Attracted to a rich culture and relaxed dolce vita lifestyle, holiday homebuyers have been purchasing farmhouses in Tuscany since the 1960's. Today, most country homes in the Italian region are owned by foreigners, and they are increasingly prevalent in neighbouring Umbria, where the same blend of art, history, food, wine and country sports, such as horse riding, are on offer to holidaymakers.
Europe's largest travel group, TUI, is carrying out Italy's largest village regeneration project in Tuscany. The village of Castelfalfi had only two inhabitants when the company bought it and the surrounding 11,000-hectare estate in 2007, but, by the end of next year, it hopes to have created Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, a rural retreat of 207 holiday homes in restored village apartments, farmhouses and new buildings. The first of two golf courses is already complete.
Prices for homes, that are marketed by Knight Frank, start at Euro230,000 (HK2.36 million). And buyer interest is expected to grow over the spring and summer, traditionally the busiest time for Tuscan and Umbrian property markets, according to Jelena Cvjetkovic, head of the Italy desk at Savills.
'Prices will stay stable for the rest of the year as people will want to buy there, because it offers a lifestyle,' Cvjetkovic says, adding that should the euro-zone crisis cause the value of the euro to fall, then interest from buyers spending in other currencies may increase, because Italian property will become more affordable.
Property prices in Tuscany and Umbria have dropped 10 per cent since the start of the year, as a result of winter weather and fears about the euro-zone crisis. 'The euro-zone crisis won't be as bad for Italy as for Greece, because people have been drawn to Italy since the 19th century,' Cvjetkovic says.
Hong Kong-based expatriates have been buying properties in these regions, some for retirement, others for holiday use, Cvjetkovic says. Aside from expatriates in Asia, most buyers come from Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and increasingly Russia. At Castello di Reschio, a 1,214-hectare estate that straddles the Tuscany and Umbria borders, a former farmhouse is being restored for a Hong Kong family. Twenty-three of the estate's 50 houses have been sold from Euro4.5 million. Facilities include a restaurant and horse riding.