The 10 under-the-radar hotspots for buying property abroad

·19 min read
Clio Wood outside her home in Limousin, France - Clio Wood
Clio Wood outside her home in Limousin, France - Clio Wood

Transport chaos is doing little to stem Britons’ enthusiasm for new places to visit – and to live. Rapid advances in technology, the rise of digital nomadism and the keenness of many European governments to attract property-buying Britons with golden and digital visas are all contributing to a boom in the holiday-home market.

“The world is moving again and people are making up for lost time,” says Decius Valmorbida, president of travel at Amadeus Travel which has just surveyed 4,500 people about their preferred destinations.

There is a noticeable rise in UK outbound travel to traditional destinations such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Turkey, he continues, but within these countries, savvy holidaymakers and wise holiday-home buyers are more frequently opting for less obvious locations.

Many of the top 200 most searched destinations in 2022, as recorded by Amadeus, are new to the ranking, such as Nantes in France, or Bari in Italy – considered to be secondary airports.

According to the holiday rentals website hometogo.co.uk, tourists are visiting more rural and remote towns and tourist picks are a reliable indicator of where holiday homebuyers will migrate to next.

“The surge in flexible working means people can base themselves overseas for extended periods, making the travel time to more remote and often cheaper areas more viable,” says Louise Dell, co-founder of the holiday home website kyero.com.
Countries are competing to entice British second-home buyers who want access to Europe after Brexit, with residency programmes and specific digital nomad visas.

Portugal is already known as a digital nomad hotspot, Italy launched a visa for remote workers in March, and Spain is on the case. All offer – or will shortly offer – the right to live and work there for a temporary period of time with a relative lack of paperwork and some tax incentives.

Extensive search data from Amadeus, Home To Go, Kyero and The Telegraph reveals 10 alternative and authentic holiday-home destinations that offer affordable property prices, a welcoming visa package and good transport and internet connectivity. Finally, the shackles are off.

France

Not Nice, try Limoges

Clio Wood's 18th-century property, Manoir la Croix de la Jugie, sleeps 21 people - Clio Wood
Clio Wood's 18th-century property, Manoir la Croix de la Jugie, sleeps 21 people - Clio Wood

EasyJet started flying to Limoges in central France in May, a sign that this part of rural France is growing in popularity. In fact, the medieval city has moved from the 430th most searched for destination (according to Amadeus) to 319th post-pandemic. The holiday-home website hometogo.co.uk has recorded a 158 per cent rise in enquiries there, too.

Author and women’s health advocate Clio Wood was ahead of the curve. Nine years ago she searched France for the perfect second home for her young family, which she could also run as a yoga and art retreat, and holiday let. She settled on an eight-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of La Jugie, a hamlet 13 miles south of Limoges.

Limoges is the largest city in the providence of Limousin – the most sparsely populated region of France. There’s a university and a gothic cathedral, which sits in the lively medieval quarter, Quartier de la Boucherie.

The mum-of-two describes Limoges as “underrated, with narrow streets, hidden courtyards and incredible food markets”. This theme continues out in the sticks, too. “Our area has a strong culture of farm-to-fork and slow cooking using local produce,” she says. In the nearby village of La Gorce there’s a Michelin-starred hotel and restaurant called Moulin de la Gorce.

However, buying in France was slow, she warns, and you need plenty of money upfront for the deposit, a social tax and conveyancing fees. But you sign a contract early, which deters flipping and therefore keeps house prices stable. Her 18th-century property, Manoir la Croix de la Jugie sleeps 21 with a fenced outdoor pool.

There is a detached, six-bedroom town house with high and decorative ceilings and shuttered windows in north Limoges for €667,880 (£563,931; Leggett Immobilier). In the town of Rochechouart to the west of the city is a four-bedroom house with woodland for €172,800 (£145,922).

Cyprus

Not Ayia Napa, try Paphos

Adonis Beach Villa by Leptos Estates is currently for sale in Paphos
Adonis Beach Villa by Leptos Estates is currently for sale in Paphos

On the other side of the island from the party resort Ayia Napa is the low-density resort of Paphos. It has moved up the Amadeus ranking, from 169th to 112th while hometogo.co.uk has seen an increase of 44 per cent of searches for rental property there this summer. This city is framed by farmland on one side and the coast on the other, with the Troodos Mountains and the 70,000-hectare Paphos Forest as the backdrop. Authentic taverns can be found up in the rocky villages such as the Linari Tavern in Agros and Agios Demetrios in Kato Platres.

Kamares is a hillside village, also above Paphos, identifiable by red Roman tiled roofs. There’s a club house with views where villagers go for a glass of wine. Three-bedroom homes in the village start from around €410,000 (£345,000). At the other end of the market there are multimillion-euro villas with private pools and gardens and ocean views, such as the Adonis Beach Villa by Leptos Estates.

In downtown Paphos there is a strip of British-style bars, but this does not detract from the beauty of the harbour or surrounding Neolithic sites.

For eating out there’s St George’s Tavern, the Italian Casa Luna and Vatouthkia which is down a track on the way to the Adonis Waterfalls.

The new Permanent Residency Programme means in return for a new property worth €300,000 (£252,000), plus 19 per cent VAT, non-EU nationals have the right to live in Cyprus and travel across Europe (apart from in the Schengen Zone). The requirement is to visit every two years.

Sweden

Not Stockholm, try Skane

Skane County is popular with foreign buyers - mike_kl
Skane County is popular with foreign buyers - mike_kl

The Scandinavian countries are growing in popularity year-on-year, according to estate agent Sven Wallen of Fantastic Frank. Buyers are attracted to the “solid democracy, good economy, climate and nature”.

It’s easy to buy in Sweden, he claims: everything goes through the estate agent with no solicitors involved and just one fee. However, to rent out a holiday let, the property owner must open a Swedish bank account. The price in the listing is the starting price and the bidding process will usually result in an agreed offer of 5 to 20 per cent more than this.

House prices have dropped slightly between 1 and 10 per cent due to higher interest rates, the cost of living crisis and uncertainty generated by the Ukraine-Russia conflict – although in Stockholm demand remains high. This is still the number one destination in Sweden for British buyers.

But rural areas are becoming more popular now, especially Skane County, where the main city is Malmo. Wallen describes Malmo as “fast-growing” and “design-orientated, like Berlin”.

This is the most southerly region of Sweden and is connected to Denmark by the Oresund Bridge. Trekkers come from all over the world to walk the 808-mile Skaneleden Trail. There are coastal paths and routes that wind through beech forests or around the lakes in the north-east of the county, such as Finjasjon Lake just south of Hassleholm.

Creatives and artists buy holiday homes in Osterlen on the east side, says Wallen, and Ystad where Wallander is filmed. The more upmarket area is Skanor-Falsterbo in the southwest. “Here are beautiful beaches, golf courses and high-end homes,” he says.

Wallen also recommends a strip of villages in the north-west of the county, including Molle, Arild, Torekov and Bastad. “Near Molle there’s a very beautiful area called Kullen where you can walk into magical forests or enjoy views over the oceans from the high clifftops,” he says.

Greek Islands

Not Mykonos, try Tinos

Sotheby’s is selling this five-bedroom, new-build villa overlooking Triantaros for €2m - GEORGE FAKAROS VISION REQUIRED
Sotheby’s is selling this five-bedroom, new-build villa overlooking Triantaros for €2m - GEORGE FAKAROS VISION REQUIRED

Mykonos and Santorini have long been the upmarket party islands of the Aegean Sea. For a quieter life (and better value for money), try Tinos instead. It is known among Greek Orthodox Christians as the religious island, where many travel every summer as part of a pilgrimage.

There is a daily ferry from Rafina, the closest port to Athens airport (30 minutes by bus or taxi), which takes three hours, and it’s a 20-minute boat ride to Mykonos. “Visitors stay on Tinos for the peace, culture and food, and do day (and night) trips to Mykonos to party,” says Danae Tsakiris, an estate agent with Savills.

She describes Tinos, with its collection of 50 villages, as drawing a “discerning, understated and intellectual crowd”, due to its art and foodie culture. The island is known for its marble crafting and the village of Pyragos is decorated with white marble sculptures and has an outdoor museum.

The island produces honey, herbs, cheeses – and wines from the organic vineyard T-Oinos, linked to Alain Ducasse restaurants across Europe.

“Tinos has always been a popular holiday-home hotspot with the French, Germans and Greeks, but since Covid it has become increasingly popular with British buyers, who now seek a quieter, laid-back and perhaps more authentic holiday-home spot. They are attracted to the quaintness of Tinos,” says Savvas Savvaidis, of Greece Sotheby’s International Realty.

Compared to Mykonos, homes in Tinos can be 40 to 60 per cent cheaper. There is a huge range in price from a two-bedroom traditional stone villa (with a swimming pool) in Triantaros for €340,000 (£286,000) via Rightmove, while Sotheby’s is selling a five-bedroom, new-build villa overlooking Triantaros for €2m (£1.6m).

Sports fanatics can enter the Tinos Challenge in December, which is part of the Cyclades Trail Cup. It includes a 12-mile trail run and a mountain sprint.

Greece

Not Thessaloniki, try Chania

This four-bedroom hilltop Venetian mill, where the roof-terrace swimming pool has panoramic views, is one sale with Savills for €599,000
This four-bedroom hilltop Venetian mill, where the roof-terrace swimming pool has panoramic views, is one sale with Savills for €599,000

Skip over mainland Greece and the popular holiday-home hotspot of Thessaloniki to the island of Crete and Chania for more affordable property and cheaper cost of living.

Home To Go reports that the second biggest leap in search volumes of anywhere in the world was Chania. It has also made it into the Amadeus top 200 for the first time this year.

“There is so much to do in Crete from hiking in the mountains to discovering remote beaches,” says Savills’ Danae Tsakiris. Loggerhead turtles can be spotted from Chania harbour.

Chania is deemed an evergreen location for holiday-home owners with activity all-year round. The Old Town is brimming with restaurants, including the Ella Taverna in an old soap factory. Sandy havens such as Balos Lagoon and Elafonissi are a short boat ride away.

Property prices start from €350,000 (£294,000) for detached houses in small plots. There are homes high in the surrounding villages overlooking a landscape of mountains and sea. About 15 miles from the city is a four-bedroom hilltop Venetian mill, where the roof-terrace swimming pool has panoramic views. It is on sale for €599,000 (£404,000) with Savills.

In 2019, Greece announced a three-year VAT break on all new-build homes. It has now extended this until at least 2024.
The Greek golden visa programme allows successful applicants who invest in a minimum of €250,000 (£210,000) in property in Greece to qualify for a five-year residency permit with free travel within the Schengen Zone for them and their family. This is one of the lowest entry price points of any EU golden visa scheme.

Italy

Not Tuscany, try Puglia

Monopoli old town offers plenty of Itlaian charm - e55evu
Monopoli old town offers plenty of Itlaian charm - e55evu

Bari was not in the top 200 most searched for destinations before the pandemic, but this year it’s up to 150th. It is the main airport for those visiting Puglia – the fashionable region that forms the heel of Italy’s boot.

Diletta Giorgolo Spinola, of Sotheby’s International, says Italians moved to Puglia during Covid to take advantage of remote working. “We have noticed a significant increase in requests from buyers recently, following interest shown by celebrities, writers and designers. Helen Mirren is said to have bought a house in Puglia, and Indian tycoons arrange weddings here,” he says.

There’s a remoteness about the region, which is dotted with little hilltop towns, and property is cheaper than Sardinia, the agent continues.

The most sought-after properties are the old masserie (ancient rural farmhouses) due to their size, and often come with land for producing oils, wine, fruit and vegetables, and herbs. Houses with gardens in the centre of small villages are also popular as they are easier to maintain and cheaper.

Kyero has reported a 1,075 per cent increase this year in enquiries for homes in the harbourside city of Monopoli, with its baroque cathedral and archaeological museum in the crypt.

In the old town there’s a 16th-century castle, the frescoed Palmieri Palace built in the late 1700s, and a wealth of restaurants, bars, gelatos and nightclubs. The blog elizabethminchilli.com recommends the seafood restaurant La Locanda sul Porto on the edge of town and cocktails at Carlo Quinto with terraced tables overlooking the sea.

There’s a four-bedroom trullo (a traditional dry stone hut with a corbelled roof native to Puglia) for sale for €205,000 (£173,000) in the countryside surrounding Monopoli. The four-bedroom home covers 1,399 sq ft with a garden. In the heart of town is a gated stone house in need of modernisation with arched windows and views for €500,000 (£420,000).

Spain

Not Torrevieja, try San Miguel de Salinas

San Miguel de Salinas is in the southern part of Costa Blanca - Wirestock, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
San Miguel de Salinas is in the southern part of Costa Blanca - Wirestock, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

The average property price in Spain is €302,000 (£254,000) according to Kyero, more expensive than France, Portugal and Italy. Despite this, Kyero has recorded a 16 per cent increase this year in buying enquiries from Brits and this is expected to rise again when the country finalises its digital nomad visa for non-EU citizens. This will allow workers to live temporarily in Spain without getting a working visa for a 12-month period, with two renewals allowed. It’s part of the Spanish Start-Up bill and is currently going through public consultation.

Costa Blanca is a popular region with British holiday-home buyers who tend to head for Murcia, Cartagena and the cosmopolitan Torrevieja.

However, Louise Dell, of Kyero, says they have seen a 367 per cent spike in interest for the quieter location of San Miguel de Salinas in the southern part of Costa Blanca. It is inland, although only 15 minutes to the beach, and 45 minutes from Alicante airport.

“This pretty town offers affordable properties with average prices €15,000 (£13,000) cheaper than Torrevieja, and a range of both traditional and more modern properties,” says Dell. There are plenty of white, flat-roofed, new build apartments around the town. A two-bedroom apartment with a pool is for sale for €198,000 (£167,000).

To secure a golden visa in Spain, buyers must purchase a €500,000 (£420,000) property and live there for two years at a time.

Austria

Not St Anton, try Dorfgastein

Dorfgastein: very picturesque and family friendly - Sina Ettmer / Alamy Stock Photo
Dorfgastein: very picturesque and family friendly - Sina Ettmer / Alamy Stock Photo

Buying a property in Austria is more arduous for Brits after Brexit. Non-EU residents need to request special permission to buy from the Land Commission, which can take between six and eight weeks and the rules as to who will be successful are not hard and fast. It can often depend on the local government area. Mountain farms are not for sale, but the preserve of local farmers.

There are three types of purchases: the main residence; a holiday home (or second home); or a property for tourist purposes. When it comes to buying a holiday home (apart from the special permission clause), the rules around how the property is used are the same for anyone – it can be used as a second home and rented out to holidaymakers or locals.

Austria is considered a cheaper alternative to Switzerland for those who want a second home on the slopes, although Austrian prices are on the up (rising 12.85 per cent in the 12 months to March this year).

One-bedroom apartments in the popular party ski resort of St Anton, known for its après scene, start from €500,000 (£420,000) and three-bedroom apartments can start from €1.2 million (£1 million; alpinepropertyfinders.com). By comparison one-bedroom homes in the Gastein Valley, which is just south of Salzburg, start from €250,000 (£210,000).

The valley comprises three towns: Bad Gastein, Bad Hofgastein and Dorfgastein. The latter is the cheapest but very picturesque and family friendly, and one of those rare spots where you can ski down the slopes right into the town. This is not a ghost resort, with plenty of life all-year round: there’s an active community with restaurants, a nursery, school, library, and a solar pool. In the summer visitors hike the 218-mile trail through the green meadows, past traditional Austrian cottages and stopping at rustic hut cafés.

There’s a three-bedroom apartment for sale with a roof terrace and mountain views for €479,000 (£403,000; mh-properties.com).

Portugal

Not the Algarve, try Sintra

Sintra is home to some of Portugal's finest historical architecture - Rafal Rozalski / Alamy Stock Photo
Sintra is home to some of Portugal's finest historical architecture - Rafal Rozalski / Alamy Stock Photo

“The Portuguese government has long nurtured an agenda to attract global talent to the capital and establish a new tech and start-up hub in Europe – but the pandemic accelerated a wave of people looking to relocate here as remote working opened up new possibilities,” says Lucy Crook of Fantastic Frank. In addition to its digital nomad visa, Portugal announced this spring that British passport holders could use the electronic passport system for speedy entry and the number of buying enquiries jumped 24 per cent (according to Rightmove).

The Portuguese golden visa system is one of the most generous in Europe. Non-EU buyers can purchase a property for €280,000 (£235,000) and spend just seven days there a year to qualify for residency and travel freely in 188 countries. After five years the buyer can apply for Portuguese citizenship.

Buyers are spreading out, Crook explains. Sintra is the coastal, wooded and mountainous province to the west of Lisbon with the resort town of the same name in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains.

Devon-born couple Alex Bennett and her husband Dean have ended up living full time on their holiday home estate. But it is far more than a rental.

Built in 1931, Quinta Azenhas was one of the main vineyards in the area. On the land were three buildings – the main residence, the adega (where the wine was stored) and Casa no Campo (the field house). This has been restored for guests.
The couple, who used to run a publicity agency in London, are halfway through transforming the remaining buildings and gardens to create a community vegetable garden. They offer wild food retreats too, where guests forage for goose barnacles, mussels and rock samphire, and natural skincare workshops (@quinta_azenhas).

“When we arrived the plot was overrun with cane and the house had fallen into disrepair. So far we have completely restored one building and created a greenhouse space. We are growing weaving plants for baskets and have asparagus beds,” Alex says.

The region of Sintra is a hub for contemporary farming, zero-waste stores and forest schools, and the landscape of mountains and sea lends itself to extreme sports, with people surfing, climbing, biking and hiking.

“And we are spoilt for choice for restaurants,” Alex says. Holiday-home buyers who want to try out the area can book Casa no Campo via bykismet.pt.

To cope with demand, the government has a introduced another new policy attracting holiday-home buyers away from densely populated areas, such as Lisbon and the Algarve, by offering a 20 per cent discount to purchase elsewhere.

The Alentejo region is one of the areas closest to Lisbon that qualifies for a 20 per cent discount scheme, as the area is classified as “low density”.

Croatia

Not Split, try Zadar

Right Property Croatia is selling a two-bedroom, two-storey villa in Privlaka for €570,000 with a pool and air conditioning
Right Property Croatia is selling a two-bedroom, two-storey villa in Privlaka for €570,000 with a pool and air conditioning

Split is one of the hotspots for both buyers and tourists, says Sara Dyson, who runs advisory company Expat in Croatia. She describes it as “an oversaturated tourist party scene”, whereas Zadar – further up the Dalmatian coast – is “emerging”.

The historic and statuesque Zadar is the major city of Zadar County on the Adriatic Sea. There is an international airport with flights to 50 destinations, including in the UK. A ferry takes day trippers to the islands of the west coast.

Zadar dates back to the ninth century BC, but it was badly bombed in the Second World War, meaning Romanesque churches stand side-by-side with 1950s brutalist blocks.

Ivo Perkovic of Right Property calls it “the fastest growing destination in Dalmatia”. Second-home buyers also fan out of the city to smaller, quieter towns such as Biograd, Sukosan and Petrcane with buyers seeking sea views.

However, Dyson warns that the property market is “a messy industry, rampant with fraud and misrepresentation”. It is vital to instruct a lawyer from the outset and request a report on how the property is zoned. From 2023, non-Croatians will be forbidden from buying agricultural land or buildings, she advises.

The buyer pays a 10 per cent deposit upfront, which they will lose if they drop out. But if the seller does not meet requirements then they have to refund the deposit and double it.

UK citizens have an extra step: they have to request permission to purchase from the Ministry of Justice with proof of identity, then pay the balance before registering the property.

Brits tend to buy in Dubrovnik, says Kieran Kelleher of Dream Estates Croatia (Savills affiliate), but numbers are down at the moment due to the cost of living crisis and Ukraine uncertainty.

“Croatia will adopt the euro from January 2023 and there may be exchange-rate upsides for British buyers,” he adds.
Right Property Croatia is selling a two-bedroom, two-storey villa in Privlaka for €570,000 with a pool and air conditioning.

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