For many years the Ligurian coast, better known as the Italian Riviera, has been synonymous with style and decadence. A favourite with film stars and writers, it has enjoyed a reputation for being more exclusive but less ostentatious than the neighbouring French Riviera – yet now the area is attracting super-rich buyers from overseas.
“We are not only getting wealthy Italians buying homes here, as we have for several years, we are also attracting international buyers, notably from northern Europe and America,” says Matteo Scandolera of Casamare Real Estate. “The climate and the Italian lifestyle are particularly attractive to people in early retirement.” According to research for the European Commission, over-64s make up 26.5 per cent of the population of Liguria.
The property market here can be divided into two portions: the east and the west. Top-end prices in the eastern section, from Genoa to the border with Tuscany, have remained steady, untroubled by the eurozone crisis.
Although prices are estimated to have dropped 14 per cent in real terms (7 per cent in nominal terms) in Italy from 2008 to 2011, according to Nomisma, the Italian economic research institute, upmarket resorts such as Portofino and Rapallo have created their own economic micro-climate. “It is a simple matter of supply and demand,” says Martino de Rosa, president of real estate company Iin Liguria. “New homes cannot be built in these resorts, so if you have the right villa in the right location then someone will always pay top price.”
The most sought-after homes have a clear view of the sea, a garage (parking here is difficult), and are within comfortable walking distance of the restaurants near the bays. De Rosa recently sold a €3m home – in a matter of weeks – that ticked all those boxes.
Most of the Italians investing along this part of the coast come from Genoa or Milan and are looking for a weekend home before retiring to the area. “It’s the ambition of many Italians to have a home here as a symbol of their success,” says Giancario Fronzoni, 74, a retired entrepreneur who also has homes in Sardinia, the Philippines and the US. “Portofino is regarded as the pearl of the Riviera, but for me it’s too much like living in the Hamptons – the community is too narrow. I prefer to live in Santa Margherita where I meet a wider mix of people.”
Fronzoni, a widower, is selling his house in San Michele di Pagana because he finds it too large. It is a 1,000 sq metre villa on four floors with eight bedrooms, a pool and solarium, set in 7,000 sq metres of parkland. It is for sale with Knight Frank for €14m.
As planning regulations control the construction of new buildings, it is common for developers to subdivide existing villas into apartments. In Camogli, Iin Liguria is selling parts of Villa Via della Repubblica, a 19th-century villa overlooking the sea, as “raw space”. Buyers can decide whether they want to buy one, two or three floors, and the developers will build apartments to order for prices that should vary between €700,000 and €2m.
The west of Liguria, from Genoa to the border with France, is different from the east in many ways. Most obviously, it is not quite so expensive. In Sanremo, a fairly typical resort, apartments sell for €4,000 per sq metre and villas reach €10,000 per sq metre.
In Ospedaletti, the Polish Price Villa has been divided into six apartments and its three-bedroom penthouse is currently on the market. A short walk from the sea, the property is for sale for €1.5m with Casamare Real Estate.
Many people come to this region to avoid the irritations of modern life. Some have homes in Monaco for tax purposes but prefer to escape the traffic and the crowds by living in Liguria; others are crossing the border from France to avoid the new taxation measures.
Many perceive this part of Liguria to be a safer place to live than the French Riviera. Figures for 2011 show that Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur has the highest rate of crime for burglary and theft in France. There are also many period properties, some in need of restoration, from which to choose. A semi-converted former convent, Villa Marie Joseph, is one of the most expensive villas currently on the market in the region. Standing in 6,000 sq metres of grounds, across the road from the marina and the beach, this 2,000 sq metre building is for sale for €8m with Casamare Real Estate.
Not all homes in Liguria are priced in the millions. Linda Travella of Casa Travella believes the best buys for €200,000-€300,000 are in west Imperia. “You are about an hour from Nice airport and there are good views of Monaco,” she says. “There is also a new port at Porto Maurizio ... Go inland to Poggi and Civezza, but always ensure you have a view of the sea.”
Fred Redwood was a guest of Knight Frank
• Excellent motorway network, including links to the airports
• Clean sea water with 17 Blue Flag beaches in 2011
• Abundance of fine sea food
• Precipitous streets
• Crowds in summer
• Lack of car-parking space in older properties
What you can buy for ...
€500,000: A two-bedroom medieval stone house on the outskirts of Albenga
€1m: A two-bedroom penthouse with sea view in Santa Margherita