Italy’s green heart lures clever buyers

LIKE Nice, Cannes or St Tropez, it’s hard to find a slice of Tuscany that’s escaped the money and appetites of the international set. So for those craving a home in a still-authentic slice of Italy, with budgets below those of the global elite, Umbria is the smart choice.

Paul Belcher, director of Ultissimo, a property agent selling in Umbria, Como and Tuscany, maintains that Umbria offers something for a different type of buyer – those with families and those seeking a “retreat” rather than a scene. Crucially, it’s less expensive than Tuscany. Andrew Hawkins, of Chesterton Humberts, says it’s roughly 5-10 per cent cheaper. But Belcher insists properties are closer to around 20 to 30 per cent less. Either way, Umbria represents a sturdy investment, as prime Western Europe has proved relatively resilient throughout the rocky past few years. That said, according to Hawkins, the Italian market has stagnated somewhat and with prices certain to begin climbing again, it’s a good time to buy. “There’s a window of opportunity now,” he says. “Nobody knows how fast or when the market will grow – but it will do.”

Umbria’s rugged beauty is preserved from the ravages of development in good part because of regulations. “In Tuscany there are some places where you wouldn’t know you were in Italy – what with new builds and foreign voices everywhere,” Belcher says. In Umbria you can’t add on to properties, you can only restore them. There are strict regulations on maintaining original roof lines and colours and window sizes – although you can modernise inside unfettered.

Previously Umbrian farmers lived among their fields – but with the advent of cars, many people abandoned their rural dwellings and headed towards the towns and cities – the kids certainly didn’t want to be stuck out in rural farmhouses. This left a good deal of derelict farmhouses that have been snapped up and renovated by savvy foreign buyers. Now, good stock is harder to come by. But – say both Hawkins and Belcher – if you take care, are thoughtful and have your finances ready, you can find a well-placed gem. Umbria is “the epicentre of Renaissance Italy” – two hours from Florence, Sienna, Rome and even closer to Perugia. Ryanair flies regularly to Perugia.

RANCALE

Price: From £310,000

The award-winning Rancale development comprises eight newly restored two and three-bedroom properties, all with private gardens. It is located within mature grounds, accessed via a tree-lined driveway. Each property benefits from a large swimming pool and all-weather tennis court. Contact: Ultissimo on 020 3178 4975, www.ultissimo.com

ROMAGNELLA

Price: €680,000

A beautiful farmhouse with five bedrooms and four bathrooms and an idyllic swimming pool, set in 0.5 hectares. Great features include a fireplace with a wood burning stove; a stone garage and a lovely row of cypresses around the pool. Contact:?Knight Frank on 020 7629 8171, www.knightfrank.com

CHIANAIOLE-FICULLE

Price: €685,000

Classically lovely, renovated farmhouse of 220 sq m set on two levels, amid 1.34 hectares of land with an idyllic garden and swimming pool. Good for year-round visits as the living room has a fireplace. Contact:?Chesterton Humberts on 020 3040 8210, www.chestertonhumberts.com