Meet the Italian man who lives without electricity or gas by choice as Europe struggles with energy crisis

While Europe struggles with soaring energy costs, one Italian man has barely noticed due to his unusal lifestyle. For decades he has lived without gas or electricity for decades by choice

Matteo Berlenga
Saturday 07 January 2023 00:01 GMT
<p>Fabrizio Cardinali sits on the stairs at his home in the woods of the small town of Cupramontana, Ancona, Marche, Italy</p>

Fabrizio Cardinali sits on the stairs at his home in the woods of the small town of Cupramontana, Ancona, Marche, Italy

Fabrizio Cardinali, 72, does not crave the bright city lights. Indeed he has no use for electricity and for more than half a century has lived entirely off the grid.

That makes him one of the few people in Europe unconcerned about rising energy costs this winter.

Cardinali, whose long white beard makes him look like Karl Marx, the poet Walt Whitman or a slimmed-down Santa Claus, lives in a stone farmhouse in the hills of the Verdicchio wine country near Ancona, on Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast.

By choice, he has no electricity, no gas, and no indoor plumbing.

Fabrizio lights his wooden cooker at his home

Carrying an oil container from his house

Harvesting olives from the trees

“I was not interested in being part of the world as it was going. So I left everything – family, university, friends, the sports team, and set off in a completely different direction,” he said, sitting in the kitchen and wearing patched corduroy trousers.

“Giving something up is not masochistic. You give something up to obtain something else that is more important,” he said.

In the past, he has lived entirely alone.

Fabrizio and his current housemates, Agnese and Andrea, have lunch together

Working in the vegetable garden outside his house

Right now, he has two housemates, a rooster, three chickens and a cat in a community he calls “The Tribe of the Harmonious Walnuts”.

Visitors seeking Cardinali and his friends are told by locals in the nearest town to take the narrow dirt path that starts next to an oak tree flying a multi-coloured peace flag.

Cardinali and his housemates, who gave their names only as Agnese and Andrea, rely on a wood-burning stove for cooking and warmth, and read by lamps fuelled with used cooking oil donated by neighbours.

Fabrizio sits with his cat while reading a book

Heading out to the olive harvest

“I feel privileged to have the freedom to choose my freedom,” said Agnese, 35, who moved in two years ago. Andrea, 46, spends the week there but goes home to Macerata, about 31 miles away, each weekend to look after his mother.

The “harmonious walnuts” grow fruit and vegetables, olives to produce olive oil, and keep bees for honey. A local cooperative sells them sacks of legumes, cereals and wheat, which they grind to make their own bread.

When possible, they trade any surplus production for anything they need.

Although some people have dubbed him “the Hermit of Cupramontana”, Cardinali says he is not one.

Andrea picks the olives fallen from the trees

Fabrizio checks the chicken pen

The 72-year-old climbs a tree to harvest olives

Instead, he believes life is best lived in small communities.

His first piece of advice for anyone tempted to follow his example is: “Throw away your so-called smartphone.”

Cardinali occasionally travels short distances to visit friends, take olives to a stone press to make oil, and walks or hitch-hikes to the nearest town to have a coffee with locals or visit the doctor.

“I’ve been living this way for about 51 years and I have never regretted it. For sure, there have been difficulties, but they never made me think that I made the wrong choice or thrown it all away,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

Photography by Yara Nardi


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