where to buy in italy
Who can resist the seaside? Italy’s near-endless coastline offers every variety - dramatic cliffs, expansive beaches, desolate dunes and jumping resorts. Fleur Kinson tells you where you should buy.

A long, knobbly peninsula ringed with islands and islets, Italy seems a country purposely designed to gain maximum contact with the sea. The coastline wriggles and loops round this eminently Mediterranean nation to create an incredible 7,500 kilometres of seaside. That’s nearly the distance from London to Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast!

Italy’s unending coastline contains immense physical variety – from wide expanses of soft, pale sand to rocky coves huddling beneath steep cliffs; and from reedy river deltas and salty lagoons to leafy seaside hills. There’s also considerable variety in the manner of coastal settlements and seaside development. Empty, windswept strands backed only by scrub-grass meet teeming port cities flanked by jumping beach resorts. Dainty medieval towns preside high above golden bays, brightly-coloured villas nestle discreetly amongst water-gazing woodlands, and sleek low-rise apartment buildings jostle for space beside teeming holiday sand. There really is something here for every taste.

A cut above

One of the best things about buying a seaside home in Italy rather than in one of many other Mediterranean countries is the guarantee of strong local culture. Italy may have some very cosmopolitan stretches of coast popularised long ago by ex-pat artists and intellectuals and still drawing lots of international buyers, but these are a world away from certain parts of coastal Spain and Portugal where modern-day ex-pats can sometimes seem to overwhelm the indigenous population and dilute the local culture.

The kind of people who buy on the Italian coast have a specific love for Italy and the Italian way of doing things. They’re not just looking for a version of home with added sunshine. They want to live, eat and breathe Italian. In turn, the Italians feel no compulsion to woo their foreign visitors with all the comforts of home. Look as hard as you might, but you won’t find an ‘all-day English breakfast’ on offer anywhere on the Italian coast!

Unlike certain parts of Spain, Italy has nowhere sold out to mass development, either. You won’t find a grim wall of tower-blocks glowering behind its beaches. Even in the most popular resorts, such as Rimini or Viareggio, the buildings are only medium-sized and at least passably attractive. It’s true that the majority of Italian seaside homes – whether villas or apartments – are less than a hundred years old. The coast isn’t the best place to look if what you really want is a tumbledown farmhouse! Apart from the major port cities, living right on the seaside is a modern phenomenon. Previously, most Italian settlements were at least several miles inland – away from the waterside risks of malaria and piratical raids. Today many old coastal towns set a few miles back from the water have a modern seaside extension, bearing the same name but with ‘Lido’ or ‘Marina’ tacked on the end.

You can save a lot of money on a seaside home in Italy by choosing one a few miles back from the shore. Beach holiday homes are hugely popular with Italian themselves, and they’ll pay a premium to be as close to the water as possible. They don’t care about a sea view, they just want to be able to stroll onto the sand. Buying in the hinterland not only saves you money, it generally allows you to choose an older property if that’s what you like. Away from the beach’s summertime exuberance, you’re free to enjoy a bit more peace and quiet too. And when the summer season ends and many beach areas begin to feel deserted, there’s still life going on as usual up in the hinterland towns.

Spoilt for choice

It’s easy for the would-be seaside-buyer to feel overwhelmed by Italy’s near-endless coast and not know where to begin hunting for property. Perhaps you already know that you want to buy in the sophisticated north or in the sleepy south, but even that doesn’t narrow it down very much! Obviously, there are a number of factors that will determine where might be the right area for you. Price is a key issue, of course, but even within every price range there are still many options to consider. What type of coastal landscape do you prefer, for example? How close to the water do you want to be? Are holiday rental returns a crucial feature in your investment? Let’s start breaking the Italian coast down into useful specifics.

Italy has the seaside in every permutation. What’s your favourite variety? Are you after steep, cliffy terrain that crashes dramatically into the water, fragmenting into little rocky coves and private-feeling beaches? Then you might want to think about chic eastern Liguria (expensive), the little-known Cónero Promontory area of Le Marche (moderately-priced), the legendary Amalfi Coast (ruinously expensive), the area round charming Maratea on Basilicata’s short western coast (moderately-priced), the Tropea Promontory on western Calabria (moderate-to-pricy), the southernmost bit of Puglia (reasonable), or Sicily’s long northern coast (also reasonable). All these places offer good-to-excellent summer rental returns, and if you move a few miles
back from the water, the property prices start to tumble (while the sea views remain undiminished).

If you feel cramped in a landscape like this and prefer a long, spacious beach you can stroll for miles, you’ll be pleased to hear that this type of seaside often has cheaper property options. It’s usually easier to reach, too, without the winding-road traffic bottlenecks often associated with steep terrain. Almost the whole coast of Lazio is one long, flat beach – only occasionally dotted with low-key resorts. Likewise the southern coast of Sicily. Both are very inexpensive places to buy seaside property. The whole sole of the Italian boot, from the toe-tip in Calabria to the start of Puglia’s heel, is one almost uninterrupted beach – the longest in Italy. There are many inexpensive property options down here, and small-scale developments of new seaside apartments are especially worth your attention. Be aware that holiday rental prospects in all three places are currently only moderate, with Sicily and Calabria being the better bets.

So much sand
Moving round to Italy’s Adriatic coast, the long central section of this vast coast is a paradise for the seeker of expansive, sandy beaches with plenty of infrastructure. From Rimini (Europe’s largest beach resort) in Emilia-Romagna, down through Le Marche, Abruzzo and Molise to the ankle-spur of Puglia’s Gargano Promontory, the Adriatic coast is an endless succession of pleasant, family-friendly beach resorts set along a wide ribbon of sand. Well-attended, and offering very good summer holiday rental prospects, these innumerable resorts tend to offer reasonably priced property. They also enjoy very good transport connections. You’ll find them full of visiting Italians in summer, but fairly empty in the winter.

While the long central Adriatic coast is flattish, the terrain begins to undulate into pretty hills just a few miles back from the water. As everywhere, property prices tumble as soon as you move back from the sea, making hinterland Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche and Abruzzo all very nice places to buy if you want a home in the undulating countryside but within quick driving distance of the beach. Similarly, if you want to buy in pretty hills just a short hop from the water, investigate the western half of Liguria set beside France’s Côte d’Azur. The beaches here are much longer than in Liguria’s steeper east, and property up to ten miles from the waterside currently represents very good value for money. As with the central Adriatic hinterland, holiday rental prospects in inland Liguria are quite good.

Splendid isolation     

Perhaps your favourite ‘terrain’ is the isolated world of the island, and you long to feel ringed by the sea. You won’t get much of a sense of this on either of Italy’s two main islands – Sicily and Sardinia – because they’re such large landmasses. Each offers exquisite seaside, however. Clean, unspoilt Sardinia sports white sand and turquoise water in its south and northwest, and golden rocks and emerald water in its northeast. The chic northeast – round the ‘Costa Smeralda’ – can be very pricy, but elsewhere this enchanting island is generally quite reasonably priced. Sicily has a steep northern coast, a flat, sandy southern coast (with views of Africa), and a varied eastern coast. Prices are very high in and around Taormina in the east, reasonable in the north and southeast, and low along the south.

But if you’re a real island-lover, you’ll probably want somewhere smaller – and Italy obliges with dozens of tiny offshore isles. The problem with these is that they’re usually quite expensive places for property and day-to-day living costs. Almost all supplies have to be shipped in by boat from the mainland, naturally bumping up prices. If you’re set on island life, however, here are some tips. The coveted islands in the Bay of Naples tend to be very expensive, especially cliff-bound Cápri where there’s rarely much for sale. Larger, volcanic Ischia has rather more on the market, and shows a wider range of prices. Similarly lovely to the islands in the Bay of Naples, but strangely little-known, are the Pontine Islands a few miles northwest in Lazio. They’re not exactly cheap, but definitely worth the attention of the serious island-buyer. Elba off the coast of Tuscany is a much-loved spot with high prices and great rental returns. But have you looked at nearby Giglio? Just as beautiful, and often a bit less expensive.

Sicily abounds with offshore islands, and if you’re after that edge-of-the-world feeling, there’s perhaps nowhere better to look. Try the windy, volcanic Aeolian Islands. Otherworldly and difficult to access, each of the Aeolians has a different feel and different property market, so there’s probably something here somewhere to suit your budget. The Égadi Islands just off Sicily’s western tip are enchanting, little-known, and moderately priced. Or you could go for the sheer exoticism of the extreme south – the Pelágie Islands (Lampedusa et al) or Pantelleria. Not cheap places, but about as remote as you can get and still be in Italy.

Insider advice
So what seaside areas do the Italy-specialist estate agents recommend, and what prices are they currently seeing? [All prices quoted are accurate for 2008 - the time of writing.] Mark Slaviero of Homes in Italy notes that sunny Puglia continues to blossom. “Puglia has good flight connections, beautiful countryside and many picturesque properties,” he says. “There’s no mass tourism, but the region is now becoming a fashionable holiday destination, with good rental prospects.” He says that two-bedroom apartments in Puglia’s coastal towns currently ask about €160,000. Twenty minutes from the sea, two-bed villas needing refurbishment start at about €60,000 and three-bed villas in good condition might ask €130,000.

Mark also recommends Calabria, long viewed as the Italian South’s poor relation but much improved with government investment over recent years. New seaside developments make it easy to find inexpensive seaside homes here. “Bargain-hunters should really focus on off-plan properties where prices should rise considerably upon completion,” he advises. Calabria’s east coast is currently cheaper than the more established west. Eastern two-bed off-plan apartments start at about €80,000; western two-beds with sea views at about €140,000. John Dillon of RealPoint Property concurs that Calabria is a great place for low-cost properties. He says that RealPoint offers studio apartments here from €74,500. “Sardinia,” Mark Slaviero says, “is often overlooked by the overseas buyer, but property here is far more reasonable than people imagine, and it’s possible to buy a one-bed apartment five minutes from the beach for as little as €90,000.” Linda Travella of the agency Casa Travella agrees. “The Costa Smeralda is expensive,” she says, “but other parts of beautiful Sardinia are very affordable.”

Linda also recommends the coast of southern Le Marche, and adds that “if you’re looking for an up-and-coming area, try Basilicata. You can find a two-bedroom apartment right on the sea for as little as €110,000.” Both Linda and Mark recommend western Liguria for all-round value, and note that there are particularly good buys a few miles inland.Tuscany-lovers should note that there are plans to open up Grosseto airport to international flights from June this year. John Dillon of RealPoint points out that “this will make the Maremma coastline far more accessible.” Southern Tuscany has long been cheaper than the north, but prices here are bound to rise with greater ease of access, so now could be an excellent time to buy. As John says, Tuscany’s fame and desirability means it’s “always a good bet as regards capital growth and rental income.”

Meanwhile, Huw Beaugié of Think Sicily reminds property-hunters that Sicily has an awful lot of sunny coastline. Local buyers dominate around Palermo and Catania, he says, but in the northwest, southwest and southeast there is a fair bit of tasteful new development attracting foreign buyers. “My personal first choice would be around Cefalù on the north coast,” he says. “There’s a bit of everything there. Beaches, hills and mountains all within easy reach.” So it seems that if you’re after a coastal property in Italy, there really are abundant places to suit you. And wherever you choose to buy, there’s always one thing you’re sure to get added into the bargain: Italian culture. The food, the lifestyle, the wonderful attitude to living – there’s more to owning a home on the Italian seaside than just sun and sand!





The Northwest – Liguria and Tuscany

Arcing from the Côte d’Azur in France down to the start of Tuscany, Liguria is a heavenly seaside region ‘discovered’ a century ago by ex-pat artists and beloved for its mild climate by wintering convalescents. San Remo, Portofino, the Cinque Terre – Liguria is home to stately fin-de-siècle resorts and chic summer playgrounds. Beaches are longer and sandier in the western half, with leafy hills gently rising higher and higher into the hinterland behind them. Smaller, rockier coves are more common in the east, backed by cliffs or by plunging green hillsides. The whole region sports beautiful, brightly-coloured buildings. Coastal Liguria is populous and pricy, but offers good-to-excellent holiday rental returns. The east is generally more expensive than the west, although prices in both halves tumble as you climb into the hinterland hills. The western hinterland offers especially good value, and many appealing properties. Southeast of Liguria lies Tuscany, and for all that region’s fame and enchantment, its coast can be disappointing. There are beach resorts aplenty, but none has much stand-out appeal, nor much value-for-money property. The southern half of Tuscany’s coast is more affordable and arguably more attractive than the northern half. The imminent opening of Grosseto airport to international flights could bring lots of interest to Tuscany’s south.


Northern and Central Adriatic coast

From Trieste to Ravenna, Italy’s landscape is flat and low-lying, prone to splinter into river deltas and sand-flanked lagoons. Venice dominates the area, and property prices rise and rise the closer you get to the enchanted island city. Trieste and its environs are attracting more visitors and seaside property in this northeastern corner of Italy is considered a good investment. Grado is a key resort here, with great summer rental prospects. South of Venice, the coast grows sleepy and reedy for many miles, before exploding into holiday fun at Rimini – Italy’s nightclub capital and Europe’s biggest beach resort. Packed in summer, family-friendly Rimini offers excellent holiday rental prospects and surprisingly reasonable property prices – as does its many surrounding resorts. From Rimini all the way down to Térmoli on the frontier of Puglia, the Adriatic coast is one long line of sandy seaside with pleasant beach towns. The hinterland terrain along this central Adriatic stretch is rural and hilly, making a great place to buy a country home with easy access to the sea. Prices are very reasonable.


Lazio, Campania & western Calabria

The Roman coast is nothing special – lots of grey-gold sand, mediocre beach towns, and a flat hinterland. But things grow steadily more interesting as you inch south, reaching a climax at Campania’s legendary Amalfi Coast. Property prices here are breathtaking, if you’re lucky enough to find anything for sale, but rental prospects are superb. South of the Amalfi Coast, the Cilento National Park area is a much more affordable bit of seaside, and the hilly hinterland here has drawn increasing numbers of foreign buyers. Still further south, there’s a miniature reprise of the Amalfi Coast’s steep, rocky drama at the blossoming resort of Maratea in Basilicata – a moderately-priced spot with good value properties a few miles inland. And then you’re over the border into Calabria, whose western coast stretches all the way to the tip of Italy’s toe. It’s a hot, sunny place with terrain ranging from flattish to craggy, and wonderful views across to Sicily. Lots of government money has been poured into Calabria recently, and tasteful new seaside developments offer some real bargain apartments. The most established (and priciest) area is the Tropea promontory which forms the knuckle of the Italian toe.


Eastern Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia

The sole of the Italian boot amounts to the longest beach in Italy – from the toe-tip at Reggio di Calabria round the ball of the foot and the instep all the way to the start of the high heel at Táranto in Puglia. This is an unspoilt and spacious sandy place lapped by clean water and dotted with tiny resorts. Until very recently, visitors have been exclusively Italian, but a growing number of small-scale developments have been drawing foreign buyers down here over the last couple of years. Prices are very low, but rising quickly enough to enable many buyers to quickly make a sound return on their investment. Rental prospects are still uncertain, however. Puglia – the rocky high heel of Italy – is a different story. This region has gone from strength to strength over the last half decade, and is now undeniably popular with foreign buyers and holidaymakers. It’s the most prosperous region in Italy’s far south, yet remains green, unspoilt and delightfully uncrowded. Coastal villas on the heel are moderately priced, but move a few miles inland and there are some excellent bargains set in lovely countryside and small towns. Puglian architecture is distinctive and charming.

Sardinia and Sicily

Italy’s two main islands each have glorious coastlines and countless heavenly beaches. Cliffs, coves, strands, and miles of pale sand – they’re all here in different places. Sicily has a handful of towns long beloved by foreigners, the chief of which is pricy Taormina. Good investments can be made in flourishing resorts such as Cefalù on the north coast, as well as on the western and southeastern tips of the island where tasteful new developments are springing up. The flattish southern coast is cheapest of all, but less visited. Sardinia is a cleaner and less populous alternative to Sicily. Sensitively developed and eco-friendly, it’s spectacularly beautiful and appeals to ever-growing numbers of visitors. Sardinia’s northeast, with its rocky coves and liquid-emerald water typical of the ‘Costa Smeralda’, sees the island’s very steepest prices. Alghero in the northwest is another focus for tourism, but property prices are moderate. Sardinia’s south opened up a few years ago with budget flights into Càgliari, and prices down here are still quite low although they’ve risen considerably. Sardinia’s central western and eastern coasts are largely undeveloped, and inexpensive for property.



buyer case study

Our Home on the Coast

London-based Mike and Sarah Elms bought a five-bedroom villa on the north coast of Sicily in 2003.“It’s just outside Cefalù, a lovely town,” Mike says. “The house is on a steep hill, about 1,000 feet up, overlooking the coast. The views are absolutely wonderful.”

Why did they choose Sicily? “We had two criteria: views and coast,” Mike explains. “We had no particular passion for Italy when we started house-hunting, but of course we have one now! It could easily have ended up being Spain or France. We just wanted somewhere unusual. In those days, no one was talking much about Sicily. It appealed to us that it wasn’t the most obvious place you’d think of to buy a home. “I went down there in 2003 and started looking for properties. I knew my wife had previously been to Cefalù, which was two hours’ drive away from where I was hunting. I wasn’t finding anything where I was, so on a whim I went to Cefalù. Walking through the town, I spotted an estate agent, went in, and one of his properties was the place we bought. It was perfect. It was badly run down and in need of some work, but the location was ideal.

“It was owned by a Palermo family. The husband had died, and so they didn’t use it much anymore. We were incredibly lucky, because it turned out that our neighbours were architects and they spoke English! So we commissioned them to come up with a remodelling of the interior and the garden. We redid the terrace, redid the roof, we spruced up the house and re-painted it. The one major thing we did was convert the sunken garage into a swimming pool. The house is on a steep slope, so we made an infinity pool. The leading edge looks straight onto the sea. It’s a perfect position. We bought in October, work started the following Easter and was done by the summer, but it wasn’t until the following summer that the pool was finished.We offer holiday rentals and it works out very well. We go out whenever we want to, but we don’t feel tied to it. Having it rented out is such a great thing. It means you can afford to have gardeners and other people going out to the house making sure it’s well-maintained.     

“Cefalù has become more popular since we bought there, and I gather the value of our home has gone up. Cefalù is lovely, but actually we prefer going inland. It’s undiscovered, the restaurants are less touristy, there are great walks, even skiing.  The house and the area are something we can enjoy for many years to come.”


My Home on the Coast

Tom Duncan from Bedfordshire bought a two-bedroom villa on Sardinia’s fashionable Costa Smeralda in 2004. It overlooks a golf course, and lies ten minutes’ walk from several beaches.

Like so many British buyers, Tom was drawn to Italy’s relaxed lifestyle, but Sardinia wasn’t his initial target. “My first thought was to buy in Tuscany,” he says. “I knew I needed to be near the sea, but I also needed to be near a golf course. After finding out that there weren’t many golf courses in Tuscany, I noticed that my agent’s website said they also had villas in Sardinia. I’d always heard about Sardinia. It’s one of these mystical, wonderful places. I first viewed the property on a cold December day and immediately fell in love with the island, even though there were hailstones falling from the sky – which they tell me there’s never been before or since! Sardinia is a beautiful place to swim and to enjoy being close to the sea. The air’s clean and the scenery is dazzling. If I needed to rent my property out, I know the area would attract a certain quality of visitor. When you compare a place like this with the likes of Portugal or Spain, you’re buying something more special here. I think Sardinia is better value than mainland Italy.”

Currently, Tom visits his villa five or six times a year. He doesn’t foresee making a permanent move, but expects he’ll spend more and more time there. “There’s a strong possibility I’ll eventually spend nine months out there every year and three months here in the UK,” he says. He encourages friends to go out and stay in the villa, and allows the agent he bought it from, Immobilsarda, to rent it out to their prospective customers.

Tom is delighted that budget airlines have been serving Sardinia for the last few years, but points out that the cheap flights season is short – from May to September. It doesn’t stop him making winter visits, however. “Most things are closed then, but that makes it more enjoyable for an owner because you can just relax with the locals. And the weather can be very good. I got suntanned sitting at a café in early December.” Summer activities are more predictable. “You can spend all day on the beach – swimming, sunbathing, and of course people-watching, which you tend to do behind sunglasses! You get some famous people on the Costa Smeralda.”
(For more about Tom’s villa, see: www.jewelofsardinia.com)











Where to Buy in Italy