Sardinia: On the brink of discovery

This Italian island is quiet, especially out of season. But airlines are opening it up fast
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The Independent Online

Where budget airlines lead, European hot spots follow, so get ready to hear a lot about Sardinia.

Ryanair flies to Alghero on the north-west of the island. EasyJet has a service to the capital, Cagliari, and a new route to Olbia on the north-eastern Costa Smeralda, one of the most beautiful stretches of Sardinian coast. British Airways and Alitalia already fly from the UK to Cagliari.

The island of Sardinia is the second largest in the Mediterranean, lying just west of Italy and below the French island of Corsica. But despite its proximity to the UK (just over 90 minutes' flying time), fabulous climate and good air links, it remains relatively unspoilt, with just 1.65 million residents on 24,000 square kilometres of land.

"If you want the Italy with rolling green hills, go to Tuscany. If you want mountains, go to the Italian Lakes. Sardinia is very much an island. There are lovely developments on the coast, but it's difficult to find a rustic old villa and there's not a lot of life outside of the waterside areas," says Linda Travella of Casa Travella, a Kent estate agency specialising in selling Italian holiday homes to Britons. But it is this relative isolation that makes Sardinia a favourite for many.

It is possible to buy new-build studio apartments for as little as £52,000 in Costa Paradiso near Alghero (Savills, 020-7016 3744; www.savills.co.uk), while Travella says it is easy to find a two-bedroom home for £120,000 in many of the coastal areas, moving up to £200,000 for a home within a few hundred metres of a beach.

You pay extra for outdoor space. At Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north, Casa Travella is selling a two-bedroom apartment with two large terraces for £290,000 (01322 660988; www.casatravella.com).

Detached villas are likely to cost £300,000 or more, while in the most desirable areas, like the chic northern resort of Porto Cervo, you can spend many millions to live alongside the likes of the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"Porto Cervo is one of Europe's hot spots. It's very seasonal - open roughly from May until September, with not a lot going on and restricted air access for the rest of the year. But the area is popular with Arab and Russian buyers. Of course, you pay a premium for this - a substantial private waterfront property would easily cost €20m [about £13.75m]," warns James Price of Knight Frank, a UK estate agency that has just started selling homes on the island (020-7629 8171; www.knightfrank.com).

Property prices in the southern half are less eye-watering, with developers reported to be moving in to build new apartments, although planning restrictions prevent these from spoiling access to beaches.

The key month for Britons contemplating letting out their properties is August, when Italians from Rome and Como traditionally holiday on Sardinia in large numbers. "You can obtain very high rental income for the months of June to September," says Travella. "This is when the Italians rent. But Sardinia is not a year-round destination and from November to March many places are closed."

And there are other downsides to the island. Sardinia's public transport system is poor - the railway is slow, and buses stop running in the early evening. Plus, many of the best beaches can only be reached on foot.

There are also very few genuinely old properties and therefore no real bargains. "Many new homes are being built to look like older rustic villas but they're not. If people want cheap, old homes to restore, Sardinia's not the place," says Travella.

Buyers should also be aware that Sardinia's regional government is considering imposing a luxury tax on second homes.

Houses of up to 2,153 square feet within two miles of the shore will be taxed at £2,060 a year, with each extra 11 square feet adding £100 to the annual charge. Those within 300 yards of the sea will pay 20 per cent more, and a 25 per cent capital gains tax will be levied on profits when any second home is sold. Most holiday homes, however, will fall far below the minimum size.

Property hot spots

* Cagliari, Sardinia's capital, has 150,000 residents, is the island's main cultural and historical centre, and is within easy reach of many of the area's best beaches.

* Nora, an archaeological site dating to the 8th century BC, is an important historical treasure.

* Tuerredda, an outstanding beach area described as more Polynesian than Italian, has turquoise water, white sand, palm trees and pine forests.

* Sant'Antioco, the larger of two islands off the south-west tip of Sardinia, has a small historic town, a port and sandy coves.

* Villasimius, a medium-sized town on the south-east of the island, has a lively atmosphere with shops, cafés, restaurants and beaches.

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