Livia Peira, a robust 82-year-old, emerges from a meadow beside a mountain river with a lethal-looking scythe in one hand and a basket full of cut grass in the other. The grass, flecked with daisies, buttercups and other wild flowers, is food for the dozen or so rabbits that she is fattening up to sell at a local market.
The rabbits are breeding enthusiastically, but the same cannot be said for the people of Calsazio, a tiny mountain hamlet tucked into a forested valley deep in the Italian Alps.
"When I was growing up, the village was full of people," Mrs Peira says. "There was a school, and 35 children would walk down the old mule paths from other hamlets to attend lessons. There were about 80 inhabitants. Now there are eight of us."
The drastic decline in population has left many of Calsazio's handsome stone and timber houses lying empty. After years of trying to rent them out to holidaying families, and fed up with paying ever more onerous land tax and other duties, Mrs Peira has decided to sell up.
The homes may date back centuries, but she and her family have chosen a distinctly 21st-century method of selling the 14 houses that they have inherited over the years from grandparents, uncles and cousins – eBay.
Mrs Peira, who lost her husband five years ago but continues to tend to her rabbits, chickens and large vegetable garden each day on her own, has only the vaguest idea of what eBay is, so the sale is being handled by her daughter, Marisa Calcio Gaudino, 54, who lives in Turin.
The houses on offer in Calsazio are jaw-droppingly cheap – 245,000 euros ($355,000) will buy all 14 of them.
Not only that, but the portfolio of historic homes comes with rights to the forest that marches down the steep mountain slope behind the village, as well as patches of farmland and meadow.
The bargain-basement price has piqued interest around the world, and there have been inquiries from Britain, the US, Australia and Germany.
Some of the homes, it is true, are dilapidated – timber beams have collapsed, slate tiles are skewed at odd angles, and there is dust and cobwebs everywhere. But others are in a perfectly habitable state and were rented out to holidaymakers – mostly Italians – until last year.
Calsazio is situated on a B-road that winds alongside the Orco river in a valley flanked by bare mountain peaks and saw-tooth ridges. Even in mid-July, snowdrifts linger in high gullies swathed in mist. The valley leads directly to one of Europe's most scenic national parks Orco river the Gran Paradiso, a mountain massif on the border with France that boasts lakes, mountain refuges and a vast network of hiking trails.
In winter, a couple of ski resorts at nearby Locana and Carrello offer skiing and snowboarding. Nature lovers – or keen hunters – will find forests teeming with roe deer and wild boar, while a popular local dish is stewed chamois meat served with polenta. There is trout fishing in the river Orca, which runs past the village, and intrepid newcomers could even try their hand at gold prospecting – the river's boulders and gravel flats gave up large amounts of the precious metal in decades past. While the area is unspoilt and feels remote, it is only half an hour by car from Turin's airport.
With no smooth, prospectus-toting estate agents involved in the sale of the houses, I am given an impromptu tour of Calsazio's winding paths and higgledy-piggledly houses by the owner of the local bar – the hamlet's last surviving business and the sole focus for what remains of its social life.
"The village used to be full of people, but the old ones died and the young ones moved to towns and cities," says Renato Magnin-Prino, 62, as he clambers up a steep, narrow alleyway into the heart of the tumbledown village, where he was born. "My mother had a little shop and people would come from the other hamlets across the river to buy things. But the bridge kept being washed away." He, like the rest of the inhabitants geraniums all seven of them – is not selling his house and will remain in Calsazio.
As he talks, lizards clamber up sun-warmed stone walls and a green woodpecker lets out a shrill cry as it swoops between the empty barns and houses, with their distinctive over-hanging eaves and carved wooden balconies. Overgrown paths weave between the sturdy, slate-roofed homes, roses and geraniums grow where once there were tiny gardens and crystal-clear water tumbles from an old iron spout into a trough made from slabs of rock.
The eBay entry – in Italian – lists the sale of the houses under the category "Extravagant items" and succinctly describes their condition as "used". The sale is being overseen by Uncem, Italy's National Union of Mountain Communities, an organisation that represents people living in upland areas. With the deadline for the online auction four days away, there have been more than 80 expressions of interest so far from around the world.
Simone Oneglio, 28, who helps run the village bar along with his mother, Marinella Gioara, 55, but lives in the nearby town of Pont, is keenly anticipating an infusion of new blood. "It would be great – the more people, the better. This is a fantastic base for accessing the Gran Paradiso – there are footpaths that go all the way into France."
Delibera Cattaneo, 60, a carer who looks after the village's second-oldest inhabitant, 80-year-old Livia Giachino, says: "The village is dying in every way – you can see it all around you. There's no work for young people, so they leave."
Leaning on a walking stick and with a scarf around her head, Mrs Giachino recalls how vibrant the valley used to be. "When I was a child, there was a school in every hamlet. Now – all gone," she says, occasionally breaking into Piedmont dialect, which is heavily influenced by French.
"There is a village across the valley which used to have 80 inhabitants. Now there are three people left. People used to farm and cut wood in the forest, but a lot of people emigrated to America, France or England. Who wants to be a contadino [farmer] any more?"
There are a few downsides to this apparent paradise, it must be said. It stands at an altitude of about 570 metres, so winters are long and cold – Calsazio is normally covered in about 60 centimetres of snow but a blanket of 1.2 metres is not unknown. Because the village clusters on a steep slope, there is no central piazza of the type that aficionados of Tuscany, Sicily or Puglia might expect. There are no roads inside the village and the narrow, twisting paths and flights of wonky stone steps would impede access for machinery for anyone wanting to undertake major restorations.
While Calsazio has attracted international attention because of the unusual eBay initiative, locals point out that there are dozens of abandoned or semi-deserted villages in this and surrounding valleys where property remains dirt cheap.
The potential of the area is only just being discovered. "The buying up of little villages by foreigners, especially the British, is something that has only recently come to Piedmont," Antonio De Rossi, a professor at the Institute of Mountain Architecture in Turin, told La Stampa newspaper.
"If the eBay auction awakens interest in our region, then it's welcome," says the local mayor, Anna Bonino. "The problem with these tiny villages is that unless someone intervenes, they are at risk of disappearing altogether. Calsazio is not even the least populated village. The nearby hamlets of Bose and Vasario have two inhabitants each."
Working away in her vegetable garden, digging up potatoes and hoeing weeds, Mrs Peira acknowledges that the price her family is asking for the 14 properties may seem rock-bottom to outsiders.
"It is very little, I know – although some people round here still say we are asking too much. But there is no point in us keeping them because we have no use for them and we don't want them to fall into ruins."
Casting her eyes towards the high mountain ridges and the clouds scudding across a deep blue sky, she says: "I was born here and I will die here, but if some new people decided to settle – we don't care whether they are English or French or Germans or whatever – that would be wonderful."