Italy’s Lake Maggiore, the ‘Cinderella’ looking to charm buyers

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house&home  – Italy’s lakes have long been a favourite location for international and domestic buyers looking for a holiday home or weekend retreat from the city. One of the most popular has been Lake Maggiore, which snakes from northern Italy across the Swiss border, and is known for its historic waterfront villas and exotic gardens.

However, this year few property transactions have been made in spite of the number of properties on the market. Prices have not picked up since the financial crisis and the current economic gloom shrouding the country and much of the eurozone has done little to jump-start a largely depressed property market in most parts of Italy.

Part of the problem is that Lake Maggiore has a more famous sister nearby that steals the limelight. “Maggiore is less internationally renowned than Lake Como and is a bit of a Cinderella,” says Victoria Greenwood, a senior negotiator with Knight Frank. Prices on average are about 30 per cent less than those of the more glitzy, less built-up Lake Como, where actor George Clooney owns a villa. Yet people who know Lake Maggiore often prefer its scenic charm and more open stretch of water, including Greenwood, who grew up on the lake’s east side.

Maggiore is also within easy reach of Malpensa international airport, near Milan. Nevertheless, estate agents agree that the market is slow. “This year we’ve seen an increase in sales in Italy as a whole, but less so in Maggiore. It is a shame because Lake Maggiore is a real gem,” says Annabel Smith at Jackson-Stops & Staff.

“People are viewing online but this is not leading to transactions,” says Riccardo Bergamo at Sotheby’s International Realty in Milan. Traditionally, buyers have been British, Scandinavian, Dutch and German, with Italians owning villas that have been in the family for generations. This year there is just a glimmer of interest from Scandinavians and Australians, boosted by the fact their currencies are strong against the euro – but there is little sign of the British, who remain cautious after a bout of austerity measures.

“With the market being slow, prices are being reduced to attract attention. It is the same across the country. It is a buyers’ market,” says Smith. A late 19th-century five-storey villa overlooking the lake on the eastern shore, with a pool and by 5,000 sq metres of grounds in Luino has been reduced from €5.5m to €4.4m with Sotheby’s International Realty.

The main house is divided into three apartments, a loft and guesthouse. A lake view is essential for most buyers, with properties falling into three categories – those on the lake with direct access; those near the lake but without access; and those with views of the lake.

According to Knight Frank, prices of properties with direct lake access have stayed more or less stable since the financial crisis in 2008, while those close to the lake but without direct access remained stable until 2011, then fell about 15 per cent. Properties with lake views have fallen 30 per cent over the period. A 12-bedroom, 1940s-style villa on the lakeshore at Meina, for example, was on the market for €5.6m in 2008 but is now priced at €3.95m with Knight Frank. Historically, the western side of the lake has been more in demand, particularly the small towns of Arona and Stresa – which was a favourite haunt of European royalty.

Stresa faces the three picturesque Borromean Islands, where the Borromeo family transformed Isola Bella in the 17th century from a rocky island into a baroque palace with gardens, fountains and terraces landscaped into the shape of a ship.

A five-bedroom house in Oggebbio, €2.7m Ernest Hemingway described Lake Maggiore as one of the most beautiful he had ever seen having first visited Stresa in 1918, where he stayed at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees. Both the lake and the hotel are featured in his novel A Farewell to Arms (1929).

A period waterfront villa at Stresa with five storeys, five bedrooms, terraces overlooking the Borromean Islands, a harbour and guesthouse is on the market with Jackson-Stops & Staff at €3.1m.

The eastern side of the lake in Lombardy, with its views of the foothills of the Alps, has become more popular since the 1950s, says Knight Frank’s Greenwood, with Angera, Laveno-Mombello and Luino among the most popular places to buy. With so many period properties around the lake there has not been a great deal of new development.

Fresh on the market with Sotheby’s, though, is a three-storey, five-bedroom house – built in 2008 – at Oggebbio on the west side, with panoramic views from its terraces, for €2.7m. It has an indoor and outdoor pool and is circled by a forest.

A new, stylish three-bedroom penthouse at Stresa with terrace and commanding lake views, shared pool and garden and parking space is on the market with Vista Lago Homes, an Italian property specialist, for €610,000. It is a good time for buyers seeking lake and mountain views to bargain for property at Lake Maggiore but they must be prepared for long-term ownership as it could take some time for the economy – and market – to pick up.

Buying guide

● The southern tip of Lake Maggiore is 30 minutes’ drive from Malpensa airport – and under an hour from Milan

● The area has a mild year-round climate. Average temperatures at the Italian end of the lake range from about 8C to 27C.

● Purchase taxes for foreigners buying second homes fell this year to 9 per cent of the property value. Estate agents’ fees are 3 per cent of the sale price

What you can buy for . . .

€500,000 An original baker’s house on Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island)

€1m A lakeside villa with a garden and pontoon on the western side of the lake

€3m A five-bedroom waterfront villa with a dock and terraces on the western shore.

 

Ruth Sullivan

House&home

21 November 2014

 

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