Wealthy Italians splash out on private islands

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The Independent Online

Italy's rich are taking the national obsession with private beaches to a new level by snapping up their own islands as rising seas and environmental damage spoil some of the trendiest bathing spots in the country.

While the middle classes make do rubbing shoulders with Eurotrash and regimented private beach clubs in Tuscany, Liguria and the Amalfi Coast, those that can are opting for a rather more exclusive alternative.

Last year a record 150 islands, from Croatia's coast to the Caribbean and the South Seas, were bought by Italians. Many VIPs who buy them like to keep quiet, but there were unconfirmed reports that leading Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani had bought a small Greek island for more than £100m.

The smallest outcrops in less desirable areas went for as little as €20,000 (£17,700). But most buyers are prepared to pay €250,000 which, according to Mario Breglia of the Milan-based Scenari Immobiliari property research group, would get you a bolt-hole in Northern Europe, the Canadian lakes or Croatia. "Those who are able to pay more can look at more exotic places, particularly Central America," he said.

Customers with €500,000 or more can start enquiring about the coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico or the Maldives. Islands in the Caribbean went for €7m. Islands off the coasts of Norway, Brazil and Greece have also proved a draw for Italian customers. And according to La Repubblica, the Italian demand for islands looks set this year to outstrip that of 2010.

The choice of islands has never been better, as governments seek to refill coffers emptied by recession. In 2009 Croatia said it was putting its Brioni Islands in the Adriatic on sale, in the hope of making more than €1bn.

The wealthy classes' passion for islands will not cheer most Italians – who pay to line up like sardines on the private beaches that dominate much of Italy's coastline. Even these are threatened by climate change and environmental damage, as the destruction of sand dunes and rivers blocked by hydroelectric dams denudes beaches.

Celebrities and party animals turning up at the "in" resorts and lidos at Ostia and Capocotta, outside Rome, this summer, have been shocked at how their favourite stretches of sand have reduced, or in some cases, disappeared.

Resorts in Liguria and Puglia are also under threat from rising seas and environmental damage. To add insult, Italian visitors to top resorts such as Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany are seeing food and accommodation prices soar as the nouveau riche from emerging economies such as Russia flock there.