Timeless attractions

A new generation of young homebuyers is discovering the charms of Sardinia. By Tom Rowland
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The Independent Online

Sardinia used to be too remote for most people to consider it as a serious candidate for a holiday home. It attracted the super-rich to a few enclaves on the northern coast of the Costa Smeralda and that was about it.

Sardinia used to be too remote for most people to consider it as a serious candidate for a holiday home. It attracted the super-rich to a few enclaves on the northern coast of the Costa Smeralda and that was about it.

Much of the island remained untouched with steep hills dotted with picturesque towns and villages filled with buildings dating back to the 15th century. The access problems evaporated when the low cost airlines started running daily flights. Now Ryanair flies to Alghero in the north and easyJet to Cagliari in the south.

Sardinia is a cheap two-and-a-half-hour trip from London and a new generation of home buyers quickly outnumbered those arriving by private yacht and executive jet.

Now the island is one of the latest discoveries of a generation of young buyers from Northern Europe, including Britain, attracted by the enormous charm of the towns and the low prices that you are asked to pay for spectacular period houses which make excellent holiday homes.

The choice of areas for a holiday home is to some extent dictated by the airport you choose. Alghero itself is a sandy-coloured medieval town that in large part retains its Catalan identity. To the north is the Capo Caccia including dramatic cliff views over the bays, to the south lies Bosa, an atmospheric medieval town huddled beneath castle ruins.

Cagliari is Sardinia's only true city and the south is markedly more developed. The most popular holiday home destination of the moment is probably the Isola di Sant Antioco, a short drive from the airport. The area around Bosa and Sassari has many of the makings of a little Tuscany by the sea. The countryside is unspoilt, the villages small, the beaches uncrowded (except for July and August) and it is warm enough to swim from May to October.

The village of Santu Lussurgiu lies close to the market town of Bosa and a short hop from the fine beaches of the west coast of Sardinia. It is in the crater of an extinct volcano amid craggy hills and woods of olive and chestnut. At its centre there is a web of steep cobbled lanes clustered around the heavily buttressed church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Bareback horse riders gallop through the narrow streets in week-long festivals each February and August.

Be warned: you can now be asked to pay a high premium for the privilege of having the details of houses translated into that expensive dialect, English Estate Agent Speak. One house currently for sale in Santu Lussurgiu is on two English-language property websites at an asking price of £35,000. The same house is advertised on a website operated by an indigenous estate agent in Sardinia at an asking price of €26,000 (£18,500) - almost half the price.

The house has just been sold to an English buyer who went through the Sardinian agent and paid the lower price. Ruth Roberts, 38, and Guy Scantlebury, 42, live in Deal, Kent, where she runs an import company and he is an actor; they have a daughter Esme, 6, and son Luca, 3. "I do speak Italian but there is no need for people to fall into the hands of British intermediaries who inflate the prices - the local agents are really friendly and helpful," says Ruth.

Rita Bezoari of Elma Homes, which operates the UK-based agent offering the higher prices, says that the asking prices of properties the company sells were decided in Italy not the UK. She says the company provided a package of back-up and support services at no extra cost to its UK customers that they would not get from an Italian agent and that this was reflected in the asking prices. "We are based in the UK to translate for them, answer phone calls, make arrangements for them to visit properties."

The package of services on offer includes a survey which is then translated into English, a translation of the initial contract, arrangements to pay deposits into a UK current account and transfer fees to Italy. It does not include purchase taxes or notary fees which typically are around 10 per cent of the final agreed purchase price. When asked to quantify the value of the added services, Bezoari said: "It is worth quite a bit to some people, although obviously not that price difference, although they are all open to offers."

Property in Bosa, which is close to a top-rated five-flag white beach and stands on the banks of the river Temo, is now significantly more expensive than the surrounding villages. Local estate agents Ansal have a pretty house in the medieval heart of the town with roof terrace for €100,000 (£71,500), which is typical of the sort of thing available.

In the south, you pass the undeveloped Costa Verde before approaching the Isola di Sant'Antioco, which is Italy's fourth largest island after Sicily, Sardinia and Elba. It is 108 sq km and joined to Sardinia by a causeway. The architectural roots of the main town are Byzantine which has a central boulevard lined with bars and restaurants. The best beaches start 8km south.

Maladroxia is a small tourist haven with a pleasant port. Calasetta, the island's second town, was originally founded in 1769 and is dominated by a Spanish watchtower. The grid system of streets hides a wealth of little houses which can be bought remarkably cheaply and which are within reach of several good beaches.

If you are prepared to take on an old mining building for renovation into a holiday house, then there are plenty abandoned back on the mainland around Iglesias, again a short hop from Cagliari airport.

Lettings: Casa Sardinia: www.casasardinia.co.uk;

Sales: Bosa general information: 00 39 0785 372095, www.bosa.net; Ansal: 00 39 0785 374259, www.ansal.it; Pinna & Brunza: 00 39 0783 78500, www.pinnabrunzu.com; Consul Casa: 00 39 0783 303226, www.consul-casa.com (Santu Lussurgiu); Elma: 01923 893 764, www.casealsole.com, www.italianlatitude40.com