For the past few decades, in the hills between Florence and Siena during the summer months, the Tuscan voice has often been drowned out by the accents of Gloucestershire - it's not called Chiantishire for nothing. Umbria has been another favourite destination for the British.
However, the latest Italian hotspot is just to the south-east, in the rapidly up-and-coming central region of Abruzzo. "There has been a surge in demand during the past couple of years," says Pier Lucca di Chiccio of Jackson-Stops International, who specialises in marketing properties to foreign investors. "Up to 90 per cent of my clients are from the UK and I am getting about 10 new inquiries from there every day."
Abruzzo is an area of outstanding natural beauty. More than a third of it is remote, rugged national parks, where chamois, wolves and bears roam. It has a glorious coastline, and great skiing on its Apennine slopes. From the Gran Sasso in the north west - Italy's highest point - you can see across the country, from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean. The people are extremely friendly, too.
The region is divided into four provinces - L'Aquila to the west, and Teramo, Pescara and Chieti along its eastern coast from north to south. L'Aquila is the largest and least populated province and the main town serves as the administrative capital. This is a place of castles, medieval hilltop villages and ghost-towns deserted by sheep farmers.
Prices along the coastline tend to be highest, particularly in Teramo and Pescara, which enjoy long sandy beaches. Prices in Chieti tend to be about 30 per cent lower because it is rockier and less swimmer-friendly.
Bargain hunters are also advised to scout for properties in the foothills behind the coastline, in and around the hilltop villages, where semi-derelict period properties can be picked up for a song. "I advise clients that 300 to 400 metres above sea level is the ideal altitude," says Di Chiccio. "You are still within striking distance of the beaches but you benefit from cooler summer evenings."
Prime sites include Loreto Aprutino and Civitella Casanova, about 25km and 30km inland respectively from the Pescara coastline.
Here one can pick up characterful two- to three-bedroom houses for as little as £130,000. Often these will require quite a lot of restoration before they become habitable - but with a local average income of around £5,000, building costs remain relatively low.
Properties in L'Aquila are considerably cheaper. The province's eponymous capital is an ancient university town, a 45-minute drive from Rome. It is the gateway to the Gran Sasso National Park - a bit like Switzerland with olive trees.
Another national park - the Sirente-Velino - stretches to the south, while around the province are fabulous archaeological sites and towns and villages such as Santo Stefano di Sessanio, where spaghetti westerns were filmed.
Another popular village is Paganica on the River Vera, again to the south-east towards the spectacular Gran Sasso range.
The most densely populated province is Pescara, where most of the region's commerce and industry is concentrated. The main town, Pescara, is nothing to write home about architecturally, but offers bustling nightlife and a good range of amenities including cheap flights to London Stansted. It is a couple of hours' drive from Rome.
Prices in Abruzzo are still 30 per cent lower than in Tuscany. However, Di Chiccio warns not to delay in taking advantage of bargains.
"We are already witnessing around 15 per cent annual growth in the market," he says, "and as word of the region's many attractions spreads, many more people are going to start becoming interested and prices are inevitably going to rise still further. Things look set to go ballistic and now is undoubtedly the best time to buy."Reuse content