Living in: Tuscany

With a rich artistic heritage, stunning sea views and vineyard-crossed countryside, it is no wonder that many dream of living la dolce vita in this romantic Italian region.

One of Italy’s most romanticised regions, Tuscany’s rolling hills, varied coastline and postcard-ready towns have long attracted chic Florentines and wealthy Romans, day-trippers and summer residents. The lure of spending time under the Tuscan sun makes it one of the most visited regions in Italy, with nearly 50 million tourists a year. And there is probably not one among them who did not take a moment to dream of living la dolce vita here.

What is it known for?
The Tuscan countryside has a rich cultural and artistic heritage, crisscrossed with vineyards producing delicious Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and super Tuscans, and anchored by classic vistas of olive and cypress trees framing red-tiled church roofs, all within easy reach of Florence and Rome. From the resort town of Forte dei Marmi in the north to the inland town of Montepulciano in the south, Tuscany encompasses 10 provinces in central Italy. Florence is the regional capital, but other renowned cities and town such as Pisa and its leaning tower or Lucca with its fortress walls add their own particular history and charm.

Tuscany was the epicentre of Renaissance art, and paintings, frescos and sculptures from the greats such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Donatello fill both the museums in Florence and the churches and apses of smaller surrounding towns and villages. The region’s great gastronomy is derived from simple but divine ingredients, whether its pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar) or bistecca (steak), foraged white truffles or the abundant produce from the green and gold Tuscan harvest. But it is not just the lifestyle, culture and cuisine that draw people to the region. “There is great shopping here; it’s a pastime,” said Jelena Cvjetkovic, agency network manager for the residential management firm Savills. “Florence is still a major fashion city, home to designers like Salvatore Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli.” Tuscany’s central location is also appealing, with Venice merely a two-hour train ride north of Florence and Rome less than an hour and a half to the south. “Plus even if you have a rural property, you don’t get the feeling you’re in the back of beyond,” Cvjetkovic said. “For example, if you live in Chianti between Siena and Florence, you’ve got two great cities, many cultural events and great restaurants nearby.”

Where do you want to live?
While every corner of Tuscany has its seductive charms – from the unspoiled woods and beaches of the Maremma region to the views of the Apuan Alps near the town of Barga – many buyers are drawn to the towns and villages of the  Chianti region, as well as the magnificent hill town of San Gimignano just to the west of Chianti. South of Siena in southern Tuscany, the picturesque hill towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino attract second-home and foreign buyers from around the world.

Along the coast to the north  the luxe resort town of Forte dei Marmi was for decades the stomping ground for wealthy Italians from Florence and the Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions, but recently has attracted a new breed of buyer to its sandy beaches. “A few years ago, Russians started coming in and buying properties,” Cvjetkovic said. This spurred the mayor to order that some new homes must be sold to local buyers only.” South along the coast, the beaches of Punta Ala and the medieval fortress town of Castiglione della Pescaia are very popular, and further south, the promontory of Monte Argentario and fishing village of Porto San Stefano are popular with Romans and, in recent years, Russians.

Side trips
Tuscany is a world unto itself, and exploring its many villages, beaches, forests and vineyards takes time. Florence is the main hub with rail and bus connections to many cities and towns, such as Pisa and Siena, and local trains connect Tuscany’s smaller towns via some of the most scenic routes in the country. Driving from village to village is a fun (albeit very windy) way to cover ground and is often the most alluring way to see hilltop towns like San Gimignano in all their glory. There are also frequent trains to Rome and intercity trains to the rest of Italy and Europe.

Tuscany is served by the international airport near Pisa and the regional Florence Airport, with daily flights to cities throughout Italy and worldwide. The flight to London is under two hours and New York is about a nine-and-a-half hour flight.

Practical info
The market is currently slow and prices have come down. “Certain vendors are more willing to negotiate or they have withdrawn their property from the market,” said Cvjetkovic. “There has been an overall slowdown in transactions and a longer period between looking and buying.”  However, interest is still there from the same type of buyers that have always longed for a slice of the Tuscan pie. “They are in their mid-40s to mid-50s and are either about to retire or want a property for family holidays that they can rent out when they aren’t there,” Cvjetkovic said. These buyers are mostly an international mix of Brits, Germans, Swiss, Americans, Scandinavians and more recently, Russians.

Along the coast, most buyers are looking for free-standing villas and apartments with sea views. Inland, they seek out converted farmhouses, villas or apartments in a converted castle like Castello di Casole, as these often come with other amenities such as a communal pool. In sought-after towns, provinces and regions, apartments start at around 250,000 to 450,000 euros and detached villas and farmhouses start around 1.5 million euros.  “It’s very popular to rent villas and apartments directly from owners through rental portals such as Owners Direct, Holiday Lettings, and for very high-end properties, companies like Abercrombie & Kent,” Cvjetkovic explained. Depending on the size and location, these properties can rent for anywhere from 300 to many thousands of euros a week.

Further information
Map it Out Tuscany: an expat’s blog and guide to local restaurants, markets, beaches and other local spots

Grapevine: English- language magazine covering Lucca and the surrounding towns, villages and countryside

At Home in Tuscany: a native Tuscan’s photos, posts and observations of living in and travelling around the region