Where is Lunigiana?
Nestled between the glitzy seaside resort of Portofino in Liguria and the elegant grace of Lucca in Tuscany is Lunigiana.
The area stretches from the verdant mountains of the Apennine range down to the coves and pretty fishing villages of the Golfo dei Poeti, or Bay of Poets (made famous by writers from Shelley to Byron to D H Lawrence) across to the pure white Apuan mountains from where marble was sourced for Michelangelo's famous works.
Why buy there?
Tuscany is synonymous with beauty, art, culture and history it is the cradle of western civilisation and Lunigiana has been likened to a magical kingdom with its mountains, swimming in the rock pools of the crystal-clear rivers or snorkelling off the coves in the picturesque bays.
It's so naturally stunning that botanist Professor David Bellamy has owned a home there for years. But there are characterful medieval villages, almost all with a castle and a piazza where the children can play safely while the adults sip their drinks at the central bar and chat about the local football or politics.
The area has a sense of tradition and community amongst people rarely seen in modern day life. Colourful markets in the towns sell everything from parasols to parmesan cheese with stalls heaped with fresh fruit and vegetables, local specialities and chickens cooking on the spit.
More food for thought
Lunigiana is well known for its fabulous cuisine - especially thick, crispy pancakes called panigacci served in terracotta dishes heated on the embers of restaurant fireplaces. They are served in baskets with a cream cheese and trays of salamis and the best Parma ham and of course a jug of local wine.
In Lunigiana the locals make their own wine and grow their own vegetables, and celebrate their produce. The hills are clad in chestnut trees and the villages hold festivals with food, wine and dancing to celebrate this glossy brown nut or dress up in medieval costume to re-enact some ancient feast day.
The pretty coastline offers some superb restaurants where you can taste fresh grilled fish or dainty mussels served with pasta or just steamed with lemon accompanied with the local Vermentino white wines.
In summer the Golfo dei Poeti (also known as the Golfo della Spezia, where Dante wrote large parts of The Divine Comedy) is a delight: peninsula with three islands at its tip.
On one side of the bay is the old fishing village of Lerici and San Terenzo separated by a golden sandy beach and Tellaro - voted the prettiest village in Italy - while across the water is Portovenere and the coast of the Cinque Terre.
Lunigiana has long summers but during the winter the three local ski resorts are open with good runs, ice skating rink and facilities for snow-boarders and cross country skiing.
How much do properties cost?
The Gulf of the Poets is amongst the most exclusive property areas of Italy with prices of sea-view properties averaging between €5,000 and €6,000 per square metre, according to Lois Allan of local agent, L'Architrave.
For example, a delightful converted three-bedroom fisherman's house with a terrace over the picturesque harbour is on market for €720,000.
Up in the hills of Lunigiana a beautifully restored four-bed villa with outbuilding, pool and olive groves and stunning views is on market for €850,000, or a smaller three-bed converted farmhouse with pool for €196,000.
Lunigiana has overtaken its neighbouring area, Garfagnana for desirability and easier access. Prices are an average of 50 per cent more in the popular Chianti area than in Lunigiana, where property sales up 30 per cent from the same time last year.