With rolling hills topped with Cypress trees, medieval borgos and sprinkled with ancient stone farmhouses, Tuscany has long been a dream for second-home owners. A fertile landscape steeped in vines and olives, it offers a vision of a bella vita that has been fuelled by a combination of bestselling books, hit films and celebrity residents.
Prices rocketed to almost unrealistic levels in the so-called “Golden Triangle” around Siena during the boom years and the typical price for a high-quality farmhouse hit around £2 million.
However prices have since adjusted, other more affordable “satellite” areas have become popular and there has been a growth in reasonably priced turnkey apartments that has meant Tuscany has got cheaper. Plus the appetite for Toscana hasn't waned - despite the economic and political tumult engulfing Italy of late.
“Tuscany is where people want to be (along with the Italian lakes) and now is really the time to buy there as the weakened euro means you get more for your money,” says Linda Travella of Casa Travella. “Central/northern Tuscany – so-called Chiantishire - became so overpriced, yet now there's now more choice there and with properties coming to market with realistic pricing from the word go, some are offering great value.”
She says there is now a large choice of options if you have £500,000 to spend – and indeed still options if you've only got £100k. As one of many examples she picks out is a three-bed detached villa 3km from the attractive Etruscan town of Volterra that offers 120m2 of living space, with a loft area ripe for conversion, on 1.5 acres of land, for £294k.
Another is an old stone traditional four bedroom, 200m2 home one kilometre from Volterra, for £500,000. With separate guest quarters there's plenty of room, plus half an acre of olives and vines.
The key to Tuscany is access, she says, especially if you have rentals in mind. Ideally you need to be within 60-90 minutes of Pisa airport (like both of the above). “You can get cheaper properties in southern Tuscany but there you're a two-hour drive from Rome airport – and the closer part (near the Lazio border) is ludicrously priced due to Italian demand for beachfront there.”
Northern Tuscany offers some opportunities, though, with the Garfagnana valley – which runs up from Lucca into the mountains - one to watch, according to agents. Whilst Case Travella have a little two bedroom apartment in Bagno di Lucca for €60,000 (£50k), or three-bed detached houses for €300,0000 (£252k), Casa & Country has a four-bedroom farmhouse for €450k (£377k).
“Two areas on the up in the north-west corner of Tuscany are Garfagnana and also the Lunigiana,” says Gemma Bruce of Casa & Country. “They aren't as sought-after or known about so your money goes further, yet they still offer attractive tone houses, ancient villages steeped in culture and unspoilt countryside.” Whilst Ms Bruce's bread and butter is still £1.5m five-bedroom farmhouses with plenty of land in the key areas around Siena/ Florence, she suggests that anyone with smaller budgets really ought to look at apartments in completed borgo (rural estate) renovations – for £200k-400k.
“There are a handful of them that are nearly sold out so the developer is keen to shift the final units at good prices,” she says. “They are ideal hassle-free, lock-up and leave properties to use 2-3 weeks a year, then rent out for the rest of the year,” she adds. “Just don't go for one that's unfinished as you never know if the unbuilt pool or final landscaping might get done in the current climate.”
One example she cites enjoys distant views of the famous walled hilltop town of San Gimignano; the two bed, two bath 100m2 apartment is on a small managed estate with a shared pool for €370,000 (£310k). Various other examples on the market are the Castelfalfi estate, south-west of Florence, with properties from €230k (£193k through Knight Frank, www.knightfrank.com); and Savills have two-bedroom apartments at Borgo Sant'Anastasio near San Gimignano from €458,000 (£384k).
The Tuscan dream may not be quite as unattainable as you think.