where to buy in italy
 

This long-loved region is famed for its beaches and stunningly pretty architecture. Its steep hinterland, meanwhile, is a dreamy place of charming villages and great-value property. Fleur Kinson gives you the latest on the market.

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When it comes to attracting long-term leisure visitors and international property-buyers, Liguria can be said to have one of the oldest lineages of any region in Italy. Northern European artists and intellectuals, as well as convalescents seeking a healthful climate, flocked to Liguria in the 19th century. And the region has never really dipped in desirability since.

        It’s easy to see why people keep coming. Geographically, Liguria is a dream. Forming a rainbow shape on the map, its bottom edge is a long, delightful seaside and its top section is an unending line of leafy mountains that shelter the coast from any cold northern air. The climate is supremely kind and gentle, with warm, fresh summers yielding to mild and bright winters. (No wonder those fin-de-siècle convalescents flocked here.) Liguria’s coast often goes by the name of the ‘Italian Riviera’, as it directly continues the line of heavenly beaches beginning in the south of France. While as elegant and cosmopolitan as its neighbouring French seaside, Liguria has none of the Côte d’Azur’s snootiness. This is a very friendly and welcoming place. The buildings are far prettier than on the other side of the French border, too. Art Nouveau villas dot the sea-plunging hillsides, and colourful trompe l’œil paintwork is a common sight – playing tricks on what’s real and what’s not.
        But for all the justified fame of places like San Remo, Portofino, the Cinque Terre and Rapallo, Liguria is more than just a gilded coastline. Its steeply-climbing hinterland is a peaceful wonderland of wooded slopes and wide vistas, where beguiling villages typically appear as a clutch of terracotta rooftops spilling round a delicate campanile. Some of the best olives in the world are grown in Liguria’s quiet heights, and the cooking up here is famed for its fragrance and delicacy. As a contrast to the crowded, lively coast, inland Liguria makes a welcome retreat. Even just a few miles away from the sea, property prices drop dramatically, and it is here in the sleepy hinterland where many British people have chosen to buy homes in recent years. The value-for-money is excellent, the local people are warmly welcoming, and the landscape is a constant inspiration. Plus, if one tires of swimming in the pools made of crystal-clear mountain water, it’s only a short drive down to the beach.  
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MARKET FORCES
While various property markets round the world continue to endure crises, the market in Liguria remains remarkably buoyant by comparison. [Time of writing is 2011.] This is a very safe place to put your money, a long established region with perennial international appeal. As across much of Italy, there hasn’t been any over-building in Liguria. What’s more, wise legislation has long prevented any insensitive development here – protecting the appeal of the region and the value of its properties. According to Matteo Scandolera of LiguriaHomes, “During the last year and a half, property prices in Liguria haven’t stopped rising, even if only very slowly.” Matteo believes one reason for this is the flight of buyers from slightly unstable Spain and very expensive France. Western Liguria in particular is becoming better known to both sets of buyers.
        With a well-known coast and an increasingly better-known interior, Liguria isn’t the cheapest part of Italy. But it offers very good value for money. Beautiful, stable, accessible, rentable – the region ticks a lot of boxes. There are prices here for many types of budget and as suggested earlier, the cost of properties a few miles inland is particularly reasonable. While large seaside villas with pools might ask €600,000 or more, a similar property a few miles inland can go for half as much. One-bedroom apartments on the coast can ask €200,000, but in the hinterland hills you might get a detached two-bedroom house for a similar price. Inland restoration projects, meanwhile, start at less than €100,000. Buyers hoping to cover some of their costs through holiday rental income should note that Liguria has excellent rental prospects – not just on its gilded coastline but also in its interior, where Brits and other northern Europeans come seeking space and tranquillity.

THE COAST AND ITS HINTERLAND
Liguria’s coastline can be divided into two distinct halves, with regional capital Genoa sitting in the middle. The western half, from Genoa to the border with France, was historically the first part of Liguria to attract tourists, and there are venerable old resorts here such as Bordighera, Ospedaletti and San Remo. Western beaches tend to be broad and sandy, and the hinterland rises gently through pretty hills before finally reaching steeper heights. The climate is ever so slightly better on the western coast than in the east. Currently the best value-for-money property is available in and around Imperia, a once-industrial town that has made itself increasingly attractive to tourists in recent years with, among other things, the addition of a huge promenade, a new marina, golf courses and so on. 
        The eastern half of Liguria’s coast, from Genoa to the border with Tuscany, became super-chic in modern times and is much loved by the yachting set. The area is home to extremely pricy spots like Portofino, the Cinque Terre and Rapallo – places with very little property on the market. Eastern beaches are often small and intimate, frequently pebbly or semi-pebbly. The hinterland, meanwhile, rises much more suddenly and dramatically than in the west, creating particularly arresting backdrops to the beaches – leafy hills dotted with colourful villas and so on. Cliff-bound fishing villages and inaccessibly steep terrain help give the eastern part of Liguria its exclusive air.
         Beachside property is fairly expensive everywhere, but it’s generally pricier in the east than the west. You’ll be competing with rich Italian buyers from Milan and Turin if you buy on either coast. Matteo Scandolera recommends coastal buyers consider an off-plan property to save money, or making what will be a very sound investment in a renovated period villa. Take note that in Liguria as elsewhere in Italy, Italian holiday-home-owners want to be as close to the water as possible. An excellent prospect, therefore, is to go a short distance inland – which is what most British buyers in Liguria have tended to do over the last decade or so. It’s quieter inland, much cheaper, and you can still enjoy easy access to the sea. Plus, even just a couple of miles in, you’re likely to enjoy wonderful views from on high. You’ll do best to stick to within ten miles of the sea, however, if you want to maximize holiday rentability and keep all the benefits of Liguria’s coastal micro-climate. If you climb too far into the interior, you increasingly lose the region’s famously gentle and temperate weather.     
 

HILLS AND VILLAGES

As we’ve already noted, inland Liguria is a different world from the region’s giddy seaside. Quiet, forested, and climbing towards magnificent heights, the interior is dotted with lovely medieval villages full of hospitable people. The choice is yours on how far in and up you want to go. Property prices tumble in inverse proportion to altitude. Note that even high up, there’s still plenty to do and see. Liguria’s mountain walking trails are abundant and well-organized. Many of the region’s clear mountain streams have been dammed to create public swimming pools. Meanwhile, the coast is rarely a long drive away, even high up in the mountains.

 
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        As for recommended inland areas in which to look, you might try the Nervia Valley behind Bordighera – particularly in lesser-known villages like Rochetta Nervina and Pigna rather than Dolceacqua which can fill with tourists in the summer. We’ve already mentioned the especially good-value property available in the vicinity of Imperia. Here you might try villages like Borgomaro and Vasia, and the Argentina valley behind Taggia. If you’d like to be not far from the fashionable beaches of Liguria’s east, try the area inland of Chiavari for reasonably-priced property. Note that throughout the interior, properties in larger villages with full facilities like bars, restaurants and shops are generally higher priced, but if you are prepared to buy in a small village nearby, with fewer facilities, prices can be much lower.

        Is it a good idea to restore an old property in inland Liguria? Anne Nathan of The Italian Property Company says yes, and that this is a good route to value-for-money. “Old property in Liguria is absolutely stunning,” Anne says, “with beautiful vaulted stone ceilings, original beams and fireplaces.” Building work is inexpensive in the region, too, so it doesn’t cost a fortune to fix up an old place to your liking. Anne also notes that “Something which has become quite popular in Liguria now is the ‘cemento armato’. This is a half-finished shell structure, which will be finished exactly as you want it. None of the inside space has been filled in, so you can divide it as you wish, with smaller or larger bedrooms. You choose colours, tiles, kitchens and bathrooms, and come away with something more to your taste and much cheaper than an already finished villa.”

LOOKING INLAND
Whatever type of property you buy in Liguria, you’re likely to have pretty good to very good holiday rental prospects, depending on where it is – with prospects naturally greatest on the coast. There aren’t quite enough high-quality rental properties across the region to satisfy demand. Anne Nathan of The Italian Property Company says that “Rental value is of course a question of competition. A flat in the south of France, for example, is difficult to rent because there is so much competition and price-cutting is rampant. The rentals market in Liguria doesn’t have the same kind of competition and therefore results in a greater profit. It’s obviously wise to investigate one of the bigger rentals sites like www.holidayrentals.co.uk or www.ownersdirect.com to see how much competition there is for a similar property before making your investment.”


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www.casatravella.com

www.liguriaproperties.com
www.theitalianproperty.com
www.homesinitaly.co.uk
www.liguriahomes.com

www.immobiliarelereve.it
www.casaantica.com

www.royareal.com
www.belpalazzo.com
www.casafortezza.de


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The far west – San Remo and vicinity
This corner of Liguria has all the advantages of being close to the French border (and Nice airport), but remains miraculously untouched by any of the Côte d’Azur’s snootiness. There are abundant sandy beaches overlooked by family-friendly resort-towns – often with lively Belle Epoque architecture. The climate is exceptionally gentle, with flower-growing being a big local business, and flowers blooming even in February. Bordighera and Ospedaletti are venerable old resorts in this area, but the granddaddy of them all is elegant, crumbling San Remo – with its labyrinthine old lanes, faded casino, daily flower market and designer shopping bargains. Set on a large sheltered bay backed by an amphitheatre of hills, property prices in San Remo ought to be ruinous, but often aren’t. While some feel that Liguria’s western seaside lacks the chic, bijou charm of the expensive east, the west’s hilly hinterland dotted with ancient villages seem to meet with universal praise, and affordable property here has encouraged quite a bit of ex-pat settlement. Pretty inland villages such as Apricale, Dolceacqua and mountaintop Triora are becoming increasingly firm fixtures on the tourist trail. While not quite as reliable as the coastal resorts, there are fairly good rental prospects in the western hinterland, and a great lifestyle on offer.

The central west – Impéria to Genoa
This stretch of Liguria’s coast is not well-known to Brits, but its string of family-oriented resorts on sandy beaches are very popular with Italians and other nationalities – perhaps especially Diano Marina. The majority of Liguria’s least expensive seaside property lies in this central western part, and you should note that two- and three-bedroom homes represent particularly good value here. There are pleasant, honest working towns along this coast too. Impéria is a business-like port with a charming old quarter, and property prices in its vicinity are still reasonable. Industrious Savona has a largely modern flavour thanks to extensive war-damage and rebuilding, but retains its historic core and huge cathedral full of Renaissance marbles. From Savona to Genoa the quality of beaches and swimming declines, but there are some lovely little towns, such as Albissola and Varazze. Inland, the terrain of Liguria’s central west quickly climbs to leafy heights, cut through with winding mountain roads and sprinkled with charming little hilltowns and villages. As everywhere in the region, property prices tumble with the increase in altitude.

Genoa
Salty sea-dog Genoa, still Italy’s largest port, has thrived on seaborne trade for 1,500 years. It’s a very lively and colourful city, not overlarge at just 600,000 inhabitants. Its gloriously eclectic architecture jumbles up and down steep hillsides – glossy boutiques flanking Art Nouveau villas nestling beside Renaissance palaces rubbing up against medieval tenements. Much of the shore is obscured by warehouses and container bases, but a slick new marina offers art venues, café life, and perhaps the world’s best aquarium. Hugging the Mediterranean, the city is 30km long but only 3km wide. It has absorbed what used to be separate settlements – two examples being Pegli to the west and Nervi to the east, both surprisingly serene seaside towns popular with commuters. For property, unpretentious Genoa is one of the more affordable spots in Liguria, with larger properties representing particularly good value. The city’s day-to-day living costs are also reasonable. Buyers hoping to garner rental returns should consider targeting longer-term tenants, as well as tapping into the modest holiday lets market here.

The central east – Monte di Portofino and vicinity
East of Genoa, Liguria’s coastline is much steeper and rockier than in the west. Tiny cliff-bound coves sit at the feet of leafy slopes dotted with colourful villas. Many deem it more romantic terrain than the flatter west, and eastern Liguria has for several decades been more popular with holidaymaking Brits. Visitors come in their hundreds of thousands to wander secluded inlets and steep footpaths, admiring the vivid blue and turquoise sea, the tall cliffs sprouting evergreens, the fruit-coloured houses and the white luxury yachts. The Monte di Portofino area is especially chic and desirable, with some astronomical property costs. Prices in dainty Portofino are prohibitive to most, but Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo are larger and slightly less exclusive places to consider if you want to buy on this mini-peninsula. East of Monte di Portofino, Chiávari and Lavagna each have a good stretch of sand, while cheery Sestri Levante has two, and a stunning central boulevard to boot. Inland from here, green slopes and painted villages abound. An especially charming spot is Varese Ligure, a medieval market town with arcaded streets. Lower prices and good roads to the sea make the inland east an attractive proposition.

The far east - La Spezia and vicinity
A large modern town with a giant naval base and a smattering of heavy industry, La Spezia is a pleasant enough place. But its stunning neighbours are what draw the tourist’s attention down to this part of Liguria. They come primarily for the Cinque Terre – five cliff-bound villages formerly accessible only by boat, where terraces have been carved into the near-vertical landscape to hold brightly-painted homes and endless grapevines. There are few bargains to be had in these five semi-accessible and much-sought-after locales, but superb rental returns await anyone able to secure a place. Note that the villages don’t permit cars, and that their sleepy tranquillity vanishes at the height of the tourist season. Elsewhere in Liguria’s extreme east are beautiful Portovénere with its pink and yellow tower-houses staring serenely over the water, and swish Lérici with its castle, beaches and marina. Both towns are almost as popular and pricy as the Cinque Terre. Bargain-hunters should definitely look inland, where prices start tumbling even just a short distance from the sea.



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My Life in Liguria
Twickenham-based Sophie Chalk owns a three-bedroom house with a self-contained holiday apartment in the village of Cetta up in the leafy mountains of Liguria. Her Italian adventure all came about by chance. “I have close friends who are a married couple,” she explains, “and we all thought we couldn’t afford to buy a holiday home of our own. So we would sit and dream over glasses of red wine about buying a house together in Normandy and sharing it. Then in 2003 my friends found a home in Liguria at an amazingly good price, and made sure there was somewhere for me in the same village. My plan was to live there more or less full-time. Then I met the love of my life in London. Re-met him actually, for the first time in thirty years. It was love again at first sight, and we now have a six-year-old son. So I didn’t relocate to Italy!
        “Now my little family goes out to my house in Liguria about six or seven times a year and we also try to spend the whole summer there. It’s gorgeous in the winter too. Bright blue skies; cold crisp air. I’ve spent every New Year’s Eve in Cetta for the past nine years. There’s a big bonfire near the church, and we all drink prosecco and hot chocolate and eat panettone. The people in the villageare incredibly welcoming and they include us in everything. I’ve never experienced such a sense of community in Britain. In Cetta I know everybody’s names and where they live.
        “The area is wonderful. You look out of the house at night at the line of the hills, and it’s just absolutely peaceful. You can only hear the river and the birds. We have terraces with uninterrupted views into the virgin forest beyond. The coast is forty minutes away, and we go a couple of times a week. But in Molini just below our village, they dam the river in the summer and it has a natural pool of mountain water. We go there every day for a swim and lie out on the warm slate. In the winter we go toboganning. The walking is fantastic; there are so many paths and it’s well-organized.
        “Because I was single when I bought it, I wanted a house big enough for all my friends and relatives to visit. So I bought three small connected houses, and knocked them together into one. My estate agent, Jenny Rona who set up the agency Casa Antica, was extremely helpful. My builders were great, and there were no unexpected problems. We replaced all the floors, put in bathrooms and central heating. I converted the ground floor cantina into a lovely one-bedroom apartment with barrel-vaulted ceilings and its own terrace, which I rent out.” www.ownersdirect.co.uk/italy/it4806.htm


Our Home in Liguria

John and Sally Stenning from Hereford own two adjacent properties in the leafy hills of Liguria, about ten miles from the coast. One is an old olive mill, complete with its original grinding stone and pressing equipment, and the other is the old mill house. “They’re right next to a small river,” John says, “and there’s a pond to swim in. There’s a long garden which goes right down by the riverside. It’s very peaceful. The houses sit in a valley on their own.” Having restored both properties, the Stennings now enjoy several visits every year, and rent the homes to holidaymakers from May to October.
        What drew them to Liguria? “We have friends who live in the region,” John says, “and they introduced us to it. We just love Italy. We used to make lots of little trips across into France next door, but we don’t bother now. It’s wonderful where we are. It’s off the tourist trail, and ideal for walking. You go out the front door and there are walking trails climbing the mountains behind us. We’re extremely fond of the excellent food in the area, and there are plenty of restaurants to go to – none costing a fortune. The local olive oil is fabulous.
        “We bought the mill in 2004. It didn’t need a lot of work, and we restored it in six months. Then we bought the mill house, which was just a shell really, and that took a year and a half to fix up. All the local people were very helpful. The builders were good, and we were generally very pleased with the timing and the quality of the work.
        “The rentals are very successful. In the summer period we don’t have any difficulty at all with rentals, and let both properties very easily. It helps having a name like The Old Olive Mill – that appeals to people. I would say that about 60% of our clients are British and 40% continentals plus people from further afield like New Zealand. We get a very good hit rate – several thousand hits a year. The houses are ideal for people who want something that isn’t in a busy area. It’s so quiet and relaxing. When we’re out there we enjoy walking and visiting the sea. Some of the beaches are reasonably crowded but it’s all Italians.
        “It’s not a difficult area if you don’t speak much Italian. There are always people who speak English and there’s always someone to help you. Most of the restaurateurs speak English. It’s such a lovely place. If you want clubs and pubs then it’s not the best area, but it’s ideal as far as I’m concerned!”   
www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p412735





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All photographs on this page
by Fleur Kinson


Where to Buy in Italy