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Palm trees, pasta and an apartment for £80.000

Agents are calling it the Italian Renaissance. Britons, it seems, are rediscovering their love for things Latin, thanks to a swathe of cheap flights and property bargains in regions such as Le Marche and Abruzzo.

Ginetta Vedrickas reports

As emerging markets for overseas property rapidly proliferate, buyers are heading off to ever more obscure destinations around the world. But some buyers, it seems, are staying firmly with tried and tested favourites - and are finding that their budget stretches further than ever before. All agents dealing in Italy are seeing a major boom in their UK customer base and Steve Emmet, MD of Brian French Associates, says: "Italy is experiencing something of a renaissance. 2002 was a record year for sales for us in Italy and this year looks set to be equally good."

Italy is certainly not new to the British but increasing prices over the years have inevitably dampened buyers' enthusiasm for the country. But today, Italy appears to be shaking off its reputation for being expensive, says Emmet: "We have always had people who would buy in Italy whatever the prices, but from time to time some would comment that in France you got more house for the same money. Now people who have looked at France tell me the opposite."

British buyers are topping agent's client lists, closely followed by Americans, Germans, Dutch, Swiss and even Australians, but it seems buyers all have a common aim: "The great thing is that because all these nationalities are buying into existing housing stock, they mix and integrate with the local population. Foreign ghettos like you find on the Spanish Costas are just not to be found in Italy," says Emmet.

Agents are noticing a shift, according to Linda Travella, chairwoman of the Federation of Overseas Property Developers, Agents and Consultants (Fopdac) and director of Casa Travella, which sells property all over Italy. "People who bought in Italy used to be of a certain type but in recent years people are casting their nets wider and this is due to Italy now offering good property prices and easy access."

Travella specialises in property in the Lakes, western Liguria, Sardinia and Tuscany. A recent trip to Italy has uncovered another region, however, which she is convinced is certain to attract huge interest from buyers who want Italy at affordable prices: "I sell property all over Italy but I have to say I think that Abruzzo really is a lovely area, it's absolutely beautiful and has so much to offer."

Le Marche is now well and truly on the buyers' map and the region borders Abruzzo, but the latter is still comparitively undiscovered. Inevitably, Ryanair's low-cost flights to Pescara and Ancona will play a large part in the area's growing attraction as a destination as both airports give easy access to this region via good motorways. Travella is clearly smitten and explains the draw: "The food there is wonderful, the beaches are sandy with enormous palm trees and there are the most picturesque medieval villages."

The area is also close to mountains, and often has snowy winters, but it is the opportunity to buy affordable properties either right on the coast or just a few kilometres inland that Travella believes will have the greatest appeal: "It is such a good investment to buy here as lately it's been very hard to find apartments on the sea at an affordable price. Yet here you can buy a two-bedroom apartment or a property 3km inland for around £80,000."

Buzzing seaside resorts such as San Benedetto del Tronto and Roseto degli Abruzzi are two such resorts that Travella feels will particularly appeal. The former has a 20km coastal bike track that she thinks will prove very popular: "That's just the sort of thing Brits love, to be able to leave their bikes there and cycle for miles along the coast with no cars. I'm very good at finding faults but with this area I can honestly say that I see no disadvantages."

Of course, the main advantage is the price of property, which is cheaper than that in Umbria and Tuscany. Casa Travella is currently selling a range of properties in Abruzzo, including a rustic house needing restoration in Ripatransone for €150,000 (£107,000). "This is a wonderful buy," says Travella. "It is situated only 7km from the sea and is just inland from Grottammare." The house is 450 square metres in size with wonderful views and is being sold with 15 acres of land, where the wine Rosso Piceno Superiore is produced, as well as olive groves. An apartment in an old convent in San Ginesio, not far from Amandola, with garden and courtyard is for sale at €170,000 (£121,000).

At the top end of the market, Brian French has seven luxurious apartments for sale in the historical centre of Giulianova, carved from a restored palazzo. Each property is different; some have frescoes and all have marble floors imported from Iran and Egypt. Prices start from €502,000.

George Lacey of Lacey and Co also tips Abruzzo as an area that he sees becoming enormously popular with the British - and not just for its beauty: "Prices there are just so low, probably around one-third of what you'd pay elsewhere." Lacey and Co have a wide range of property for sale in the Abruzzo region including a castle with nine bedrooms, four bathrooms, five living rooms, two kitchens and a round room. It comes complete with six entrances and two terraces for the princely sum of £800,000.

But, if the castle is out of your reach, there are plenty of bargains, according to Lacey: "Our cheapest property, a derelict building, is on sale for £20,000 and if you compare that with areas such as Lake Como where a decent apartment will cost you around £160,000, it's easy to see why the area is now firmly up-and-coming."

 

Source: The Independent, 22 October 2003