on that. But if we have any issues and must get in touch with tax authorities, we fear reaching them by phone, and the dialogue, might be hard and all very complicated”, says Eva, who like many foreign nationals moving to Italy has found it’s always better to rely on a local accountant or tax expert for help. 

EXPLAINED: What are Italy’s rules and taxes for Airbnb rentals?

Another issue has been living in an old house with lots of humidity, even though restyled, which is an aspect people longing to follow in their footsteps should take into account. 

The house, located in the ancient Saracen district at the feet of the belvedere where an emir’s palace once stood, belongs to Sambuca’s town hall but has been elegantly restyled by Airbnb.

However, despite the upgrading and extensive makeover, the family found some of the walls drenched with damp, which turned out to be bad for the kids’ health. 

“The house is part of the ancient castle walls and when it rains, drops fall inside and the curtains get wet. We hope this will be fixed for the next hosts”, says Eva. 

She suggests people wanting to run an Airbnb should also consider the type of accommodation they plan to offer, noting the potential complications of renting out one room.


“Given we’re renting just one super spacious king size room within our residence, not a detached, independent wing of the building, being a family of five with three hyperactive kids running around the house at all times could frighten guests and couples longing for silence and more intimacy”, says Eva.

Another challenge is dealing with the potential homeschooling of children. “They have to integrate in a new, local school and it might be tough for them, not just for the language barrier but for the different school pace.

“In France kids stay at school eight hours a day and have after-school activities, in Italy only until 2pm. So you have to know what to expect and weigh up what’s the best thing for your kids”. 

The Gautherie family were surprised to discover that Italian pupils have fewer holidays than French ones, who enjoy five days off each month and a half, she says. This can weigh on the kids, and the parents, if they’re used to another system with more leisure time. 

In September the Gautherie’s two younger children were homeschooled, while the eldest son Iban attended the local village school, but didn’t integrate well, says his mother. This pushed the family to return to France in mid-October to enrol the kids back into a French school, but they’ll be coming back to Sambuca in April to continue their experience and continue to handle bookings online in the meantime.

“Anyone with kids who embarks on such an adventure must take into account that at some point, if the local school doesn’t work for them or the kids are too small, the parents might have to become their momentary teachers”, says Eva.

The Gautherie family with Sambuca mayor Leo Ciaccio (centre). Photo: Leo Ciaccio

Discovering Sambuca and mingling with residents has of course also led to pleasant surprises.

The way people went out of their way to communicate in both English and French to make the newcomers feel at home, showing off their multilingual skills, was unexpected. The Gautherie were given free Italian language and cooking lessons by the town hall with tutorials by local housewives.

They were given a proper “Mediterranean welcome” each day and treated like “princes and princesses”, says Eva. 

“We never thought such a small place like Sambuca was thriving with regular summer events, so culturally rich with street art and paintings decorating the alleys”.

She admits she was however quite amazed that very few people attended her yoga lessons, from an initial small group she eventually found herself down to just one person at the end, probably due to the summer heat.

The Gautherie family are grateful that they learnt the Sicilian driving style, more “instinctive” than the French one. “We had to get used to it at first, then we just copied their way of driving,” says Eva. 

Their first time in Sicily has exceeded their expectations, the family say – the gorgeous blue sea, the art and islands – but warn that the car trip from mainland Europe is long and tiring. 

“Getting to Sicily on a plane is certainly more comfortable and practical,” says Eva. 

The family are now looking forward to welcoming more international guests and contributing to the social regeneration of Sambuca.

While they’re not currently planning to prolong their stay beyond the one-year Airbnb project, they may spend most of next summer touring Sicily to learn more about the local culture and make the most of their stay.

“No matter how little you know at the beginning, or the challenges and obstacles, it’s always worth the experience so never hesitate,” says Eva.

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Two die and 700 evacuated in Sicily wildfires

Two people have died and 700 tourists were evacuated from their hotel overnight following wildfires in northern Sicily, officials and Italian media reports said.

Two die and 700 evacuated in Sicily wildfires

A 42-year-old woman died after trying to save her horses in Cefalu, east of Palermo, the local civil protection agency said late on Friday evening.

She was with her father and brothers but is believed to have become disorientated by the heat and smoke and slipped into a gully, it said.

A 68-year-old man also died after fleeing his burning home near Balestrate, west of Palermo, the ANSA news agency said Saturday.

The estimated 700 guests from the Hotel Costa Verde near Cefalu were evacuated to a local sports hall late Friday as fires approached, although they returned around 2am after the danger passed, ANSA said.

Schools were also closed near Palermo and most of Sicily remained on red alert on Friday for wildfires fuelled by strong winds and unusually high temperatures.

Temperatures in many parts of Sicily were around 34 degrees on Friday, well above the seasonal average.

Firefighters reported a busy night across the whole of northern Sicily, although relief was expected from rain forecast later Saturday, which is due to last several days.