The second largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily), Sardinia is a unique and endlessly beguiling place. It has an intriguing history involving mysterious ancient peoples and it sprouts ruins of a kind seen nowhere else. It contains extraordinarily colourful landscapes, unspoilt and unchanged for thousands of years. It shelters wildlife so diverse and exotic that the island has sometimes been dubbed ‘the Galapagos of the Med’. And it’s home to exceptionally kind and gentle people, who speak one of Italian’s strangest dialects. Clean, uncrowded, elemental and distinctive, Sardinia remains one of Italy’s most special places.
It’s worth spending a moment considering some of the island’s many landscapes. Beaches here are so beautiful that Sardinia has sometimes stood in for the Caribbean in television commercials (the Bounty-bar ads of the 1980s being a famous example). The island variously offers white or golden sand lapped by bright turquoise water, vineyards and olive groves sprouting from paprika-coloured soil, sun-blonde plains backed by low hills cloaked in cork trees, pine forests flanked by fragrant ‘macchia’ (a tangled underbrush of wild myrtle, juniper, lavender and rosemary), and high mountains inevitably decorating the far distance.
With such astonishing physical beauty, and such gentle, generous inhabitants, you’d expect massive numbers of tourists to have trampled Sardinia to dust long ago. In fact, the crowds are still small, and their coming hasn’t generated the usual tourism-eyesores such as ranks of high-rise buildings. It’s just not that sort of island. And careful laws protect it from ever becoming that sort of island – which, in turn, protects the value of property here. The truth is that clean, sleepy Sardinia is way off most tourists’ itinerary of Italy. In fact, many people have still never heard of the island. Or if they have, they couldn’t exactly point to it on a map. A thoroughly contented place, Sardinia doesn’t feel much need to advertise itself.
It was the Aga Khan, no less, who first drew foreign visitors’ attention to Sardinia. In the 1960s, his yacht was forced to shelter from a storm off the then little-known island’s exquisite northwest coast. Amazed by the beautiful liquid-emerald water and the serried rocky coves he found here, he bought up a stretch of seaside with a consortium of businessmen, sensitively developed the area, and established the ‘Costa Smeralda’ as a quietly opulent holiday area for the rich and famous.
The yacht-and-jet-set were soon buying villas in this chic northeast, but this did nothing to encourage the more financially-average buyer – who wrongly concluded that the whole island was an expensive playground for the super-rich. Besides, without a boat or a private jet, how could the average buyer hope to get here? Thankfully, budget airlines began opening up Sardinia from the year 2000 onwards, and delighted visitors realized that there was far more to this island paradise than the fabled Costa Smeralda in the northeast. New property hotspots grew up in and around Alghero on the northwest coast, and later along the island’s southern coasts either side of Cágliari.
Today there are properties available on Sardinia to suit every budget – from lush villas to smart townhouses to inexpensive apartments to country homes large and small. For as little as €25,000 you might get a country house with land in the island’s centre. For €80,000, you could get a nice one-bedroom apartment in a family-friendly beach resort, or a two- to three-bedroom village house or country home a few miles inland (€40,000 to buy plus €40,000 to restore). €150,000 could get you a two-bedroom seaside apartment or semi-detached house. A studio apartment on the gilded Costa Smeralda could set you back by as much as €400,000, but just a few miles away you could get a small seaside villa for half this price. €300,000 or more gives you a wide choice of villas or country houses on Sardinia. And if you’re lucky enough to have a million euros or more to spend, you can choose from some truly gorgeous homes. This island is still the haunt of the rich and famous, and there are plenty of properties here that reflect this.
Sardinia has a particularly stable property market, generally characterized by very slow, steady growth. Buyer numbers on the island dropped quite a bit during the recent international recession, but property prices generally responded by remaining static rather than going down. Sardinia is not a place of jittery market booms and busts. In fact, it’s not a place of instability of any kind. The pace of life is supremely gentle and easy-going, and levels of crime are rock-bottom. Mauro Demuro of the agency Live in Sardinia points out that “The recent unrest in certain Mediterranean countries is likely to increase visitor interest in Sardinia. This is a very safe and politically stable place with a wonderful climate and landscapes, even if services are not quite as developed here as in some North African resorts and countries like Greece and Turkey.”
On the subject of visitor interest, Sardinia is a great place to buy property if you hope to rent your home out to holidaymakers. Rental prospects are very good on the island, especially for properties on or near the coast. Eliana Andolfo of Homes in Italy says “The peak season is usually July and August, especially with Italians, but nowadays other nationalities – particularly Russians – are increasingly interested. Owners are discovering off-peak rental opportunities, thus making the rental season longer than the average 8-12 weeks. A one-bedroom apartment sleeping four people can be rented from €500-€600 per week in mid season, €800 in high season and up to more than €1000 per week in peak season. Proximity to the sea is important, but not essential if the apartment is situated in a complex with a pool. Sea-views are obviously a plus. In terms of areas, there is no particular preferred area of Sardinia; in fact, less popular and crowded destinations are more and more on request, especially for family holidays.”
Sardinia is a large island (roughly 130 miles long by 70 miles wide), and it’s useful to have a general idea of its diverse geography and varying property markets before you begin hunting for a home here. In a nutshell, the northern coast from charming Alghero all the way over to Olbia counts as the island’s most developed and popular area. Beaches up here range from white powder to golden strands, and the interior from sun-baked hills to pretty crop fields. The southern coast, either side of Cágliari, only started a few years ago to see growing international tourism and holiday-home buying. Beaches are very good down here too, and there are a handful of appealing resorts and golf courses. The island’s western coast, from Bosa to Oristano, is an interesting area that’s starting to draw more buyer interest. The terrain here can often be low-lying and dotted with lagoons. The eastern coast of Sardinia, meanwhile, is the island’s ‘wilderness’ – undeveloped, backed by high mountains and currently seeing few visitors or property buyers. The island’s deep interior is little-visited, and property here can be extremely inexpensive.
Linda Travella of the long-standing estate agency Casa Travella recommends northern Sardinia as the place to buy. She says “The southern part of Sardinia has limited infrastructure, and northern Sardinia is a better option for rental and investment.” The small but legendary Costa Smeralda area in Sardinia’s northeast (where Berlusconi and other famous names have their villas) sees the island’s very highest property prices – €7,000-€12,000 per square metre in Porto Cervo, for example. Linda advises buying just outside the Costa Smeralda stretch, in lovely coastal places like Palau, San Teodoro, Budoni and Santa Teresa di Gallura, where prices are €3,500-€5,000 per square metre. And she particularly recommends Sardinia’s central northern coast for good-value seaside homes. “Prices start from under €100,000 for one-bedroom homes in Valledoria, Castelsardo, Lu Bagnu and Badesi,” she says. “There are good facilities and good rental prospects too in these little towns.”
Peter Gore of the agency Apremont Overseas also recommends Sardinia’s north, but encourages buyers to look inland for bargains. “The best value for money,” he says, “is to be found inland, in the countryside and villages between the city of Sassari and the northern beaches. This area is very accessible from the airports in Alghero and Olbia, and is near enough to the coast for regular swimming and sunbathing trips. The vast majority of properties in this area require renovation. A typical two- to-three-bedroom village house for renovation will cost as little as €40,000 to buy and a similar amount to modernize. County properties with some land average out at about €75,000 and generally also require some renovation.” Seekers of a country idyll at tiny expense might also consider venturing much deeper into Sardinia's interior. The area round Lake Omodeo near the centre of the island, for example, is a beautiful place where you could pick up a substantial house with lake views for as little as €25,000.
Sardinia’s far south, of course, is not to be overlooked. Cágliari, the island’s small capital city, sits on the southern waterside with lovely coastlines stretching out on either side. Apartments on the outskirts of Cágliari might ask €150,000, while seaside villas further east or west tend to start at about €200,000 – very good value. Note that Chia, southwest of Cágliari, has an especially jaw-dropping beach and tends to attract upmarket buyers.
Wherever you choose to buy on Sardinia, you can be sure that you’ll find yourself increasingly bewitched by this island’s unique personality. Culturally quirky, geographically stupendous, sensitively developed and very warmly welcoming, this is truly one of the Mediterranean’s most magical places.
Set on a rocky headland surrounded by stout medieval walls, Alghero is the northwest’s chief resort. Its thriving fishing port is flanked by a forest of yacht masts, and the town looks from afar like the setting for an exotic fairytale, with Renaissance domes and Venetian bell towers climbing above Moorish and Gothic windows set into pale pink and yellow walls. Inside, the centro storico is an entrancing puzzle of tiny lanes – by day an atmospheric place to wander quietly, at night teeming with an entire population enjoying their passeggiata. Set near lovely beaches and countryside, Alghero has long been loved by Brits and Germans – even more so since Ryanair began flying here in 2000. Rental prospects are great, and property is still good-value. One-bed apartments in the old town currently go for €140,000-€175,000, and two-beds start at about €220,000. Villas in the countryside outside Alghero can be expensive – starting at about €300,000. North of Alghero, Stintino is an eye-watering beauty spot with steep prices in its small complexes of holiday homes. Towards the centre of the north coast, attractive Valledoria, Badesi and Castelsardo have recently seen a flurry of foreign buyers, and prices here are still very reasonable, with two-bed apartments starting at €120,000. South of Alghero, seaside Bosa has attracted quite a few foreign buyers in recent years, with interesting properties at good prices. Inland, Sardinia’s northwest is hilly, fertile and appealing. The island’s second city, Sássari, lies here – an affable and unassuming place.
Sardinia’s tourist industry began in the northeast, on the ‘Costa Smeralda’ about 12km north of Olbia. Legend has it that the Aga Khan bought up the breathtakingly beautiful coastline here in 1962 (together with a consortium of cronies) and turned it into a tasteful resort-area for the rich and famous. Named after the astonishing liquid-emerald water that licks the rocky coves, the Costa Smeralda is still luxurious and exclusive, with the highest property prices – and best rental returns – on Sardinia. From the very start, development has been restricted to traditional local building styles, with nothing above two storeys – ideas which still influence new building across the island. The very minimum you’d pay for a one-bed apartment in the Costa Smeralda area is about €200,000, and most villas are in excess of €1 million. If you can’t afford the Costa Smeralda (or the yachting and golfing set bore you), look at places either side – perhaps the gorgeous Santa Teresa di Gallura area, where you could get a newly-built two-bed villa for about €260,000. South of Olbia, there are some very inexpensive holiday apartments in new developments round Budoni, San Teodoro, et al – with some one-beds going for less than €100,000, and villas starting at about €170,000. Inland, Sardinia’s northeast is quiet and pretty, with craggy hills covered in cork trees. Perhaps the only less-than-lovely spot in the whole northeast is Olbia, a relatively drab and functional port town.
Sardinia’s central west coast, and especially its central east coast, have traditionally seen few visitors. Seaside property prices here are still very low, although visitor numbers are increasing. Oristano is a pleasant west-coast town worth considering – surrounded by canals and lagoons teeming with wildlife. You might pick up a newly-built two-bedroom apartment in this area for about €120,000. Old village homes round here can be a good buy, with €80,000 to €180,000 getting you a place with up to six bedrooms, needing minor work. Further inland, near the very centre of the island, the rural Lake Omodeo area comes recommended as an attractive and very inexpensive place, with substantial townhouses asking less than €30,000. Further east, into the forbidding, densely-forested Gennargentu Mountains, lies the most remote and unvisited part of Sardinia – neglected even by the island’s many historical invaders. A quiet and deeply traditional way of life is lived here by an ageing population in tiny, dying villages. There’s no shortage of wild natural beauty, and if you were exceptionally adventurous, you could benefit from the lowest property prices on the island. Carrying on to the east coast, you’ll find pockets of new development in pleasant, uncrowded places like Orosei and Cala Gonone. Again, you could pick up a small seaside apartment here for less than €100,000. South of Cala Gonone, the east coast is largely empty for many miles, until the ferry-port town of Arbatax.
Sardinia’s south has seen a blossoming market for overseas buyers since the area was opened up by budget flights from northern Europe several years ago. And the number of flights into Cágliari from many European countries has doubled over the last year or two, which means increasing visitor interest and strong holiday rental opportunity. Property prices in the south are still generally lower than in the island’s north, but they have been increasing at a faster rate – some say at double the rate of the north. Cágliari, Sardinia’s capital city, is a bustling and likeable place that’s home to just a quarter of a million people. The old quarter is a high citadel riddled with narrow lanes, while the modern outskirts consist of low-rise apartment buildings. Property in Cágliari is reasonably-priced, and the city offers easy access to some lovely beaches and tracts of countryside. Southwest of Cágliari, the Costa del Sud area is very attractive. There are silky white beaches and crystalline water at charming Pula and Chia. One-bedroom apartments round here can be had for less than €100,000, while villas start at about €200,000. Nearby Santa Margherita is an upmarket resort with a tasteful sprinkling of hotels and holiday complexes. Or you could look east of the capital. 40km east of Cágliari, the Costa Rei is arguably less sensitively developed than the westerly Costa del Sud, but there’s still sufficient charm and good-value property to draw you here too.
Mark and Ann Marie Reohorn, based in the West Midlands, fell in love with Sardinia the moment they first set foot on the island in 2002. They now own two villas just south of the fabled Costa Smeralda, and offer holiday rentals as well as enjoying frequent visits.
“We’d always holidayed in the south of France,” Ann Marie explains. “Then my father-in-law persuaded us to visit Sardinia on his yacht, and we were bowled over by the place. It’s so natural and unspoilt. It’s fantastic for sailing, especially the northeast because of the constant breeze. What really got us was the beauty of the beaches – it’s the Caribbean in the Mediterranean. And we love the family-oriented culture.
“We holidayed in northeast Sardinia for two years, then bought a villa. A couple of years later we bought a second property, purely for holiday rental – it’s very well-stocked and has the most fantastic view. Our rentals are going well. Originally all our clients were British, but the market has really opened up and now we have lots of different European nationalities.
“Our property hunt wasn’t easy, as the local agents weren’t showing us the kinds of things we’d asked to see. At the last minute we were flicking through a property magazine and found a London-based agent and he was great. Things might have changed since then, but our experience was that the island’s agents just aren’t like agents in the UK. We couldn’t get written details; when we’d ask the price of a property they seemed to just pick a number out of the air. The bureaucracy is arduous, and obviously there’s another language to contend with. You really have to do your homework before you buy here.
“Investment-wise it’s been very good. Our properties’ values have increased because local infrastructure has improved – roads built, mains electricity put in, and EU funding to smarten up the nearby city of Olbia. This area is a traditional holiday playground for people from Rome and Milan, but out of season it’s wonderful. May, June, September and October are the best times to be here. It’s still warm, and you’ve got glamorous beaches all to yourself.
“I would advise would-be buyers to consider all the costs. There’s the purchase price then the tax on top, then the notary’s fees. Be prepared. If you’re buying a new-build, it probably won’t be finished when you want it. The pace of life is much slower here. Things progress slowly; you’ve got to take that into account. Learn some Italian, because English isn’t widely spoken. The Sards are fiercely proud of their island and their traditions. They’ll love you if you show a real interest in the place. Immerse yourself. Go in with your eyes open, be cautious, and enjoy the adventure!” www.apartmentsinsardinia.co.uk
Yorkshire-born Stephen and Margaret Hattersley, currently based in Shropshire, own a handsome four-bedroom house in Tresnuraghes, two miles from the sea and four miles from the pretty resort town of Bosa in Sardinia’s northwest.
Italy and Sardinia were love at first sight. “We went to Sardinia with a friend who was checking the progress of a villa he was having built. It was the first time I’d been to Italy,” Stephen explains. “We looked around, and saw a few places for sale. We’d been saying for the last twenty years that one day we’d buy a home abroad...” One of the properties the Hattersleys viewed on that very first trip to Italy was the house they bought: ‘Palazzo Margherita’, just five miles from their friend’s villa. It’s a striking, spacious townhouse with smart paintwork, pretty shutters and a grand rooftop balustrade.
“The house had been empty for about three years and it needed some renovation when we bought it,” Stephen says. “We had no trouble finding good local builders and craftsmen. The standard of building work out there is high. We repaired external plaster and we did some damp-proofing inside. Our painter was a real artist; he and his team carefully repainted bits so that the new parts perfectly matched the old parts. They really impressed me with what a good job they did.”
So what’s the best thing about having a home in Sardinia? “The property is on the edge of the village, and the thing we love most about the place is the tranquillity. We have a private, walled courtyard at the back of the house with lemon and orange trees in it, and we can sit there in beautiful dappled shade, or go onto the sun terrace with full sun if we prefer. There are some absolutely superb restaurants within walking distance or at a short drive. There’s a fantastic pizzeria in our village called Gigi’s. And a wonderful restaurant on the edge of the village called Trattoria Da Riccardo which serves fresh locally-sourced food. Nowhere is ever over-priced, either. The Sardinian people are really friendly and lovely. Obviously there’s the language barrier, but we’re slowly learning Italian and we will definitely get there in the end.”
The Hattersleys visit Palazzo Margherita several times a year and look forward to making longer, more frequent visits after they retire. They offer holiday rentals when they’re not at the property. “The rentals side of things is somewhat reliant on Ryanair and where they fly from,” Stephen admits. “These days we are getting more clients from Germany even than from Britain, but things could change again, who knows?” www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p447400 www.cometosardinia.co.uk
Michael Ballance from Staffordshire bought not one, not two, but three properties in northern Sardinia. “I went a bit mad,” he chuckles. He keeps one property as a personal holiday home and rents the other two to holidaymakers.
Why did he choose Sardinia? “I’ve always loved Italy,” he explains. “A few years ago I went on holiday to Sardinia and thought it was really beautiful. Particularly Alghero with its walled town. East Midlands airport is very local to where I live and there are cheap flights to Alghero. It’s easier for us to get to Sardinia than to mainland Italy.”
Michael went on an exploratory property-hunt in 2007. “I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to buy. I decided to look at different parts of the north, all within an hour or ninety minutes from Alghero. I ended up buying a place in Costa Paradiso, in the middle of the northern coast. It’s on a clifftop looking out to sea, which was always my ideal sort of property. And that really is just for personal use – myself, friends and family. At the same time I was interested in buying an old property in the centre of Alghero, because it’s only ten to twelve minutes from the airport and it would be an ideal place to arrive.”
He met with Maria Grazia Vendone of Alghero Estates. “She said she’d look for properties in the old town but that they were hard to find and often needed lots of renovation. Then she rang and said ‘we’re moving to a bigger office and our little office in the old town will be for sale’. I said ‘I’m very interested!’ and in the end I bought it. It had all the necessary facilities – plumbing and electricity points. I just had to fit a kitchen and put in furniture and a shower. Many people think property in Alghero is very expensive. My experience was that you could buy an apartment in the old town for €140,000.”
Michael also bought his third property, a villa in a new development just outside Alghero, through Alghero Estates. “I found them really helpful,” he says. “I had an Italian mortgage, and they sorted that out and opened a bank account for me. They helped me choose furniture, communicated with builders, and translated everything. They now feature my apartment on their website and I’m getting lots of enquiries and bookings. My villa outside Alghero also rents very easily.”
And what does Michael like most about Sardinia? “The countryside is lovely,” he says. “The people are very friendly, and the lifestyle is so attractive. It’s very family-oriented, very traditionally Italian. And the food is excellent as well!” www.algheroestates.com/properties-for-rent/apartment-gioberti