Italy's elite bring La Dolce Vita to London

Russians no longer biggest purchasers of property as Italians seek safe haven from debt crisis at home

From the canalside cafes of Little Venice to Bar Italia's famous cappuccino, it's practically a home from home.

Italians have been finding La Dolce Vita in London after overtaking Russians as the biggest buyers of property in the capital.

Wealthy Italians seeking a safe haven from the debt crisis afflicting their country are investing in London's most sought-after residences.

Figures from estate agents Knight Frank show that Italians accounted for eight per cent of London property purchases since January.

Whilst the "technocratic" Government of Mario Monti has brought some stability to Italy, its austerity measures, such as a property tax on primary residences, are driving some abroad.

Bankers, who took advantage of a €100bn tax amnesty to legalise hidden assets, which was introduced by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, have invested in West London's most desirable properties.

Knight Frank said it had sold a £7.4m luxury home in South Kensington and a £5.2m Chelsea property to Italians in the last year.

The new influx from Rome and Milan has revived memories among long-standing immigrants of the 50s when Soho resounded to Italian voices.

Liam Bailey, Knight Frank's Head of Residential Research, said: "Italian buyers have been a big part of the market for years but since the euro crisis a lot of wealthy Italians have been looking to take their money out of the eurozone. London looks like a safe haven to place their equity." Favoured meeting points for the Italian invasion include the San Lorenzo restaurant in Kensington and the more raucous Frankie's, the sports bar co-founded by the Milan-born champion jockey Frankie Dettori. Italians are said to particularly enjoy South Kensington's "café society".

"It's split between those buying for investment and those to live here," Mr Bailey said.

"The popular areas are Chelsea, south Kensington and Notting Hill. Families are looking for the good schools. But those who are coming here to work are buying in Fulham and even Clapham."

The average Italian property spend with Knight Frank stood at £2.2m last year. The figure has dropped to £1.5m in 2012 with a higher volume of smaller investment purchases bringing the average price down.

Knightsbridge's wealthy includes Ernesto Bertarelli, the pharmaceuticals tycoon ranked fifth in the Rich List of Britain's wealthiest people, with an £8bn fortune. His English wife, Kirsty, was last year named Britain's richest woman.

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