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Tuscany or Basilicata? How Italy’s international property market is changing

From typical budgets to preferred locations and property types, Silvia Marchetti looks at how the profile of the average foreign buyer looking for a slice of Italian life has changed over the years.

Tuscany or Basilicata? How Italy's international property market is changing
A typical stone farmhouse in Tuscany. Photo by Timothée Gidenne on Unsplash

Nearly 20 years ago, I remember when Tuscany was dubbed ‘the Tuscanshire of Italy’ in honour of all the wealthy Brits (and Americans, too) who had bought luxury farmsteads and castelletti amid cypress-lined paths and green rolling hills. Singer Sting had purchased a villa there alongside other VIPs and European royals.

Then, some 10 years later a new trend emerged: ‘Tuscanshire’ turned into ‘Abruzzoshire’, with local press talking up the arrival of English-speaking expats who wanted to live their Italian dream in a wilder, albeit poorer and more remote, region roamed by sheep, wolves and bears.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

There’s been a significant change in the profile of foreign home buyers in Italy, from high-end to middle-class.

Before it was usually well-off people that relocated from abroad to Tuscany and Umbria spending tons of money for castles and mansions, or luxury attics in big cities. Some still do, but they like to keep a low profile.

Surprisingly, many top destinations are now down south. I was rather shocked by the latest real estate report issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate, Italy’s tax authority: in 2022 the region of Basilicata had the second-most home purchases in Italy, after Lombardy.

Even though the report does not clarify how many of these purchases were made by foreigners, local Basilicata mayors who have launched projects to lure new residents say it is very likely that over 80 percent of the new buyers came from abroad.

A view of vineyards are pictured in the autumn colors on November 2, 2011 in Monti Di Sopra, Tuscany.

Tuscany has long been the dream location, but many foreign buyers are now looking further afield. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

This is for the simple fact that Italian families leave, every year, Basilicata, Molise and parts of Calabria in search of a brighter future elsewhere. Depopulation in the south, alongside low birth rates, remain problems which local authorities are trying to fight by appealing to foreign home buyers.

IN MAPS: How Italy’s property prices vary by region

While in the past it was all about the rich who flocked to Liguria, Sardinia and Emilia Romagna to enjoy their beach-side mansions, now it’s mostly middle class or lower-income foreign nationals who make global headlines, lured by the rural appeal of depopulated southern villages, or retirees who crave for a cheaper lifestyle under the sultry Calabrian sun, close to the sea.

This trend has mostly been triggered by a series of measures that the town halls of these ‘dying’ villages have put in place, from ‘one euro‘ to cheap turnkey homes, ‘baby bonuses’ for families willing to relocate, tax breaks, lower bills and financial aid for starting a new business.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes

But it is not only due to such schemes. Life is cheaper in many parts in Italy compared to anywhere else in the world, and this is most true particularly in small villages, even northern ones.

In the Alpine hamlet of Carrega Ligure, on the border between Piedmont and Liguria, old farmer homes are on sale starting at 10,000 euros.

Council officials in the village of Carrega Ligure have tried to sell off abandoned properties at low prices. Credit: Comune di Carrega Ligure

Retired foreigners with a modest pension end up saving a lot of money embracing the rural idyll, even in villages close to Rome. In the hamlet of Capena close to the Tiber River, a two-bedroom apartment in the medieval center costs about 30.000 euros. Such convenient prices tend to lure not just retired couples but also millennial teleworkers on a budget.

What is staying the same however is the high-end, ultra-wealthy segment of buyers of luxury villas and studios who still crave Italy’s two top cities.

Lombardy, with Milan as its capital, leads the way ahead of Rome. According to a survey by, a partner of Italian property site, 9 percent of all super-rich European buyers looking for a lavish apartment in Italy pick Milan, while 8 percent choose Rome.

In Milan, nearly 30 percent come from the UK, while 20 percent are Swiss. I met a rich Belgian family in Brussels once who said they had bought a panoramic attic overlooking the Duomo to use just for ‘parachute shopping’ when they’d hop on a plane for the weekend to ransack the Fashion Quadrangle.

OPINION: Bargain homes and fewer crowds – but Italy’s deep south is not for everyone

Such clients want turnkey mansions with no need of renovation work, not even minimal fixes – totally the opposite from those who buy cheap homes in the rural south and often end up renovating them on their own.

I think this gap between ‘rich city home buyers’ and ‘middle class rural fixer-uppers’ is bound to widen as inflation keeps rising and the spending power of the less wealthy will drop further.

While Italy’s big cities will always represent an eternal dream of glamour, a status symbol for the wealthy, small southern villages and rural spots by contrast offer the perfect compromise for a financially sustainable Italian lifestyle.

See more in The Local’s property section.

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OPINION: Italy’s constant strikes are part of the country’s DNA

The Italian news is full of reports of strikes - again. Silvia Marchetti explains why striking is part of Italy's social fabric, and why it's always the same old story.

OPINION: Italy's constant strikes are part of the country's DNA

Each time there’s a major strike the whole of Italy, especially big cities like Rome and Milan, descends into chaos. 

Be it a transport or rubbish disposal strike or public sector employees simply ‘crossing their arms’ as Italians would say (‘incrociare le braccia’) to skip work, it’s usually disruptive – and particularly for foreigners and tourists who might not be as accustomed to such frequent strikes.

Constant strikes are part of Italy’s DNA, and it’s also a dysfunction that plagues this country. I’ve lived in four other European countries and have never experienced the amount of monthly strikes we have in Italy.

READ MORE: Keep up to date with all the latest strike news in Italy

The evening news is flooded with reports of the ‘disagi’ (disruption) caused by strikes but it’s always the same drill. 

Italians get seemingly mad, saying how it has made their day a nightmare between bringing the kids to school and getting to work late, or complaining about a cancelled flight or train ride that would have brought them for the weekend to Bologna. But then everything falls back into the same routine.

It’s like playing a broken record.

Strikes in Italy are a cultural and political issue. Italians may get annoyed because it affects them but they are also by now used to them. It’s part of their inbred fatalism. 

My gran would say ‘ci hanno fatto il callo’ (meaning ‘they’ve formed a callus’, as if to say that bearing the burden of so many strikes has made them passive).

Italians who participate in strikes tend to be specific types of workers that have fixed job contracts protected by trade unions, such as pilots, bus drivers and factory workers. We have also created a word for that: ‘sindacalizzato’, to refer to a privileged worker who belongs to a trade union.

READ ALSO: Should you travel in Italy when there’s a strike on?

In Italy trade unions have enormous powers, more so than in other European countries. I am aware that trade unions are the end result of centuries of fights for workers rights’ and democracy, however in Italy things are extreme: they can push through a specific job category contract, a salary raise, establish how many holidays a worker should have in a year, and even sometimes decide which specific people should be hired.

I have several friends who teach at Italian high schools and they become enraged whenever  a colleague with fewer years of teaching experience gets a promotion or a fixed position (‘cattedra’) not based on merit or years worked, but just because he or she has been a member of the teachers’ union since the start of their career.

It’s a bit like being a member of a political party, if you’re not ‘tesserato’ (don’t have the trade union membership), your chances of landing a dream job in a specific sector are slim.

It is amazing how trade unions are often more powerful than trade lobbies and employers themselves. This power is clear each time Fiat car workers ‘fold their arms’ for a pay raise, or steel plants that are central to the country’s economic growth shut down in protest.

So where does this power come from? Many laws approved by the government are made in agreement with trade unions and business lobbies, it’s the so-called ‘concertazione con le parti sociali’ (consultation with working groups), which is a mechanism that has ruled in Italy ever since the birth of the republic. 

READ ALSO: What are the upcoming strikes in Italy?

Government ministers regularly hold meetings with trade union representatives and employers to discuss key measures including those concerning fiscal policy and taxation.

So it comes as no surprise that strikes are the weapon of choice for Italy’s trade unions. 

What does get Italians mad, more than the strike disruption itself, is the fact that strikes have always been a powerful tool used to persuade politicians and force employers to pay higher salaries, while ordinary people see their daily life being used as a political pawn. 

When planes are grounded because cabin crew are on strike it’s the usual background noise, albeit irritating. What really annoys some people is that these workers are so protected by their trade unions that they can afford to skip work in protest.

People who are self-employed, professionals, VAT-holders, teleworkers and freelancers can’t afford to strike because they are not represented by any political group or trade union that could organise a potential strike. They would just be striking against themselves, given they’re self-employed.

Foreign visitors get very worried when they hear about a transport strike in Italy, and I’ve personally met a family who embarked on a 72-hour trip one sultry summer day before they made the Rome-Florence train ride. 

It’s hard to reassure tourists that the next one won’t be as disruptive, but then again when it comes to Italy it’s really all very unpredictable.

These strikes in my view are barely effective in the short term, but in the long run, especially if continuous, they become ‘threats’ and increase the unions’ leverage power, so they eventually do bear fruit in the form of a slight pay raise. 

Trade unions here are still strong, just old-fashioned and slow to kick-start change – as are so many things in Italy.