Ritzy without the resorts

As the Costa del Sol is overrun with ugly high-rise resorts, British buyers are increasingly looking north to the Costa Blanca for better value and beautiful properties. Ginetta Vedrickas reports

While Puerto Banus and Marbella conjure up images of the moneyed émigrés living the good life on the Costa del Sol, another of Spain's coasts conjures up quite a different image. Traditionally the Costa Blanca has appealed to the "cheap and cheerful" end of the market but, as buyers find themselves priced out of the south, developers and agents are now selling upmarket properties which are anything but.

While Puerto Banus and Marbella conjure up images of the moneyed émigrés living the good life on the Costa del Sol, another of Spain's coasts conjures up quite a different image. Traditionally the Costa Blanca has appealed to the "cheap and cheerful" end of the market but, as buyers find themselves priced out of the south, developers and agents are now selling upmarket properties which are anything but.

Ocean Estates' marketing manager for the Costa Blanca Thomas Walsh has been based on this coast for many years but has recently noticed a shift: "This part of Spain has always appealed to the fish and chips brigade, particularly down in the southern spots of Torrevieja and Santa Pola. But now, especially in the north, prices have gone through the roof and in some parts they are similar to Marbella."

Walsh finds that good villas rarely sell for less than €480,000 and even relatively small properties such as the recently launched apartments at Sueños de Mar overlooking the golf course near the upmarket resort of Moraira, are selling for €330,000, despite being only 80m2, with prices rising to €793,500 for larger units. "Three years ago what cost you €120,000 now costs €250,000," adds Walsh ruefully as he has yet to get a foot on the ladder personally.

Land prices on the Costa Blanca are still cheaper than the Costa del Sol and developers have taken advantage of this by building larger villas on more ample plots, and perhaps this is one reason why this part of Spain now attracts those looking for spacious and more exclusive properties. In response to the demand Ocean Estates have launched their "platinum collection" targeting the top end of the market.

The collection includes a six-bedroom, five-bathroom villa in Moraira that has covered terraces with panoramic views, landscaped gardens including large private pool, pond and waterfall and a separate two bedroomed apartment downstairs which is for sale at €1.65m. The most expensive house in the collection is a seven-bedroom, six- bathroom house in Altea Hills, which comes complete with sauna and gym and which has a price tag of €5.5m.

Other agents are launching exclusive portfolios targeting wealthier buyers who may be considering the Costa Blanca. Ultra Villas recently announced Identity, a collection of properties that wouldn't be out of place on Marbella's golden mile but which happen to be situated in the Costa Blanca. In Pedramala, a tiny village two miles inland from the coast between Calpe and Moraira, Ultra Villas is selling Montessa, a split-level home perched on the mountain edge 500 metres above sea level, which has spectacular views from its lounge, terrace and infinity pool. Offers above €1 million will secure the property.

Ultra Villas MD Steven Grist explains the growing appeal for what has been dubbed "the golf coast" - more than 15 championship courses are dotted around the Costa Blanca and more than a dozen new ones planned: "British buyers like the Costa Blanca's greener, peaceful environment. The northern part of the region is largely agricultural with orange, lemon and olive groves in picturesque valleys, complemented by historic seaside towns."

Altea Hills is fast acquiring a reputation for exclusivity. Julio Iglesias owns property here, and Ultra Villas' new development company Ultra Villas Gestion Inmobiliaria has designed and built a modern four-bedroom villa there that maximises the steep plot. The house incorporates a lift linking the garage to the top floor living space which has stunning Mediterranean views and which is for sale at €520,000.

This stretch of coastline also boasts 80 blue flag beaches and 12 marinas. Grist believes that the growing dissatisfaction with unsympathetic development along the Costa del Sol is a factor in the Costa Blanca's recent rise in popularity at the top end: "Our research indicates that many British buyers now regard the Costa del Sol as 'over developed and brash' compared with the unspoilt rural areas of northern Costa Blanca where prices are around two-thirds of those of comparable properties in the south."

Wendy Batstone explains why she bought a villa near Torrevieja last June, through the QSD Group. "The Costa Blanca has all the right ingredients; plenty of sunshine, peace and quiet, convenient travel links and friendly people. I was really taken with the QSD development, which wasn't as touristy as some of the other places I saw."

Batstone, 43, lives in Oxfordshire where she runs a pub and bought the villa as a holiday home and an investment: "We've already had an offer for more than we bought it for. However, we don't plan to sell the place, we'll be letting it out for a few weeks at a time to other prospective homebuyers, and staying there ourselves of course."

Batstone opted to be near the bustle of the coast but the region also has some peaceful rural development. In the foothills of the Crevillente Mountains, Castalla is a small peaceful village with steep narrow streets leading up to its Moorish castle. Buyers who enjoy hill walking and mountain climbing may like to base themselves at Atlas International's newly launched development of four bedroomed, three bathroom villas which is just five minutes from the village.

Thirty minutes drive to the sea Atlas International's Onil development features traditional styled villas on 500m2 plots which have three bedrooms, roof terraces and oval shaped living areas with prices starting from €220,120. Atlas's MD James Stockdale says: "If you are looking for the quiet life then these properties with their beautiful mountain views and surrounding countryside are far removed from the more bustling coastal areas yet they're close to all amenities."

Ocean's Corporate Director Paul Blagden believes that the Costa Blanca still holds something for everyone: "You can still be cheap and cheerful, we're selling two bedroomed apartments near the popular Denia for €119,000, yet we also have some very exclusive properties for the buyer who wants to spend €1 million which is why have opened up a 'platinum collection' office." Blagden sees significant improvements to the area as a whole: "Marriott has now opened up here and the Americas Cup is due to take place here in 2007 so the infrastructure will definitely see improvements on the back of that."

Ocean Estates: 0800 328 0444, www.oceanestates.com

Ultra Villas Limited: 01242 221 500. www.ultravillas.co.uk

QSD: 0800 783 1616 www.qsdgroup.com

Atlas International: 0800 531 6500 www.atlasinternational.com

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