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Real estate in Sicily

● Mediterranean's largest island  ●920-mile coast  ● 3 major airports

Like Tuscany in the 1960s, Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is now growing in popularity among foreign house hunters. Why the interest in buying real estate in Sicily? First, its 920 miles of glorious coastline, taking in everything from golden sands to spectacularly rugged shores, means you’re spoilt for choice if you’re looking for beach property for sale in Sicily.


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Then add in the island’s almost year-round sunshine, hardly a surprise when you consider that parts of it lie closer to the tropics than North Africa does.

Sicily is also home to some magnificent art cities, whose character has been forged down the millennia by a variety of invaders — Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans, Romans, Spanish, French and British, to name just some. It also boasts one of Europe’s last remaining active volcanoes in Mt Etna, whose snowy peaks are a magnet for skiing enthusiasts in winter.

The property in Sicily market

In addition in Sicily, homes for sale — with the exception of a few hotspots on the island — are much more affordable than the likes of Tuscany and Umbria. For the time being, at least.

There was a “property for sale in Sicily for €1” offer that grabbed the headlines a few years ago — an attempt by officials in the hillside town of Gangi to breathe life back into the area. There were a few catches, mind. For instance, the houses were all decrepit and buyers had to pledge to renovate them within five years.

You would be hard-pressed to find similar giveaways now. However, there are bargains to be had, with the property market here being among the most affordable in all Italy.

The hinterland is where the cheapest Sicilian homes, apartments and farm houses are to be found. For instance, venture 40-50 miles from the coast, to towns such as Alia, some 30 miles south-east of Palermo, and you can buy an apartment of 80-100sq m from around €9,500.

Similarly typical of the lower prices on offer in Sicily’s interior is Cianciana, some 15 miles from the island’s southern beaches. Here, you can expect a habitable 40-50sq m townhouse to start from a mere €12,000, although it may need some minor updating work. Naturally, if you are happy taking on a property to renovate, you may pick one up for €2,000-€3,000 less than that.

Waterfront homes for sale in Sicily

However, coastal areas are where the majority of Americans and other foreigners buying homes in this part of Italy will be drawn to, because of the increased potential to rent your Sicilian real estate investment. Another attraction is that on the coast you are likelier to be within easier reach of amenities associated with larger towns and cities.

The most popular coastal town with overseas visitors and buyers is undoubtedly Taormina, once home to DH Lawrence. This upmarket clifftop resort on the island’s eastern coast is famed for an ancient Greco-Roman theatre, Teatro Antico di Taormina, still in use today to host events such as open-air music concerts.

The town’s chic, cobbled roads and breathtaking view of the crystal blue sea form an alluring contrast with the dry hinterland, with its cacti, fig plants, lemon trees and bougainvillea.

People wishing to settle in this part of Sicily find great job opportunities too — in the local tourism industry and also in the burgeoning IT sector in Catania, Sicily’s second largest city that lies just over 30 miles to the south.

Its popularity has made property for sale in Taormina among the island’s priciest and it is considered one of the best places to live in Sicily. Here, expect to pay from around €140,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, rising to anything up to €250,000 for a one-bedroom place with sea-view. The more high-end real estate in Taormina can change hands for seven-figure sums.

However, bear in mind that even amid the high prices, smart negotiating can bring prices down. The general rule of thumb is that you can get around 5-10 per cent off listed values. The bonus is that rental potential is excellent and can approach €15,000 a month at the higher end of the market.

Taormina, and most of the rest of Sicily’s eastern coast, is dominated by the towering presence of Mt Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano. This coast, facing the Ionian Sea, has some of the island’s best beaches, in particular in Letojanni and Giardini Naxos, a few miles from Taormina.

Eastern and south-eastern Sicily is where the majority of overseas investors head to. Hotspots here for property include Catania, Siracusa, Augusta, Avola and, just on the other side of the island’s south-eastern tip, Ragusa and Modica.

Catania, the largest conurbation on the east coast, has a lovely bustling city feel. Its architectural highlights include Ursino Castle, built in the first half of the 13th century.

Another plus: prices here are about half what they are in Taormina. If you’re househunting on a budget you should be able to find studio and one-bedroom apartments to buy in Catania from around €50,000-€60,000.

These will tend to be without external space or a sea view, but can be used as an excellent base from which to go sightseeing and discover this scenic corner of Sicily.

Siracusa is one of the island’s most alluring cities and is home to a number of splendid Greek ruins such as the Temple of Apollo and the Neapolis Archaeological Park, which still hosts open-air Greek plays, as it did more than two millennia ago.

The city’s most charming quarter is its Old Town of Ortygia — Greek for “quail”. This warren of piazzas and narrow streets is attached to the rest of the city by a spindly strip of land. It has a different look and feel from the rest of Siracusa, which had to be rebuilt after bombing damage during World War Two.

The south-east corner of Sicily in particular is a treasure trove of archaeological gems, evidence of the island’s 3,000 years as the crossroads of Europe, with countless Mediterranean civilisations having left their mark.

The area of Agrigento was once a main Greek town and tall and magnificent Greek temples still stand among its olive groves. The coastline around the city has beautiful sandy beaches with crystal clear waters and white cliffs. For instance in Realmonte, west of Agrigento, there is the strikingly white La Scala dei Turchi (“The Turks’ staircase”), so called because Saracen pirates once overran the city by climbing this cliff.

And the picturesque Baroque town of Modica, hewn from rock, is known as “the town of 100 bells and 100 churches”. Modica was once called the Venice of the South thanks its many bridges. And its amber-coloured buildings and narrow streets and alleys make it a charming destination for visitors, who can also sample the culinary delights and chocolate the town is also famous for.

Properties elsewhere in Sicily

Another part of Sicily popular with overseas buyers are the areas of the old fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo, Scopello; and Trapani on the island’s north-west tip; along with Caccamo and Cefalù, the northern coast’s most popular coastal resort.

Such is Cefalù’s star allure that parts of Hollywood movie Ocean's Twelve were made in Castellammare del Golfo while Nuovo Cinema Paradiso was filmed here. In addition, 12th century Norman ruler Roger II bestowed upon Cefalù its striking Duomo, one of Sicily’s great cathedrals

Expect €150,000 for a two-bedroom apartment in Cefalù, rising to the €250,000 mark if you insist on a sea view. Prices fall if you head for the outskirts of Cefalù, where you can pick up a two or a three bedroom sea-view villa for around €180,000-€250,000. Cefalù prices are roughly similar to those in Castellamare del Golfo, 90 minutes westwards, and nearby Scopello.

Palermo, Sicily’s capital, lies 45 miles west of Cefalù. As to be expected from the island’s main conurbation, it is crowded and busy and not to every foreign househunter’s taste.

However, it too has its attractions. The city is a treasure trove of Baroque, Norman and Moorish art; indeed, 18th century poet Wolfgang von Goethe was so moved he praised Palermo — where a cultural centre now bears his name — in gushing terms as he said of Sicily: “Without Sicily, Italy leaves no image in the soul. Sicily is the key to everything.”

Sicilian farms for sale

Away from coastal cities, there is growing interest in buying farms for sale in Sicily. Many are currently run by farming families as agriturismo establishments, offering farm-stay holidays and the chance to sample life in rural Italy.

A good number are rustic and offer basic amenities. However, increasingly popular are luxury agriturismo experiences, offering a range of services such as larger rooms with all mod-cons, king-sized bedrooms, satellite television, WiFi and air conditioning.

Several farms, in particular older ones, will feature baglios, imposing buildings that typically enclose a courtyard of about half an acre, with the rest of the agricultural land outside its walls.

The larger ones sometimes come with large swathes of land, often up to 60 acres or more. Expect to pay from €450,000 to anything up to €2million, depending on size — more still if the property has been restored.

A further option for Sicily property hunters is the series of islands dotted off the island — namely the Egadi Islands, the Pelagie archipelago of Lampedusa, Linosa and Lampione; Pantelleria, halfway between Sicily and Tunisia; and the Aeolian Islands.

The latter — seven volcanic isles of varying degrees of tourist interest — are probably the most picturesque. Panarea, Lipari, Salina and Stromboli are the pick of the bunch. Vulcano is also popular, with visitors flocking to its famous mud baths despite the overpowering sulphur smell. Many also come to take on the two-hour hike from the port to the top of its volcano. If you want to buy offshore, bear in mind the additional travel involved in getting here from mainland Sicily.

Bear in mind that summer temperatures can top 40F in Sicily, so if that’s likely to prove a problem for you, come here between March and June or September to November.

Aside from its natural and architectural beauty, an additional reason for the surge in interest in buying properties in Sicily is the greater availability of homes on the market.

Until recently they were mainly passed down through extended family. But younger generations have been more inclined to relinquish these inheritances to find places to live away from the ancestral home.

Stefania Russo, founder of Italian property finding company the Property Organiser, explains: “Sicily’s sunny climate, rich history and lower cost of living have always made it a popular holiday destination, if not necessarily top of the list in terms of nice places in Italy to buy a home.

“Until about half a dozen years ago, many families held on tightly to properties that were passed down from father to son — and most of the properties that came on the market tended to be in coastal resorts.

“However, that is now slowly changing. Younger Sicilians feel less wedded to tradition and are prepared to let go of these family heirlooms to enable them to get on the property ladder somewhere else.”

The low-cost jet age has done its bit for the local housing market too. Budget airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet and Vueling fly directly to its three international airports — Trapani in the north-west, Palermo in the north, and Catania in the east. There have also been concrete proposals for a €6billion bridge linking Sicily to mainland Italy.

Sicily: Home to archaeological gems

Meanwhile, Sicily’s stunning present-day allure is down in part to its fascinating past. One of the most spectacular historical sites is in the hills of Segesta, a few miles from Alcamo in the north-West.

It boasts a superbly persevered 2,500-year-old Doric Temple that overlooks the sea, while a few hundred metres away lies an Ancient Greek theatre atop Mt Barbaro.

Even more impressive is Selinunte, arguably Sicily’s greatest Greek archaeological site and located close to the south-western coast. The 250-acre ancient city was sacked by Arab invaders 2,500 years ago and which is now Europe’s largest archaeological park.

Selinunte’s history is intertwined with that of Segesta, which in the fifth century BC shipped in allies from Carthage to help ransack its arch-rival. If visiting Selinunte, be sure to visit nearly Cava di Cusa — its abruptly abandoned quarry sites still littered with half-finished columns.

By the way, forget the overstated spectre of the Mafia, which foreigners never have contact with. We’ve deliberately saved the “M” word for last. You can forget the overstated spectre of the Mafia, which foreigners will never have contact with.

If you are interested in property in Sicily you may also wish to look at:
Amalfi coast real estate | Basilicata property | Calabria property | Puglia property | Sardinia property


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