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ROME — A protracted standoff between a ship carrying rescued migrants and the Italian government ended early Saturday, when the vessel docked at the southern island of Lampedusa and the captain was arrested. The 40 migrants rescued at sea disembarked at dawn, strained and exhausted after 16 days on the vessel, the Sea Watch 3, which flies a Dutch flag and is operated by Sea-Watch, a German nongovernmental organization.

Its captain, Carola Rackete, 31, docked the vessel shortly before 2 a. The Sea Watch, which rescued 53 people off the coast of Libya on June 12, had navigated toward Italy after rejecting an offer to dock in Tripoli, Libya, which humanitarian groups do not deem safe. Thirteen migrants had been allowed to disembark in Italy for medical reasons after the rescue. Locana's territory spreads across square kilometers of the Gran Paradiso mountain reserve, offering fresh air and outdoor activities like ice-skating fishing, trekking, rock climbing, swimming, soccer and tennis.

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Picturesque Alpine dwellings are made of stone and wood with typical pointed tile roofs and frescoed walls adorned with flowers. Old bridges cross clear streams. The valleys are dotted with chestnut forests, solitary chapels, abandoned lodges, dairy farms, mills and copper mines in need of a restyle.

Two minuscule ghost hamlets are accessible by foot only on mule paths covered by overgrown cherry shrubs.

The mayor of Borgomezzavalle says his town will pay people to have babies. Locana isn't the only town in Piedmont badly in need of a rebirth. A little farther north, on the Swiss frontier, the mayor of Borgomezzavalle is playing what he hopes will be a winning card. Local taxes are very low and Preioni also promises free public transport to all students. There's not even any need to take up residency.

Borgomezzavalle -- the name means "the town between the valley" -- is stuck inside a canyon, but there's sunlight all day thanks to a huge mirror placed on the opposite hillside that reflects the rays. Brightly colored houses with thatched roofs, carved from the mountain flank, are clustered around neat cobbled piazzas with wooden benches and flower pots.

Girl By Sea: Life, love and food on an Italian island

Narrow winding alleys lead to frescoed arcaded porches with decorated columns and lavish palazzos featuring loggias. The only catch is that the new owners must commit to refurbishing the houses within two years. Borgomezzavalle lies close to Italy's border with Switzerland. Borgomezzavalle and Locana are just the latest in a series of towns in Italy offering cheap, dilapidated properties to foreigners or paying them to move there and take note, it's intended to be a permanent move, not just the offer of a cheap vacation home.

Extremely low taxes, great life quality, cheap services and rentals have successfully turned many dying spots into havens for foreign retirees. If this all sounds too good to be true -- well it is and it isn't.

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Andrea Ungari, contemporary history professor at Rome's top LUISS University , says shoring up communities with an influx of foreigners will fail to address the issues that caused people to desert the towns in the first place. One solution might be to populate the dying towns with the migrants who flock to Italy on boats across the Mediterranean, fleeing peril or hardship in Africa or the Middle East. In the first novel, My Brilliant Friend which was recently made into an HBO series , the narrator, Elena Greco, leaves her home in s Naples for the first time to spend a summer on Ischia.

The island is only a short boat journey away, but might as well be on another planet.

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Ischia is riotously vegetated and alive with volcanic activity, full of hidden geological perforations that vent sulfurous vapors and ooze hot, mineral-rich waters. My guide, Silvana Coppa, a native Ischian, had dropped me at the causeway that connects the town of Ischia Ponte to Castello Aragonese, a fortified castle built just offshore on a small, solidified bubble of volcanic magma.

In the Middle Ages, Silvana told me, townspeople went there to hide from pirates, or volcanic eruptions, or whichever Mediterranean power wanted to colonize the island next. Nowadays, the castle serves as a museum and occasional screen star, having made appearances in The Talented Mr. Ripley and the adaptation of My Brilliant Friend. As I strolled along the causeway, a middle-aged man rode past on a Vespa, giving me a good old-fashioned ogle as he went.


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Then he pulled over. The news that I was American prompted an elaborate show of astonishment — American visitors are still rare on Ischia, though maybe not as rare as he made out. The man asked how many days I was staying.

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He pointed emphatically at his chest. I laughed semi-politely. I said no thank you and, with increasingly insistent Ciaos, made my way back to Silvana and the red and white Piaggio three-wheeler waiting to take us around the island. She relayed my story to the driver, Giuseppe. I felt a sensation that later in my life was often repeated: the joy of the new. The best way to really appreciate such an island idyll, it turns out, is to arrive there from somewhere noisy and unruly and crowded and undeniably real — somewhere like Naples.

To be honest, my expectations for Naples were not high.

Cash for babies, $10,000 gifts, $1 homes: The battle for the soul of rural Italy

That fiery temperament is mirrored by the landscape: because of the density of population at its base, scientists consider Mount Vesuvius one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. But right away, I began to be won over. The colors got me first. The double-humped silhouette of Vesuvius turned purple in the distance, and across the water, I could just make out the jagged outline of Capri rising above a layer of haze.

All right, fine. Naples is pretty.

Booktopia: Girl by Sea and Penelope Green

I was hoping she could help me make sense of this place. Waiters with trays of espresso shots hurried by, making house calls.