Italy v France: Round One

Mi dispiace, France. I’m sorry. It’s no contest. Even in your rainy-day Brittany region, you can’t come up with a two-story house that a buyer could move into for 18,000 euro ($24,000). We can. It’s not a doll’s house either—there’s 1,290 square feet of living space.

Oh, and before you start any sarcastic comments about primitive living, si—it does have a bathroom with a bathtub. In fact, it has a shower, too. It’s habitable—it simply needs some upgrading. But knowing you’re a lazy lot, if you don’t want to do a stroke of work, how about a three-story townhouse in turnkey condition for 49,500 euro ($66,000)? It has vaulted ceilings, a huge roof terrace with panoramic views, and a brand-new Danish-designed kitchen.

OK, Italy. You’re correct, in France we can’t offer anything that’s quite so inexpensive. But I suspect you’re hiding something. Are these houses in a brute-ugly industrial town, next door to the…quelle horreur…gasworks?

Not at all, France. They’re in Ciancana, in Sicily. And they’re not the only bargains on the market. Ciancana is a friendly town of around 4,000 people—a town with a history going back to medieval times. Around 100 foreigners, mostly British and Scandinavian, have settled here during the past few years. They love the laid-back lifestyle. The bars and restaurants stay open all year, and we have festas during the winter too. The nearest sandy beaches—Mediterranean beaches—are only a 25-minute drive away. Here the warm weather usually lingers on into November.

And there’s nothing ugly about the town’s surroundings. Below the hazy-blue Sicani mountains, the landscape is one of woodlands, vineyards, olive groves and almond and citrus orchards—you will never taste oranges as sweet as the ones we produce here. During September, the streets are redolent with the scent of tomatoes. Like all of our wonderful fruits and vegetables, tomatoes grow like crazy. Along with drying them in the sunshine, we bottle them to use as a savory passata.

So far, so good, Italy. But why are properties in Ciancana so cheap?

Well, France, for one thing, the price of properties all over Sicily has fallen by around 25% since 2011. Another is the decades of emigration. Around 5,000 people left Ciancana during the 1960s for new lives in the States, the UK and Australia. But family remains important here and many return for visits during the summer months. You should come and take a look at what you’re missing.

But Sicily is only one option. Have you heard of Scalea in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot? Restaurants with fresh fish, traditional pasta and excellent vino …beaches…good weather… the combination of historic center and seaside resort town with all the necessary amenities. What more can you possibly want for a perfect vacation bolt-hole? There is nowhere in Mediterranean France where you can buy a 430-square-foot modern apartment with a sea view for 40,000 euro ($53,000). You can here. Like I said. No contest.

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