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Property investment in Calabria, Italy

Calabria, the narrow peninsula extending into the Mediterranean for 300 kilometres is often referred to as the real Italy. It is located at the toe of Italy’s “boot” — way down in the south between the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea and Gulf of Taranto to the east, separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina.

The mountainous region covers 15,080 square kilometres and has a population of just over two million people known for their friendly and welcoming ways. The regional capital is the city of Catanzaro, with Reggio Calabria and Cosenza among the region’s other large cities.

While surrounded by water, Calabria is mainly a mountainous region, with the lowest slopes rich in vineyards and citrus fruit orchards, and olives and chestnut trees farther up. And while most visitors have yet to hear about Calabria’s wines, the region’s vintner days go back to ancient times. In fact, Calabria was referred to as Enotria — Greek for “land of wine” — and some of its vineyards have origins dating back to the ancient Greek colonists.

Most of the lower terrain in Calabria has been agricultural for centuries. The region is famous for its bergamot, that rare yellow fruit the size of oranges that grows in lush coastal orchards outside Reggio Calabria along the Ionian Sea. At their peak between December and April, bergamot’s lemony aroma is now finding its way into chefs’ special dishes, after being used primarily in soaps and shampoos.

The region’s natural beauty and architecture, its rich culture and “real” cuisine have up to recently been one of the best-kept secrets, mainly because the area’s rugged mountains and poor infrastructure have made travel difficult. But with a new focus on tourism, the government is spending vast amounts of money on transportation, including improvements to the A3 motorway that are soon to be completed to link Salerno to Calabria. With the regions airports now being opened up further to international flights (Ryanair now fly directly into Lamezia airport from the UK), more and more travellers are discovering the wonders of Calabria.

The roads less travelled will take you to wide expanses of unspoilt beaches and clear, sparkling seas, rocky coves, stunning headlands and into towns rich in historical treasures and a culture that dates back to Italic Oscan-speaking tribes.

Calabria is a land of contrasts, with below-zero temperatures in the mountains in winter and temperatures sometimes over 40°C in the summer along low valley areas. The climate is typically Mediterranean — with an amazing 300 sunny days a year — except at the highest elevations and the more arid eastern stretches along the Ionian Sea, where you just might spot the prickly pear cactus.

Until the mid 20th century, southern Italy was among the poorest regions of Europe and impoverished Calabria was a main source for the Italian diaspora of the early 1900s. Many Calabrians moved to the industrial centres of northern Italy, the rest of Europe, Australia and the Americas. But since the 1970s, when Northern Italians headed for Calabria’s coast for their summer holidays, there has been an increased affluence and a much improved economy based on modern agriculture, a growing commercial base and, more recently, tourism.

There is something very appealing about a true “Italian experience” and living the Dolce Vita away from the crowded Tuscany. Indeed most UK buyers who are being attracted by the region are also looking for something quite different to the ‘British’ packed ‘Costas of Spain, and Calabria provides this in abundance.

Calabria is now emerging as a property hotspot with watchers agreeing it is an excellent place for investment. Prices for property in Calabria are two to three times cheaper than in Tuscany, but are forecast to rise in a “catch-up” effect. The recent steady increase in tourists to the region has created a shortage of accommodation and a very strong rental market, opening opportunities for buy-to-let investors.

The main tourist draws in Calabria are the coastline and the mountains. The coastline alternates between rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, with little development in between. A flea market set in a 16th-century cathedral is just one of the many delights that await in Calabria’s many towns and villages. Cities and towns to see in Calabria:

• Reggio Calabria is renowned for its fabulous panoramic seaside with botanical gardens between the art nouveau buildings and the beautiful beaches. Located on the strait between the mainland and Sicily, Reggio Calabria is the region’s largest and oldest city, so check out its 3,000 years of history at the old Aragonian Castle and the great National Museum of Magna Grecia, where the famous Riace Warriors are located.

• Tropea, on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, is renowned for its sweet red onions and its stunning seaside beach. The Santa Maria dell’Isola sanctuary is a must-see. • Cosenza, seat of the Cosentian Academy, is renowned for its cultural institutions, the old quarter, a Romanesque Cathedral and a Swabian Castle.

• Catanzaro is known as “the city between the two seas” because it is located at the centre of the narrowest point of Italy, from where the Ionian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea are both visible. Check out the biodiversity and archaeological parks, along with the cathedral and the castle. Of course, a stroll on the promenade on the Ionian sea is mandatory.

• Roccella Ionica Roccella Ionica is a town with two distinct sides, one medieval side on the hills and one modern down by the sea. It is a popular holiday town near to our Caulonia, Gioiosa Ionica and Isca Marina developments and while it enjoys substantial tourism income it is also a producer of olive-oil and is a fishing port. Its original name was Amphysia and it dates back to Magna Grecia Colonies time and was referenced in Metamorfosi by Ovido. It is a town with a rich history and vibrant present.

• Soverato is known as the “Pearl of the Ionian Sea” for its beautiful sandy beaches, stunning seafront and its superb shops, restaurants and nightlife. Add to that picturesque streets perfect for strolling, beautiful architecture, museums and gourmet restaurants.

• Stilo, the home of Tommaso Campanella, is worth a visit for its Norman castle and beautiful Byzantine church.

On the seaside, tourists can’t get enough of the long sandy beaches. Especially popular are Italy’s famous lidos — a beach equipped with a bar, restaurant and club where you can dance all day. You can check out a lido at Isca Marina, a designer resort on the Ionian sea.

With water, water everywhere, opportunities for fishing and water sports abound. The primary mountain tourist draws are Aspromonte and La Sila, with its national park and lakes. Take in panoramic views while hiking or mountain biking. In winter, the mountains are perfect for skiing.

Calabrese love their food, especially their pasta, smoked fish and vegetables such as eggplant. But if you’re dieting, beware: desserts are typically fried, honey-sweetened pastries. Among the local specialties are Caciocavallo cheese, cipolla rossa di tropea (red onion), frìttuli or curcùci (fried pork), liquorice (liquirizia), lagane e cicciari (a pasta dish with chickpeas), pecorino Crotonese (sheep’s cheese) and pignolata. The good news is that eating out is very affordable.

In fact, Calabria offers superb value for money in all respects, making it the perfect spot for a holiday home or investment.

Calabria is situated at the Ionian Sea coast in Italy
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