Despite the economic slowdown and the strengthening of the euro, Italy remains a very popular choice among British property buyers.

According to the Countrylife.co.uk property index, which tracks the level of response to advertisements placed in Country Life magazine, Italian villas

generate the highest number of enquiries per advertisement, averaging more than 14 responses per property throughout the course of last year.Predictably, demand is particularly strong for properties in Tuscany, which has been a favourite with British expatriates since Sir Harold Acton made it its home immediately after the Second World War and now accounts for 71.4% of all Italian enquiries.’There are many reasons why this area is so popular. Its landscape and cultural heritage are the most obvious attractions and both have found a unique testimonial in the work of the many British poets, such as Lord Byron, who spent time here,’ says Florentine architect Andrea Bargioni. ‘But it also helps that Tuscany is already home to a

large international community. Unlike other parts of Italy, many people speak English and services are already in place to cater for the needs of foreign

buyers.’But all is not the same when it comes to where to buy in Tuscany.

There is a strict pecking order among Tuscan provinces, with the Chianti topping the chart of the most sough-after locations among the British – so much so that the locals themselves have now started calling it Chianti-shire.The stretch of land between Florence and Siena is as famous for its beautiful countryside as for its wines and prospective buyers include many aspiring vintners. Earlier this year, for example, singer Sting, who already owns a villa near Figline Valdarno, bought 40 hectares of vineyards with a view to start producing his own Chianti appellation controle.’The villages of Greve and Panzano, where the prestigious Chianti Gallo Nero wine is made, are probably the best places to buy, but both are highly popular and therefore rather expensive,’ says Signor Bargioni.However, another property hotspot is emerging in Tuscany, which could challenge the Chianti.

Findings from the Countrylife.co.uk property index indicate that the Lucchesia (the province round Lucca) is quickly becoming a firm favourite among second-home buyers, accounting for 39% of all Italian enquiries in 2002.Price, of course, plays a part in the rising demand for Lucca properties, because this area is slightly cheaper than the Chianti, with Country Life advertisements averaging an asking price of just under ?1.5 million. But availability of quality homes is a key factor in the shift towards Lucca. The setting for many films, including Bernardo Bertolucci’sa Triumph of Love and Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady, the Lucchesia boasts a wealth of historic houses to rivalthe best in Florence and Siena. Built in the 16thcentury for thriving local merchants,

many of these villas, such as the Villa Torrigiani in Capannori, were later remodelled into masterpieces of Tuscan Baroque to suit the evolving architectural

taste of their new owners.’One of Tuscany’s most prestigious, if relatively little known, addresses is the cluster of country houses close to Lucca’s city centre, including the Villa Mansi, the Villa Torrigiani and the Villa Reale di Marlia, which was once owned by Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte,’ says Signor Bargioni. ‘Although few properties available for sale can equal these three in scale and grandeur, many smaller villas in the Lucchesia are of notable architectural value. And the countryside, which is wilder than in the Chianti, is equally fascinating.’Proximity to Pisa’s international airport provides added appeal for British buyers because it ensures that home is only half an hour and a flight away.

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