Italian property – Ten beautiful places to buy or rent a house in Italy
Anyone who publishes a list, for example a Top 10 list,, should answer a couple of good questions: why that number and why those items were chosen.In this case, answering the first question is easy. Obviously the choice of a number is always arbitrary and ten is a very small number for a task like this, but it is so well referenced from so remote time, that I can go straight to use it. On the contrary, the second question deserves some more explanation. All the places below have been chosen thinking about a foreigner who wants to find a home for leisure in Italy. I cared to avoid cities. I also avoided places so famous to be almost impossible, such as Cortina d’Ampezzo, Portofino, Chianti region, Amalfi, Capri and so on. Everyone already knows these places, so adding them to the list would be of no help to the reader. I have selected the ten places below having in mind these two simple objectives: they had to be affordable (no stellar prices) and, on the whole, representative of the most typical aspects of Italian territory. I hope to have accomplished this task at least in part. My true opinion is that every selection of this kind should be taken with a bit of scepticism. Far from being definitive, it is just intended to arouse interest and stimulate further exploration.
Finally, here is the list of the sites. The indications of price you find in each description are dated 1sthalf 2010.
- Val Aurina - Alto Adige
- Cannobio – Lake Maggiore, Piedmont
- Riviera del Brenta - Veneto
- Varigotti – West Liguria Riviera
- Suvereto - Tuscany
- Todi – Umbria
- Nemi – Castelli Romani, Lazio
- Castellaneta Marina – Puglia
- Cabras - Sardinia
- Pantelleria - Sicily
Val Aurina – Alto Adige
Alto Adige (or South Tyrol), the region of the Dolomite mountains, has belonged to Italy since 1919, after the end of World War I. Most of the people speak German, and a small minority speak the traditional language called Ladino. They are , the most ancient inhabitants of the valleys around the Sella Group,Val Aurina is the most northern valley in Italy: it begins in Campo Tures and expands to the borders with Austria. It is not as famous as Gardena and Badia Valleys and perhaps it does not welcome visitors with equally breathtaking scenery, but it offers a good advantage: moderate prices combined with full year touristic facilities. In the winter, you can enjoy two well- equipped areas for alpine skiing and two wonderful plateaus for cross-country skiing. In the summer, there are a wide range of walks and trips of varying difficulty. The landscape is a never- ending green expansion of meadows dotted with yellow and lilac alpine flowers and rows of towering conifers. In Campo Tures, the most popular and expensive site in the valley, prices are usually lower than 4.000 euro / sqm. It is important to keep in mind that in Alto Adige real estate market is subject to a special regulation which favours residential buyers: there are few houses for not residents so you must be patient and quick to make a decision when a property is available. If you are thinking about purchasing a country house or a maso (a traditional farm surrounded by trees and pasture) be ready to face a nearly impossible mission.
Cannobio - Lake Maggiore
Situated on the Piedmont side in the high part of Lake Maggiore, Cannobio is the last Italian city before the Swiss border. On the road from Vernabia to Cannobio, the charm of the lake constantly merges with the alpine landscape: you can see peacks higher than 3,000 meters literally rising from the water (Monte Rosa is no more than 50 km far away). On the left side of the road, the valleys degrading to the lake hide small villages keeping their traditions untouched. The original core of Cannobio, today called the “Borgo”, is made of narrow streets surrounded by tall buildings, with the purpose to make it easier to defend the city from the enemies coming from the lake. The walk on the lakefront from the southern point called “Amore” (Love) towards the beach (“Lido”), provides a view on the multicoloured row of buildings overlooking the lake; most of them date back to 18thand 19thcentury. The porticos are home to little shops and cafés. In the summer, the beach is crowded with people sunbathing or swimming in the chilly waters of the lake. The inland Cannobina valley, populated by characteristic villages offers enjoyable trips towards the Val Grande National Park, the largest wild area in Central Europe. The medieval hamlet of Carmime Superiore is remarkable with its gem of 14thcentury, the church of San Gottardo The price of a home ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 euros /sqm depending on the status and the position (the Borgo and lake-front are the most expensive zones). The prices for a country house in Cannobina valley are lower.
Rivieradel Brenta -Veneto.
The Brenta Riviera is the area between Padua and Venice along river Brenta. This area is strongly characterized by the course of the river: from 16th to 18th century the rich Venetians were competing to build the most luxurious villas on the green banks of the Brenta. The classic forms of villa Foscari, in Malcontenta - designed by Palladio – and villa Soranzo in Fiesso, the baroque style villa Widmann in Mira and villa Pisani in Stra - sumptuous residence of the powerful Pisani family - are only some examples of the many magnificent buildings of that golden age. The best Venetian sculptors and painters were called to decorate the villas and the gardens. The proximity to Venice and Padua and the transport facility provided by the river, joined with the beauty of landscape and relaxing quiet of the rural environment, made this land eligible both for commerce and leisure. These special features are substantially lasting even today. The ten little towns overlooking the Brenta Riviera (the larger Mira, Dolo, Stra as the smaller Fossò, Vigonovo, Fiesso) provide good services and speedy links to Venice and Padua and are surrounded by the greenery of a gentle landscape. You can find terraced or independent houses with a garden as well as country houses: the prices are around 2.000 euros per sqm. Demanding people can look for an ancient home or a “barchessa”, a historical Venetian rural building annexed to the villa. Not easy, not cheap, but not an impossible wish.
Varigotti – West Liguria Riviera
Varigotti is a small village in the municipality of Finale Ligure, 40 km west of Savona, on the West Riviera (“Riviera Ligure di Ponente”). It is not famous as its renowned counterparts on the East Riviera: sites as Portofino, Santa Margherita, Tellaro. However it lies on one of the most pristine stretch of the Liguria coast. Saraceni Bay, the beach east of Varigotti, dominated by the rocks, away from any building, is among the most beautiful in Italy. The strategic and repaired position of the site was appreciated from an ancient time.Probably, before year 1000 the Turkish (called Saraceni in the local language) established here a fixed base, taking advantage of the natural harbour of the bay. The influence of Arabic architecture can still be gathered in some houses of the old hamlet, showing details unusual to Liguria buildings. The old hamlet is located between the Aurelia road and the beach and it is doubtless the most valuable part of Varigotti. The houses in front of the sea (once upon owned by the fishermen) form a coloured curtain on the sand beach and often the sea water comes to lap the walls. The overlooking Punta Crena hill, with the ancient watchtower, dominates the village as a big cetacean. The inland consists of wild highlands covered by typical Mediterranean greenery and steep rock peaks, appreciated by climbers for training.A house in the old hamlet will cost no less than 7,000 Euros / sqm, even more if it is located on the sea-front. On the interior, good solutions can be found at a much lower price, often with spectacular views. Just take into consideration the difficulty of parking on the coast during the summer season.
Suvereto – Tuscany
The hill where the medieval village of Suvereto lies, in Cornia Valley, half a way between the two cities of Livorno and Grosseto at the border with the vast plain of Maremma, is dotted by cork oaks woods (here called “suvere”, from which the name of “Suvereto”). Around Suvereto, the corks oaks are mixed with olives and vines, the typical trees of Mediterranean landscape and along the slopes of the hill you find everywhere small producers of oil and wine. The typical wine produced is a quality red wine made from blending of the local Sangiovese grapes with international Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Don’t forget we are next to the vineyards of Bolgheri, wich offer their internationally renowned wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia. The climate is mild, you can walk through the corks and spy the deep blue of the wonderful Baratti Gulf. As many Italian villages set on the hills, Suvereto has mostly retained its medieval appearance. Inside the ancient walls, the narrow streets paved with stones describe a circular path around the old 13thCentury castle (now being restored), on the top of the hill. Half of the 3,000 residents live in the village, the remaining part live in farmhouses or in the other small villages of the municipality (San Lorenzo, Montioni, Forni, Prata, Belvedere). The price for a terraced house in Suvereto goes from 2,000 to 3,000 Euros / sqm. There is a good selection of farmhouses (here called “casali”), with more or less large extension of around land: in this case, expect paying a minimum of 500,000 euros.
Todi – Umbria
Todi enjoyed its moment of fame in 1992, when University of Kentucky professor Richard S. Levine chose it as the model sustainable city. Then, it was considered "the world's most livable city". Really, if you come here and walk around the city or travel the road to Orvieto through the green gentle slopes, you get the impression that things and nature have a harmonious balance. It is the same harmony that Bramante infused in the volumes of “Santa Maria della Consolazione” church, outside the walls, or that you can find at the heart of the city, on “Piazza del Popolo” (People Square), bounded at the opposite sides by the medieval buildings of the Cathedral and the Priori Palace. Todi was founded in 8thcentury BC with the name of “Tutere” (Border) because it was at the border with the Etruscan kingdom. In 18thcentury a historian counted 365 castles, villas and fortified places in its municipality, so he wrote that Todi could boast to have one different castle for every day of the year. Nowadays, the 37 remaining castles spread on the hills constitute the villages of Todi municipality, one of the largest in Umbria. The prices for a whole farmhouse on the hills or a flat inside the Todi walls or in a restored cottage are quite appealing (from 1,000 to 2,000 euros / sqm) and good solutions are not lacking.
Nemi – Castelli Romani, Lazio
Castelli Romani (literally: Roman Castles) are the historical villages on the slopes of Alban Hills (Colli Albani), a few kilometres south-east of Rome and Fiumicino airport. The volcanic origin of Colli Albani is testified by the two big craters on the top of the hills, now home to two picturesque lakes (Lago Albano and Lago Nemi). During the centuries, Colli Albani have always been a peaceful retreat for Rome rich residents (for example, Castelgandolfo hosts a magnificent papal residence): many of their ancient villas and palaces can still be admired all around the area. Nowadays, Castelli Romani are a favourite destination for the Sunday trips of Rome inhabitants, and are well-known for their genuine products, such as white wines (Frascati is the most famous), strawberries, peaches and fish from the lakes. Nemi, hidden on the top of the hill, overlooking the lake, is the smallest of Castelli Romani and goes famous for its delicious strawberries. The village is dominated by the big tower of Ruspoli Palace. The legend says that here is the root of the Roman Empire: Romolo, the first Roman King, is the son of a Vestal Priestess, Rea Silva, probably resident in Nemus Arcinum, the village which today is Nemi. Flats and country houses are on sale at about 3.000 euro/sqm.
Castellaneta Marina – Puglia
The village of Castellaneta Marina, in the municipality of Castellaneta, was founded in the 60s after the drainage of the area, with a purely touristic purpose. In fact, it is mostly composed by villas fully immersed in the pinewood. It is curious that the names of the streets mention the Moon geography and the American and Russian spacemen, recalling the space voyages from the period of its foundation. The dunes behind the beach (more and more rare on the Italian coast due to urbanization) are covered by a typical low shrubbery. Despite the strong tourism, the long sandy coast is still largely uncontaminated and the sea is warm and clean. Behind the beach and the pinewood the vast Metaponto Plane lies, home to ancient colonies of Magna Graecia (the archaeological area is near Metaponto, where Greek philosopher Pythagoras is said to have lived). On the coast, residences, resorts and sea establishments alternate with stretches of public sea (the nearby Riva dei Tessali hosts one of the best golf courses in Italy). On the interior, distant about 20 km away, the city of Castellaneta, perched on the crest of a mountain, overlooks a spectacular canyon more than 100 meters high. With the old white town and the baroque buildings, this gem well worth a visit. You can find a good house surrounded by the aromas of Castellaneta Marina pinewood at a not daunting price: 2,000 – 3,000 Euros / sqm.
Cabras – Sardinia
Far from the splendor of luxurious Costa Smeralda, on the Sardinia west coast, Sinis peninsula and Oristano Gulf are an area of great natural and scenic interest, already known by Punic and Phoenician many centuries BC. Punic probably founded the village of Tharros, in the southern promontory of Sinis peninsula, before 1000 BC, and exploited the fertile ground and the sheltered bay. Cabras was founded in 12thcentury by the residents of Tharros who were escaping from North-African pirates invasions. It lies on the shore of the largest pool of brackish water in Italy (“Stagno di Cabras”) one of the largest in Europe, natural habitat of pink flamingos and other typical water birds. The coast of Sinis peninsula is uninhabited for large stretches and it is home to beaches of great beauty, quiet and not crowded. The most famous, “Is Arutas” beach, several hundred meters long, looks white shining because of the sand consisting of small white and pink rounded quartz grains. “San Giovanni di Sinis” beach, next to Tahrros ruins, overlooked by an ancient watchtower, is long four km and is characterized by the high accumulations of sand caused by the west wind. From Capo Mannu, on the northern side of the peninsula, you can reach the uninhabited “Mal di Ventre” Island (literally: stomach ache, but the Italian name is a corruption of local name Maluentu, i.e. bad wind), a flat extension of Mediterranean vegetation and charming coves. The Sinis peninsula has not yet had a full tourist development and house prices in Cabras are low (from 1,000 to 1,500 Euros / sqm), but the most interesting solutions are outside the town, and prices increase with proximity to sea.
Pantelleria - Sicily
Half way between Sicily and Africa coast, Pantelleria Island is one of the most southern spot of Italy. It is the largest of minor Sicily islands, with a population of about 7,000. Here, the Mediterranean reveals its strongest colours and its harshest nature: the strong character of the island has fascinated celebrities such as Sting and Madonna. The coasts of lava rock are high and jagged (a trip by boat is mandatory): the famous elephant trunk – an arch of rock ending in the sea - is the symbol of the island. The inland is characterized by a variety of wild caper (fragrant Pantelleria Capers, now mainly cultivated) and vineyards of Muscat and “Zibibbo” grapes which give the fine delicious “Passito di Pantelleria”. Citrus trees were imported by Arabs, who carefully protected them from winds by high drywalls. The island, known as “Child of Wind” by the ancient Arabic inhabitants, is the residual of a big volcanic crater surrounded by 24 smaller ones. Their activity is still visible in the many thermal sources, natural saunas and steam flowing from the stones, which are a kind of free open SPA. The “Specchio di Venere” (Venus Mirror) is a small lake springing from an underground sulphurous source, where you can take a regenerating bath. Because of the dry climate and volcanic origin, drinking water is a rare good on the whole island: it is distributed weekly by trucks bringing it to the various districts. The typical house of Pantelleria is called “Dammuso” and has an Arabic origin. It is a cubic farm building made of lava stones with round arch openings to counter the heat and a white dome roof to collect the rainwater. Dammusos are the most requested and most expensive homes on the island. You can find a Dammuso (even ancient) in an idyllic position, with a garden enclosed by high circular drywalls at the starting price of 4,000 euros / sqm. For a terraced house, the price is about 2,500 euros / sqm.
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