where to buy in italy

This enchanting southern region has mainland Italy’s longest coastline, plus wonderful weather and exquisite countryside. Much-loved by foreign buyers over the last ten years, Puglia’s prices remain extremely attractive, says Fleur Kinson.

aa   Forming the elegant high heel of the Italian boot, Puglia is a region that often looks and feels like nowhere else in Italy. It has its own special landscapes, unique architecture and unusual traditions. Greece lies just fifty miles across the sea, and indeed Puglia often feels rather like a Greek island – the sea sits all around it, whitewashed buildings are everywhere, and there’s a sense of ancient significance to the place.

        But Puglia’s exotic feel isn’t limited to its Greekness. The shapes and colours of this region are striking and elemental, even slightly fantastical. Monstrously oversized olive trees spiral up from dark red soil, pine forests open onto chalk-white sands, and dramatic crags plunge into turquoise water. Meanwhile, the region’s man-made shapes can be intriguingly bold and geometric, with cone-roofed cottages and cube-shaped houses adding further enchantment to the countryside.
        Puglia is southern Italy’s big success story of the last decade or more. It’s a prosperous and well-run place, with low unemployment and little corruption. Even the ground underfoot is orderly and well-behaved – southern Puglia has almost no earthquake activity, making it a fairly exceptional section of the Italian peninsula. Thinly-populated and with no big cities, Puglia enjoys a strong sense of community and a super-low crime rate. The weather, meanwhile, is lovely. Summers are long and hot, and the annual rainfall is one of the least in Italy. And if all this wasn’t enough, Puglia’s transport connections are good too, which you might not expect of a place with such a small population. Two airports are served with direct flights from the UK, and local motorways are well-funded and well-maintained.

Wealthy northern Italians have long been wise to the delights of Puglia, and they’ve been buying second homes here for many years. But Puglia was little heard-of in Britain until 2004, when budget airlines first began serving the region. Ever-exploratory Brits swooped in immediately, and Puglia was soon regularly appearing in the travel press and in television programmes about buying property abroad. Its attractions were legion – the climate and landscape were beautiful, the homes physically attractive, the builders highly skilled, and the prices wonderfully low. As interest in Puglia blossomed, property prices rose, but they never ballooned or ceased to be good value.

        The recent recession naturally slowed Puglia’s property market and saw some reduction in prices, albeit unevenly across different areas and property types. Coastal properties, for example, still continue to command good prices today, while trulli, the cone-topped character cottages once all the rage for foreign buyers, are now significantly cheaper than they were back in, say, 2006. Current buyer trends reportedly include a passion for Puglia’s most beautiful and stately old buildings, plus a greater number of land purchases for self-building projects. Puglia really does offer a very wide range of property possibilities, and it’s arguably easier to do interesting and creative things with homes here than in other, slightly more restrictive, regions further north.


        Here’s a rough guide to what kind of prices you might expect in Puglia these days. [Time of writing is 2014.] You’ll see that there’s essentially something for every budget, and that prices can be a fraction of what you’d pay for similar properties in many Italian regions further north. Small rural homes to restore in Puglia might ask as little as €30,000. Simple modern villas with two bedrooms start at about €70,000, and with three bedrooms at about €100,000. Modern two-bedroom apartments by the sea start at around €100,000. For €250,000 you might get a seaside villa or a very fine old house inland. Sumptuous stately farmhouse-mansions called masserie can run from €400,000 into the millions. Meanwhile a few acres of quality land on which to self-build might cost between €45,000 and €100,000.

Puglia is a fairly large place, and it’s worth having an overview of its various areas. Foreign buyer interest hasn’t been uniform across the region, and there are some much-loved locales you should know about as well as some relatively ‘undiscovered’ spots you might consider. First and foremost, note that Puglia has the longest coastline of any mainland Italian region, making it a particularly good place for seaside property. Coastal homes have held their value better than other property types since the onset of the recession, and are still thought a very good investment. As you might imagine, seaside homes offer the strongest summer holiday rental prospects if you plan on renting out your home. Sea-lovers should definitely look at Puglia’s southernmost half, the ‘Salentine Peninsula’ or ‘Salento’, where the sea licks the region from two sides. Its beaches of coarse pale sand often alternate with steep white cliffs plunging into brilliant water.

        ‘Lower Salento’ encompasses roughly everything from Lecce down to the end of the peninsula. Meanwhile, ‘Upper Salento’ is any part of the peninsula north and west of Lecce, and this section of Puglia has been especially loved by foreign buyers. In particular, the Itria Valley area – which lies a few miles inland between the coastal cities of Bari and Bríndisi – has been much admired for its lovely countryside, with gently undulating hills, endless olive groves, and abundant madcap trullo cottages. There are key visitor towns here too, such as wonderful Ostuni, a tumbling pile of white and cream buildings gazing out from a high ridge, and Alberobello – a UNESCO World Heritage Site crammed to bursting with trulli. The Itria Valley was one of the first parts of Puglia to beguile foreign buyers, and for a while some of its prices became comparatively high. But they are arguably more reasonable now, and in particular trulli are currently nowhere near as pricy as they were at the height of their popularity. Lower Salento has a slightly newer and evolving market, with a mixture of fairly pricy and very inexpensive spots. It’s most definitely worth coming down here for a good look at what you might get.
        Inching much further up the heel, the northwestern half of Puglia generally hasn’t seen a great deal of attention from foreign buyers. Much of the landscape around the town of Foggia is flat and ‘uninteresting’. The Gargano Promontory, however, is delicious, and deserves to be better-known to non-Italians. The rough ankle spur of the Italian heel, the Gargano Promontory is a tranquil paradise where pine forests and white beaches meet a warm, shallow lagoon. Arguably a bit remote, this is not necessarily the perfect place to buy a home, but it’s certainly worth investigating if you’re a pioneering sort of buyer. And if you decide on a home here, this journalist would like to hear from you!

It’s always useful to get insider advice on where to buy at the moment. Some towns and areas are well-known on the foreign-buyer circuit, while others are yet to receive the attention they deserve. What do some of the agents and experts working in Puglia recommend right now? Nick Carlucci of The Puglia Property Company notes that “We have towns like Ostuni where foreign and Italian tourists have been purchasing for years, while just a few kilometres down the road both Carovigno and Ceglie offer equally attractive but cheaper options. There are also a number of appealing and little-known towns further towards the Ionian coast, such as Manduria which has a large old centre and lower prices.”

        Michele Torroni of the agency Keen on Puglia also recommends Manduria, as well as the nearby towns Sava and Oria. She believes that “The Ionian coast is truly a gem. There is a different atmosphere here to Puglia’s rather better-known Adriatic coast. It’s another of the many faces of Puglia.” Michele notes that the stretch of the Adriatic coast between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca on the bottom tip of the peninsula can be pricy, “because the views over the sea are magnificent and the area has become a national park, meaning it is no longer possible to build within a few kilometres of the sea.” Michele also suspects that the lovely nearby stretch of the Ionian coast from Gallipoli down to Santa Maria di Leuca might become expensive in the near future. So perhaps now might be the time to buy here?  

No article on Puglia should fail to mention the region’s more distinctive property types. Nor should it neglect to note the truly excellent standards of building craftsmanship – especially in stonemasonry, and vaulted ceilings – which is common here. Several references have already been made in this article to the trulli-topped cottages which only exist in Puglia – charming circular dwellings with steep conical roofs. But only a passing reference has been made to masserie, and buyers with good-sized budgets should definitely become more familiar with these stately farmhouse-mansions. Found across a large part of southern Italy, masserie perhaps reach their zenith of loveliness in Puglia. Elegant yet mighty, imposing yet pretty, these wonderful properties – which always come with lots of land – still represent an excellent investment. You might also hear in Puglia of lamie cottages, which are solid, foursquare homes not dissimilar to giant sugarcubes. Often a lamia will include a trullo, and vice versa.
        If you buy an old character property to restore in Puglia, you can rest assured that the builders and craftsmen here have the time-honoured skills to return it to its original perfection – or even better. Nick Carlucci of The Puglia Property Company says “We have craftsmen who can mix traditional techniques with modern materials to ensure that the finished building is a genuinely traditional building with contemporary comforts such as underfloor heating and so on. The same is true of new-builds.” Quite simply, with high-quality properties, reasonable prices, great weather and all that coastline, Puglia makes an absolutely superb choice for a home abroad.

See Fleur Kinson's travel and food articles on Puglia:

The food of Brindisi:

The 'white city' of Ostuni:

The 'new' Brindisi; a city transformed:











the Gargano Promontory
Jutting out from northern Puglia like a sharp anklebone on the high heel of Italy, the beautiful Gargano Promontory is a sun-seeker’s and nature-lover’s paradise. Its white beaches and tranquil lagoons teem with birdlife, while its eleven thousand hectares of hilly ancient forest are filled with deer and other wild mammals. The whole promontory was declared a national park more than a decade ago, guarding it against future development. The area is well-loved by northern Italians, who flock to the rocky eastern tip of the promontory in high summer, filling charming resorts like Vieste, Mattinata and Péschici. Very few British or other non-Italians buy property here – perhaps because the area is quite a way from Puglia’s airports and is fairly deserted out of season. It’s possible to make good rental returns on the promontory, however. Summer tourists are very reliable, but there’s also the possibility of renting to the many visitors who make religious pilgrimages to inland spots such as Mont Sant’Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo.

Foggia to Bari
In complete contrast to the undulating terrain of the adjacent Gargano Promontory, the landscape around the small, workaday city of Foggia is table-flat and highly fertile – bristling with endless wheat fields, making some of Italy’s best pasta. The homes in and around Foggia tend to be low and solid-built – testament to the fact that this is the only part of Puglia prone to occasional earthquakes. The land grows hilly again as you move west and south of Foggia, and there are some very attractive but rarely-visited villages set on high amidst the trees. Lucera is a recommended spot if you’re in these parts. Moving south along the coast, there are some pleasant little towns – Trani, for example, which is quite chic and prosperous. And then you reach Bari, Puglia’s capital city and hard-working rival to industrious Bríndisi a few miles further south. Bari’s ‘cittàvecchia’ is a magical, kasbah-like jumble of streets, but there’s little else here to draw the tourists. Bari’s evening passaggiata is performed with much gusto, to be sure, and the city has some very colourful festivals. But for general pleasantness and safety, Bríndisi probably just has the edge as a city.

Bari to Bríndisi – the coast
South of Bari, Puglia’s coast ranges from craggy cliffs to flat, fertile scrubland and back again – all punctuated by short, pale strands of inviting sand. Polignano a Mare is a delightful spot, its scuffed medieval centre perched on a line of modest cliffs. Further south, and 5km inland, the ‘white city’ of Ostuni has seen lots of interest from British buyers and visitors. Ostuni’s striking centro storico is a pile of white buildings set on high overlooking thousands of olive trees stretching down to the sea. From afar, it looks like a fairytale city of some kind. Close-up, it looks uncannily like a Greek Cycladic-Island village. Small-sized, but with good restaurants and a particularly lively calendar of public events, Ostuni offers a great lifestyle. Continuing down the coast, you arrive at Bríndisi, a port-city which has thrived since ancient times thanks to its superb natural harbour. Very much a working town, Bríndisi is nonetheless a pleasant place to be – with great local food and an especially exuberant passeggiata every evening. The recent pedestrianization of Bríndisi city centre, and the moving of the international ferry ports a few miles out of town, have both massively boosted local pride and eradicated street crime. This is a very pleasant city now.

Bari to Bríndisi – inland
The hinterland behind the Bari-to-Bríndisi coast forms one of Puglia’s hottest property areas. The green, undulating Itria Valley and its surrounds saw the first wave of British-buyer interest when direct flights to Puglia were introduced in 2004. Cute, cone-roofed trulli homes are scattered across the countryside in great abundance, and lovely little towns blossom here too – towns which remain active year-round rather than shutting up shop in the winter as some more touristy spots are wont to do. Fasano, Ostuni, Locorotondo and Martina Franca are all recommended. Property is still quite affordable across this area, despite its popularity. On average, you’ll pay about €250,000 for a good-sized country home with land. Particular value-for money can currently be found buying just to the southeast of the Itria Valley – between Bríndisi and Taranto. As you move further back from Puglia’s Adriatic coast towards its Ionian coast, the gentle landscape begins to break into crags and grottoes. Either side of industrial Táranto, there are some delightful white beaches backed by pine woods.

the Salentine Peninsula
The beautiful heel-tip of Italy, the Salentine Peninsula is roughly everything below a line drawn between Taranto and Brindisi. The attractive coast down here is rocky and cliff-bound, and the sea lapping it is particularly clean, calm and shallow – making the area a great spot for summer holidays. A few low-key beach resorts serve the occasional stretch of sand, but elsewhere the rugged, uninhabited spaces are thrillingly empty and elemental. If you’re after the best beaches, start by looking either side of Gallipoli. Northern Italians have long sought holiday villas on the Salentine Peninsula, so the property market is quite well-developed. In recent years, British and other non-Italians buyers have been drawn to this part of Puglia too – including a few celebrities. As you’d expect, prices are highest beside the water, and fall as you move inland. There are some appealing little towns to consider down here, such as Otranto, Castro and Galatina. Lecce, meanwhile, is a stupendous small city radiant with pale-coloured Baroque buildings. Note that the Salentine Peninsula coast can be quiet in the winter and the whole area can feel a little remote compared to the rest of Puglia. For some, this edge-of-nowhere feeling is part of the charm.


buyer case study

Our Home in Puglia
Angela and Tim Devlin own a characterful old townhouse in the heart of Ostuni – a lively hilltop town famous for its whitewashed, Greek-style streets. The large property consists of five separate apartments, three of which the couple rent to holidaymakers. And despite the global economic downturn, this year’s bookings are better than ever – perhaps, Angela says, because the rental charges are in sterling rather than euros.
      What drew them to Puglia? “Originally we thought of buying in Rome,” Angela explains. “But the city centre is so expensive. Then a friend asked if we’d thought of Puglia. We’d never even heard of it. Like most English people, we’d been to Tuscany, Umbria and Rome, but we really didn’t know anything in the south. We came down and stayed in a trullo for a month over Christmas and New Year. During that time, we kept being drawn to Ostuni, like moths to a flame. We went to midnight mass and then to a bar full of young people until 5 o’clock in the morning. It was such a lovely town – so lively and vibrant.
      “In February 2004 we went out and viewed an old townhouse in Ostuni. Several local people had looked at it and rejected it because they said it was going to fall down eventually. It has what they call a pancia – a belly – sticking out; it looked pregnant. It had various cross-pieces and ties on it. I remember saying to the agent “Will it last another 40 years?” He said yes and I said “Well that’s OK because we’re 60 now.” He was terribly shocked by that, and said “but your children!” and I said that we were ‘SKIers’, you know, Spending the Kids’ Inheritance! We bought the three apartments first, then later the cantina when that came up for sale, and a year later we bought a nearby house whose roof terrace connects to ours. The views were what sold us, really. Our two roof terraces have probably the best views in Ostuni – fantastic panoramas over the rooftops, with the ancient citadel rising above olive trees and the azure Adriatic beyond.
      “The best thing about southern Italy is the people – so welcoming and friendly. You walk into town and lots of different people ask you to join them for coffee. There’s such a sense of community here. Every age group does things together. The young people are very well-behaved – they don’t drink much, so there’s no aggression. Many homes in Ostuni are owned by northern Italians who come down for the summer, and then the usual population of 35,000 swells to 110,000. The piazzas are full and the atmosphere is lovely. You can walk around at three in the morning and there are still people about and it’s perfectly safe.”    www.devlinostuni.co.uk

Our Home in Puglia
Durham-based Paul Nuzzo bought a one-bedroom apartment in a 16th-century palazzo in southern Puglia in 2007, co-buying with his friend Jim. (You might remember the pair from Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun.) Paul was so pleased with how it all went that a year later he bought another apartment in Puglia with his girlfriend Lorraine. This time, he tackled the restoration work himself. Now he co-owns two beautiful properties, full of character and period detail, and rents them both out to holidaymakers.
        “Lorraine and I originally planned to buy our apartment to sell after restoring it, and to have the fun of two years actually living out there while we did the restoration,” Paul explains. “By the time it was finished, the property market wasn’t great but the holiday rentals market was still good, so we decided to hang on to it. The restoration took longer than expected. When we bought, everything was fine structurally but there were no windows, no doors, no electricity, no water, and piles of debris inside. I think it was two old properties that had been merged into one. Two lovely old ladies who live nearby put us in touch with people who used to live in part of the property as children in the 1950s. Those former occupants told us how they used to live with ten other family members in what is now our bathroom and lounge!

        “What was so striking when we first saw the apartment was the fantastic vaulted ceiling. They make these so perfectly in Puglia. The builders are amazingly skilled. There’s a barrel-vaulted ceiling in another one of the rooms. And a wonderful fireplace. There’s a private courtyard at the front and another at the back. So the place has lots of character. It’s a one-bedroom apartment but with space for up to four people. Extravagantly it has two bathrooms, one with a roll-top cast-iron bath and a fireplace.
        “I had no prior experience of doing renovation work myself, so I had to cope with learning Italian, adapting to the culture, and picking up building skills all at the same time! But I found I really enjoyed the process of working with my hands and seeing a finished end product.
        “Puglia is absolutely wonderful. It’s so inexpensive. And the food and wine are superb. The Salento area where we are is surrounded by sea on all sides. The coastline is beautiful. It’s a bit like the Amalfi Coast or Cornwall in that it’s very rocky and hilly, but it’s not built-up. It’s not spoilt by tourists and there aren’t many ex-pats around. We love the Puglian people. They’re so friendly and helpful.”
www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p444365   &   www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p89993

Our Home in Puglia
Liz and Basil Ford bought a trullo-topped villa to restore in the countryside near Ostuni in 2005. Five years later, they decided to make a permanent move from the UK to Puglia. Now they offer self-catering holiday accommodation plus springtime yoga retreats in the villa, and they own a small apartment in the nearby town of Cisternino to use in the summer when the villa is occupied.
        “When we first saw the villa, it was a ruin,” Liz remembers. “But the location, up on the top of a flat hill, was so peaceful and tranquil, we felt it was perfect for what we wanted to do with yoga retreats. We had it lovingly restored. Our geometra was the son of the family who were the last people to live in the house before it became unoccupied, so we had wonderful insights into its history. We modernized it internally, but restored the outside back to its original. We put in a pool, and tended the three surrounding acres of olive and almond groves.
        “We bought the apartment when we moved to Puglia permanently, and we manage the villa’s holiday rentals from here. It’s in the centro storico of Cisternino, and has a huge roof terrace from which we can see Ostuni, the sea and all the surrounding towns. We do the reverse of what the Italians do, which is we stay in the town in the summer months and then go back into the country in the winter. There’s so much going on in the summer – all sorts of events and festivals. We always feel as if we’re coming on holiday for two or three months when we move up to Cisternino.
        “I couldn’t recommend Puglia more highly. It’s such a laid-back region. We’ve had no difficulty adapting to life here. Basil was a languages teacher in the UK, so his having the local language was a big plus. Now he teaches Italian to the Brits and Americans here, and English to the Italians. Meanwhile, I teach yoga. The local people have been tremendously welcoming. It’s great to be part of an Italian community, and to join in with their lifestyle. We go back occasionally to the UK to see friends and family, but we have no plans to move back there. We just love the area we live in now; it’s fantastic, and the people are so friendly. Even after three years of living here full time, when the sun shines I still can’t help feeling that I’m on holiday. This is our permanent home now. And we feel so lucky to be here.”





All photographs on this page
by Fleur Kinson

Where to Buy in Italy