Liz Rowlinson

Where to invest on Italy’s islands

Where to invest on Italy's islands
Elba island, Italy (iStock)
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A world away from TV dating reality shows, raucous party boats and the VIP areas of nightclubs in the Balearics, the Italian islands are hard to beat when it comes to understated chic.

Harder to reach too, and generally more arduous places to purchase a home in, the islands can offer property hunters something special. TV and film producers know this well: picture the Baroque palazzos of Inspector Montelbano’s Sicily, the private beach of Ischia or the winding cobbled streets of neighbouring Procida used in The Talented Mr Ripley.

For wild empty beaches, secret coves and quaint fishermen’s houses lining ancient quaysides, the islands in the Gulf of Naples are a good place to start, reached by ferry from Naples.

The nearest island, Procida, is far less well known than its glamorous sisters Capri and Ischia, will be on a few more people’s radar now that it is Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022, thanks to is art, urban regeneration, and sustainability initiatives.

Within its two square miles of scenic beaches and pastel coloured fishing villages you can find a two-bedroom apartment for around €250,000 or a large six-bedroom villa for €1,250,000. As with other resale properties in Italy you will need to be pay nine per cent of the book value of the property (typically 30-40 per cent of the market value) in purchase tax if you buy it as a second home.

On Capri, perched on pine-clad cliffs you can find a lot more luxury properties thanks to its popularity with wealthy Neapolitans but also more international buyers – at the high end of the market (villas for over €3m), they predominate. A three-storey six-bedroom mansion needing a little renovation (you are not allowed to build new homes) is on at €6m through Sotheby’s Realty.

A sizeable mansion in Capri, Sotheby's Realty

The Tuscan archipelago of Elba and Giglio are summer playgrounds for wealthy Northern Italians and a handful of overseas second-home owners. The former – famed for Napolean’s exile – is an hour-ferry ride from Piombino in Livorno. You can get a charming little two-bedroom house in a large garden for only €185,000 that’s ready to move right into.

Portoferraio, Elba

For something a little more accessible (usually) by the likes of Easyjet, Sicily and Sardinia offer by far the most well-established overseas property markets, whether you seek gated luxury resorts or their wilder, more remote corners.

The Italian tax office who report figures by region, in 2021 transactions in Sardinia were up 33.2 per cent in 2021 over 2020, in Sicily 35.8 per cent. According to gate-away.com, the largest Italian property portal, the average property price search in Sardinia is €545,000 with about 25 per cent of enquiries at €250-500,000.

In the Chia area of Southern Sardinia loved for its beaches €250,000 can buy you a cute two-bedroom villa oozing traditional charm but the Costa Smeralda, the glamorous enclave in the northeast corner of the island created 60 years ago, is a different market altogether.

The Italian flat tax regime (of €100,000 a year) is helping convince buyers with €2-10m to spend more time there since the pandemic arrived.

In the hub of Port Cervo, it will cost you around €1.5m for a two-bedroom apartment but you’ll be a short stroll away from the new branch of Zuma restaurant, high-end boutiques and gelateria (this is as glitzy as the islands get).

Sardinia's Costa Smeralda commands a premium (Brunati)

Yet it’s been Sicily that’s been the most popular island on Gate-away.com in the first five months of 2022, with enquiries received by the portal from international buyers up 11 per cent on the same period in 2021. The average price is €341,000, and the most popular areas are Syracuse and Palermo, particularly for Americans, British holiday makers and Germans.

Offering far more rich history and variety than Sardinia, Sicily with its Baroque cities, amphitheatres and a hinterland scattered with opulent and often decaying villas, wears faded grandeur well. There are also cutting-edge new villas too, like this three-bedroom property overlooking the Gulf of Catania.

Farmhouses in the countryside or apartments in pretty Taormina have also been historically popular with buyers, but it’s in Syracuse in the southeast that Mick Jagger reportedly bought a home there recently.

'During the pandemic, we received more requests than ever from foreign clients seeking a home with a big garden, privacy, and a view from which to enjoy the simple things in life - family, food, the landscape,' says Fabrizio Vitellino of agent Buy In Sicily Real Estate.

Don’t forget its famous Grillo and Catarratto wines. Buying a winery on the slopes of Mount Etna is another option (another singer, Mick Hucknall did just this) or perhaps renovating a faded old palazzo full of traditional majolica tiles - if you have patience and deep pockets. You don’t have to have both to buy a home on an Italian island, but it helps.