Miles of white sand, clean seas and untamed mountains - it's hard to believe that an area offering all this stayed off the well-beaten tourist track for so long.
But Calabria, tucked away in the toe of Italy, is a forgotten corner of Europe. For years Italians, who decamp here en masse each summer, have had it to themselves. But that's about to change.
For those who have already fallen in love with the area, the news that Thomson and Club Med are about to arrive will hardly be welcome. But for those looking for a holiday home from which they can make money, it should be viewed rather differently. Where tour operators lead, the property market follows, and Calabria is widely tipped to be the next investment hot-spot.
With coastal accommodation selling from as little as £22,000 for an apartment, and large country homes for under £200,000, the region is attracting a lot of interest. As well as investors, a lot of ordinary people are catching the Ryanair flight to Lamezia Terme airport, looking for a getaway in an unspoilt location for a price they can scarcely believe.
"The property market in the rest of Italy is quite established and pricey," says Alison Thornton of Headlands International. "But Calabria's not about the investment as such." She says her buyers love the idea of owning in Italy and are looking for somewhere akin to Spain 20 years ago, rather than seeking pure capital gains. Nevertheless, she says that those who pick up the best beachfront properties now could see annual returns of 10 to 15 per cent over the next few years.
The east coast, around the towns of Bianco, Siderno and Monasterace, is the main focus of much new development. Janet Fairfax of Cresta Villas, which sells beachfront property here, claims that her company was surprised by the speed at which Calabria took off. "Interest has been phenomenal," she says, "beyond our expectations."
Fairfax adds that buyers' enthusiasm isn't just caused by low prices but by Calabria's laid-back, traditional atmosphere. All the same, she admits cost is a powerful motivation. "Prices are starting to creep upwards but we're trying to keep them down because that's the big attraction. Even so, pound for pound, it's still a good deal."
The cheapest apartments on Cresta's books start at £54,000 for a one-bedroom property five minutes from the beach, with seafront places from £58,000. Fairfax predicts the next hot area will be the town of Crotone, which is getting upgraded facilities and transport links, but expects to see higher prices there.
Sier Schravesande of International Property Link is another enthusiastic supporter of Calabria. He operates on the west coast, an area of lovely beaches and charming villages, and claims annual capital growth of 15 to 18 per cent over the next five years is possible as property is already in demand.
Schravesande has apartments near the beach in the town of Marinelle for £80,000 and country properties starting at £44,520 for one bedroom. These are built on a hillside in traditional stone and wood with fabulous views. "I'm really excited about Calabria," he says, "it's so unspoilt." He claims first-time visitors are blown away by the scenery - and how little it costs to live there. "The same properties in Spain would be at least twice the price."
If you're seeking an investment, Antonio Deidda of A&M Immobiliare claims that the right property in the right location could reap great rewards. He points out that Calabria is already starting to see higher visitor numbers. "It's very easy to rent here - in August a good residence by the sea can rent for between €1,000 and €4,000 (£670-£2,680) a week," he says.
For those who want to integrate into Italian life, though, there are many places almost untouched by development. The small town of Scalea is a popular resort with winding alleys, historic houses and a traditional ambience. Property ranges from quaint stone townhouses and older apartments to large farmhouses and villas in need of restoration. Prices can dip below £20,000 for flats but don't expect to be living in a gated complex - this is a working town and you'll be buying into a tight-knit, if friendly community.
British agent David Thorpe set up Scalea Property when he realised the town's potential. "Calabria is a great place to invest," he says. "It's slowly being discovered by non-Italians, prices here are low and it has one of the best climates in the Mediterranean." Thorpe says that although interest from foreign buyers has caused some increase in prices there are still lots of good buys.
Homes on his books range from apartments costing just over £10,000 to full-scale restorations priced at £150,700 (including renovation work). Thorpe sites a recent instance in which a property bought and refurbished three years ago for £23,000 has increased in value by £7,000 each year since - perhaps a sign that the best for Calabria is yet to come.
Cresta Villas, 01489 482 282; www.crestavillas.com
Headlands International, 01933 654 000; www.headlands.co.uk
Scalea Property, +39 328 688 2319; www.scalea-property.com
International Property Link, 08009 555 555; www.internationalpropertylink.com
A&M Immobiliare, +39 (0) 985 91807; www.aeemme.itReuse content