House hunting: In search of the real Italy

Let the tourists keep Tuscany. In Abruzzo, Laura Latham finds wild beaches, fabulous vineyards and beautiful bargain homes

Wednesday 17 January 2007 01:00 GMT

andwiched between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic sea, the southern Italian region of Abruzzo is slowly being discovered by property hunters seeking an authentic taste of Italy - and there's more here to be sampled than the region's famous Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine.

The region's coastal resorts follow the sandy shoreline from Giulianova, past lively Pescara, to Vasto. They have always been popular, and are getting increasingly developed - Italians have been holidaying here for years.

But inland areas are still very rural, with medieval villages, Roman ruins and wild countryside. One third of the region is designated national parkland and, in the winter, skiing proves as much of a draw as the beaches do in summer.

Pierluca Di Ciccio, of local real estate agency Abruzzo Houses, says that he's started to have "big requests" from UK buyers wanting somewhere with access to all the natural attractions of the area. He claims that most overseas buyers are looking for a detached property, an easy drive from Pescara airport and within 30 minutes of both the mountains and the coast.

There are lots of properties to suit this type of buyer, with old farmhouses in need of restoration from around £40,000, often including large tracts of land. Currently with Abruzzo Houses is a 20-year-old family home with 13,000sq m of farmland for £43,500 and a two-bedroom country home on 3,000sq m of land for £59,000. If you've got less than that to spend and are prepared to rough it a little, there's a partially-built home with 3,000sq m of land, for just £17,000.

For those wanting to immerse themselves in true Italian culture, Abruzzo offers a wealth of affordable village homes and townhouses, starting from as little as £20,000 for tiny terraced houses on medieval streets. Such places may be in need of renovation, but they are also full of history. "You can find a lot of good deals on the right property," says Di Ciccio, who has a restored house dating back to AD1000 in the town of Carapello Calvisio, in the Gran Sasso national park, for £30,000.

Several similar houses in need of updating are also on his books for around £20,000. Such properties don't have any outside space but are a perfect bolt hole if you're seeking an Italian escape. If you have loftier ambitions, there is a four-storey town-centre palace that is in need of work but hasparquet floors and vaulted ceilings for £67,000.

Nikki di Girolamo of House Around Italy says that, despite Abruzzo being less than two hours from Rome, the area only really took off with overseas buyers when the airport at Pescara introduced low-cost flights. Since then, visitors have realised how cheap property is and have started to move in. She sees many people looking for property inland, especially around L'Aquila, the attractive regional capital, but thinks the current interest is the tip of a property iceberg. "Other small villages in Abruzzo will also become property hot spots when the English market finds out how cheap the properties are here."

Di Girolama also claims that though there are lots of older properties available, new-build is inevitably on its way. "This year we'll have some very beautiful developments in old stone in the Italian countryside with swimming pools," she says. "Although this type of project is very popular in Spain, it's exceedingly difficult to find one in Italy."

More modern - and more expensive - property is becoming increasingly available on the coast, which is a magnet for Italian tourists in the summer. Decent two-bedroom properties near the sea average around £133,000, with one-bedroom new-builds sometimes available for less. House Around Italy has a couple of two-bedroom apartments for around £97,000, both within walking distance of the beach, but there's a big jump to over £165,000 for places with space or character.

Rental property on the coast brings in around £450 a week but only in high summer, leaving no doubt that the best value is to be found in the hills. It's probably the reason Abruzzo has, so far, proved more attractive to buyers who want to revel in the pleasures of unspoilt Italy rather than own a rental business.

House Around Italy: 0039 085 943 0256; Abruzzo Houses: 0039 085 291 327;

Buyers' guide

* Non-Italians must have a tax identification number (Codice Fiscale) to buy property.

* When the preliminary contract (compromesso) is drawn up, a deposit of 10-20 per cent of the purchase price must also be paid.

* Before the final contract is signed your lawyer should check all aspects of the sale, including building licences, the vendor's entitlement to sell and that there are no debts on the property.

* Non-Italian speakers must have a translator present when signing contracts, which must be in the presence of a notary.

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