Rural Tuscany remains a fiefdom of country barons”politically progressive but culturally conservative”and their elected leaders reflect this dichotomy. This is the Red Belt of Italy, a historically left-leaning community that can claim the first legal codes in the world outlawing the death penalty. At the same time, local entities make sure that nothing ever changes here aesthetically, demanding that even factories have a characteristic red tile roof. Altering the color of a window shutter can give rise to a protracted battle with the town authorities.
The architectural intactness of the landscape and the aroma of old money have helped lure legions of foreigners”all eager to drive vintage cars on roads winding through sunflower fields to turreted hilltop villas”to Tuscany’s real estate agencies. These days, if you stop by an agent’s office in Lucca or Siena, be prepared to see a long list of properties selling for well over ‚1 million.
The best-known market for foreigners is Chianti, often dubbed Chiantishire for the overwhelming number of English homeowners that have moved into the vineyards between Florence and Siena. Since the 1960s, the primary appeal of this region has been its wine”it’s been exported to Britain for hundreds of years. In the 1980s, the Dutch, the Germans, and the Swiss arrived, giving the entire region a Northern European accent and bringing the prices of real estate to stratospheric levels. Some of the more noteworthy neighbors include the rock star Sting, who has a home in the town of Montevarchi.
Chianti’s expats have long experimented with making the local wine. More recently, expats in other important growing regions, such as the one between Montalcino and Montepulciano, have begun producing wine. This crescent of vineyards is flatter than the rolling sagebrush of Chianti but spiked with hilltop medieval towns. Its wealth of monasteries, Renaissance monuments, and thermal springs make it quintessentially Tuscan, and so it should come as no surprise that real estate prices have gone through the roof here, too.
The swath of million-euro properties extends from the outskirts of Pienza, a Renaissance jewel, northeast to Cortona, where Frances Mayes wrote her best seller, Under the Tuscan Sun. If you meet other North Americans in Cortona, they’re likely to be students in the local language program for foreigners, real estate shoppers, or here to catch a glimpse of Ms. Mayes’s home. the Arezzo home depicted in Roberto Benigni’s film Life Is Beautiful The area between Cortona and Arezzo, the Valdichiana, is far from undiscovered, but for some reason it has been spared the full colonization of Tuscany’s other scenic venues. Its villages are quaint and authentic, braced by medieval walls and towers, but skipping the fanfare for tourists. And while the architecture is nothing special in Chianti, near Arezzo you’ll find elaborately finished palazzi nobili (noble palaces) with imposing gates and driveways.
Arezzo is a particularly well-preserved medieval city, although the Florentines worked hard during the Guelf and Ghibelline wars to ensure that it would never rise to the prominence of Florence. The beige buildings are so characteristically Tuscan that filmmaker Roberto Benigni chose Arezzo as the backdrop for Life Is Beautiful. Locals take much less pride in this silver screen claim to fame than in the city’s splendid works by Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, or even in their renowned antiques market. Another perk to this area is that it is next to Italy’s major north south highway and a stop on the high-speed Rome Milan train line.