Corsica - Small island, big personality

Posted on: 25 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

Once home to the acme of French imperialism, Napoleon Bonaparte - direct flights to the sun-drenched island of Corsica are now attracting a fresh influx of second-homers. Laura Henderson takes a tour.

Just a hundred miles south of mainland France lies a continent in miniature, the sun-kissed Mediterranean island of Corsica. Made up of just two departments, Haute Corse and Corse du Sud, every inch of the island trades on its scenery. Rough-hewn cliffs and rocky headlands topple down to 600 miles of stunning coastline with a cache of pristine beaches, beguiling fishing ports and quiet coves. Head inland and you’ll find pine and chestnut covered mountains, many of which stay snow-capped for most of the year, including the Monte Cinco, Corsica’s highest peak. The Parc Regional de la Corse, home to wild boar and Corsican red deer, covers a third of the island, including the mid-range mountains, which are cloaked in indigenous maquis-the island’s famously wild and scented undergrowth. The commercial centre is the town of Bastia in the north, with its historic citadel towering over the headland. Ajaccio, the island’s southern capital, is a pastel coloured port, full of cultural joie de vivre, and birthplace to Bonaparte.

Who is buying on the island?

A pan-European holiday destination with over 12 percent of 2009’s visitors from the UK alone, Corsica converts many holidaymakers to homeowners, with investors drawn by the civilised way of life and diversity of leisure pursuits including diving, golfing and even skiing. The island’s numerous ports are also increasingly attracting the yachting fraternity, notably Italians, Germans and Swiss; a response in part to the dwindling supply of available private moorings on the French mainland.

What types of property are available?

Stringent planning controls protect Corsica’s coastline from the threat of high-rise sprawl. The island’s loi littorale also prevents building within one hundred metres of the shoreline, while the traditional towns such as Calvi and San Antonio are protected under heritage status. Choice ranges from tasteful new-build developments through to luxury re-sale homes with sea views. Older detached property with land is rare, indicative of the Corsican tradition for tight-knit community living. Village homes with roof terraces are consequently a popular choice for those seeking a low maintenance investment. Plots are available for development, but you will need to ensure that the title deeds are in order before you commit to buying. Corsican land law is complicated and plots can change hands several times with nothing more than a verbal agreement to prove ownership.

Where are people buying?

To date, the British have been investing in the south of the island close to the fortress town of Bonifacio and along the western coast near Propiano; a case of tour operators leading and property purchasers following. That buyer profile however is now changing, with the villages of St Florent and Ile Rousse in the north, now pulling increasing numbers of investors looking to snap up an ‘under-value’ bargain.

Where to buy now?

PORTO VECCHO

Corsica’s Premiere Ville Touristique is home to some of the island’s best-loved beaches such as Palombaggia, and a sought after location for second-homes. The resort majors on Provencal style, architect designed homes made from local stone with quarry-tiled roofs. Prices are steep, but compare favourably with the Cote d’Azur, at around £350,000 for a well-appointed home with private pool and sea views. “Porto Vecchio is a lifestyle investment,” says real estate consultant Bruno Marechal. “The port is surrounded by environmentally protected zones vierges, which have helped to sustain house values.” But for those with less than £250,000 to spare, agency advice is simple: look elsewhere.

BONIFACIO

Perched on the southernmost tip of the island, this fortress village has been respectfully restored. Tall patrician houses sit comfortably alongside chic boutiques and buzzing cafes in a web of cobbled streets. Prices are on a par with Porto Vecchio, and the resort is proving increasingly popular with the golfing fraternity, drawn by the 18-hole attraction of the Sperone Golf Club, voted one of the top championship courses in Europe. “Ten per cent of my clientele are British, and it’s no coincidence that the majority play golf,” adds Marechal. Luxury family sized villas with private pool on the Sperone estate start from £1m.

AJACCIO

An old-fashioned beauty of tree-lined streets brimming with museums, galleries and Napoleonic memorabilia, this town’s central district has seen a spate of old building conversions to keep up with local demand for the capital’s trademark property-good-sized apartments. “Ajaccio has a privileged location,” says Madame Banduzzi of Master Group International. “It’s by the sea, yet within a short drive from the mountains.” Prices start from £70,000 for a three-bedroom apartment in the less expensive districts of Les Salines and Cannes to upwards of £150,000 for a similar sized apartment in the desirable Route des Sanguinaires quarter.   

PROPIANO

Property prices here are around forty per cent cheaper than Porto Vecchio or 30 percent cheaper than Ajaccio. “Propiano is traditionally an English haunt,” says Guillame Ciabrini of Sud Corse Immobilier “and a key destination for UK tour operators.” Rental income is a major attraction for home owners, with a family sized villa in high season netting in the region of £1,500-£2,000 a week. “Prices are tipped to rocket,” confirms Ramla Mikke of Terra Nova Immobilier “with many investors getting their foot in the door early and buying off plan.”

ILE ROUSSE

One of the last areas to be developed for tourism, demand for property has been steadily growing for the past four years. Although a busy working harbour, Ile Rousse is still an attractive town complete with lively plane-shaded main square. “A traditional stone built three-bedroom maison de village can go for as little as £80,000,” says Natalie Allejini of Calizi Immobilier “with new-build family sized villas on the village outskirts starting from £150,000.

ST FLORENT

Set against a backdrop of lavender mountains, St Florent’s trademark pale ochre-washed houses define the village, while its other great lure, the vine-covered hills of Nebbiu and Patrimonio, produce excellent wines. Property prices have risen by an average of 10 percent per annum in the last five years, but the growing interest for traditional homes in the north and its site protégé status, is expected to push up prices, according to Francoise Bradfer of Immobiliere Corse “As for well-renovated properties,” she adds “you can bank on a twenty per cent differential.”

BUY WISE

Many property transactions are still handled privately, without an agent. Try renting in your preferred resort and gather some local ‘intelligence’.

Complex land laws govern property development. Do a risk analysis if you are considering a plot for self-build.

If covering your annual running costs is a priority, consider Propiano or Ajaccio, where rental demand is high.

Agency Contacts

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