Once upon a time, a Tuscan casale was every Italophile’s dream. In the past 15 years, however, growing pressures on people’s time have reshaped many buyers’ requirements, fuelling demand for secure, hassle-free properties on managed estates.

‘People who are cash-rich and time-poor now want to buy somewhere that’s looked after and secure,’ say Rupert Fawcett and James Price of Knight Frank. Tuscany has responded admirably to this shift in preferences, converting many forgotten borghi and estates into fully serviced retreats, which are proving popular with buyers from a wide range of countries. Many come from the UK, Russia, Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands, some are Americans, a few are Italians, and on the most established estates, such as Castello di Reschio, there is a smattering of owners from further afield-notably the Far East. Their profile varies from well-heeled professionals who buy an apartment on upmarket developments such as Toscana Resort Castelfalfi to the global elite that gets away from it all in one of Reschio’s luxuriously understated villas.

For many of them, a managed property’s often substantial service charges weigh less in the purchasing decision than the high security standards and ease of maintenance that are guaranteed. ‘Because these homes are not lived in all year round, buyers really value the management, as it gives them the freedom to come and go as they please without the stress of having to maintain a home in a different country,’ says Elisa Biglia of Chesterton Humberts.

However, the jury is out among agents as to whether having a house on a serviced estate really costs more than buying and maintaining a similar property on your own. Gemma Bruce, Italy consultant for Aylesford International, believes that prices for whole ownership of a managed house ‘can be very high’, and this is without taking into account annual fees, which can reach €45,000 for full maintenance and concierge style services. This compares with an annual expenditure of €15,000-€20,000 incurred by farmhouse owners who have set up their own management structure, according to Mrs Bruce. ‘This includes a live-in housekeeper or caretaker couple who live in a separate staff apartment and get free accommodation (including bills) plus €500-€800 per month in salary.’

On the other hand, Mr Price and Mr Fawcett believe that ‘if you take a house on an estate at the very upper end of the market, such as Reschio, and you compare [running costs] with a similar standalone house in Chianti, you will probably find that Reschio is not far above that.’

Costs for a more modest set-up, such as A Valli, a panoramic villa 10 minutes from Lucca, which has been converted into 18 units with a communal swimming pool, a cafe area and onsite management, are far lower, with apartments ranging from €250,000 to €625,000, and annual service charges in the region of €30-€40 per square metre (Knight Frank, 020-7629 8171). Mrs Bruce agrees that the price of a managed apartment on a smaller estate is roughly equivalent to running your own property. ‘Management fees are typically €700 per month, which covers garden and swimming-pool maintenance, cleaning and rental guest handover.’ For example, she says, the apartments in the 800- year-old Borgo Volterra, a ‘very smart’, privately owned estate near Pisa, start from €360,000, and offer comprehensive maintenance services costing from about €500 per month (through Aylesford International, 020-7349 5100).

In addition to this, managed estates often allow owners to join a rental pool, which helps the property pay for itself over time. And with the option of buying a property on a fractional-ownership basis also available, there’s a managed property to suit every budget. Indeed, the choice of good-quality managed estates is so vast that it can be overwhelming, but if you need some help, here is the pick of the Tuscan (and Umbrian) crop.

Palazzo Tornabuoni
€1.1m

Take a 15th-century palazzo that was once home to Pope Leo XI and staged the world’s first opera, place it in the heart of Florence, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, appoint a leading luxury-hotel group to manage it, and the result is pretty irresistible. ‘Palazzo Tornabuoni is unique,’ say Knight Frank’s Mr Price and Mr Fawcett. Mannerist statues grace the common areas, and the 38 apartments have Boffi kitchens and Bang & Olufsen audio systems, often set against the backdrop of dramatic frescoes, ancient marble floors and breathtaking views across Florence’s rooftops. Management is by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and services on offer include a concierge, prearrival shopping, a communal bar-lounge, cigar room and fitness centre, and access to the Four Seasons hotel’s spa and pool.

Price and charges
Apartments start from just over €1 million. Service charges are expected to range from about €15,000 to about €30,000 per year.

Who buys there
Interest has been pretty widespread, coming from the Americans to the Italians and Russians.

Pros

You tread the same floors that were once trodden by the Medici, and you’re right in the centre of Florence.

Cons

To an extent, the same as the pros- a bustling, city-centre location isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Buy it
Through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171)

Castello Di Reschio
€6m

Tuscany’s very best managed estate is actually situated just over the border in Umbria-and it hardly feels like an estate.

Once the summer residence of the Bishop of Todi, Castello di Reschio has just 50 farmhouses set in 2,700 acres. About half have been restored to date, and each house is individually designed and furnished to suit the new owner’s personal taste, while remaining sympathetic to the local architecture. The services on offer are many-an equestrian centre, an osteria, wild-boar hunting and fishing-and there’s even a chef who will whip up lasagne or ravioli when you fancy them.

Price and charges
The average price for a restored turnkey delivery is about €6 million.

Service charges are specific to each house, but as a guide, Knight Frank quote an average cost of €55,000.

Who buys there

A global, eclectic mix of people from Russia, the USA, the UK, Europe and the Far East, but also some Italians.

Pros

It’s practically perfect.

Cons
The location is not as accessible as other places. You can get to it easily from Perugia airport, but otherwise, it’s two hours from either Florence or Rome.

Buy it
Through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171)

Borgo di Vagli
€72.5k

Set among olive groves with olive and fruit trees, Borgo di Vagli is a tiny hamlet dating to the 14th century. Its ancient stone buildings have been sympathetically restored, subtly incorporating contemporary comforts. The borgo has been converted into a range of one- and two bedroom residences, which are furnished with Tuscan antiques and fully managed.

Owners have access to a trattoria, an outdoor, heated swimming pool, a micromarket and concierge-style services, but Vagli prides itself on not being a resort with all the bells and whistles, appealing instead to people who yearn for a bygone era and a more sedate pace of life.

Price and charges
Prices start from €72,500 for fractional ownership in the one-bedroom category. Management fees for 2012 start from €2,246.

Who buys there
Older professionals (and their families) from North America, the UK, Scandinavia, Belgium and France.

Pros
Unrivalled peace and quiet. Vagli is also set in the cultural and gastronomic heart of Tuscany, and is, in itself, a remarkable piece of Tuscan architecture.

Cons
The buildings are truly medieval, access is via a long, unpaved road, and the terrain around the borgo can be challenging.

Buy it
through Borgo di Vagli (00 39 0575 619 61)

Castello di Casole
€3.7m

The castle that gives Castello di Casole its name was built in the 10th century and remodelled in the 18th, and most of the land was acquired in the 19th century.

Painstakingly restored and developed by Timber Resorts since 2005, the 4,200-acre estate now has 28 luxury casali plus a recently opened boutique hotel. All the casali have been restored to the highest standards, combining traditional Tuscan architecture and reclaimed materials with cutting-edge kitchens and bathrooms, and come with outdoor dining areas and glass-tiled infinity pools. Services and activities range from pre-arrival grocery shopping to housekeeping, bilingual concierge, Italian language courses, cooking classes and guided vineyard tours.

Price and charges
Casali start from €3.7 million for whole ownership and €465,000 for fractional ownership. Annual charges are between €4,100 and €6,745.

Who buys there
Executive and corporate owners with an international background. Americans are the majority, but owners hail from all over the world.

Pros
You get to experience the Tuscan lifestyle with all the facilities of a five-star resort.

Cons
The nearest supermarket is 25 minutes’
drive away.

Buy it
Through Aylesford International (020-7349 5100)

Toscana Resort Castelfalfi
€230k

Castelfalfi is the quintessential Tuscan estate. Spanning 2,718 acres, it’s centred around an 800-year-old restored borgo complete with castle, church and ramparts.

Three of the borgo buildings are currently being converted into 41 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Three more hilltop villages are being developed across the estate for a total of 150 new apartments, town houses and small villas. For those who require a little more space, the choice is between golf villas overlooking the 27-hole course or traditional casali ripe for renovation. Castelfalfi provides a wide range of services for owners, including round-the-clock concierge and security, a spa and a range of pools. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

Price and charges
Apartments start from €230,000, casali from €2.5 million (turnkey price). Service charges are €40-€45 per square metre per year.

Who buys there
The market is largely European, with buyers coming from Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Scandinavia and Germany, as well as Britain.

Pros
With so much to do on site, it’s the ideal resort for families.

Cons
There are 150 recently built units, so it can feel a bit ‘new’.

Buy it
Through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171)