For more than 100 years it has been infamous for La Cosa Nostra. However, Sicily in Italy is now slowly opening up to overseas real estate buyers in the way Tuscany did more than half a century ago.
One major change has been the greater number of homes on the local market. Until only a few years ago, they were in the main handed from parents to children. Now, however, younger islanders have been more willing to sell their inheritance to make their own way elsewhere.
Another contributing factor behind the surge in demand among visitors for Sicilian properties is its prices, which are in general not just barely a fraction of those in Tuscany but among the most affordable across Italy.
Granted, you may not unearth deals to match the the Euro 1 properties offered by one Sicilian mayor a few years ago after they were destroyed in a 1968 tremor. However, a mere Euro 60,000 will typically stretch to a 70sq m fixer-upper if you are happy to be a 15-20 minute drive from the beach. Budget around Euro 70,000 for a flat about 10 minutes’ walk from the beach in places such as Calatabiano in eastern Sicily and not far from the highly sought-after resort of Taormina. If you insist on being a few yards from the waves, you might pay Euro 90,000 in nearby resorts like Giardini Naxos.
The growing popularity of sun-kissed Sicily among property buyers and holidaymakers has also been fuelled by th setting up of new direct routes by no-frills airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair to its trio of international airports in Palermo, Trapani and Catania. A further airport is scheduled to be inaugurated soon in the south-eastern city of Ragusa. Furthermore plans have been announced for a Euro 6billion crossing connecting the island with Calabria on the mainland. By the way, visitors can disregard the overstated spectre of the Mafia, which foreigners never come into contact with.
Stefania Russo of Italian real estate specialists the Property Organiser sums up Sicily's appeal and says: “It has always been popular with vacationers because of its history, landscape, architecture, climate and low cost of living.
"Until the past five years or so, there wasn't a great selection of homes on sale apart from in seaside resorts because they tended to remain within families. These days a younger generation is less wedded to tradition. They want to cash in on these assets to enable them to move up the property ladder themselves.
"It is very possible to find a two or three bedroom place in Sicily for less than Euro 200,000. Be aware that some areas are expensive, such as Scopello, Cefalu and Giardini Naxos, but they have great rental potential because they are tourist hotspots pretty much throughout the year. "
The majority of overseas buyers are still attracted to beach resorts such as Castellammare del Golfo, Marsala, Cefalu, Scopello and Trapani. Around Euro 155,000-Euro 165,000 will typically be enough for a two-bedroom property in Cefalu. If you must have a view over the sea, expect to pay some Euro 225,000 either here or in Castellammare, 1hr 30 mins along the coast.
Taormina is arguably the island's No1 location for overseas buyers and consequently its costliest. In comparison, prices in Catania, 50km to the south are often half the price. Luxury properties in the Taormina area often fetch over one million Euro. The advantage is that rental potential impressive and can reach Euro 3,000 a week. Amid the high prices it is possible to unearth bargains. Euro 225,000 can get you a three-bedroom property a few minutes from the beach while if you want a sea-view property expect to pay some Euro 300,000-plus.
Sicily certainly lacks nothing in star quality. Cefalu was the star of the film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso while parts of heist movie Ocean's Twelve were made in Castellammare del Golfo. And a number of well-known names have bought here, including singers Jim Kerr, Peter Gabriel and Mick Hucknall as well as French film star Gerard Depardieu, designer Giorgio Armani and England football manager Fabio Capello. Madonna and Julia Roberts have also holidayed in Sicily.
Even down the ages Sicily had its legions of famous fans. From D H Lawrence and Truman Capote to Sophia Loren and Marlene Dietrich Meanwhile, Palermo saw Wagner's last-ever opera in 1882 while a century earlier Goethe called the city and Sicily “unutterably beautiful".
Among Sicily's jewels are its majestic countryside, stunning coastline and historic architecture. The ancient ruins testify to the series of civilisations that have ruled down the millennia: Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, British and French. The island, the largest in the Mediterranean, can boast an unparalled beauty too, from its nearly 1,000 mile coastline if outlying isles are included to its spectacular rocky hills and mountains. There aren't too many places in the world where you can have a villa with a view over Mount Etna, soaring 10,000ft above sea level.
Sicily is not just its mainland, it also has sunny islands. Off the north coast lie the Aeolian Islands. Off the western coast lie the Egadi Islands and Pantelleria and the Pelagie islands of Linosa and Lampedusa off the south are nearer the North African coast than Sicily.
All this and pretty much constant sunshine. Take a look for yourself – you may end up making some estate agent an offer he can't refuse…