Atlantic waves: buying in the Azores

Don't buy in the Azores if you want to party, says Laura Latham. It's about good prices, rural charm, outdoor pursuits and some of the freshest air in the world
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The Independent Online

It may be over 1,000km from Lisbon but the Azores is resolutely Portuguese. The archipelago has been under Portuguese rule since the 15th century. But it happens to be in the mid-Atlantic, and consists of nine inhabited islands, on which remain small communities that make a living from tourism and agriculture. It now also has an interesting selection of reasonably priced properties, including stone cottages, bungalows and new builds for the golfing set.

Yes, it is also slightly isolated. But that's changing. Before this year, the only way of getting to the Azores was via Portugal. Now SATA airlines flies weekly from London to San Miguel, a journey of around four hours.

The tourism isn't mass market, and without many beaches, big development hasn't arrived. Instead, you'll find small cottages and modern villas, many on sale to investors. Buyers tend to have holidayed here and want a second home in an unspoilt location.

Lesley Woodward, of local agency Azores Properties, says most buyers have fallen in love with the Azores' rural charms. "If you're looking for peace, tranquillity and clean air then this is the place for you," she says. Indeed, the islands are pretty. Originally volcanic, their maritime climate has created lovely, variegated landscapes: pine-fringed lakes, subtropical plants, and rolling fields and rocky coastlines that conjure coastal Ireland.

The properties are attractive, too. Although newer homes can be seen, the houses amid the green hills are mostly old, pretty cottages. Typically, they are single-storey, whitewashed and stone-built with bright brickwork.

Prices aren't astronomical, although Woodward says there's been a 10 to 15 per cent rise in the last two years. She says you should expect to pay from around £85,000 to £120,000 for a stone house, possibly near the sea, with two bedrooms and a small plot of land. As ever, location matters. Houses near bigger towns like Horta and Ponta Delgada sell for more.

For just under £100,000, for example, Azores Properties has a lovely stone house with 500sq m of land and sea views. Equally, there is a property consisting of a whitewashed cottage and stone house being sold as one lot for £102,000. Modern bungalows and houses with swimming pools will cost around £200,000.

It is possible to buy land plots and property in need of restoration with a budget of around £50,000; modern apartments in the "city" of Ponta Delgada, population 65,000, will cost from £70,000. However, the best second homes and rentals will undoubtedly be in the prettier rural or coastal spots. Woodward says that rental opportunities are good, and her self-catering cabin is booked from April to October – whale-watching season.

The sense of open space and going back in time will appeal to many from the UK. But people have to be prepared for the downsides. Woodward points out that the weather can be pretty testing, and that the people who fare best "don't need too much in the way of entertainment".

It is also great for golf: the Azores' first golf development, Azores Golf Islands, recently launched on San Miguel. Carlos Martinis of Siram, one of the co-developers, says the isolation attracted them. "The conditions ensure a great golfing experience."

Properties will cost from £1,870 per square metre, with a mix of large, luxury villas and apartments available off-plan – a sign that the Azores may become a new tourism target. "A lot of investment has taken place in the last decade, especially in the infrastructure and new hotels," Martinis says. "We're developing new products for new markets."

The company claims to be committed to maintaining the Azores' special atmosphere, and one can only hope it's as good as its word. It would be a shame to lose that peaceful sense of stepping back in time. Woodward is clear that people who come here should only do so "because they love it". Right now, a dedicated band of people seem to be falling in love with it quite deeply.

Azores Properties:; 00 351 29 29 49 018

Buyers' guide

* Because the islands are part of the EU, no visa is needed for visits of up to six months, but a permit is needed for residency.

* The buying system follows the one on the Portuguese mainland, with an initial contract (promesso de compra e venda) and 10 per cent deposit to secure the property. All land and title searches must then be presented to a notary, who will check and authorise the sale before completion.

* Structural surveys are not generally done on property here, so examine buildings thoroughly.

* There is a property tax of up to eight per cent of the purchase price; the upper limit is £453,000.