Urban living with Italian style

Italy's city pads are proving as attractive as those in its rural retreats, says Ginetta Vedrickas
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The Independent Online

Buying a villa in Tuscany has always loomed large on British buyers' wish lists. But in recent years the trend for "Chianti-shire" is fading as growing numbers of buyers opt for city apartments over rural splendour. One possible cause is the growing demand for city break holidays, as low-cost airlines, targeting cities and towns all over Italy, have made them more affordable and accessible.

Buying a villa in Tuscany has always loomed large on British buyers' wish lists. But in recent years the trend for "Chianti-shire" is fading as growing numbers of buyers opt for city apartments over rural splendour. One possible cause is the growing demand for city break holidays, as low-cost airlines, targeting cities and towns all over Italy, have made them more affordable and accessible.

FPDSavills's Charles Weston Baker sees a definite shift in buying patterns as a result: "Just two years ago people wanted the Tuscan dream home at the end of a road of cypress trees with a pool and, most of all, privacy. Now we get far more people who want apartments in cities. They tend to be younger, are often single and well-educated and they are interested in the lifestyle, ambience and history of Italian cities."

Weston Baker calls these buyers "the new young Europeans" who can work from anywhere. "These days communication is just so easy. If you have a mobile and a laptop you can work from your flat in Venice or Florence and it often costs less to fly back to London than it would to take a train to Plymouth." Weston Baker's buyers tend to have taken city breaks in the traditional tourist cities of Florence, Pisa and Venice: "They've been on holiday and it grows from there." A typical budget, he finds, is between the £250,00 and £400,000 mark, but he warns: "In certain areas such as the most central and beautiful parts of Venice, prices can go an awful lot higher."

FPDSavills currently have a range of apartments in what is often thought to be Italy's most beautiful of cities. Just two minutes from St Marks Square, in the main thoroughfare leading to Rialto, a fully restored two-bedroomed apartment has modern features such as white wooden floors along with typically Venetian beamed ceilings and marble tiles, and is for sale for €650,000. In the Cannaregio district, minutes from Rialto Bridge, a beautifully restored second-floor apartment in a listed building has five-metre high ceilings, large arched windows, a partly galleried living room to incorporate a second bedroom and "terrazzo Veneziano" flooring throughout, and is on offer at €900,000.

Roger Thomson bought his beautiful three-bedroomed Venice apartment 15 years ago when he lived there: "We were very lucky to find it as it's smack bang in the heart of Venice, south-facing and overlooks a typical Venetian square." Thomson now lives in London and rents his apartment on www.holiday-rentals.com for between £1,000 and £1,250 per week. He finds that visitors love the history of the flat, which is a mixture of 12th to 18th century detail, with one of its bedrooms carved from a former bell tower. Thanks to low-cost airlines he enjoys high demand throughout the year: "It's fantastic. You can now get returns for as little as £50 whereas a few years ago you'd end up paying four times as much. Long may the cheap airlines continue."

Affordable city breaks are attracting many buyers like Thomson says Benedetta Vigano, of Georgio Vigano Sotheby's Italian affiliate, although not all cities are popular with UK buyers. "Milan is a very commercial city, not a tourist centre, and while we get many British renters, few buy." But it is a different story for Vigano's Venice-based colleagues: "They tell me their offices are full of English people who have been there on holiday and then want to buy."

Whatever city you choose ,Vigano warns that property at an affordable price may be hard to come by; city vendors expect a premium, and there is steep competition for sensibly priced properties: "It's very expensive, particularly since the advent of the euro, and in Milan especially there is a lot of demand and few high quality properties on offer at a good price. If you visit 10 properties you will be lucky to be able to find even one."

Marcelle Speller has witnessed a huge increase in both Italian city properties listed on the website www.holiday-rentals.com and in enquiries for city apartments from visitors attracted by the current low-cost flights. "It's absolutely massive, particularly in Venice and Rome," Speller says. The company recently celebrated its eighth birthday and carried out an exhaustive survey of owners. Results revealed that many more people are now opting for city breaks than in previous years: "Whereas historically people often used to go away for the whole month of August, we can now see from bookings that most people generally take six shorter holidays throughout the year."

Speller believes that low-cost flights have made a huge difference - and not just financially: "Travel time is now so much shorter. You don't have to fly to Rome and then trek off to Ancona. You fly direct and are at your destination within a couple of hours." The website allows instant direct access for owners to check on availability so, should the bargain £1 flight to Venice appear too attractive to refuse, a quick trawl of owners reveals instant availability by the day.

Year-round rental income may be one incentive to buy in a city rather than the countryside. The owner of one property listed on the site owns an apartment overlooking the Piazza Navone in Florence and successfully charges £150 per night throughout the year. Speller has this advice: "Make sure you buy as centrally as possible. For me, a property should let me know instantly where I am rather than give me that 'it's Thursday so it must be Brussels' feeling."

Knight Frank's James Price has seen growing interest for city based pads. "These kinds of properties enjoy year-round rental which is attractive. Increasingly people also want a managed environment that comes with security, maintenance and parking spaces."

Knight Frank is currently marketing a range of these kinds of properties, including Palazzo Bardi, an 18th century former palace five minutes from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, where 21 apartments have been created from this beautiful and typically Florentine building. Prices range from €375,000 for a studio flat up to €2.5m for a three-bedroom apartment. So far, the apartments have appealed to city and countryside lovers alike: "Florence evokes a huge sense of art, it's a very popular destination but it's also a great base from which to explore the surrounding countryside," says Price.

FPDSavills: 020-7824 9030; www.fpdsavills.co.uk

www.holiday-rentals.com

Georgio Vigano: 00 39 02 7600 3914

Sotheby's International Realty: 00 49 89 2280 2894; www.sothebysrealty.com

Knight Frank: 020-7629 8171; www.knightfrank.com

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