If you've bought a house in Tuscany twenty years ago you'd be sitting pretty on a healthy profit by now. That's IF you wanted to sell it of course, because Tuscany is beautiful. As indeed is most of Italy albeit in different ways, in different regions.
Property prices have risen pretty steadily in the UK since world war two, there have been some plateaus and even some dips which caused mortgage holders to end up with negative equity. Those, who weathered the storm however ever ended up with a good investment in the end. In the UK it's been part of our culture for many years to aspire to home ownership, in other countries leasing has been more the accepted norm and property prices have risen rather more slowly, possibly as a consequence.
In recent years though it's become more difficult to find property bargains even in mainland Europe. Locations in France which were cheap just ten years ago are somewhat less affordable now. Many retired Brits have fled to the sun in the south of Spain, Andorra and Portugal. In Spain some dodgy dealing has meant that some have 'bought' homes only to find that they did not really have title, or that the houses were built without planning permission and similar problems.
Buying abroad, where the language may be a struggle and the buying and legal processes are not something you were brought up with can be a minefield, but still Brits buy property abroad all the time and they're not the only ones. I have not looked for statistics and I do not know if studies have even been done, but I meet plenty of Americans and Canadians living in Italy and other European countries plus Turkey.
The Mediterranean countries do offer a different pace of life, a different diet and better weather than we have in England and in parts of the USA. If snow and winter sports are your thing though there are high ski resorts in mainland Europe as far south as Calabria and islands such as Corsica and Cyprus also offer ski-ing, as does Turkey.
Italy, as I'm sure you know is long and narrow and ferries are available from both the east and west coasts, west will take you to Elba, Corsica and Sardinia and on the east coast ferries will transport you to Greece, opening up routes to the Greek islands and onwards to Turkey. Further south of course there's a very short ferry crossing to the wonderful island of Sicily.
When you look then at a second home, or base in Europe, the south of Italy is pretty handy for further exploration. As a Brit Calabria is a lot further to go than France, but property here has yet to go up in price. Umbria followed in the footsteps of Tuscany and more recently Calabria's equally southern neighbor Puglia to the east of us has become trendy. Part as a result of the quaint conical, stone Trulli houses. Trulli is plural, a single Apulian traditional dry stone house is called a Trullo.
The Trulli are beautiful, as is Puglia, however if you want a bargain there you've missed the boat and the Trulli were basically poor lodging, many of the circular ones were actually built for livestock and few had windows. They can be made into lovely modern homes, but it takes a lot of work if you're starting from scratch.
Will Calabria follow in the wake of Puglia as Umbria did Tuscany? I do not know. My partner and I did not buy in Calabria as an investment but because we fell in love with the region and because we could afford to buy a home there at an affordable price, with no loan required. I will not tell you what we paid, because I believe we got a bargain even by Calabrian standards and I do not want to give a false impression. Do what I did though and have a look on-line, or talk to the wonderful estate agent I used.
Antonio runs his business in the charming seaside town of Scalea, near the border between Calabria and Basilicata. The business is called A & M Immobiliare and it's located on Corso Mediterraneo. Antonio has helped us with the purchase and the notary, getting a fiscal code and setting up accounts with utility companies. In short he took all the hard work out of the equation.
We did not buy in Scalea though, our house, part of an historical building in its own right, is in the Pollino National Park, in the mountains. There are two national parks of outstanding beauty in Calabria, the other being the Sila National Park. It's the height of the mountains in these parks which makes ski-ing possible here; it's a short season so far south but if you live in the area you just go when it happens to be good.
Calabria was once part of Magna Graecia, that is to say greater Greece, as Greeks looked to start colonies outside Greece from about 800BC. Not that it was uninhabited before that, Palaeolithic remains have been unearthed in Scalea and elsewhere. Naturally the Romans took over from the Greeks, then the Byzantines and just about everyone else including Normans, Longobards, Angevins and Bourbons. The history is as fascinating as the scenery is beautiful.
Being Italy the food and the wine are all part of the appeal and the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle are often cited as a route to long life. What amazes me most because is not the quality of the food, but the low prices for really good fresh produce. Eating out is amazingly good value too. In our local pizzeria for example pizzas cost between 3 and 6 euros, but the majority, including Caprese and Vegeteriana, two of our favorites are 4 euros each. They're made with fresh dough, vegetables, tomatoes and mozzarella and prepared in a proper wood burning stove by people who really know what they're doing. Wine is just 50 cents a glass and it's very pleasant wine. So for 9 Euros, about 8 UK pounds we can enjoy a meal which would cost 25 UK pounds quite easily at home.
It's a similar story at breakfast, Maria who runs the central cafe in Piazza Navarra (the Spanish were also here in the fifteenth century and kindly built our house) will supply us with two creamy cappuccinos, two filled croissants and two glasses of water for 3 euros and forty cents, that would be about the price of just one coffee in a chain in England.
From our bedroom balcony we have a view of a valley, a hill and a Longobard castle, a river flows through the town too. The local people have made us so welcome it's hard to put into words and the most common question we're asked is why did you come here? To us it's a surprising question. It's often followed by a second question. Do you have family or ancestors here?
In Italy, sometimes especially in the south, family is very important. Most of the industry and most of the great universities lie in the north. Indeed many in the north look down on the south and yet many of the students and much of the work in the north ventures southerners who have moved there in search of that education and employment. They help make the north what it is, but they never forget their roots and their family. In August our town comes alive with festivals and young people coming home. Many families continue the pilgrimage home even when the parents or grandparents have died. August is one long joyous party.
So how do we answer the question why did we come here? We point out that the scenery is very beautiful, that the food and wine are excellent, we say that the history is fascinating and that you the people have made us so very welcome. We say we'd like to learn the language and discover the culture, but we do not want to be tourists and rub shoulders constantly with tourists. To us Calabria is the real Italy.
If too many people from Britain and America, and possibly from other parts of Europe discover what we've discovered then sometimes we'll spoil this wonderful place, but I hope not. I hope that a small influx of outsiders will bring life to empty properties and prosperity to shops, restaurants and tradespeople such as builders, plumbers, electricians and furniture makers. That enhanced prosperity will help young people to find work locally and thus protect the culture and family bonds. No it's not the new Tuscany, Calabria is Calabria and it's a wonderful, wonderful place to explore and to live in. It can get cold in the mountains, but the welcome is always warm.