Real estate prices in Brianza vary greatly depending on the town, ranging from the blue-collar Sesto San Giovanni, termed the Stalingrad of Italy, to the haughty addresses of the rich and powerful. The most famous resident of nearby Arcore, for example, is media baron Silvio Berlusconi, the nation’s wealthiest man and occasionally its prime minister.

Many foreigners choose Monza because it is well connected to the city via public transportation and yet offers the relative peace of a residential town. It is known for its good public education, though many English-speakers prefer to send their children to a British academy in town or to another of the myriad such schools in Milan.

Monza, now a suburb, once had a strong identity of its own. Americans may recognize the name from the old Chevrolet Monza. The inspiration for that model is thought to have come from the Ferrari Monza or the Alfa Romeo Monza, both of which reflect the city’s fame as home to the Italian Grand Prix.

The racetrack sits inside the massive Parco di Monza, Europe’s largest public park and originally the garden of the Villa Reale. The villa is the city’s centerpiece, a neoclassical palace that served as the summer home for Italy’s Turin-based royal family in the 19th century. The grand boulevard that leads to the palace is lined with the stately abodes of the royal court.

The Monzese cling dearly to the days of aristocracy. Many of the older generation will tell you how their grandparents were florists or tailors to the king and queen, giving the city a bourgeois flavor in the historic sense of the word. The Milanese and Monzese share a term for the modern version of such wealthy burghers, bauscia, which can be applied to virtually anyone who drives the latest BMW and generally espouses nouveau-riche values.

The stores and restaurants in Monza are as upscale as you can expect to see just outside the big city. The real estate prices reflect this, although you can still get much more space for the money here than in Milan. A one-bedroom apartment for a couple, roughly 70 square meters, costs in the vicinity of ‚120,000. The majority of the apartments were built for families, however. A three- or fourbedroom place, with lush balconies and floor space ranging from 90 to 150 square meters, costs between ‚160,000 and ‚250,000.

Rents in Monza, which has become more and more popular among young professionals, have almost reached the levels of Milan, but not quite. For example, if ‚800 per month affords you a small one-bedroom apartment in Milan with a kitchen tucked in a corner, in Monza it can land you a full kitchen and a larger living room. In general, you won’t find the same number of tiny living quarters in Monza as you will in Milan. Most of the apartments here were designed for more comfortable suburban living.

Real estate near the park or in one of the alleys near the cathedral is the most expensive. It is also the most elegant. Many three-story buildings near the park were built for friends of the royal family. Nearer the cathedral, there are classic split-beam houses with new copper tubing and an alpine flavor. Outside that, it’s the same old 1960s-era sprawl of high-rises of mediocre construction.

From Monza, Brianza extends northward through the foothills of the Alps before giving way to the towns around Lake Como. There are hilltop castles along the way, winding roads with wisteria-laced brick walls and bubbling brooks that only become polluted rivers once they’ve passed through Monza and Milan. Here, the real estate is a mix of apartments and villas, depending on the size of the town. Keep in mind that this is a growing suburban area, not altogether a bucolic medieval paradise like Tuscany. The beauty is the convenience of having a modern and cosmopolitan city next door, while still bordering on some of the best alpine scenery and recreation in Italy.

One of the most scenic towns is Montevecchia, a hilltop village with such pleasant curvy roads and leafy parks that it is on the regular Sunday circuit for cyclists from Milan. Real estate there is in the middle to high range for Brianza. A two-apartment villa costs about ‚400,000. Other towns in the area”Giussano, Lissone, Carate Brianza, and Sovico, to name a few”have a more suburban feel.

Space here has become tight, ever since a housing boom kicked off in Brianza in the 1970s; apartment buildings are still going up at a clip. In a past generation, you might have expected a nice country villa for cheap. Now, much of what you will find are palazzi, with 10 to 20 apartments for families, ranging in price from ‚150,000 to ‚250,000 each. Rents in some of the smaller towns in Brianza are slightly lower than in Monza.

Keep in mind that Brianza is just one wedge of Milan’s sprawling northern suburbs. The province of Lecco to the east and the province of Varese to the west have quiet, well-connected towns with character and history. The small and picturesque village of Gorgonzola, for example”where the famous cheese was born”is on the green line of Milan’s subway and only about a 40-minute ride from the center. On the western side of Brianza is Saronno, which food buffs may recognize as the home of amaretti (almond cookies). The modern and reliable Malpensa Airport Express makes one of its four stops in Saronno, bringing it to within 30 minutes from downtown.

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