I Crum­bling Ital­ian cas­tles

Snap up a gem in the gov­ern­ment’s sell-off

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

If you have al­ways dreamed of hav­ing break­fast on a sunkissed ter­race over­look­ing the Bay of Naples, now’s your chance – as there’s a sur­pris­ing new source of prop­erty that’s just hit the mar­ket. In times of hard eco­nomic cri­sis, the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment is try­ing to raise rev­enues from the sale of its aban­doned his­tor­i­cal build­ings in an at­tempt to curb pub­lic debt.

And there are gems within: take Villa Nike, on chic Posil­lipo Hill, which is home to the Neapoli­tan bour­geoisie, an ele­gant man­sion re­cently placed on the mar­ket at €4.9mil­lion (£4.2mil­lion). The 16,000 sq ft prop­erty has a pri­vate park, sauna, a swim­ming pool fac­ing the shim­mer­ing sea, a li­brary, pa­tio, three ter­races, four liv­ing rooms, 11 bed­rooms with mar­ble and mo­saic­cov­ered floors, eight bath­rooms and two kitchens. Built in 1949, it was the res­i­dence of the Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der for South­ern Europe un­til 2013, when it passed into the hands of Italy’s de­fence min­istry.

Villa Nike is just one of many prop­er­ties that could be­come your very own doer-up­per mas­ter­piece. Ini­tially launched five years ago but with poor re­sults that brought lit­tle money to pub­lic cof­fers, the state has re­booted its prop­erty plan to at­tract for­eign buy­ers. Laws have been ap­proved to speed up sales and cut red tape, and there is a new on­line plat­form to make the buy­ing process smoother.

“It’s much eas­ier to pur­chase pub­lic prop­erty to­day than in the past,” says Pa­trizia Vasta of Agen­zia del De­manio, the state prop­erty agency (in­ves­tini­talyrealestate.com). “And while some build­ings are on sale, oth­ers can be leased as pri­vate res­i­dences for a min­i­mum of six to a max­i­mum of 50 years through pub­lic ten­ders.” You can take your pick from around 1,000 state prop­er­ties cur­rently on the mar­ket in­clud­ing cas­tles, mil­i­tary bar­racks, old Tus­can farms, Vene­tian vil­las, monas­ter­ies, Bour­bon man­sions, light­houses and royal Savoy res­i­dences.

One prop­erty that can be leased – handy for for­eign­ers who want to dip their toe into la dolce vita – is Podere Colom­baia, a 15,000 sq ft farm­house from the 15th cen­tury, nes­tled in Florence’s gen­tly rolling hills on al­most 11 acres of land. In the past, the build­ing’s tower was used to breed doves and pi­geons, the Floren­tines’ main pro­tein source dur­ing harsh win­ters and still a lo­cal gourmet dish to­day. The view from the log­gia stretches across the Chi­anti val­ley all the way to the cen­tre of Florence, and on clear days the dome of the cathe­dral can be spot­ted.

The scheme means that you can snap up a piece of ex­tra­or­di­nary his­tory, such as a 13th-cen­tury former hospi­tal cov­ered in fres­coes. The Ospedale degli In­no­centi is con­sid­ered to be one of the most pres­ti­gious ar­chi­tec­tural land­marks of Bologna. Orig­i­nally a place where monks from nearby monas­ter­ies as­sisted the sick and wounded, it was turned into a the­atre dur­ing Napoleon’s reign and still pre­serves a mag­i­cal, sur­real am­biance. Tak­ing up a huge 50,000 sq ft, it is for sale at €10mil­lion.

It’s not just a mat­ter of get­ting rid of un­used prop­erty, but of giv­ing them a sec­ond life by re­cov­er­ing crum­bling mas­ter­pieces, says Vasta. “It’s im­por­tant to re­store these his­tor­i­cal build­ings to their orig­i­nal splen­dour,” while also help­ing to kick-start the lo­cal economies, bring­ing in tourists.

In Si­cily, some €7mil­lion will buy you a chap­ter of Bri­tish his­tory: Ad­mi­ral Ho­ra­tio Nel­son’s 17th­cen­tury cas­tle in Borgo Carac­ci­olo, near the pic­turesque town of Bronte – renowned for its pis­ta­chios.

The es­tate, set in a lush park, houses the Bri­tish ad­mi­ral’s pri­vate res­i­dence, is now a mu­seum. At the en­trance, a gi­gan­tic Celtic cross of vol­canic rock in hon­our of the “Im­mor­tal Hero of the Nile” greets vis­i­tors. The cas­tle was part of Nel­son’s duchy in Si­cily, gifted to him in 1799 by King Fer­di­nand I of Naples.

It is sur­rounded by a ghost town, with the ru­ins of a ru­ral vil­lage, a colo­nial villa, a me­dieval church and a for­ti­fied Bene­dic­tine abbey with crum­bling tur­rets. Etna’s black fer­tile slopes can be seen in the dis­tance.

The ad­mi­ral in­vested a for­tune in mak­ing the cas­tle a lav­ish sum­mer re­treat. He shipped fur­ni­ture from home and mixed it with Sicilian ma­jolica, bro­cades, stat­ues, paint­ings and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal won­ders, many of which are still there. He also had a team of gar­den­ers build a green­house and de­sign English-style gar­dens with herbs and ex­otic plants.

But all this ef­fort went to waste as he died be­fore he even stepped foot on his es­tate. Plans have been hatched in the past to turn it into a five-star re­sort, and its ren­o­va­tion will re­quire very deep pock­ets and a lot of work. But who­ever snaps up the es­tate will own a unique patch of Eng­land in Italy’s deep­est south.

Land­mark: the Ospedale degli In­no­centi, a 13th­cen­tury former hospi­tal in Bologna, could be yours for €10 mil­lion, above

On the slopes of Etna: Castello Nel­son, in Si­cily, is on the mar­ket for €7 mil­lion, left and right. The cas­tle was gifted to Ad­mi­ral Ho­ra­tio Nel­son, be­low, in 1799

Sweep­ing: the view from Villa Nike look­ing at the Bay of Naples

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