Wild, unspoilt and uncrowded, Abruzzo holds huge appeal for lovers of the outdoors. As well as mountains and beaches, it offers astonishingly affordable properties, says Fleur Kinson
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Abruzzo entices visitors with the call of the wild, or at least the call of the great outdoors. Dominated by leafy highlands and unending beaches, this unspoilt bit of Italy encourages all sorts of healthy outdoor activities. As does its climate. Situated a bit further than halfway down the Italian leg, Abruzzo offers hot summer beach weather, cooler high-elevation hiking, plus pretty caps of the white stuff on high peaks in the winter. It’s one of the few places in Europe where you can see the sea while you are skiing.
Between its mighty mountains and its golden sands, Abruzzo fills all remaining space with lush green hills and valleys. Many of these cradle charming old villages and small towns. Abruzzo is thinly-populated, hence its uncluttered natural environment and its peaceful serenity, but it’s not a remote or inaccessible sort of place. The region has good, well-maintained roads and transport connections, and is easily reached via direct flights from the UK. Abruzzo allows you to ‘get away from it all’ but doesn’t leave you feeling isolated or cut-off. This is also true socially. Small-town and village communities in Abruzzo are warm and welcoming. People help their neighbours, and outsiders are swiftly embraced into the fold. The pace of life is slow and gentle, and there’s always time to stop and chat. Abruzzo’s crime rate is rock-bottom, which adds to the region’s overall sense of calm.
Lovers of central Italian art, history and architecture might feel that Abruzzo doesn’t have the same level of cultural sophistication as places like Tuscany or Umbria, but what the region lacks in exquisite cathedrals and venerable museums it makes up for in raw, uncultivated beauty. Abruzzo’s often pristine natural spaces and absence of summer crowds make it a thoroughly appealing stretch of Italy. Then there’s the small matter of its property prices. Small being the operative word. Buyers looking for excellent value for money in Italy should certainly take a closer look at Abruzzo.
Abruzzo had only just begun to come to the attention of international homebuyers when the financial gloom of 2008 onwards arrived and dramatically reduced the number of foreign buyers across most parts of Italy for several years. As a result, Abruzzo’s property prices have never had the chance to swell as they have done in better-known Italian regions with much longer-established international property markets. Homes in Abruzzo were cheap when buyers first noticed the place, and they have remained cheap. Today you can find very good value for money almost everywhere in Abruzzo.
The least expensive part of the region tends to be its south, and particularly the inland parts of the south and its old villages. Down here you might get a townhouse for as little as €10,000, or a detached home for around €50,000. Fabrizio De Sanctis of Abruzzohouses says, “A village house with a terrace and a nice view can be had for €50,000-€60,000. A good detached property of more than 100 square metres needing some cosmetic work can be purchased for €70,000-€80,000. Five or ten years ago, such houses were priced above €100,000.”
Elsewhere in Abruzzo, buyers with budgets of between €100,000 and €180,000 would be able to buy themselves a large, lovely villa ready for immediate use. As is frequently the case in Italy, prices are highest on the coast in Abruzzo. That said, there are still plenty of affordable homes near the sea. Prices start falling as soon as you begin to back away from the briny stuff, and you can make great savings by choosing a home in hilly countryside just half an hour’s drive from a beach.
Particularly as this region might not be as immediately familiar to you as many others in Italy, it’s worth considering Abruzzo’s landscapes and areas in some detail – so you know where to start house-hunting. Let’s begin with the coast. Abruzzo has an impressive 80 miles or so of clean beaches meeting the warm, blue Adriatic. The land tilts very gently into the sea on this eastern side of Italy, making for particularly safe seaside fun, with the seawater shallow and only very slowly deepening as you wade further out. Abruzzo’s seaside ranges from family-friendly beach resorts to gloriously undeveloped expanses of sand and/or pebbles.
We’ve already noted that coastal property prices are Abruzzo’s highest. Regional capital Pescara, in the middle of the coast, is the region’s priciest spot. As suggested earlier, there are many advantages to buying a house about half an hour inland from the sea. Prices are lower, and good roads mean you’ve still got ease of access to beaches. There’s also the advantage of higher elevation, which often affords lovely views of the sea in one direction and inspiring vistas of Abruzzo’s majestic heights in the other direction. Two recommended hinterland areas are the Teramo province in the north and the Chieti province in the south.
Places that have appealed to foreign buyers in the Teramo province include Atri and Colonnella. In the Chieti province, places such as Vasto, Palmoli and San Vito Chietino have proven popular. Dave Benton of the Abruzzo-specialist estate agency Vignaverde makes further recommendations for the Chieti area, advising, “I think the best value for money is around Casoli, Palombaro, Fara San Martino and Pennapiedimonte. Low prices can still be found in these places but there is no compromise on the area as the towns and villages are well serviced with amenities, there are many tourist spots around – which is great for people who want to rent out their home – and the area enjoys very easy access both to the coast and the mountains.”
Into the wilds
Property prices become very low indeed once you reach areas nearly an hour from the sea, but these high-elevation areas generally offer fewer amenities and less infrastructure. Plus, as in most mountainous areas, the weather can be changeable and unpredictable. Still, wild open spaces far from towns and traffic might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you don’t mind a much longer travel time from the airport to reach your rustic retreat, Abruzzo’s high mountainous parts can certainly provide all the space, quiet, fabulously fresh air and inspiring vistas you might want.
Far inland, be aware that the otherwise lovely stretch between L’Aquila and Sulmona is a seismic risk zone due to a network of geological fault lines. Prices are very low across this narrow area, and if you choose to buy here, be absolutely certain that your property employs all the clever earthquake-proofing tricks and devices required by law on all new-build or restored properties anywhere in Italy. Note that coastal areas almost always have a far lower seismic risk than mountainous ones.
If you’re feeling pioneering, and love the thought of properties with rock-bottom prices, you might consider sneaking across Abruzzo’s southern border into the tiny and rarely-visited region of Molise. There are some lovely landscapes down here. The mountains may not be as high as in Abruzzo, but there’s no shortage of beaches and hills. Quiet and thinly-populated, Molise doesn’t have quite as much travel infrastructure as Abruzzo nor as many amenities in general, but it does have astonishingly low property prices, and it offers a real sense of ‘getting away from it all’.
Abruzzo is still a good region for anyone dreaming of buying up an old, tumbledown property and lovingly transforming it into their ideal home. Because purchase costs are so low, you can use much of your budget to cover your restoration work if that’s what you fancy doing. Only you know whether restoring an old building is worth it for you. You’ll have considered all the usual factors: the time it takes, the uncertainty, how satisfying it might feel to bring an old house back from the dead, how ‘bespoke’ a home you really want, and so on. Certainly Abruzzo has lots of options for the would-be restorer. And be reassured that in Abruzzo as elsewhere in Italy, the quality of building work and materials craftsmanship is very high.
If, however, restoration isn’t for you and you want a characterful old country house you can start using immediately, there are plenty of properties available that have already been nicely restored. Or perhaps you want to go to the other extreme and buy a plot of land on which to build a house of your own design from scratch. This can also be done in Abruzzo. Note, however, that it’s generally more advisable to buy a plot of land with a ruined old building on it rather than a plot that has never been built upon, because planning permission to build is much more swiftly obtained for the former than for the latter.
And what about the holiday rentals market? Might you be able to cover some of your costs by offering short lets on your home in Abruzzo? There are already many owners who do this. Abruzzo has received a steadily growing number of leisure visitors over the past twenty years or so. They come for the landscapes and the weather, the ‘authenticity’ of the region and the fact that it’s not as well-known as many other parts of Italy. As you might imagine, properties on or near the coast are the easiest to rent. Houses in the hills within half an hour or so from the sea rent very well too, especially if they have a tranquil location, a pool and a lovely view. Higher mountain areas have fewer clients, although a modest wintertime ski market exists. Obviously it pays if you can market your property well. Providing services or tours can be an added selling point
Find out more with Fleur’s Abruzzo regional property guide
Abruzzo property picks