Buy a slice of one of Europe’s best cultural hotspots

SURE, lounging by the pool with a row of Cyprus trees and a bottle of rosé as company sounds like a good use of a second home. But such indolence may not be everyone’s idea of a perfect escape. And in winter, even that Provencal farmhouse or Tuscan villa will become frosty.

The perfect alternative, of course, is to find yourself a pad in a vibrant European city, big or small, but either way, loaded with your favourite food, wonderful drink and brilliant culture. This is an option increasing numbers of youthful culture vultures are exploring – the types who figure you can lie under the Cyprus trees when you’re old.

Andrew Hawkins, head of international sales at Chesterton Humberts, says: “The European city pad is for younger people who want to be able to jump on a plane at 5pm on a Friday and be out on the town the same evening.”

Of course, Europe is a huge place, but the major cities of France and Italy are enduringly appealing, with Spain, Portugal and even Turkey (Istanbul) becoming popular. And for every Rome and Paris there’s a more low-key Florence or Nice.

But why consider a city property for your holiday home? For fun, of course. “The types of people who opt for city flats tend to be young professionals without kids – it’s not a family thing. Most people choose a city they have some kind of connection to, some affinity. It can be very stimulating to have a city bolthole in Europe,” says Fawcett.

If you’re considering buying in a European city, particularly one like Rome where the local market can be cut-throat, Fawcett says it’s vital to use an international agent. “If you want to be sure of what you’re getting, you do need to use one, even though the properties they show you will be more expensive. Otherwise you can get muddied in the local agent market.”

If you’re in search of a bargain, the big cities of Western Europe won’t deliver it for you. In Rome, you’re looking at €1m for a mid-sized two-bedroom flat in a prime area – in Paris, €2m on an upper floor in a desirable arrondisement like the 8th or 6th.

Paris has its own laws. Mark Harvey, of Knight Frank’s negotiations team, says it’s cyclical in popularity and in prices. “Paris is the cultural capital of the world – it has come back to reign again. And everyone wants to be in the same period properties in the same arrondisements.” Be prepared to pay dearly if you’re one of them.

Harvey says people can get excellent value and much more besides in other French cities – Bordeaux in particular is one to watch, with more and more people interested in being in the heart of wine country. Avignon is another jewel, with great train links to Paris. Lisbon is ripening too, following lots of investment, and with ocean, history and nightlife, what else could you want in a European vacation?

TOWNHOUSE, BORDEAUX
Price: €1.431
Grand living in the centre of Bordeaux within an easy walk of the city’s historical centre. Just three hours by train from Paris, the 19th century property has been restored beautifully, with a marbled entrance hall, magnificent stone staircase and a large drawing room and swimming pool. Easy access to the most famous vineyards in the world.
Contact: Knight Frank,
on 020 7629 8171.

CARLO FEA, ROME
Price: €1,850,000
An elegant three bedroom flat by Villa Mirafiori and the Villa Torlonia in a prestigious period building surrounded by a green area, with three balconies and a livable attic with wooden beams.
Contact: Knight Frank
on 020 7629 8171.

SANTA CATARINA, LISBON
Price: €350,000-€2.35m
A luxury development in the heart of Lisbon, with sound-proofing on the façade facing Calçada do Combro.
Contact: Chesterton Humberts on
020 3040 8248.

INVALIDES, PARIS
Price: €15m
As noble an apartment as you could hope to find, this enormous, marble-filled residence is seconds is in the city’s most exclusive area, near its top landmarks.
Contact: Simon Barnes on
020 7499 3434.

EUROPEAN BOLTHOLES | FOCUS ON FRANCE

PEOPLE flock to quality, as the saying goes. In the European property market, that means everyone goes for Paris, Florence, Nice, Zurich, Rome – indeed, at the moment, everyone’s going for Paris.

But if you fancy the European experience, and can live without the hustle, bustle, tourists and intensity of Europe’s hubs, there are many wonderful options that offer far better value, with France coming out strongly in this regard.

It has heaps of historical, beautiful cities near or in excellent wine country that are well-connected to Paris and offer superb value. Bordeux, with its historical charm, students and wine, is Knight Frank’s Mark Harvey’s first choice. It is becoming popular, though, while Reims in Champagne is quite undervalued, according to Harvey. “I’m surprised that Champagne has not done better – Reims values haven’t taken off, yet you can buy wonderful period buildings for a fraction of the price as elsewhere.”

Avignon and Toulouse are also good spots for those seeking a French cultural hub without the stress and prices of Paris.