Time to make a splash?

22 September 2014 - Financial Times Weekend Supplement

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, known for its historic waterfront villas and historic gardens.

However, Lake Maggiore has a more famous sister nearby that steals the limelight; Lake Como. Prices on average are about 30 per cent less than those of the more glitzy Lake Como. Yet people who know Lake Maggiore often prefer it’s scenic charm and more open stretch of water.

Nevertheless, Estate Agents agree that the market is slow and that it is a buyers’ market.

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. 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.

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.

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).

The eastern side of the lake in Lombardy with its views of the foothills of the Alps, has become more popular since the 1950’s, with Angera, Laveno-Mombello and Luino amongst the most popular places to buy.

With so many period properties around the lake there has not been a great deal of new development.

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.