If you’ve fallen for the intoxicating delights of Campania and dream of owning a holiday home here, you're not the first. This intensely colourful and romantic region, with its stunning geography and fabulous foodstuffs, was called ‘the happy land’ (campania felix) by the ancient Romans. For them, there was nowhere quite so coveted for holidaymaking or for settling down into a long, contented retirement. And Campania’s desirability hasn’t diminished since. Today, few parts of Italy can compete for leisure-appeal with a region that boasts the heady glory of the Amalfi Coast, the sweetness of Sorrento, the chic island-life of Cápri and Ischia, the drama of Vesuvius and Pompeii, and the beguiling exuberance of Naples.
Visited by outsiders for so many centuries, Campania is the source of many enduring stereotypes about Italy. The people here are excitable and voluble, they drive like maniacs and embrace life to the full. The food is little short of mind-blowing, thanks to a volcanic past giving fantastically fertile soil. Italy’s best pasta, best tomatoes, best mozzarella, best pizza and best ice cream are all found in Campania (these last three being local inventions). The climate is warm and sensuous, the colours intense, the fruit and flowers growing in frenzied abundance. There’s music in the air and romance all around.
|| No wonder that the Bay of Naples was where Odysseus mythically heard the sirens singing to him. (One siren, Parthenope, gave her name to the settlement which would later become Naples.) No wonder either that it was Campania which lured exploratory Greeks of the 8th century B.C. to stop and set up their first colony on the Italian mainland (at Cumae), and from here spread their civilization outward across much of the Italian peninsula. Campania is just that kind of place, one which grabs you, enchants you and reels you in.
Despite its high visitor numbers, Campania has attracted relatively few British buyers of property. (American buyers, by contrast, have embraced the region more readily – perhaps because for many of them Campania is the place their forebears left behind for a life in the New World and they want a symbolic foothold back here.) Some potential British buyers might be deterred by a belief that this eminently southern-Italian region is plagued by corruption and bureaucratic sloth. While that increasingly outdated stereotype is not yet wholly unfounded, alas, Campania’s lingering problems are unlikely to touch your life in any way if you buy a home here. Especially in the type of places where you’re most likely to buy.
But isn’t it crowded and chaotic? Well, with around 5,700,000 inhabitants, Campania is certainly one of Italy’s most populous regions, but the vast majority live near the sea and, in particular, near teeming, sprawling Naples. Swathes of heavy industry flank the region’s capital city, as do some unattractive suburbs – spoiling the Campanian idyll just a little. Ubiquitous litter can also be a problem round the Bay of Naples area, it must be said, except for well-kept tourist hotspots. Naples itself, with far fewer homes available than can meet demand, is an expensive place for property, but it makes for excellent rental returns. An apartment in a nice area of Naples – and there are many lovely areas of Naples, despite some stereotypes of the city – would make a great investment.
From the late Nineties to the mid-Noughties, property prices roughly doubled throughout Campania as a whole. They slowed when the global recession hit, and have remained fairly static since. [Time of writing this article is 2012.]. As elsewhere in Italy, prices haven’t really dropped in Campania. For all its temporary economic woes, Italy is not a country whose property market is marked by booms and busts. There’s a very different attitude to property-buying here than in, say, the United Kingdom. Whatever else happens in Italy, house prices don’t suddenly crash, because they don’t over-inflate. It’s a particularly safe country in which to buy. The current outlook for Campania’s market is continued stability. Prices are expected to drift very slowly upwards over the coming years, with no roller-coaster shocks or surprises. That’s just not the Italian way when it comes to the housing market, apparently regardless of what else goes on in the economy.
More than most Italian regions, Campania sees huge differences in the prices and popularity of its different areas. The region contains, in fact, some of Italy’s most expensive homes and some of its cheapest. Properties on the Amalfi Coast or on an island such as Cápri are simply beyond the reach of most buyers. Homes in these gilded spots rarely come on the market, and when they do they’re likely to ask a million or more. Your holiday rental returns in such places would be stupendous, but good luck getting a property in the first place!
Obviously there’s more to Campania than its most famous locales. What are the best areas to target if you’re seeking affordable prices and good value for money? Let’s consider seaside possibilities then options inland. If you crave Campania’s delicious coast with its ubiquitous wonderful views including craggy headlands and pretty islands, investigate the Cilento coast (south of Amalfi) for the best bargains. Cilento is an area of charming historical small towns and lovely beaches. Its hinterland rises quickly into hills and mountains, and much of the area has been declared National Parkland. Cilento has much of the geographical drama of the Amalfi Coast, but it’s a tad more rustic and undeveloped, with less glitz and brightly-painted romance. New building is restricted, which means homes will hold their value very well. The Cilento area has been ‘up-and-coming’ for a while now, and there’s still time to take advantage of the favourable market down here.
Note that in Cilento as across most of Italy, property prices go down in inverse proportion to altitude and/or to distance from the sea. This has often worked out well for British buyers, who tend to prize a view, and who generally get a more expansive one by buying slightly inland and higher up. Buyers with small budgets should certainly investigate Campania’s interior. Patrizia Agnesani of RealPoint Italy notes that “While prices start at €2,000 per square metre on the Amalfi Coast, prices inland can be as little as €600 per square metre. In stark contrast to the immaculately painted villas and palazzi in the wealthier resort areas, there are numerous half-abandoned villages in Campania’s interior which offer exciting investment opportunities.”
Not all these inland settlements are half-abandoned, of course. Some are positively thriving. One such is the attractive hilltop-town Calitri, about 35 miles from the sea and home to 5,000 people. Over the last decade or so, many foreign buyers have snapped up holiday homes in the town or relocated there full-time. Simone Rossi of the online property portal Gate-Away.com says “Calitri is extremely cute, with stunning views. It has been cited as one of the ten best places in the world to retire. Apart from its true Italian charm, it also offers very affordable property. We list homes in Calitri with prices starting from €10,000 for a small house to be restored, and nice restored houses priced at €30,000. These are true bargains, especially considering the increase of holiday lettings in the town.”
While properties to restore are rare in Campania’s most famous locations, there’s no shortage of them on the lesser-known stretches of the region’s coast and a positive abundance of them inland. If your dream is to bring an old property back to life and imprint your own taste upon it, Campania is a good bit of Italy to consider. But doesn’t the relaxed southern Italian attitude mean you’ll endure a frustratingly slow pace on any building work? No. Italians everywhere are particularly dedicated builders and craftsmen, and no foreign restorers report a longer wait in Campania for things to get finished than anywhere else in Italy.
As with restoring a home anywhere, it pays to keep your eyes open and do your homework. Clare Shipston of Italian Properties has some good advice for anyone restoring a rustic ruin. She says “Be sure to have the land deeds checked thoroughly before handing over the deposit. Some landowners claim that the deeds are in place then some months later down the line you might find that another relative has claim to the land.” Another thing to bear in mind if you’re restoring anywhere in Italy is that you’re legally obliged to make your home earthquake-proof. Your builders will know the appropriate techniques to strengthen walls and so on. Make sure you raise the issue with them. [See Fleur Kinson's article on restoring property in Italy: http://www.where-to-buy-in-italy.com/restoration.html]
Wherever you might buy in Campania, a very warm welcome awaits. The tirelessly hospitable Campanians have been embracing visitors for centuries, and they’re extremely good at it. They love their region, and the fact that you do too just shows them what good sense you have.
See Fleur Kinson's travel and food articles on Campania:
The food of Naples:
Capri, Ischia and Procida in the movies:
Real mozzarella and the buffaloes from whose milk it is made:
Sorrento at Christmastime:
Italy’s third largest city and one of the most densely-populated places in Europe, Naples is a genuinely beguiling place where guidebook descriptions like‘colourful’ and ‘exuberant’ are not just euphemisms for ‘impoverished’ and ‘dangerous’. This is a truly invigorating and compelling city with stunning food and great shopping – all incomparably set on a wide, volcano-backed bay. There’s space for many parts: a lively historical quarter; some well-heeled suburbs; a bit of slum chaos; a sprawl of coastal industry. Because so many people want to live in Naples, housing is in great demand – which means surprisingly high property prices and very good rental returns. The cheapest one- and two-bed apartments go for between €100,000 and €200,000. In more central or popular districts, these ask €200,000 to €300,000. Vómero and Posillipo are among the loveliest and priciest areas, and a two-bed apartment here would set you back around €500,000. (So much for Naples being an impoverished city!) Summer holiday rentals are pretty good, with one-bed apartments averaging €600 a week; a two-bed about €1,100. Or you could rent long-term to locals. one- and two-bed apartments rent for €400-€1,000 per month, but up to €1,800 per month in a place like Vómero.
You’ll probably want to avoid the impoverished and industrial area immediately to Naples’ north. Head west out of the city instead, and you enter a strange, volcanic area punctuated by craters, hot springs and steam vents – with towns like Pozzuoli prone to tiny earthquakes and subsidence. The coast round here is relatively appealing (especially at Miseno), and rich in Classical remains. North of Cumae, however, the seaside is mostly overdeveloped up to the border with Lazio. Few tourists or property-buyers venture inland round here, but towns like Cápua and Sant’Agata dei Goti are pleasant enough. Around Caserta (a fairly charmless city), the fertile plains are grazed by herds of buffalo whose milk is used for top-quality mozzarella.
A trio of lovely islands frames the Bay of Naples, each with its own distinct character. Cápri is the most famous of the three, an enchanted chunk of limestone draped in flowers and greenery – once a playground for the super-wealthy, and now a daytripper’s paradise. It’s arguably unspoilt by all the attention, and away from the main town’s boutique-lined centre, the people here lead fairly normal, traditional lives. Larger, less glamorous Ischia is just as popular as Cápri but feels less crowded. Its biggest fans are German and Scandinavian tourists, who lap up Ischia’s beaches, volcanic thermal springs and quiet mountainous hinterland. Tiny Prócida is the least visited, but also perhaps the least scenic. Property is hugely expensive on all three islands, but priciest on Cápri, where there’s rarely much for sale. Ischia has more on the market, with prices ranging from €170,000 for a tiny 2-bed house to €620,000 for a 2-bed apartment. Holiday rental returns are excellent on Cápri and Ischia, and so-so on Prócida. Expect a 1-bed apartment on Cápri to rent for €1,500 a week in the summer.
Light-hearted Sorrento has been a favourite of Brits and other visitors for more than a century. Its lively clutch of lanes sits on a cliff-edge with wonderful views across the Bay of Naples. Many lovely walks over Sorrento’s leafy headland beckon from the town centre. Property is expensive here, but not quite so much as it is a few miles further south, along the Costiera Amalfitana – frequently described as ‘Europe’s most beautiful stretch of coast’. The Amalfi Coast is a dazzling 20km or so of steep, flower-strewn terrain plunging into a turquoise sea, supporting semi-vertical villages of pastel-coloured villas. It’s heady stuff, with hefty price tags. Properties here rarely come on the market, but if you’ve got the cash and manage to grab a place, you’d be looking at superb rental returns. A three-bed villa in a prime location would usually ask €1 million or more, but you could rent it for €4,000 a week in the summer. Best of all, while the Amalfi Coast is undeniably popular and crowded in the summer, access is relatively difficult and the terrain naturally restricts much new building – so the area is unlikely ever to be spoilt by overdevelopment. An investment here should have a sound future.
South of Salerno, Campania’s coastline begins to lose some its steep drama, but it compensates for this with some great stretches of sand and much thinner crowds. Inland, there’s lovely hill country peppered with unspoilt villages and small towns, often with commanding views of the sea in the distance. Almost all of southern Campania’s coast and interior is classified as National Parkland. This whole area has been quietly growing in popularity with foreign buyers over the last decade – and deservedly so. Prices are still reasonable here, and there are lots of property options, including restoration projects. Down on the seaside, one- and two-bed apartments ask between €80,000 and €270,000. A few miles inland, you might get a two-bedroom villa with land for €270,000, or a tumbledown old house with land asking €50,000 or so.
Campania’s mountainous deep interior is a different world to the region’s much-loved coast. Rarely visited and very thinly populated, the towns and roads here are small and slow, the lifestyle quiet and traditional. As you might expect, property prices can be very low indeed. There’s some very handsome countryside up here – forests and rugged mountain landscapes steeped in silence. The land is especially attractive around Benevento and Ariano Irpino. Property-wise, there are lots of prospects: farmhouses, village homes, rustic buildings, townhouses – restored and unrestored, old and newly-built. Good-sized country homes ask as little as €50,000, and rarely more than €200,000. Holiday rental prospects would be limited, but you’d have a peaceful and inexpensive retreat to call your own – just an hour to ninety minutes from Naples.
Amanda Smith and her husband David own a large villa on southern Campania’s Cilento coast. A short walk from the picturesque village of Castellabate, Villa Alberto sits in its own grounds amidst lush flowers and fruit trees and enjoys wide views out across the sea to Cápri. Amanda and David have divided the villa into five self-contained apartments in which they offer holiday rentals.
“Our first insight to Campania was more than a decade ago, in 2002,” Amanda explains. “Castellabate captured us instantly with its maze of ancient streets, the gentle warm glow of the street lamps on the stonework in the piazza, the beautiful beaches of fine golden sand and the crystal clear water. Plus, of course, the overwhelming generosity of the Cilento people. For us, there’s something quite unexplainably magical about Castellabate. It’s a gem.
“Our lives were changed at the Albergo Il Castello in Castellabate. Everything good started from there. Franca the owner introduced us to real Italian cooking as well as giving us excellent insight to the local area. Buying abroad had never previously crossed our minds, but in Castellabate we felt so at home, and we wanted to create something that other people could also enjoy. So we took the plunge and bought Villa Alberto. We found the purchase procedure much simpler than in England, and all paperwork was translated into English for us. Good builders and skilled workers were readily available for our restoration and conversion work. Even with the initial language barrier, things were soon understood over a coffee and a few sketches. Anything unexpected was quickly resolved thanks to local people. There was always someone on hand or a friend of theirs who could help.
“Since 2007, we've been offering high-quality holiday accommodation to people who come from all over the world seeking a taste of authentic Italy. My advice to anyone thinking of buying a home in Campania is: if you have thought your purchase through and your heart tells you to do it, do it. We are lucky enough to spend part of our life in a wonderful climate, often hosting family and friends, and always meeting lots of interesting people. It’s been the most wonderful experience. Thank you, Castellabate, for all these adventures, for giving us a better quality of life, and for teaching me how to cook! The quality of foodstuffs here is just wonderful. The Cilento area prides itself on using seasonal vegetables, fresh local fish and homemade cheeses. It’s famous for its delectable mushrooms, homemade pasta, asparagus, artichokes, the sweetest garlic imaginable, wonderful olive oil, fresh fruit and of course an abundance of knowledge in the kitchen, handed down through the generations.” www.ownersdirect.co.uk/italy/it1032.htm
Karen Hurley and her partner Peter Turner, based in Kent, own a house in the medieval hill-town of Calitri.
“We’re quite well-travelled, but Italy is the place we like most,” Karen says. “In 2008 we decided to look for a little holiday home, a place to escape the pressures of our jobs occasionally. We had a holiday in Sicily, and came over to Campania on a whim. We liked the area, made further enquiries, and ended up staying in Calitri for a week during a major festival period. Calitri is an absolutely amazing little hillside town that I completely and utterly fell in love with.
“We used the online property portal Gate-Away, and through that we found our estate agent, Emma Basile of Porta D’Oriente. Emma is a local woman who was absolutely wonderful in helping us through the whole process. She guided us through all the Italian legalities, negotiated with our builders, and made sure the building work was high-quality. She made everything easy for us. We had no problems whatsoever, and there were no hidden costs. It was a very smooth process. The local workmen were great, and the whole thing was extremely good value.
“The countryside here is beautiful, but I wanted to buy in the town itself because I wanted to find out more about Italian culture. I just love the sense of community in Calitri. We’ve been made extremely welcome. We’re immersed in Italian life here, which is exactly what we wanted. I know more of my neighbours in my little holiday home in Calitri than I do in the road I live on in the UK!
“One morning just after our property was finished, Pete and I went out to the shops for a while. And when we came back, someone had left three roses outside our door. Three roses is the symbol of the town. We never found out who did it. It was a charming gesture of welcome. We took friends out to Calitri in May, and they were completely blown away by the friendliness and old-fashioned courtesy of the local people. It reminded them of Britain in the 1950s.
“Our property is in the old part of town and would originally have been a storeroom and place to keep the donkeys. The back part of the building is dug out of the sheer rock of the hillside, which makes it very atmospheric. We made that our bedroom. It’s extremely pretty. We go out to Calitri as often as we can. We wanted a little bolthole with beautiful scenery, relaxation, superb food and wine, charming people and culture – that was our brief. And we’re delighted to have found all we wanted!”
All photographs on this page
by Fleur Kinson