If you love the city and the country, Lazio offers the best of both worlds. Rome, Italy’s vibrant capital with its jaw-dropping historical wonders and its snazzy boutiques, sits roughly in the centre of Lazio. Yet the rest of the region is remarkably rural and spacious, dominated by lovely countryside lightly dotted with tiny towns and friendly villages. Lazio’s arrangement of a world city surrounded by endless peaceful space means you can never feel too suffocated by unending metropolis nor feel too remote and far from the action. Get tired of Rome? Head for the hills. Get tired of rural calm? Catch a train into the dazzling Eternal City.
|| Lazio is a seriously under-rated bit of Italy. Long overshadowed by its famous neighbours Tuscany and Umbria, Lazio has failed to attract anything like the number of foreign buyers you might expect for a place with such varied charms. Love history? Lazio isn’t just the home of the Romans, it’s also the heartland of the Etruscan civilization (much more so than Tuscany, which is often given too much credit). Love lazing by the waterside? Lazio has long, empty beaches, the cleanest lake in Europe, plus the exquisite Pontine islands – about as gorgeous as Cápri but almost unknown beyond Italy. Love good weather? Lazio sits halfway down the Italian peninsula, and on the less-rainy western side. Neither in northern Italy nor southern Italy, it has the Goldilocks ratio of being neither too cold nor too hot, but just right.
Lazio was widely tipped to become that cliché of clichés, ‘the new Tuscany’. But then the international financial crisis came along, and Italy’s foreign-buyer market went into something of a paralysis, halting the big wave of buyers in Lazio just as it was mounting. Thus Lazio still remains an under-valued region, with moderate prices (except in Rome). What’s more, prices across the region have sunk a bit over the last couple of years in light of there being fewer buyers. [Time of writing is 2011.] So you have homes that were never very expensive to begin with now available for up to 20% less than they would have been asking three years ago. Many vendors are often open to offers considerably below their asking price. So if you’re looking for an affordable rural idyll in Italy you should definitely put Lazio on your list of candidate regions. This is glorious central Italy, but with much tinier property price-tags than Tuscany or Umbria.
|We’ll come on to Lazio’s lovely rural areas in a moment, but first let’s look at the unique property market of the Italian capital. Rome is Italy’s largest city by far, with around three million inhabitants (more than double the population of the next biggest city, Milan). As a tourist epicentre as well as a major employment hub, Rome has some of Italy’s most expensive homes. Centrally-located two-bedroom apartments here go for €350,000 or more. Holiday rental returns, however, can be excellent. Twelve million visitors come through Rome every year, and many of them prefer to rent an apartment than stay in a hotel.||
Carol Anastasi of Property in Rome admits Rome’s property market can be ‘daunting’. “The difficulty lies in finding properties for sale,” she says, “as they are often not publicized. So you need a good, specialist agent. Prestigious, luxury properties are often especially hard to come by, so there’s always a great demand. The international financial crisis has mainly hit the middle- to lower-budget properties where buyers are finding it difficult to obtain financing. Asking prices for upmarket properties in the centro storico and immediate environs haven’t gone down. There is perhaps more room for negotiation on price.” Carol says that the areas of Rome currently most desired – and most expensive – are the centro storico, Parioli, Trastevere, and parts of Prati.
Like urban property everywhere, homes in Rome are especially good at holding their value over time. Rome’s appeal is unique and visitors are extremely unlikely to lose interest in the place and stop coming. If you’re a buyer with a large budget, Rome is an excellent place to invest. Still, the urban whirl isn’t for everyone, and if like most British buyers in Italy what you’re after is a rural retreat, then wider Lazio has a great deal to offer you. The region’s loveliest country areas include ‘La Tuscia’ or the northern borderlands with Tuscany and Umbria, the Sabine Hills northeast of Rome, the Albano Hills to the capital’s southeast, and the wide open spaces of wild ‘Ciociaria’ in the far south. We’ll be looking at all these areas next, as well as places sure to appeal to water-lovers: the coast, and the crystal-clear lakes of northern Lazio. Read on.
As a very rough guideline to rural prices in Lazio, one might say that village houses in desirable areas start at around €90,000, farmhouses to restore at about €120,000 and habitable farmhouses at around €180,000. Small apartments can be as little as €60,000. Perhaps the most desirable of these desirable rural areas is La Tuscia at Lazio’s extreme northern edge. Squeezed between Tuscany and Umbria, La Tuscia is a place of rolling hills and lush fertility, teeming with Etruscan remains. The area is also blessed with the absolutely exquisite Lake Bolsena – Italy’s fifth largest lake, crystal clear and literally drinkable. La Tuscia is now perhaps the best-known and most visited of all Lazio’s rural parts, but it’s still wonderfully unspoilt and uncrowded. Lake Bolsena itself sits in a carefully protected basin, and, as Manuel Panzera of Italian Heartland points out, “Building in the immediate lake area is restricted, so property here will maintain its value very well.”
|| About thirty-five miles south of Lake Bolsena, Lake Bracciano is another gem of a place with crystalline water and lovely lakeside towns. (You might remember that Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes in a castle here in 2006.) Only twenty miles from Rome and thus within commuting distance, Bracciano’s property prices are slightly higher than those up round Lake Bolsena. Right now, both lakes and their surrounding areas make a canny place to buy a property, because the small city of Viterbo lies between them. As Marc Wisbey of the estate agency Itili explains, “The move of low-cost flights from Rome Ciampino airport to the projected, though much delayed, Viterbo airport fifty miles north of Rome will increase demand for homes in the rolling countryside and lakes round Viterbo.” So, property values in this beautiful stretch of Lazio look set to climb with an upcoming increased ease of access.
With similar prices to La Tuscia (and similarly likely to benefit in popularity from Viterbo becoming a budget airlines hub) the Sabine Hills lie about 45 minutes northeast of Rome. Like La Tuscia, this is an area of rolling, olive-clad countryside, thinly-populated and dotted with medieval villages and old castles. The Sabine Hills are especially good for charming old village homes, more so than farmhouses. As in La Tuscia, you’d be able to find a few fellow Brits and other ex-pats in the Sabines if you want to. Seekers of a rural idyll might also try immediately south and southeast of Rome. Lake Albano and the Albano Hills are extremely pleasant, and home to many attractive little towns such as Frascati and Palestrina.
La Tuscia, Lake Bracciano, the Sabine and Albano Hills all benefit from being less than ninety minutes’ travelling distance from Rome. As Manuel Panzera of Italian Heartland points out, this bodes well for the long-term stability of their property markets. He says, “In recent years Lazio has seen increasing interest from Roman buyers both for holiday homes and permanent homes, with people looking to escape the high prices, chaos and pollution of the capital. This type of purchaser will keep coming, leading to a greater stability of prices in the towns with good transport links to Rome.”
| Less easily reached from Rome, the ‘Ciociaria’ area of southern Lazio should be of interest to buyers on a tiny budget. Stretching from spa-town Fiuggi to Montecassino, Ciociaria is a remote and pretty stretch of Apennine foothills sprinkled with ancient little towns. The area is little-known to outsiders, and prices are much lower here than areas further north. A few British buyers have already begun settling in Veroli and its environs.
Lazio has a long, sandy Mediterranean coastline, but surprisingly few resorts of any great fame. Seaside-lovers have tended to be distracted by the Tuscan coast further north or the dramatic delights of Campania further south. But Lazio’s clean and uncrowded coastline is hotting up right now, and makes a very good place to invest in a seaside property. With various improvements and developments underway, Lazio’s coast is one of the few places in the region to have seen a rise in property values since the onset of the global recession. Prices in beach-towns such as Sperlonga have risen by more than 10% since 2009, for example.
John Dillon of RealPoint Italy highlights Sperlonga, Gaeta and Ostia as three coastal hotspots to consider at the moment. Sperlonga has recently seen the addition of “new townhouses, hotels and other tourist facilities which have revamped the whole town,” he says. Good-value properties can be found here and also in the immediate hinterland behind Lazio’s southern beaches. John points out that there’s a strong summer rentals market down here too, with “a young clientele from Lazio and Campania who tend to rent from one week to fifteen days.” He says you might expect to rent out a one-bedroom apartment with four beds for €700 per month in June, €1,200 in July, €2,000 in August and €800 in September.
Lazio’s coast, as well as its swathes of lovely countryside, show that there’s so much more to this region than Rome. Buyers seeking an affordable rural idyll or a waterside holiday home should wise up to this much under-rated bit of central Italy.
Northern Lazio, a.k.a. ‘La Tuscia’, was a major Etruscan stomping ground. The roads and tombs of these high-achieving ancient people litter the countryside here, lying alongside innumerable Roman relics. Highly volcanic in prehistoric times, northern Lazio is lushly fertile and green now, with spectacular displays of wildflowers in the spring. The long-dead volcanoes also spawned a trio of lovely lakes, Bracciano, Vico and Bolsena – each crystal-clear and drinkably clean. These lakes, together with the pretty countryside and pleasant little towns typical of the area, have drawn increasing numbers of visitors and second-home-buyers over the last decade. Lake Bolsena in particular has seen a rise in property prices, with homes here making very good holiday rental returns. The whole area is still completely unspoilt, however, and remains much cheaper than neighbouring Umbria or Tuscany. Village apartments can go for around €60,000; medium-sized townhouses and farmhouses in various states of repair range from €130,000 to €400,000. Attractive new-builds appealing to the holiday-home buyer are particularly plentiful on the outskirts of Montefiascone on Lake Bolsena, with 3- and 4-bed homes going for €200,000-€350,000. Pleasant little historical towns abound in la Tuscia; consider Tuscania, Tarquinia, Bolsena, and Bagnoregio. The largest settlement in the area is Viterbo, a dour medieval city with a lively young populace. Note that property prices are higher round Viterbo than they are round nearby Lake Bolsena.
About an hour’s drive northeast from Rome, the lovely rural Sabine Hills have in recent years been attracting numerous retirees and second-home-buyers from northern Europe. The rolling, olive-clad countryside here is peaceful and thinly-populated – dotted with medieval villages, old castles and churches. With Rome just an hour away, and with Umbria just a few miles off, the location is understandably appealing. Property prices are still fairly low, especially compared to nearby Tuscany, Umbria and Rome – three of Italy’s priciest locales. Village homes tend to go for about €130,000-€220,000, and foreigners have bought up quite a few of these. A good-sized farmhouse needing restoration might ask €190,000, while a comfortable, modern-built country villa might go for as much as €500,000. Property prices tail off noticeably as you move further northeast, from the Sabine Hills up into the Apennines. The area around Rieti has the second lowest population density in Italy (after Valle d’Aosta in the Alps). Wholly unspoilt by industry, modern housing estates and the like, Lazio’s northeastern Apennine area should definitely appeal to the bargain-hunter. You might find a large farmhouse needing work round here for €80,000.
Seat of one of the world’s most influential and longest-lasting empires, Rome is a spectacularly historic city which currently attracts around 12 million visitors a year. They come not just for the Classical relics, the Renaissance palaces and Baroque fountains. Not just for the abundant Caravaggios and Michelangelos, not even just for a glimpse of the pope. They come to taste the brash, loud, quirky, vibrant city immortalised by Fellini et al. They come to sample a unique atmosphere, and they’re rarely disappointed. Some never leave. A high proportion of ex-pats who settle down in Rome ‘for a while’ never go home again. This is good news for foreign buyers who’d like to have compatriot friends in Italy’s capital, and good news for relocaters who want to send their kids to international schools. The bad news is that Rome is one of Italy’s priciest cities, with central properties costing between €2,500 and €4,500 per square metre of floor space, and outlying properties asking €1,500 or more. So central two-bedroom apartments average about €360,000, and three-beds around €400,000. Currently the most expensive districts are Parioli and Salaria, with Trastevere and Gianicolo hotting up fast. Rome is considered a good investment, especially given the excellent rental prospects for most properties here. Long-term lets to students or young professionals are thought to be an even better bet than holiday rentals.
Marking the real beginning of ‘Il Mezzogiorno’ (the Italian south), southern Lazio is remarkably different from the Lazio north of Rome. The green and sometimes rolling countryside of the north gives way south of the capital largely to flat marshlands and harsh, inaccessible mountains. The weather is warmer, the pace of life just that little bit slower. It’s a largely ignored place, with few visitors, few foreign buyers, and generally low property prices once you’re more than an hour from the capital. Immediately south and southeast of Rome, Lake Albano and the Albano Hills create a very pleasant area, home to many attractive little towns such as Frascati and Palestrina. Further south, from Fiuggi to Montecassino, the area called ‘Ciociaria’ is a remote and pretty stretch of Apennine foothills dotted with ancient towns especially notable for their cyclopean walls. Buyers hoping for bargains in Lazio could do a lot worse than looking for a property round here.
Few visitors come to Lazio for its seaside. But that might be the very reason you’d like to buy a home here. If you like long, straight stretches of dull-coloured sand backed by flat, empty countryside, look to the region’s northern half. You should find pretty low property prices until just before the border with Tuscany, and there’ll be plenty of space and quiet. If you’re after a seaside locale with less subtle charms, keep going south. Small coastal resorts like Anzio and Nettuno are pleasant places, while Terracina and fashionable Sperlonga are very attractive indeed. These last two towns are sited on what many believe to be Lazio’s loveliest stretch of coast, featuring cliffs and coves which prefigure the delights of Campania’s coast a few miles further on. If you fancy somewhere really gorgeous and ridiculously unknown outside Italy, check out the Pontine islands offshore from here.
Juliet Haydock from Twickenham owns two properties in Capena, a village 30km north of Rome. One is a small house and the other a flat in an old monastery. She visits as often as she can, and rents her homes to holidaymakers when she’s not there.
“I used to live in Capena about 20 years ago, in my twenties, just after I went to live and work in Rome,” Juliet explains. “There were always a lot of artists living in the village; an artist friend of mine took me out there and I fell in love with it. I ended up living there and commuting to Rome.” After moving back to England, Juliet couldn’t resist renewing her links with Capena. “When my children were about 5 and 6, I started going back, and I was welcomed with open arms. They actually set up a trestle table in the square of the village and we had this wonderful meal to welcome me back. I couldn’t believe it. My two little boys made friends there, and after that we never wanted to go anywhere else on holiday.”
A holiday home in the village was the obvious next step. “I’m lucky enough to have been friendly with a local builder for many years. He bought the places and did them up, and I agreed to buy them when he’d finished. All I had to do was furnish them. The monastery where my flat is dates back to the 16th century. It’s built on the site of a medieval citadel, which is on the site of an Etruscan burial ground. It all goes back years and years. I’ve got caves in my property which were carved out by hand 2,000 years ago. All the old houses in the village have got old cantinas and caves.”
The holiday bookings for Juliet’s homes are going well. “Funnily enough, a lot of the bookings I get are not for school holidays; they’re out of season,” she says. “That suits me just fine, because with two teenage sons at school I can only go out there in the school holidays myself. I think maybe it’s the sort of place that appeals to retired-active people who want to do something different to just sitting by a pool, do something with a bit of history.”
Asked what she likes about Lazio, Juliet is unhesitating in her answers. “There are some lovely beaches if you know where to look. I love the island of Ponza. I love the lakes, I love the hot springs – you can find hot springs in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. And there’s even skiing about an hour away in the Apennines or the Abruzzo National Park.”