Roll over Beethoven, and take Bach and Brahms with you. In Reading, the three Bs are beer, biscuits and bulbs, reflecting the companies and industries dominant in Reading in the 19th century, such as Courage, Huntley & Palmer and Suttons. The legacy survives, although these companies have either upped sticks or given up the ghost.
Close to Windsor, Reading has ancient roots and strong royal connections. Reading is the final resting place of Henry I, who founded its now-ruined Abbey in 1121, and the town was granted a Royal Charter in 1253 by Henry III. Today's familiar names are corporate, with Microsoft, Oracle and other high-tech firms forming the foundation of the area's current prosperity. Magician Paul Daniels lives in Wargrave, and Lenny Henry and Dawn French own a home in Shinfield.
Sara Batting, a Reading native and estate agent since 1975, has always lived in the Thames Valley. "When I was a teenager, Reading was a sleepy market town, and now it is a buzzing, international place."
She recalls the sudden spate of building that occurred in the mid-Seventies. "Metal Box and Foster Wheeler moved here from London, and the town took on a new atmosphere, becoming a commuter area not just for London but also for Europe."
Several Millennium projects, including the waterside Oracle shopping and leisure centre, brought trendy waterside restaurants and bars to the city centre. The university attracts students from all over the world. "You hear foreign accents all the time. Reading is truly cosmopolitan," Batting says.
"Property prices are holding up quite well, especially in Caversham, Pangbourne and Sonning," she adds. "They are doing less well in Lower Earley, for example, a huge estate three miles east, one of Europe's largest.
"Compared to a few years ago, buyers have more choice. Many people are making lifestyle changes, downsizing and moving to the West country, where property is cheaper. They are being replaced by young families, especially with children. Berkshire has top schools, both fee-paying and state."
The investment market is similarly strong in areas not yet saturated with landlords. "The University and Royal Berkshire Hospital attract professionals as well as students, and rentals seem to be holding up in that area," she says. "But in some places quite a few landlords have properties that have been empty, and many of them are selling."
THE LOW DOWN
Rail service between Reading and London Paddington is fast (under 30 minutes) and frequent service (every 10 minutes at peak), and a line also serves London Waterloo. Reading is just under 30 miles from Heathrow.
The four-year-old Oracle Centre has more than 90 shops (including House of Fraser, Debenhams, John Lewis and M&S) and nearly 30 bars and restaurants.
The 10-screen Warner Village is in The Oracle centre, Showcase Cinema is in Loddon Bridge, and the Reading Film Theatre is in Whiteknights. A multi-screen cinema is also located in Winnersh. Theatres include the Hexagon, 21 South Street Arts Centre, and the Abbey Ruins for the annual Shakespeare in the Ruins. The Concert Hall offers classical music, and the Rivermead Leisure Centre is also a performance venue. Womad this month and the Reading Festival in August are annual events.
Rivermead Leisure Complex has a pool, fitness facilities, squash and badminton courts and a bowls hall. Other centres are South Reading Leisure Centre, Palmer Park, Arthur Hill and Central Swimming Pool. Golf courses, ice skating and dry skiing are available.
The Museum of English Rural Life, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, and the Cole Museum of Zoology are located at the University of Reading. Historic houses in the area include Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace, Highclere Castle and Cliveden.
Near the university, a studio flat in a modern block, £87,950, and a three-bed bay-fronted Victorian-style terrace is £145,950, at Haslams. In Little Early, three-bed semis and detached houses cost about £225,000, and a four-double-bed two-reception detached house is £339,950, at Your Move.
A two-bed first-floor flat in a Victorian country mansion is £229,950, and a two-/three-bed ground-floor flat in a new country-style mansion, £375,000, at Batting.
In Caversham, a five-bed three-storey Georgian-style house with double garage, Japanese garden, and 100-foot Thames frontage, £1.5m, at Batting. A new Bewley two-bed flat overlooking the Holybrook River with undercroft parking is £275,000 at Haslams.
A six-bed grade II 16th-century Tudor country house with large rooms, swimming pool, tennis court and 1.75 acres in Swallowfield 5 miles from Reading, guide price £1m, at Batting
Haslams is selling flats and houses in small developments by Crest Nicholson, Westbury, Charles Church, Highfield and other national and local builders, from £165,000. In Shinfield, four miles south of Reading, Bellway's Church Fields has cottages and detached homes from £249,999 to £579,999 (0118-988 6261). New Banner homes in Woodley, from £220,000 via Romans (0118-974 3503). Among several KingsOak developments is Blake's Quay, from £212,995 for a ground-floor flat (0118 959 1514).
Haslams, 0118 960 1000; Sara Batting, 0118 950 2341; Your Move, 0118 975 7222.