where to buy in italy
 

This romantic region with its elegant buildings, charming small cities and pretty countryside is an excellent place to buy a home. There’s so much more to the Veneto than Venice, says Fleur Kinson.

asd   With honeymooners’ Venice and Romeo and Juliet’s Verona in its midst, it’s no surprise that the Veneto is one of Italy’s most romantic regions. The architecture is dreamily beautiful, the countryside is soft and pretty, and there’s shimmery water everywhere – except in the far north where the fantastical golden needles of the Dolomites decorate the skyline. The atmosphere of this region is one of soft enchantment, periodically spiked with elegant drama.

        Looking at the Veneto on a map, the shape of the place says a lot about its charmingly mixed culture. One long arm reaches north to brush a finger against Austria, another arm points toward the exotic east, while the feet are firmly planted in the richly fertile soil of Italy’s great Po Valley. A long coastline fractures into endless lagoons – tranquil, mystical places where the people of the Veneto at first hid themselves from outsiders (invading Huns and Germanic tribes), then ran a mighty empire and brought together different worlds.
        Venice, the Veneto’s peerless capital, historically acted as a bridge between the Eastern and Western worlds, and it still unites the globe by mingling more than fourteen million international visitors on its watery streets each year. Venice’s entrepreneurial dynamism has long influenced the rest of the Veneto. The region’s four and a half million inhabitants are a creative and hard-working bunch, and they keep the Veneto a sophisticated region with thriving business and industry – yet one which remains remarkably unspoilt by the unsightly side of manufacturing. As well as beautifully preserved historic city centres, the Veneto is also a place of rural peace.
        The word ‘Veneto’ is often unfamiliar to non-Italians, yet we know some of the region’s localities well. Venice, Verona, the eastern side of Lake Garda, the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Veneto is certainly no stranger to visitors, and tourism forms a significant part of its economy. Always a region forming something of a crossroads – of East and West, and of Teutonic and Latinate – the Veneto is an open-minded and outward-looking place. So you’ll always meet a warm welcome here.

MANY-FEATHERED CAP
From the pancake-flat Po Valley to the sharp tips of the Dolomites, the Veneto encompasses some exceptionally diverse terrain. Wide fields of maize and tidy orchards stretch toward vineyards striping domed hills. Sunlight glitters off the inland sea of Lake Garda. The intricate coastline loops and splinters from golden beach to warm lagoon to reedy river delta.  

        Spaced at regular intervals across these lovely landscapes lie the Veneto’s gem-like little cities – breathtaking Venice, romantic Verona, artistic Padua, Palladian Vicenza. The quality of life in these places is sky-high, and the affluence is obvious. Highly decorated architecture is a distinctive feature of the Veneto – slender arched windows underscored by stone balconies, pastel facades, long porticoes, loggias, frescoed walls, warm pink sandstone...  And beautiful buildings aren’t restricted to urban environments. Stately historical villas built by Venetian gentry are scattered throughout the region’s countryside. Famously, about a hundred sit beside rural stretches of the Brenta River.
        Of course there are abundant farmhouses and other rural homes to be had in the Veneto. The region offers some good-value country properties in attractive areas, and you might pay as little as €120,000 for a fully restored farmhouse in the hills less than an hour from one of the wonderful little cities. Well-situated apartments in one of these small cities themselves tend to start at about €180,000, and rental prospects are good – especially in popular Verona. Regional capital Venice is in a different league, of course, being one of the most expensive places for property in all of Italy and yielding absolutely excellent holiday rental returns for about ten months a year. Two-bedroom apartments in Venice start at about €350,000, and climb swiftly upward into the millions. Holiday rental rates can be anything from €600 to €6,000 per week, depending on the property.

A GOOD TIME TO BUY

asd   Property sales across the Veneto dwindled considerably back in 2008 and 2009. Among British buyers, who were hit both by the global economic woe and an unfavourable pound-euro exchange rate, sales came to something like a shuddering halt. Throughout 2010, however, sales slowly started to rally in the Veneto. All signs now point to the beginning of recovery. The market may be limping back into life, but at least it’s in motion again.

        The good news for you in all this is that property prices have been reduced in response to the recent drop in demand, and that vendors are far more open to offers below their asking price than they have been for many years. According to Andrea Redivo Zaglia of Properties in Italy, prices across the Veneto are now down on average between 5 and 15% from what they were two or three years ago. However, “historic city centres haven’t recorded any decrease. Prices in these prized locations have stayed stable or are slightly increasing, at about 1 or 2%.” With recovery tentatively underway across the region, and prices either lower than several years ago or roughly the same, now is actually a very good time to buy in the Veneto.
        But where should you buy? In a city, in the countryside? Obviously this will depend on what you want the property for. If you’re looking for an investment and want holiday rentals to be a big feature of what you get out of your property, then you should definitely consider a well-situated apartment in one of the Veneto’s cities – Venice if you can afford it, elsewhere if you cannot. We’ll be looking at these places in closer detail in a moment. If you mainly want a country getaway to enjoy yourself, or you want to relocate, you’d do well to consider a rural area such as the Euganean, Lessini or Berici Hills. For lots of holidays plus good rentals when you’re not there, think about the shores of Lake Garda, or a home in one of the Veneto’s many beach resorts.

LOCATION, LOCATION
Unique, enchanting Venice has long been one of the very priciest places for property in all of Italy. Holiday rental prospects here are peerless, as visitors come literally all year round. And re-sale values are pretty much guaranteed, as outsiders show no sign of ever losing interest in Venice, and no new buildings can really be shoehorned into the existing city so supply is unlikely ever to meet demand. Two-bedroom apartments in the least expensive parts of Venice currently tend to ask around €350,000. In more average areas, expect about €500,000. And for anything in the most central or desirable areas, think €1 million or more.
        Barbara Carron of LuxRest Venice advises: “To invest in an apartment for holiday rentals in Venice I would suggest a property with a terrace or garden, which is one of the most required amenities.  Nearly all areas are good but the ones most requested by holiday-renters are currently Dorsoduro (close to Accademia and Guggenheim) and Castello (close to the Biennale). San Polo and Santa Croce (Frari side) as well as Cannaregio (Rialto-SS Giovanni e Paolo side) still work well, whereas it’s a bit more difficult to rent properties in the Railway Station-Piazzale Roma area. Rialto and San Marco are still popular of course, but paradoxically clients looking to rent an apartment usually look for more quiet and locally lived-in areas rather than the most popular and central ones.”

        If the expense of Venice doesn’t appeal, but you still like the idea of a city apartment with safe re-sale value and strong holiday rental prospects, consider Verona – a magnet for Shakespeare fans, opera lovers (the city hosts a wonderful opera festival in its gigantic Roman amphitheatre every summer), holidaying romantics and weekending couples. Apartments in Verona are about half the price of similar properties in Venice, and rentals prospects are very good for about seven months a year. Or you could try under-rated Padua, which is within easy rail-daytripping distance of Venice. Or handsome Treviso with its canals, or charming Vicenza with its wealth of Palladian architecture. Each has good-value property and pretty good holiday rental prospects.


RURAL IDYLL
But if like many British buyers the countryside is where your heart lies, there are many areas to consider in the Veneto. Traditionally, Brits like hills – full of inspiring vistas, yet not as cool or as difficult to access as full-on mountains. Thus perhaps some of the most appealing bits of the Veneto might be the Berici hills south of Vicenza, the vineyard-striped Lessini Hills northwest of Verona, and the wonderful domed Euganean Hills south of Padua – which have already attracted quite a few British ex-pats over the last decade. Leafy, rural places situated within easy reach of lovely little cities, these areas have a lot going for them, and are still very reasonably priced.
        Andrea Redivo Zaglia of Properties in Italy notes that the region’s very cheapest property is to be found in the far south, in the farmland around Rovigo. “There are plenty of farmhouses in need of total restoration here,” he says. Your purchase price might be about €100,000, and your restoration costs could vary from less than this amount to more than double it, depending on how you choose to restore. Likewise you might consider the steep terrain of the region’s northern parts, where properties away from ski resorts can be quite inexpensive.
        Wherever you choose to buy in the Veneto, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to enjoy the high standard-of-living, solid infrastructure, good transport connections and all-round super-civilization associated with northern Italy. In this lucky corner of the world, things work well, systems are efficient, and life runs smoothly. All this, and a deliciously romantic atmosphere too!

 

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Venice
Fantastical, incomparable Venice is a ragged old siren who seduces millions of visitors every year. Crowded, flood-prone, expensive – ah, who cares when you’re in a living museum stuffed with luminous art and architecture? Not for nothing is Venice deemed the world’s most romantic city. And it’s a much cleaner, better organized place these days. Forget the dated tales of smelly canals. Very many non-Venetians have snapped up homes in Venice, and there’s concern that the city could become an outpost of second homes – all owned by wealthy northern Italians and foreigners. Over the last sixty years, the permanent local population has shrunk by nearly two thirds, and it’s the young who are most likely to leave – usually decamping to the nearby Mestre-Marghera conurbation. Venice has some of the highest property prices in Italy, but it also has some of the country’s best holiday rental returns. A two-bedroom apartment here asks about €500,000 on average, although you could pay €350,000 in a cheaper part of town and over €1 million in a prime site. The most expensive areas are The Grand Canal, St. Mark and St. Polo, while the cheapest are Dorsoduro, St. Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. Holiday rentals are almost year-round. A two-bedroom apartment should yield about €900-€1,300 per week, or up to €6,000 for a really prestigious property.

The Smaller Cities
Venice is just one of the Veneto’s exquisite cities. Vicenza, Verona, Treviso and Padua are all delightful and prosperous places brimming with history and exquisite buildings. Each offers a tremendously high quality of life, and property prices far below those of Venice. Vicenza is a sleek, wealthy and sophisticated place famed for its connections with the 16th-century architectural guru Palladio. Neighbouring Verona is a beautiful, romantic city full of rose-tinted buildings – the perfect setting for Romeo and Juliet. A gigantic Roman amphitheatre stands serenely in its centre, while innumerable fine churches filled with beguiling artworks line its atmospheric piazzas. Treviso is a charming, often overlooked spot half an hour from Venice. Its appealing townhouses meet swan-dotted canals flanked by willow trees and water-wheels. Padua, with its 800-year-old university, is a venerable and lively place with abundant entertainments and cultural treasures. Two-bedroom apartments in these four cities currently range from €200,000 to €400,000 – with Vicenza tending to be the lowest-priced. Centrally-located apartments always attract the best holiday rental prospects.

The North
The northern spur of the Veneto sees rural hills steadily climbing toward the high drama of the Dolomites – frequently deemed the world’s most beautiful mountains. In these parts, there are vineyards, fairytale castles, and poignant memorials to the massive loss of life incurred in the early 20th century when Europe went to war with itself. Attractive towns include Conegliano, Vittorio Veneto, Feltre and Belluno – variously featuring steep cobbled streets, proud old townhouses, and magnificent views. The northern Veneto is not a costly area, and there is plenty of affordable property here. The one staggeringly egregious exception is the ever-chic ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo – located near the Austrian border. This is one of the top ten costliest locales for property in all of Italy, with many properties above €1 million. Winter holiday rental returns in Cortina are excellent. Note that the nearby resort of Alleghe is far quieter and cheaper.

The East
East of Venice, the Veneto offers up a scattering of very pleasant seaside resorts with lots of golden sand and warm, shallow bathing water. Lido di Jesolo is one of the better known, and there are some pretty stylish and slick developments here. Other likeable resorts include Caorle, Bibione, Sottomarina, Rosalina and Lignano Sabbiedoro. A detached house in the latter might set you back only €200,000. Inland, the eastern Veneto is a largely flat and tranquil place thronged with watercourses and bristling with woodlands. Toward the border with Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the terrain buckles into hills. Here, the Valley of Portogruaro is an attractive spot worth considering, with some low-priced, good-value homes.

Lake Garda
The largest and most popular of Italy’s lakes, Lake Garda lies half in Lombardy and half in the Veneto. Its wide, clean water and reliable breezes are much loved by the sailing, windsurfing and speedboat set. Extremely pretty little towns dot the lakeside, the terrain of which grows steeper and more dramatic the further north you go. Much of the eastern shore, in the Veneto, is heavily touristed, but there are still serene settlements such as Malcesine and Torri del Benaco. Holiday homes on Lake Garda have long been prized by Germans, Brits and Italians. Bardolino is generally the most expensive spot, although here as everywhere else prices drop as you move back from the water. Lazise is a recommended locale – accessible, near Bardolino but lower-priced. Holiday rental prospects on Lake Garda are excellent, but visitors only come from Easter to October. Two or more bedrooms plus a pool will considerably improve a property’s rentability.

The South

The terrain of the southern Veneto is generally flat except for the beautiful Euganean Hills –  which formed dome-shaped islands when, geological ages ago, much of northeast Italy was underwater. The flat southern landscape features pretty cropfields and the reedy marshes of the Po river delta. The Brenta Canal also lopes through these parts, its banks dotted with Palladian villas. The Euganean Hills are definitely a place to consider buying property. Famous for their spas and restful atmosphere, the hills abound with vineyards and picturesque hilltowns. There are great walking trails, and several golf courses. Urban Italians have taken to buying weekend homes in the Euganean Hills, but the area remains relatively new to us Brits. Prices are still reasonable, with unrestored country homes starting at about €80,000, and fully restored versions starting at around €150,000.



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OUR HOME IN THE VENETO

Rebecca Bancroft from Manchester owns a conjoined pair of two-bedroom houses in the Euganean Hills of the southern Veneto. She and her partner Lisa make regular visits to one house and rent the other to a long-term tenant.
       “We love everything about Italy – the food, the climate, the people,” she says. “We decided on buying in the Veneto because there were direct flights from Manchester to Venice. I was thinking about Asolo in the north of the region. Then we met Andrea Zaglia from Properties in Italy at the Viva Italia show in London, and he told us ‘Asolo is very nice, but you’re going to love the Euganean Hills.’ So I said let’s have a look. He arranged a weekend for us, drove us around the hills and we just fell in love with them. Asolo is beautiful, but the area around it is very industrial – whereas the Euganean Hills are a large, unspoilt area full of beautiful villages.
       “A friend who’d bought a house abroad advised me to make a list of five criteria and stick to them, rather than falling in love with a property and buying it even though it didn’t tick all the boxes. It was good advice, but I ended up buying this wonderful terraced house when I had always said I wanted something detached! It’s split down the middle into two homes. The German couple who had owned it before us had beautifully restored it. It works out brilliantly having a tenant in one half because there’s constantly someone there to keep an eye on things, and we’ve got rental income.
       “When I think about our whole experience of buying in Italy, sometimes I have to pinch myself. Nothing went wrong. And to have found an area so beautiful that we’ve never even heard of is incredible. Andrea and his colleague Max have gone above and beyond what you’d expect an estate agent to do for you. If there’s a problem, say with the heating, they’ll find us someone local to deal with it – all for no further expense. We’ve constantly been surprised by how wonderful they’ve been.
       “The climate is obviously warmer and sunnier than in England. We went out for Easter this year and were eating lunch outside even then. Humidity’s not a problem because you’re in the hills. It’s sort of a microclimate. The weather’s very different to Venice. The greenness in spring is incredible. It’s nice that we’ve only heard English spoken there once and German once. We tell Andrea ‘you must stop trying to get people to come here!’ We want the hills to remain a secret, but there is a trickle of people coming in. I think the area has as much to offer as any part of Italy.”


MY HOME IN THE VENETO

Louisa Calder, a sculptor based in Oxfordshire, recently bought a two-bedroom apartment in Venice. “I’d been passionate about Italy for many years,” she explains. “I was taking annual painting holidays to Venice, and this city just gets under your skin after a while. I’d always dreamed of buying a home here, but like most foreigners I could only see problems – the potential chaos of buying in such an amazing place but such a very difficult place to live. Then in early 2010, the time felt right, and I started looking. I contacted Andrea Redivo Zaglia [of Properties in Italy], who was lovely and tremendously helpful, and then it happened very quickly. I saw a great number of properties, and bought my place in July.
        “It’s in a converted watch factory on Giudecca island. About six years ago there was an international architecture design competition, and the winners rebuilt four factory-warehouses at one end of Giudecca. A friend of mine bought one of the apartments, and I stayed there on holiday. Then one came on the market while I was property-hunting. I was very lucky. It’s got fantastic views, and great light, which is perfect for my painting and sculpting. When I did my homework beforehand I thought ‘oh, I’ll be able to rent it out, that will help pay the mortgage, and then I’ll eventually spend a lot more time there.’ But actually, the apartment is so wonderful and I love it so much, I can’t bear to let it out now! I’m sure I will eventually.
        “The buying process was very straightforward indeed, I think partly because it’s a new-build, only six years old. Italian law on old property in country areas can be very convoluted, with complicated ownership deeds. But with a new-build you avoid all that. The people we bought it from were a charming couple. We actually met them, which you don’t expect in the UK. It’s terribly civilized. You all meet at the notary and shake hands. Then you meet again at the second part of the transaction. Andrea and his business partner Massimiliano were extremely good every step of the way. They even picked me up from the airport.
        “Venice is such an exciting and romantic city. You see something new every time you walk down the street. The best thing about owning a home here is feeling yourself becoming a part of Venice. I’ve even bought a carrello! Every Venetian lady has a carrello. It’s a wheeled trolley you take to the market. They’re Italian-designed and of course very sleek and modern. You’re not a true Venetian unless you own one of those! I’ve bought one to go the fish market and to buy my vegetables, and now I feel I really look the part!
www.louisacalder.com










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All photographs on this page by Fleur Kinson



Where to Buy in Italy