Guide: Sold on Sicily

By on April 1, 2013

A serene distance from the lively coastal haunts of southern Italy, the offshore idyll of Sicily offers plenty of room for growth.

Drifting contentedly off the toe of Italy and separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina, the scenic island of Sicily is a rags-to-riches story-a past beset by poverty and the infiltration of the Cosa Nostra (mafia), leading many Sicilians to skip town in search of a better life. Now, after decades in the doldrums and a cash injection of government funding, the island has a new lease of life. “It’s a market with huge potential,” says local agent Ramsay Gilderdale. “The cost of living is a fraction of islands such as Crete and Greece, and mainland hotspots like Tuscany and Umbria. It makes an ideal second-home base, but will also appeal to investors keen to get in on the ground level and turn a profit. Property prices are competitively priced for those with a keen eye for a good location, added to which, access is also now has greatly improved with no frills flights from the UK into Palermo, Catania and Trapani (from Dublin), making weekend visits viable.”

An island that doesn’t stint on looks, head inland and you’re met with rolling hills, craggy mountains and vineyards, with the brooding (but harmless) Mount Etna dominating the skyline, while the coast has its share of unspoilt, sandy beaches. “The island has been steadily working on expanding its provision of quality leisure facilities,” explains Jeremy Smith of the Sicily Property Company, “but you won’t get formulaic tourism blurring national identity. Sicilians remain tremendously proud of their heritage, so while there’s a growing awareness of the need to change planning attitudes and policy, market saturation is unlikely to become an issue.” 

Investment wise, the island is best understood as a series of micro markets, with some areas starting to hot up while others tick over. “Prices have risen steadily year on year pre-recession particularly coastal property, and are continuing to do so albeit at a more restrained pace,” confirms Fabrizio Vitellino of Buy in Sicily. “Taormina, Cefalu and Siracusa are sought-after locations, but interest is also growing for competitively priced homes in the south around Portopalo, Sciacca and Noto.”

Where to Invest

The North East-Taormina

Overlooking two crescent-shaped bays, the chi-chi hilltop town of Taormina with its giddy network of winding streets, Greek theatre and bougainvillea-clad gardens attracts more foreign buyers than any other resort on the island. “Prices reflect this,” confirms Smith “and you could easily blow £1m on an architect-designed villa, but you’ll get a lot for your money. Rentals are also lucrative, a three-bed villa netting you £1,800 per week peak season.” Sicily Property Company is marketing a stunning contemporary three-bed villa in Mascali, a short drive from Taormina. The property, on the market for £295,000, is built over three floors and boasts commanding views of Etna. Luxury extras include a spa bath, lava stone and marble stairwells and an underground garage. 

Catania and Palermo

EU and Italian government money have revitalised Sicily’s age-old capital Palermo on the north coast, with excellent transport links and a scenic coastline on the doorstep. “Palmeritan artists and writers have been buying up studio apartments for as little as £50,000 and refurbishing them,” says local agent Laura D’Andrea. Head west and there are some delightful property gems along the coast around Scopello, Erice and Sciacca. Worthy alternative, Catania, the ‘Milan of the South’ is a good location bet for culture vultures. “The airport has expanded in the past five years, giving a fillip to the ‘city break’ market,” adds Vitellino. Boasting stunning hilltop views, Buy in Sicily is marketing a stunning luxury villa exquisitely furnished and restored. Surrounded by greenery and enjoying breathtaking views over the city and the Gulf of Catania, the main residence is an ancient farmhouse equipped with every second-home comfort including a large pool and extensive outdoor terracing for al fresco dining.

 The Southeast-Siracusa/Ragusa

A trendsetting fan base of Brits have discovered this stylish southeast spot, dubbed “Ragushire”. “Prices are up by 2-3 per cent on a year ago,” confirms Gilderdale, “but you can still pick up an apartment for around £35,000.” The UNECSO heritage town of Noto and neighbouring Siracusa are “prime locations” for country pads-a four-bedroom farmhouse with pool selling for £220,000. Hailed, as Sicily’s ‘Capri’, Siracusa old town, Oritigia meanwhile, is an island retreat in demand. Set on a promontory and accessed by bridge, many former palaces and historic residences are now being remodelled into traditional apartments. Local agency H and A has a bijou 80sqm apartment in the sought-after Piazza Cavalieri di Malta. The two-bed property, with a price tag of £120,000, sports original mosaic tile flooring and exposed beams.

Photo credit: mirkop82 / / CC BY-NC-SA