For more than 100 years they have been silent guardians against shipwreck along some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Europe.

Now more than a dozen lighthouses in Sardinia are to be leased to private businesses and converted into boutique hotels, unusual bed and breakfast accommodation, galleries and museums.

The move is part of efforts by Italy's four-month-old technocrat government, led by Prime Minister Mario Monti, to tackle its monumental national debt - €1.9 trillion ($3.03 trillion), equivalent to 120 per cent of the country's GDP.

The size of the debt pile, and Italy's near-zero economic growth, have raised fears in the past few months that the country could be swept up in the sort of crisis that has engulfed Greece.


In trying to balance the budget by next year, Rome is looking at capitalising on a valuable portfolio of state-owned heritage property, from disused army barracks to castles, former convents and islands.

The lighthouses are being put up for lease by Sardinia's autonomous government, which says it can no longer afford the cost of maintaining the historic structures, let alone restoring them.

The collection of 15 lighthouses and semaphore stations overlook secluded coves in some of Sardinia's most popular tourist spots, including the famed Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast, and the Maddalena archipelago of islands in the northeast, which boast turquoise waters and white sand beaches that have been compared to the South Pacific.

One of them, on the island of Razzoli, was built in 1845 but has been inactive since 1965 - made redundant, like all the rest, by modern replacements and ships' greater reliance on satellite navigation.

The 12m structure, which includes a stone keeper's house, can be reached only by boat.

The lighthouse on the nearby island of Santa Maria was built in 1913 and has a colourful history - its lantern used to be kept alight by Benedictine monks from a nearby monastery, which is now in ruins. It too is accessible only by boat.

On the western side of Sardinia, the 19th century lighthouse of Punta Scorno is part of a national park.

It is located on the island of Asinara, a former penal colony which is famous for an indigenous herd of white donkeys.


"Some are in good condition and need just a little investment, while others are in a really bad state and would need a couple of million euros of refurbishment," said Alessio Satta, the executive director of Sardinia's Agency for Coastal Conservation.

"They have been inaccessible to the public for ages because they were owned and run by the coastguard or the navy."

The idea is for the historic buildings to be leased to developers, who would turn them into tourist accommodation.

The model for the project is a lighthouse in southern Sardinia which has been converted into a five-star luxury retreat. It is so far Italy's only lighthouse hotel.

The Capo Spartivento lighthouse, 50km from the regional capital of Cagliari, sits on a promontory overlooking deserted beaches and sandy bays and is accessible only by a private dirt road.

Built in 1856 by the Italian Navy, it is now one of the country's most exclusive resorts, with a suite during the summer season costing €1000 a night. The conversion process took seven years.