Salisbury has a clock dating from 1386 that still keeps time, one of four extant copies of the Magna Carta, and a cathedral whose 404-foot spire is England's tallest. Wiltshire's only city also has global recognition, thanks to John Constable's familiar paintings of the cathedral nestled amid bucolic water meadows.
The landscape retains its allure. "We are nine miles from the New Forest, surrounded by beautiful rural countryside," says Matthew Glover of Connells. "Salisbury also has a fast, frequent rail service to London. Families are attracted by a good selection of schools, both private and state. There is a strong retirement and, to a lesser extent, second-home market. The market remains reasonably buoyant, although price increases have slowed within the last two months."
The city appealed to Wiltshire native Daniel Hunt, a youthful estate agent with Fox & Son: "Salisbury was the nearest city to where I lived, and I like it. Some cities are anti-social and too full of concrete. Salisbury is friendly and has character. I've made good friends, and there are pubs and trendy restaurants that cater for our age group." First-timer buyers have a hard time of it though, and Hunt himself is a tenant sharing a townhouse. "More than a third of our sales last year went to investors, and buy-to-let is still phenomenal here." All properties within the ring road always sell well, whether a flat or townhouse, he says. "Hamilton Road, Belle Vue Road, Bouverie Avenue and some others are especially popular. Pitton, Winterbourne and villages in the Chalk Valley toward Shaftesbury are popular with commuters."
Property search agent Michael Chandler believes that demand is continuing for family and second homes due to improved motorway and rail links into Salisbury and Wiltshire, increasing the accessibility of London and other major centres. Local celebrities include Sir Edward Heath, Sting, Madonna, and Toyah Willcox.
"A growing number of buyers want to build their own property, and the demand for good building sites is hard to satisfy. We also have many buyers wishing to work from home, and for them outbuildings and annexes are a priority," Chandler says. "In this buyers' market, we have fewer enquiries and more property available. Vendors increasingly realise that they need to be realistic with prices, and they are now prepared to negotiate."
Salisbury rail commuters travel to London Waterloo (80 minutes), Bristol and Exeter. The city is 80 miles from London, 20 from Southampton on the A30 and M3. The closest main airports are located in Southampton and Bournemouth.
There's an Odeon multi-screen cinema, and Salisbury Playhouse has a main and studio theatre. The Playhouse hosts the annual Salisbury Festival (23 May to 8 June), a two-week programme of concerts, plays and exhibitions – see www.salisburyfestival.co.uk for more details.
Attractions include Five Rivers Leisure Centre and Swimming Pool, karting, hot-air balloons, polo, horseriding, golf, Salisbury Racecourse, and fishing in the Avon and Nadder Rivers.
Apart from the obvious attraction of the Cathedral building itself, the many period buildings in the Cathedral Close include King's House, now the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; the 13th-century Medieval Hall and Wardrobe; and the 1701 Queen Anne Mompesson House (used in the filming of Sense and Sensibility). Nearby are Old Sarum, hill forts, castles, Breamore House and Museum and Longleat House and Safari Park. Stonehenge is 11 miles away.
Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's complement the outdoors Charter market, which incorporates a weekly local farmers' market. Wilton Shopping Village and Carpet Factory Shop have factory outlets selling textiles, glassware, china, golf equipment and carpets.
What you'll pay
According to Connells, prices start from £85,000 for a one-bed flat, £135,000 for two, £200,000 for three-bed semis and £240,000 for a four-bed detached. A period two-bed terraced house in the town-centre costs about £175,000. Fox & Sons are currently selling a two-bed terraced house for £155,000, a two-bed, top-floor flat for £160,000 and a three-bed town house for £164,500.
Desirable, small, listed period cottages with thatched roofs, inglenook fireplaces and other original features start from about £250,000, rising to £1m for larger country houses with land. Two new detached bungalows on the River Nadder are £495,000 each, at two agents (Strutt and Goadsby).
New to view
Retirement developer Beechcroft is selling 16 cottages at the Grade-II Victorian Bemerton Farm near the River Nadder, from £335,000, and flats and cottages at Church Leat, Downton, six miles from Salisbury, from £295,000 (01722 340613). Social housing builder Willmott Dixon has converted a former prison into 96 student bed-spaces for Nucleus Housing Group and Salisbury College.
Chandler Homesearch, 01725 511151; Connells, 01722 328562; Fox & Sons, 01722 337691; FPDSavills, 01722 426820; Goadsby & Harding, 01722 323444; Strutt & Parker, 01722 328741.