Property abroad: Tuscany

Forget boring new-builds – Tuscany's the place to find character and history

There was a time when it seemed that Tuscany was a victim of its own success. So popular was it with British second-home owners that the nickname "Chiantishire" turned off buyers who wanted a more "authentic" Italian location.

However, the region hasn't lost any appeal for those who love its stunning countryside and beautiful cities. "The market in Tuscany isn't struggling like other areas," says Andrew Hawkins of Chesterton International. "In fact, we're seeing high levels of enquiries at the top end of the market."

Hawkins says that today's buyers want restored character properties with luxury fittings, and because the region has never embraced mass new-build, it has retained its ambience and exclusivity. "Tuscany attracts older buyers who have holidayed there many times," he says.

It's not uncommon to see properties priced at several million, but Hawkins says that it's possible to buy apartments in attractive renovation projects from £250,000 and villas from £500,000, depending on the location, but anything close to Florence, Pisa and Siena will carry a premium.

Real Italia's Luca Catalano says that the area south of Pisa, between the coast and the historic town of Volterra, is largely ignored by UK buyers, but can offer good opportunities. "This region is very accessible, virtually unspoiled and is also good value compared to better-known areas."

Real Italia is marketing Ville degli Olivi, a historic rural residence in Lajatico, that is being turned into apartments priced from £200,000. The renovation is the work of the architect Alberto Bocelli, the brother of the opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

The Italian property expert Gemma Knowles agrees that this part of Tuscany has plenty to offer buyers who want rural Italy but with amenities. "The most costly area is Chianti, between Siena and Greve," she says, "but the coast is pretty, and if you buy around half an hour inland, towards Volterra, you get beautiful countryside, historic towns and the coast."

Knowles has several restorations on her books, ranging from apartments in a converted salami factory, starting at £134,000, to the Buriano estate, which dates to the 12th century and is being renovated into apartments priced from £318,600. "Buriano is a stately home in a historic area, which will appeal to buyers who love this part of Italy," says Knowles.

Chesterton International: 020-3040 8210, _and_overseas.aspx; Buriano Estate:; RealItalia: 0870 890 9936,; GK Italian Property: 020-7993 2967,

Italy: Buyer's guide

* It's common in Italy for buyers to pay a commission to the sales agent of around 3 to 5 per cent.

* There is a 10 per cent purchase tax on second homes. For a main residence, it's 3 per cent.

* Italy's housing market wasn't as overheated as other countries, so hasn't suffered such a drastic downturn. However, price reductions can be found if you shop around.

* Tuscany is served by Pisa, Florence and Rome airports, to which a wide choice of airlines fly. A good rail network also operates here.