Majestic peaks, leafy hills and golden beaches are just a few of Abruzzo’s many charms. Property prices are very attractive, and now is an exceptionally good time to buy, says Fleur Kinson.
Situated just below the calf muscle of the Italian leg, Abruzzo is a spacious and thinly-populated place blessed with a dramatic range of landscapes. In the region’s west, high snow-capped peaks form an arresting, celestial backdrop. In the east, long golden sands are licked by a warm and shallow Adriatic. And in between, gentle hills and welcoming valleys cradle pretty little villages and towns. Although quiet and unspoilt, Abruzzo isn’t remote – it has good roads and transport, and receives direct flights from the UK. There’s a great deal of space here, but you’re unlikely to feel isolated. A strong sense of community prevails, and newcomers are warmly embraced. Abruzzo’s crime rate is rock-bottom, and life is gentle and slow-paced. Small habitable properties in Abruzzo start at an incredible €50,000. And any budget between €100,000 and €180,000 gives you a wide choice of very nice homes. Prices are lower now in Abruzzo than they have been for several years, and they’re not expected to go any lower.
Abruzzo first came to the attention of non-Italian buyers about ten years ago, and as so often it was the British who were the pioneering buyers here. Low prices and stunning landscapes saw the region grow swiftly in popularity, and this boom was expected to go from strength to strength. Then came the global economic woes of 2008, and Abruzzo’s foreign-buyer market slowed dramatically. Like the markets of other Italian regions, it has remained slow ever since. But there are now intimations of some recovery, and estate agents on the ground are all reporting a new optimism.
So what differences are noticeable in Abruzzo’s market today compared to just before the financial crisis of 2008? It’s almost universally agreed that prices are about 20% lower than they were. And there are more homes on the market to choose from. All of this adds up to a buyer’s market. With new positivity in the air, and prices unlikely to sink any further, right now is obviously a good time to buy. As Tracey Nicholas of Abruzzo Reality puts it, “It’s a perfect time for a bargain. I don’t think prices will fall any further.”
Today’s buyers are rather more likely to seek an old property that was restored and renovated by a previous buyer than to risk the uncertainty and expense of restoring a property themselves. And this can be a canny route to saving money in Abruzzo right now. Tracey Nicholas says “It’s quite expensive to restore or build a property, as building materials and labour aren’t cheap. Also, there are many properties out there which were very nicely restored by foreigners about five to seven years ago, and are now up for sale at a lower price than the amount that owner spent on buying and restoring them, so current buyers will get a bargain.” (If your dream is to completely restore a tumbledown old property at a very low price, you should consider Molise, which is covered in the upcoming section “THE ‘OTHER’ ABRUZZO”.)
One very noticeable change in Abruzzo’s market since the recession began is a greater diversity in the client base. Far fewer Brits are buying in the region now, and there are proportionally more Dutch, Swedish, Belgians, Swiss, Americans, Canadians and Israelis. The biggest change, of course, is the arrival of the Russians. These wealthy new italophiles are delighting in Abruzzo and are especially drawn to its larger and more luxurious homes – often in seaside locations.
As suggested earlier, anyone with €50,000 to €180,000 to spend can currently get themselves a very nice home in Abruzzo. (Push it to €250,000 or more and you’ll be looking at something sizeable and plush in one of the region’s most desirable locations.) Like every region of the world, Abruzzo sees variability in price and value from locale to locale. What are the most and least expensive parts of Abruzzo these days and, crucially, which areas are thought to offer the best value for money?
Abruzzo’s wonderful golden coast, which ranges from family-friendly beach resorts to gloriously undeveloped expanses of sand, has the region’s highest property prices – estimated to be about €1,500-€3,000 per square metre of floor space. Obviously the re-sale and holiday-rental potential are very strong on the seaside, so it remains a good place to invest. Note that the southern part of Abruzzo’s coast is currently a bit cheaper than the north.
All over Italy, property prices tend to drop the further you move inland and increase your elevation. This is true too in Abruzzo, with average prices in the hinterland hills about €1,500-€2,000 per square metre and generally about €1,000-€1,200 up in the region’s spectacular mountain areas. Naturally, higher elevations can see more changeable weather and longer travel times, but there are compensations. Space, quiet, super-fresh air and of course plenty of heart-stopping panoramic views from on high. Many buyers opt for a location midway between Abruzzo’s beaches and its mountains, or even just a dozen miles or so from the sea. They thus enjoy the best of both worlds – they have a reasonably-priced home with views of mountains in one direction and coast in the other, and they have reasonable travel times to beach and to peaks.
Some of Abruzzo’s inland areas offer better all-round value than others. The otherwise lovely area inside the triangle formed with L’Aquila, Rieti and Sulmona as its three corners is, unfortunately, known by geologists to be at particular risk from earthquakes. The major quake that struck inside this zone in April 2009 killed 300 people, injured 1,500 and left 65,000 temporarily homeless. Prices are very low in this area, and if you choose to buy here, be absolutely certain that your property employs all the clever quake-proofing tricks and devices required by law, especially if you are restoring it yourself or buying an old place which has been restored by someone else.
Far more reassuringly, the Teramo province in Abruzzo’s northern coastal hinterland is believed to be relatively free from seismic peril. With good roads, attractive scenery, and a wide range of homes available, there are many reasons why the Teramo province offers foreign buyers very good value for money. Fabrizio De Sanctis of the agency Abruzzo Houses strongly recommends this area, and also the Chieti province in Abruzzo’s southern coastal hinterland. Both provinces have very reasonable property prices, they have easy access to good beaches and contain some lovely countryside. Fabrizio does add that if you’re looking to get maximum holiday rentals and future resale value on a home in Abruzzo, you can’t really do much better than the pricy Pescara province, of course.
In Abruzzo as in many other regions, perhaps the very best thing you can do as a prospective buyer is simply to gain some familiarity with the region’s different areas, to travel round and spend time in various places, and discover which places feel the best for you. Monia Di Guilmi of Abruzzo Rural Property says she advises any client “To spend time discovering villages and locations. Many rush around the region with a very tight schedule of property-viewings and they don’t pay enough attention to surroundings. I recommend getting acquainted with an area first and then deciding whether to look for properties there.”
One area of Abruzzo that you should know more about isn’t really part of Abruzzo at all. At least, not any more. Tiny Molise, Abruzzo’s southern neighbour, officially became a separate region in 1963. But in terms of wild open space, low population and low property prices, Molise remains arguably an extension of its better-known northern neighbour. A sleepy rural backwater far off the tourist trail, Molise is one of the few places left in Italy where you can get a fully habitable detached home for a five-figure sum (or a home needing restoration for four figures). Monia Di Guilmi of Abruzzo Rural Property predicts “There is sure to be increasing attention focussed on little Molise in the coming years,” and she isn’t the only person saying this. “It is still completely undiscovered and prices are even lower than in Abruzzo.”
Despite a good coastline and plenty of rural space, Molise remains one of Italy’s least-visited regions, so you shouldn’t expect any significant rental returns on a home here. But if you’re seeking a private getaway at an incredible price, this is a great place to look. In particular, this is an excellent region for anyone harbouring the classic Italian property dream of buying up a dirt-cheap old ruin and transforming it into a rural dream home. There are abundant old properties needing restoration in Molise, and their prices are tiny.
So how does this unfamiliar region look and feel? While Abruzzo’s mountains can be high and dramatic, Molise’s are lower and more gentle. There are no large cities, and Molise’s mere 300,000 inhabitants live in medieval villages and small towns. (Larino, which is currently seeing burgeoning tourist interest, might be the most attractive settlement.) Molise’s long sandy Adriatic coastline is underexploited and unspoilt. Even Térmoli, the biggest coastal town, remains a quiet place. In general, life in Molise is simple and slow-paced, with a super-strong sense of community wherever you go. This is not a wealthy or sophisticated region, and it can sometimes look a bit ragged at the edges – often appealingly so.
Together, Abruzzo and Molise represent rich pickings for foreign buyers. From Abruzzo's new-built seaside apartments and well-restored country houses in the hills to Molise's dirt-cheap ruins to restore, there's an extremely wide range of very good-value options in this little corner of Italy.
For many buyers, Abruzzo’s hilly hinterland is the region’s most desirable stretch. It’s quiet, spacious, and puts the coast and the mountains at each roughly half an hour away. Properties here are still reasonably priced, and there’s an abundance of tumbledown homes to restore – both in the countryside and in the area’s small towns and villages. Hinterland settlements are often attractive, yet rarely see tourists passing through. Teramo is a modern town with an elegant centre, a clutch of Roman ruins, and good transport connections. Atri is a charming spot with narrow, stepped streets and views of tidy olive groves arcing across its surrounding hills. Loreto Aprutino is a quiet medieval hilltop town selling especially good olive oil. Chieti is a relaxed, provincial town set on high with wonderful mountain views. And so on. Buy out in the country and you’ll usually have a choice of pleasant towns and villages nearby to shop in.
The almighty bulk of the Gran Sasso massif stands between L’Aquila and the coast – two parallel mountain chains flanking a vast plateau sprouting unusual rock formations and scattered with old shepherds’ shacks. The Apennines’ very highest peaks are here, in all their awesome majesty, attracting large numbers of skiers and a fair number of summer hikers. Some of Abruzzo’s lowest property prices are in its highest, wildest places. It’s possible to find a rural hideaway with ski resorts and good motorway connections all within easy reach.
Attractive Sulmona is a prosperous place, thanks to its skilled goldsmiths and confection-makers (it’s the capital of the original confetti – sugared almonds and other sweets bandied about at Italian weddings.) In the atmospheric, labyrinthine centre of town, innumerable handsome palaces gaze across broad expanses of neat cobblestones. Meanwhile, high mountains bristle in the near distance. Sulmona is particularly well-situated for the Maiella range, which has some good ski resorts and excellent hiking trails. The steep wooded slopes are peppered with medieval hermitages, built in caves or carved out of sheer rock. Villages set amongst these slopes are a mixed bag. Many are attractive and well-preserved, others drab and tatty. Still others are largely modern-built and intended to accommodate skiers. Scanno is a well-preserved medieval hill-village attracting a fair number of visitors, who admire its striking traditional costumes and its glassy green lake. The Sulmona area has low-priced properties, and an interesting range of settlements. Road connections between Sulmona and Pescara are good.
At the centre of Abruzzo’s coastline lies Pescara, the region’s liveliest and most populous spot with more than 100,000 inhabitants. It’s a major transport hub – offering motorway connections, ferries across the Adriatic, and budget flights to and from the UK. For all its busyness and industry, Pescara is an eminently likeable place. (The uglier bits of industrialisation lie mainly inland, in the 13km stretch between Pescara and Chieti.) Wealthy and fashion-conscious, Pescara has plenty of glossy boutiques and elegant cafés. Much of the city’s older buildings were lost to wartime bombing, but what remains of its historical parts have been pleasantly gentrified with bars and restaurants. The beach is an amazing 16km long, and very family-friendly with warm, shallow water. Obviously, because of its ease-of-access and wealth of job opportunities, Pescara is the most expensive place for property in Abruzzo. Like resorts elsewhere on the coastline, it has very good holiday rental prospects. You might pay €200,000 for a very nice two-bedroom apartment in Pescara, and expect to rent it out for €600 a week in high season. Just a few miles inland from Pescara, you might find a small house needing minor repairs for about €200,000. Depending on its ease of access to the sea, you might rent it out for €800 or more during summer weeks.
Abruzzo has 130km of Adriatic coastline, with a string of pleasant, family-friendly resorts gazing out over the blue water towards Croatia. While you certainly couldn't call it 'over-crowded', the coast is by far Abruzzo’s most developed and populous area, with good transport connections and amenities. The beach-resorts here are hugely popular with Italians in the summer, and are at their fullest in the last two weeks of July and all of August. In terms of geography, there’s something of a north-south divide on Abruzzo’s coastline. From Alba Adriatico in the north to Ortona just south of Pescara, the beaches are pale and sandy, with hills covered in fruit-bush bracken rising immediately behind them. Seven likeable resorts along this stretch dub themselves the ‘seven sisters’, viz., Alba Adriatico, Giulianova, Roseto degli Abruzzo, Pineto and Silvi. South of Ortona, to as far as where Abruzzo cedes the coast to its southern neighbour Molise, the terrain is steeper and rockier. Sandy coves are interspersed with shingle beaches, overlooked by cliffs. For many people, Abruzzo’s loveliest stretch of coast lies here in the southern half, especially between Lido di Casalbordino and Punto Aderci – where particularly deep blue water is backed by a nature reserve. Vasto is a charming resort in the southern half that has recently begun to entice foreign buyers. Pescara may be the priciest spot in Abruzzo, but the rest of the coast is also of course much pricier than the cheap interior. Two-bedroom seaside apartments average about €120,000.
Molise’s coast is less developed than Abruzzo’s. The only seaside town of any size is Térmoli, and it’s one of the region’s most pleasing settlements – a bright fishing port and smart resort sporting a walled old town, a castle, a cathedral, good seafood restaurants, a long sandy beach and innumerable flowers and palm trees. Property prices are higher here than inland, or indeed elsewhere on Molise’s coast. Heading away from the sea, the landscape becomes hilly and lined with olive groves. Larino is the largest town here and, like Térmoli, tends to hold rather more appeal than many other Molise settlements. Its medieval centre nestles in a valley while the modern town climbs up an adjacent hillside. Life in the old part goes traditionally on while the modern streets are quite slick and bustling – despite the Roman amphitheatre crumbling quietly in their midst.
Campobasso, Molise’s main city, is a pretty faceless place where a steep old centre gazes out on sprawling modern suburbs. The countryside round the city holds some fairly scenic villages, however. Not far off lie the high plateaux, forests and lakes of the Matese mountains which spill over into Campania. This is an extremely little-visited area and a very wild place indeed. Wolves and wildcats pad through the woodlands and birds of prey wheel across the bright sky blazing behind snow-capped peaks. Villagers round here are astonished to see an outsider passing through. Towns of note near these mountains include Agnone, where church bells have been made for more than a thousand years, and Venafro, an empty, neglected place where the arena of a Roman amphitheatre is used as the town’s main piazza. The largest town near the high mountains is Isernia, a luckless spot wrecked eight times by earthquakes and once by a WWII bombing raid. Its surrounding countryside is surprisingly lush and gentle.