It's love rather than cold economic sense that drives the purchase of most Venetian property, finds Cathy Hawker.
Palazzo Vendramin: In the less touristy area of Cannaregio, it’s been newly renovated into 13 one- to four- bedroom apartments priced from €640,000 to €4.3 million. Savills (020– 7016 3740).
Few cities look very much as they did 500 years ago and even fewer are lived in by their residents in much the same way, but in Venice, merchants still transport their fruit and vegetables into the city by boat, selling directly from the waterside, locals linger over their morning caffè and walking remains the best policy for tourists and residents alike.
Of course, some things have changed dramatically. where once it was exotic silks and spices that flowed through this wealthy trading gateway, now it’s visitors in search of culture and beauty. As the year-round population has dwindled, down to 60,000 at the last count, annual tourist figures have stretched past 20 million with many arriving on cruise ships.
Yet it’s still possible to find the real Venice, insists Jelena Cvjetkovic of Savills (020–7016 3740) and although it remains a niche market, there is healthy interest in owning a bolthole in La Serenissima. ‘Buying in Venice is an emotional purchase,’ says Miss Cvjetkovic. ‘It makes economic sense, because the rental market is strong and the season is long, but that’s almost secondary for many buyers. Having a home in Venice is like buying a piece of art or gaining admission to an exclusive world. There is nothing else like it and buyers will put up with some practical difficulties such as little outdoor space or top-floor apartments without lifts because the emotional pull is so intense.’
The French are the main buyers, says Miss Cvjetkovic, followed by the British and Italians. Most in demand are two- or three-bedroom apartments priced €500,000 to €1,800,000, which rent well. Venetian period details combined with private outdoor space and a water view top buyers’ wish lists says Rupert Fawcett, head of Knight Frank’s Italy department (020–7629 8171). It is, he says, the sense of place that Venice provides that marks it out for buyers and has meant prices in the city have suffered less than in other parts of Italy since 2007. Prices on the Grand Canal average €12,500 to €15,000 a square metre, reaching €20,000 for exceptional properties.
‘There are certainly some buyers who see Venice as a more investment-orientated purchase, but, for the majority, it’s somewhere they know very well,’ comments Mr Fawcett. ‘They often have a social connection there, attending operas and festivals regularly. Many of our clients looking to buy in Italy would consider Tuscany or Umbria, but 80% of those looking in Venice will only consider Venice.’
It’s rare to find an entire waterfront palazzo for sale—although Knight Frank do have one ready to move into on the Grand Canal: Palazzo Sangiantoffetti, with its own water gate for €10 million—as most have already been chopped into apartments with varying degrees of skill. The recently opened Aman Canal Grande, in privately owned 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli close to the Rialto Bridge, is typical of many grand palaces that are now hotels. But although this building—the star of both a Veronese painting and a Turner drawing—has been exquisitely renovated, not all are done with such care.
Giudecca: A carefully restored two- bedroom ground-floor apartment with garden close to Harry’s Dolci on the island of Giudecca for €680,000. Knight Frank (020–7629 8171).
In a city where damp and humidity can cause untold problems, there will always be concerns about build quality, agrees Filippo Gaggia of Savills associates Views on Venice. ‘Maintenance on rundown buildings can be high and some 95% of homes in Venice have foundations that are not properly dug down and “tanked”,’ explains Sig Gaggia, himself the owner of a handsome Grand Canal palazzo.
Palazzo Vendramin, an entire waterfront palazzo in Canareggio newly launched by Savills with 13 apartments for sale from €640,000 to €4.3 million, is a good example. The three-year renovation of the beautiful brick and white-stucco palace included the temporary removal of two vast stone staircases in the entrance hall to restore the foundations. Kitchens and bathrooms are pared back and modern with unobtrusive LED lighting and sleek units and centuries-old frescoes, internal quatrefoil Gothic stone windows and wooden and terrazzo floors have been renovated to add character.
‘The primary purpose of restoration was to keep the historical layering of this special building,’ says architect Alberto Torsello, a born-and-bred Venetian. ‘The second purpose was to maintain its health, protecting from high tides and humidity. We have designed it to live in easily, to be historic but also modern.’
Palazzo Sangiantoffetti: An entire 17th-century palazzo over three floors with an attic that has been completely restored with seven bedrooms and a roof terrace in Santa Croce. €10 million. Knight Frank (020– 7629 8171).
Canareggio, in the north of Venice, runs from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. It’s known as the ‘local’ sestiere (area) of Venice with fewer tourists and more reasonably priced restaurants and shops. San Marco is a 15-minute brisk walk to the east and the airport is 20 minutes by water taxi to the west. The main canals and calles are wider, allowing sunlight to fall over the diners enjoying their prosecco along the Fondamenta della Misericordia.
In San Marco, and also with water access, the renovation of 15th-century Palazzo Molin was completed earlier this year. Eleven of the 18 apartments remain for sale priced from €595,000 to €4,900,000. Mullioned windows, high ceilings and a spacious entrance hall and communal courtyard garden are matched by crisp contemporary interiors and a concierge service run from the nearby Hotel dei Dragomanni.
‘Smaller pied-à-terres in grand developments like Palazzo Molin are appealing as they offer the rare chance to live in exceptionally imposing surroundings with high-level concierge service for a surprisingly modest price,’ says selling agent Ann-Marie Doyle of Venice Sotheby’s International Realty (00 39 041 522 0093).
Individual properties currently on the market, which showcase well-renovated contemporary design, include a spacious one-bedroom piano nobile apartment in Palazzo Tron on the Grand Canal, also the work of Sig Torsello. The apartment is opposite the Aman Hotel and is for sale at €1.9 million through Knight Frank.
San Marcuola: This two-bedroom penthouse in Cannaregio was recently reduced to €1 million. Knight Frank (020–7629 8171).
The wisteria-clad entrance is through a peaceful garden overlooking Palazzo Fortuny and the interior by London-based designer Tim Gosling has a modern all-white Minotti kitchen, tactile creamy polished marmorino plaster on the walls and ruby-red handmade glass tiles in the bathroom.
‘The beauty of Venice is that it offers both classic historic homes and some newer apartments that are a blank canvas,’ says Mr Fawcett. ‘Giudecca, opposite Zattere and home to the Cipriani, has newer offerings.’ He highlights a two-bedroom ground-floor apartment there with whitewashed beams and open-plan living space for €680,000.
A two-bedroom apartment spread over three floors in ever-popular Dorsoduro with the magic combination of a private water gate and rooftop terrace is €2.3 million through Sotheby’s.
Finally, a first-floor Grand Canal apartment in San Polo in a Byzantine palace, restored in the 15th century with a pentafora (five-light window) and frescoed ceilings is €3.5 million and a restored one-bedroom light- filled apartment in Santa Croce is €850,000, both through Savills.
Helena Attlee and Jenny Condie will lead an exclusive Country Life readers' tour to Venice and the Veneto next spring.
When it comes to luxury houses in the Mediterranean, property buyers are spoilt for choice in Mallorca.