Saturday, May 8, 2010

The 'must have guide' to bring with you on holiday to Italy

Print off these useful tips & tricks and bring it with you on your next trip to Italy

Banks & cash machines:

Opening hours vary, but approx. 08.20-13.30 & 14.30-16.00 Monday to Friday. Most towns will have a cash machine outside the bank where you can obtain cash on cash cards and all Visa/MasterCard Credit Cards with your PIN number. If you wish to change money in the bank, you will be asked to show your passport.

Bars and Aperitivo time:

Most bars offer free nibbles (aperitivi) with drinks between 18.00 and 19.30. They are usually laid out on the bar for you to help yourselves and there is no limit to what you can take.


Public transport is relatively cheap in Italy. Bus tickets cannot be purchased on the bus, but must be bought from a tabac/tabaccheria. A one-way ticket is 'solo andata' and a return ticket is 'andata e ritorno'

Coffee and Brioche

The price of a coffee, cappuccino or brioche is set by law in each area. So if you stand at the bar to drink/eat you will pay a lot less than if you sit down (as this is not regulated). For example, in Lombardia (Lake Como), a coffee at the bar will cost you only 90 cents. If you want to drink a longer, weaker coffee, ask for a cafe americano. All coffees are served black in Italy unless you specify otherwise e.g. 'con latte' (with milk). Cappucino is usually served luke-warm, so that it can be drunk quickly. If you prefer it hotter, simply ask for 'multo caldo'.

Driving in Italy:

Always carry your passport and all documents relating to the car. Indeed always carry your passport with you as a form of identification. It is compulsory to carry an emergency triangle and a high visibility jacket in your vehicle.

The speed limit on Italian motorways is 130km/h, 110km/h on most dual carriageways and 90km/h on normal roads. Check the road signs carefully, as fines are heavy. Seat belts are compulsory both front and rear. Italy has stricter drink driving laws than the UK, only allowing 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood (UK 0.8). Headlights

All vehicles are required to keep their low-beam lights on at all times on motorways and four-lane highways. Scooters and motorbikes must keep their headlights on at all times and on all types of roads. High-beam headlights can be used only outside cities and towns and when no vehicle is approaching; otherwise use only low-beam. When a stationary vehicle is not clearly visible, parking lights must be kept on. Mobile phones may only be used if the phones are equipped with an earpiece. Important note – if an Italian driver flashes his lights at you, it is not a signal for you to go ahead. It is rather a warning that he is coming through and wants you to keep out of his way. If you are travelling to a ski resort in winter, it is obligatory that you carry snow chains.

Emergency numbers:

112 - local police station (Carabinieri).

113 emergency helpline – police, ambulance and fire

116 ACI (Italian Automobile Club) for roadside assistance

Hire cars:

Many hire car companies have very high collission waiver damage charges. If you hire cars regularly, you can save money by taking out an annual policy instead and paying a yearly fee of around £70. Also, many hire car companies charge you extra for the use of their high visibility jackets (even though it is law that you carry them). So save money and bring your own.


Being a member of the EEC, you can obtain NHS-style treatment free of charge In Italy, on production of your European Health Insurance Card, which is available on-line from You must take this with you to avoid being charged at the hospital. You may be asked to pay a percentage of the charge, as not everything is 100% recoverable.

Insurance claims:

If you loose anything whilst in Italy and need to claim back from your insurers, they will ask you for a police report. This is obtained from your local Carabinieri (police station) and is called a 'denuncia'. You will be required to make a statement and show your passport.

Mobile Phones:

As long as your phone is GSM it will work in Italy, but you may need to ring your service provider before leaving the UK in order to activate it. You will often pay substantial roaming charges to make and receive phone calls and texts when abroad.


There are tolls on all motorways, except in southern Italy from Salerno south, so it is useful to carry small change with you. Tolls can also be paid by credit card (use the Viacard lane). DO NOT use the Telepass lane as this is an automatic barrier for drivers with an automated device.

Paying by credit card:

When paying by credit card it is normally preferable to pay in the local currency, rather than let the shop/restaurant convert it back into your own currency. This way you pay the bank rate applicable on the day the transaction is processed by your bank, rather than a rate applied by the seller (which is usually less advanatgeous). If your credit card does not have your photograph on, you may be asked to show some other form of identification e.g. passport or driving licence.

Pedestrian Crossings:

Do not assume that a driver will stop if you step out - the black and white lines are purely for decoration in Italy - or so it seems!


Many drugs (including antibiotics) can be bought over the counter without a prescription. Basic medication such as aspirin can ONLY be bought in pharmacies and not in supermarkets.

Post Offices:

Stamps (francobolli) can only be bought in the post office or in the ‘tabac/tabaccheria’. Normal mail to the UK takes approx. 7 days to arrive in the UK, but there is also a faster version for urgent mail (2 days) – called ‘Priorita’, which costs a little more. You can also send things recorded delivery (quite expensive) – 'raccomandata'

Power supply:

The power supply in Italy is 220 volts, so you will need a 2-pin adaptor. Most domestic properties run off a 3 kilowat supply, so if you are staying in a private home or renting a villa or apartment, you will not be able to use your hairdrier and a large appliance at the same time e.g oven, as this will trip the system. The 'salva-vita' or trip swich is normally located by the front door, and will require pushing back up, if it does trip. If this does not solve the problem, then it has tripped at the main power box, which can normally be found outside in a grey cabinet labelled 'Enel'.


Do not expect Italians to wait in an orderly line for anything - it's every man for himself!


You are required by law to get a receipt for everything that you purchase, even a loaf of bread or a coffee. The Guardia di Finazia (finance/tax police) have the right to stop you and fine both you and the proprietor if you leave a bar, shop, restaurant etc. without a receipt.


A typical Italian meal would consist of Antipasto (mixed meats etc), pasta course (primi), and a meat/fish main course (secondi). Portions do therefore tend to be smaller than in the UK/US and the main course is not normally served with vegetables (they are ordered separately as a ‘contorno’). Steaks are traditionally served rare, so if you like it 'well done' ask for 'ben cotto' or 'sensa sangue' (without blood). Always look out for the cover ‘coperta’ charge on the menu as this is an extra per person cost. Some restaurants will charge an extra percentage on top of the menu price for sitting outside (can be as much as 20%), so check the small print on the menu displayed outside the restaurant.

Many restaurants in tourist locations will offer a menu turistico (tourist menu) consisting of 2 or 3 courses, often including wine and coffee, at a set price. In all locations, you will also find menu di lavoro or workers menu. This is available to all and is usually like a tourist menu, at a set price (usually under 15 euros) and is available to all. There will usually be a separate part of the restaurant designated for this, without fancy table cloths and glass ware.


Petty theft is on the increase in Italy, particularly in cities and in the airports, so never leave valuable items in your car and be very careful with your handbag/wallet. Thieves often work in twos with one distracting you while the other relieves you of your suitcase/wallet etc. Another favourite trick on motorways, is for a car to come along side you, signalling you to pull over and indicating that you have a problem, so that when you pull over, one of them can steal your belongings from the vehicle, whilst the other points out the 'problem' on your car.


There is a wide variety, ranging from corner shops to large hypermarkets. Wine, alcohol and cigarettes (only available from tabac/tabaccheria) are generally much cheaper than in the UK, and as you are purchasing them duty paid, there are no limits on quantities (as long as they are for your own use). Larger supermarkets are at their quietest at lunch time (12.30-14.30). Smaller ones will close during lunch time.

Swimming pools and lidos:

It is essential to wear some form of swimming hat. These can usually be bought locally in the lido itself. Some pools will not allow men to wear loose, baggy short-style swim wear

Telephone Boxes:

Some are coin operated but most take phone cards available from newsagents, cigarette shops (tabaccheria) and post offices. Remember to tear the corner off before use. To dial the UK simply prefix the number with 0044 and omit the first 0 of your number.


Tipping in restaurants is not essential in Italy, as a service charge (coperto) is usually added to the bill.


Train travel is relatively inexpensive and quite reliable. There is 1st class and 2nd class travel. On EC trains (faster, more luxurious trains), you need to book a seat either online or at the ticket office. A one-way ticket is 'solo andata' and a return ticket is 'andata e ritorno' Remember to validate your ticket in the yellow machine at the beginning of the platform, prior to getting on the train. Not to do so would incur a fine. Sitting in 1st class with a 2nd class ticket is also a fine-able offence. Thieves operate on trains, so keep a close eye on your belongings, especially your passport. Timetables and online bookings can be found on Remember to use the Italian names for your destinations e.g. Firenze instead of Florence.

In General:

It is worth remembering that Italy is very much a Mediterranean country in terms of attitude as well as geography; therefore don’t expect your telephone/central heating/car/plumbing to be repaired immediately. It is rare for things to happen immediately, domani (tomorrow) is possible, but dopo domani (the day after tomorrow) is more likely. Therefore patience is very much the keyword.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A driving trip to Lake Como by car or hire car

Although there are many lakes in Italy, the most famous are those in the area knows as the Italian Lake District in the north of the country. The 50 km long Lake Como, with its two "legs", is a perfect destination for an Italian driving/hire car holiday.

The drive from the UK is easy and motorway all the way to Como itself. If you take the route through Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, via the Gothard pass/tunnel, the journey takes just 8 hours from Calais and avoids many expensive French motorway tolls. For a route, go to the RAC and download one for free.

If you prefer to fly, there are 3 airports to choose from. The closest to Como is Milan Malpensa, followed by Linate and then further afield, but still only just over an hour from Como, is Bergamo's Orio al Serio or Milan-Bergamo as Ryan Air have renamed it (it isn't actually even in Milan). You can then simply pick up a hire car on arrival. The drive to Como is straightforward and well sign posted – go to this directions page for more information. It will take you between 40 minutes and an hour to drive to the town of Como, which lies at the southern end of the western branch of the lake and makes a great starting-point for a driving tour.

Here are details of just some of the places that you can visit by car when visiting Lake Como.

Lake Como by car – Como town

Como town is a great place to stay for a day or two. Its historic attractions include the Duomo, Como's Cathedral, which dates back to the fourteenth century. There is also great shopping and many other historical sites in this beautiful walled town.

Como's museums include the Museo Didattico Della Seta, which traces the town's silk-making history, and Tempio Voltiano, a neo-classical temple which houses items related to the work of physicist Alessandro Volta, who lived in Como.

You can also take a break from your hire car by relaxing in one of the cafes in Piazza Cavour or taking a boat trip on Lake Como itself to admire the stunning lakeside villas, including Villa Oleandra (George Clooney), Villa Fontanella (ex-Versace) and Villa Casinella (Richard Branson)

Lake Como by car - Bellagio

Once you have explored Como, head north-west to Bellagio, nestled in the fork of the southern part of Lake Como. It will take you about 40 minutes to drive from Como along the vertiginous narrow roads to Bellagio.

Bellagio was one of the first internationally-known tourist resorts in Italy and is known as "the Pearl of the Lake". Park your hire car and stroll through the cobbled streets, wander along the lime tree and oleander-lined promenade and stop for a bite to eat in one of Bellagio's many restaurants.

The famous Hotel du Lac, which overlooks the piazza on the lakefront, and the historic five-star Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, will give you a taste of the opulence and glamour traditionally associated with Bellagio.

Lake Como by car - Bellano

On leaving Bellagio, you can drive southwards along the eastern leg of Lake Como and then north, back up the other side of the lake, or you can take your car on the ferry from Bellagio to Varenna. The town of Bellano is about five minutes' drive from Varenna.

Bellano is a pretty village, situated on the lakefront, and you can wander through its streets and alleys, and see some beautiful examples of medieval and Baroque architecture. There are also some excellent restaurants in and around Bellano.

Lake Como by car - Menaggio

You can either continue to drive north from Bellano to the far end of Lake Como and then drive southwards along the west shore of the lake, or you can take your car on the ferry to Menaggio.

Menaggio is a small, but popular, tourist resort, which has hotels, restaurants and a beach. It has an attractive town square and you can take a stroll along the lakeside promenade. There are also plenty of sporting activities available in and around Menaggio.

Lake Como by car – Lake Lugano

Just over the hill from Menaggio is Lake Lugano, so take a 30 minute detour and visit 2 lakes in one day and wander the stylish streets of this wealthy banking centre.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why rent a holiday/vacation home instead of a hotel for your next holiday to Lake Como?

Why rent a holiday/vacation home instead of a hotel for your next holiday to Lake Como?
Given the current economic climate, renting a holiday home for your next vacation could be the answer. You can still get to your perfect destination in Italy, whether that be Lake Como, Rome, the Amalfi coast or Liguria. But instead of forking out for a posh hotel, save up to 50% of your accommodation budget and splash out on a dream vacation home instead.

Self catering vacation rentals are becoming more and more popular for many reasons:

There is such a wide range of accommodation types available – something to suit every pocket and style requirement – minimalist chic, log cabin, mountain chalet, country florals, hi-tech glass and steel, even a boat house!

You have your own privacy, even your own pool, if you want one. You get your home comforts – washer, dryer, fridge, freezer, WIFI, open fires to name but a few. As well as gardens, pools and other luxuries, should you want them.

Cheap holiday vacation rentals also save you a lot of money. You can buy food from the local market - fresh locally produced vegetables, instead of plastic supermarket ones and you can cook up your own delicious meals instead of having to eat the same old buffet every night at the hotel or eat out in expensive tourist-resort restaurants.

And you get to choose the food that you eat, because you are in charge. A take away pizza in Italy costs nothing like the exorbitant charges in the UK. You should pay as little as 4 euro for a pizza margherita.

You can bring less luggage, as you have the facilities to wash and dry your own clothes (if you want to). A great advantage if you have small children or infants and are flying with Ryan Air or Easyjet!

There are no restrictive hotel rules (i.e. not using the pool at 'siesta' time – just when you need it most - in the middle of the day – now that is a daft rule!). Many holiday homes will even let you bring your pets.

Thanks to the internet, there is a vast array of choice – either through rental agents or direct from the owners, through sites such as Lake Como Properties, Holiday Italia, Flipkey (Trip Advisor), Owners Direct , to name just a few. All you have to do is decide where you want to go and what your criteria are – how many bedrooms, private pool, close to village etc.

You can see a host of pictures to help you select the perfect holiday rental property. You can even read reviews from previous holiday makers.

But, with this wealth of information, it is easy to get confused, so follow a few simple tips to make sure you get the most out of these holiday rental web sites..........

Do not pay to join a web site. There are enough free ones. There is no need to pay a fee.

Decide whether you prefer to rent from a private owner or from a property manager or an agency. Dealing direct with the owner can have more risks involved and response times are often longer. Whereas a good property manager makes it his/her business to respond in a timely manner and as they manage more than one property, they can direct you to the ones that best meet your requirements, without the possible bias of an owner with only one property to sell you. Of course he's going to tell you it's just perfect for you.

A long established reputable company is usually the best choice when it comes to finding cheap vacation rentals and don't be afraid to ask how long the company has been doing vacation rental properties in that area. If you are looking at Lake Como for example check out Lake Como Properties and Holiday Italia, who have both been around for about 15 years. When you go directly to individual owners, you never know whether the property really exists and whether the pictures are genuine. A reputed company will verify these for you before they list the rental.

So, don't delay, start looking today. Especially if you want a villa with a private pool or an apartment with a shared pool, as these properties always get booked up first, particularly in areas like Lake Como, where they are few and far between!

If you hate sharing large hotel swimming pool with rowdy holiday makers or hate sun-bed bagging Germans, this could be the holiday for you. But hurry, the best properties get bagged very early!

Photographs courtesy of -
Panoramic view of Colonno from Bella Vista apartments, Colonno, Lake Como
Internal shots of Villa Lilla, Argegno, Lake Como
Swimming pool at Villa Lilla, Argegno, Lake Como
View from Villa Lilla, Argegno, Lake Como


Friday, February 26, 2010

4 Amazing Properties for Sale on Lake Como at under 250,000 euro

So who said Lake Como was expensive? Admittedly the villa above - Branson's Villa Casinella, may be, but there is still amazing value for money property to be found.

I recently had a client using my Lake Como Property Search services, with a maximum budget of €250,000 and a wish list including lake view, parking, central location, access to shops and bus & ferry links, as well as at least one bedroom! She had recently come across my article Why invest on Lake Como? and wanted to check it out for herself.

So, here is what I found (and yes she did buy one of them - see if you can guess which one), so now there are only 3 left for you to choose from.

Laglio - home of Villa Oleandra and George Clooney or is it David Beckham now or some Russian vodka tycoon with a name that no one can pronounce?

1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 2nd floor apartment of 66 square metres with balcony and stunning lake views. Totally refurbished, with brand new kitchen and bathroom. Additional store room in basement.

Asking price - €170,000

Great income from vacation rentals of up to €900 per week in high season. Truly panoramic 180 degree lake views.


Sala Comacina - popular for the stunning views and the only island on Lake Como - Isola Comacina and its restaurant Locanda del Isola. This tiny village of only 700 inhabitants has 4 of the best restaurants in the area - Locanda del Isola, Taverna Bleu, La Comacina, La Tirlindana (my personal favourite) and also a pizzeria at the Proloco.

Sugar coated pink cottage-style 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment of 55 square metres with stunning lake views and within walking distance of all 5 restaurants, as well as 2 steps from the ferry and bus stops. You can't get more convenient than that! Plenty of garden space + a lake view terrace and balcony + laundry room.

Asking price €189,000

Great rental income potential of up to €800 per week as Sala is extremely popular. Put in a jacuzzi in the garden and the rental  incomes will go even higher!

Colonno, located between Sala Comacina and Argegno.

Choice of 2 - 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom 50 square metre brand new apartments with large balcony, stunning 180 degree views and a shared swimming pool (new for this summer), as well as a proven holiday rental income! How could you not be attracted by this package. It even includes all the furniture, pots, pans, etc. all ready to rent out for this summer.

Everything is brand new and used for only 1 season of rentals to date.

Asking price €225,000, but if you exclude the garage (and there is ample free parking on the street below),  it comes down to only €200,000.

Rental income received (and receipts demonstrated)  for 16 weeks rental between April and October 2009, totaling over €10,000 euro per apartment. With a new pool for this year, the income potential increases massively!

Argegno, in a small hamlet just above the village lies Muronico and the Montagna Sole development (the sunny mountain), so-called as it gets all day sun - from sunrise to sunset. A small exclusive development of 3 villas with private pools and 4 apartments with shared pool and perched on the edge of a steep slope and so affording massive panoramic view of the lake below.

Scheduled for completion by end of March 2010 and just 1 remaining unsold. These stunning 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartments of 60 square metres, sleep up to 6 people each and share a large swimming pool and incredible views. All 4 apartments face the lake. The remaining apartment is ground floor level with a garden.

Asking price €250,000

Massive rental potential because of the swimming pool -  a rare commodity on Lake Como! - They are currently being rented for high season at €1650 euro per week! If you don't believe me check them out at Montagna Sole

SO the question is which one did she buy? Answers on a postcard please...............

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lake Como Restaurant Guide

People keep asking me about what restaurants I would recommend to visit during a vacation on Lake Como. So here goes. To make it user friendly I have listed them in geographical order from South to North. I have also added a € key to give you an idea of cost.

Restaurants: (from Como going North)


€€€€€€€€€€€€€€€ Villa D’Este – 031 348720
What can I say! If you have the money it is a great dining experience, especially in the summer, when you get to sit outside in the garden. The jacket and tie rule makes it a bit stuffy. You could always go for pre-dinner drinks to the bar instead. Dress up though and expect to pay over the odds.

€€€ Ghatto Nero – Closed on Monday - 031 512042
You need to book. Stunning setting, great food. There is a parking service. You arrive
and they will take you up the hill to park and then bring you back in their car.

Laglio - George Clooney’s village
€€ Ristorante Osteria Vecchio Molo – 031 400730
Fish restaurant. Lots of lake fish specialities. Don't go if you don't like fish,as there is no other choice. Good local food. Tables outside in the summer.

€€ La Corte – closed on Tuesday in winter - 031 821455
Pizzeria and restaurant. Consistently good food and reasonable prices. A huge pizza selection and one of the best 'Milanese' I have ever eaten.

€€€ Hotel Belvedere – 031 821116
Lovely setting on a nice day for a light lunch right by the lakeside.

Sala Comacina

€€€ La Tirlindana – Closed on Monday - 0344 56637

You must try the lemon ravioli! Small portions, but great food from the Spanish/Italian chef and the French/Italian owner. Delicious desserts! Book at weekends. Stunning location in the cobbled piazza (leave your high heels at home) overlooking the island.

€€€ Taverna Bleu – closed on Tuesday – 0344 55107
Lovely, peaceful lake-side setting – good varied menu. Great lake fish dishes. Make sure you look at the prices on the wine list before ordering. Don't just go for the owner's suggestions!

€€€€ La Locanda dell’Isola – 0344 55083 – closed mid-October to mid-April
Join the stars (Clooney, Pitt, Madonna, to name a few)at one of the most famous restaurants on Lake Como, serving the same menu since 1947! At 62 euro for a 5 course meal including as much wine as you can drink, it is amazing value and a real experience. Not to be missed – great for either lunch or dinner. They now do a 'light' menu where you miss out one of the main courses either the salmon trout or the chicken. Don't forget to ask for this. Book in high season.

€€ Ossuccio (the next village)
Crotto La Sorgente –closed on Tuesday
– 0344 55270
A trout farm. Usually a set menu with polenta. Rustic charm. Up in the hills above the village.

€€ Hotel Plinio – closed Wednesday - 0344 55158

Nice lake-front setting and good value set menu. Maybe lunch there after market day on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Villa Balbianello.

Further afield:
Tremezzo (Fraz. Roghero)
€€ Fagurida Trattoria –
closed Monday – 0344 40676.
A real experience with platters of meats, cheeses, polenta and braised beef, with wine in earthenware jugs – yummy! You need to book. Ask for a table with a view.

€€€€ Al Veluu - closed on Tuesday -0344 40510
Stunning views and good food from this place. Slightly upmarket - or at least they think they are!

By Boat:
Best way is to get public boat from Cernobbio across to Torno. As you get off the boat, you will see the restaurant on your right.

€€Hotel Belvedere, Torno – closed Tuesday - 031 419100
Book a table on the lakeside terrace. Would recommend the spaghetti ai frutti di mare and the salmon ravioli

Try the local wines – very good and full-bodied reds from Valtellina – Sassella and Inferno

€ Around €15-20pp inc. wine
€€ Around €25pp inc. wine
€€€ Around €35-50pp inc. wine
€€€€ €50+ pp inc. wine

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lunch time, waste of time?

One of the reasons George Clooney loves Lake Como..........“In Italy you eat and drink well. You celebrate lunch time. You are supposed to take your time with lunch and think about what you are eating. You see people go home for lunch with bread and flowers. I love it.” ….... source .

For anyone trying to live/work a normal life here, the whole lunch time thing can be a nightmare. If you don't live in a city (and who would want to when you can live on Lake Como instead ) and are not up and out of the house by the crack of dawn, you just won't get things done in time. Everything closes at mid-day - government offices, the pharmacy, hair dressers, local doctor and yes even a lot of shops outside of the cities. They then re-open at around 3pm, after a leisurely 3 course lunch, including wine and coffee (a set menu for workers can be had for as little as 10 euro). So that makes the working day from 8 or 9 am till 12 and then from 3 till 6 – not exactly long and with that big, useless chunk in the middle. The only things that stays open are the restaurants. Even a government minister, Gianfranco Rotondi, is calling for Italians to shorten/cut out their lunch breaks, saying that it 'brings the country to s standstill. Check out the Italian News web site for more on what he said

You can imagine how Italians responded to this. The poor man was lambasted in practically every newspaper and lampooned by cartoonists. He was lucky to get away with his life and had to clarify his statement. It was even suggested that it was in contravention of Italian workers' rights! Read more about this issue in the article "Italy finds proposal to skip lunch hard to digest" from Reuters Health (Nov. 24, 2009).

Why can't Italian workers simply take their lunch break in shifts? It beats me. Why does the whole shop/practice/office have to come to a complete stop?

Tip of the day
This lunch-time exodus can however work to your advantage, as many of the larger supermarkets are now staying open at lunch time, which means that the place is absolutely deserted, as the rest of Italy are taking their lunch break. Excellent – tons of parking spaces to choose from, no queues and empty aisles – what a treat! Or if you want to visit one of the many bustling weekend markets e.g. Como or Milan Naviglio, go between 12 and 2 and you will have no problem finding a parking space.

The only other thing to do is just accept it and join them. Find yourself a nice workers lunch for between 10 and 15 euro - remember to ask for the pranzo di lavoro and don't take no for an answer! Bon appetito!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't miss the property boat on Lake Como

Today, I am kicking myself big style. Around 10 years ago, I saw an advert in a local newspaper for a really cute 1 bedroom, cottage (seen here)on the lakeside on the eastern shore of Lake Como. It was on the market for 90 million lire . As you know, the lire is now obsolete and when it was replaced with the Euro on January 1, 1999, 1euro was equivalent to 1936.27 old lire, so that would make the asking price 46,000 euro, which with a really good sterling exchange rate back then, would make this lovely lakeside property about 30,000 sterling.

So imagine how I felt when doing some online property searching for a client this morning, I came across the very same property on the market at 650,000 euro - follow the link to verify - Now that's what I call a healthy profit! To say I felt sick to the pit of my stomach is an understatement. I was brought up not to do 'envy' and all that green-eyed stuff, but I just couldn't help myself – I was greener than the jolly green giant. Now that's what I call an investment! Admittedly the 650,00 euro price tag sounds a bit optimistic, given that you can buy a much larger 3 bedroom villa (to renovate) by the lake on the more desirable western shore for between 950,000 and 1.3 million, depending on whether you talk directly to the owner or to one of the greedier local agents.

Nevertheless someone will probably buy it, as lake side properties are very desirable and as rare as the proverbial rocking horse poo. So much so that whereas there is an accepted price per square metre for properties on Lake Como, when it comes to lakeside properties all calculations go out the window and the price is set along the lines of 'what the owner wants to get for it and what somebody is willing to pay for it'. Not quite an exact science then!

That does not mean that property on Lake Como is not still within the reach of us mere mortals. Of course it is! And it still represents excellent value for money, when you compare it with UK prices and prices elsewhere in Europe, even taking into account the less-than-perfect euro to sterling exchange rate. You can still pick up a pied-a-terre (studio apartment) in the centre of Como for under 200,000 (if you know who to ask and where to look) and just last week, I found a great apartment for sale in Laglio (aka Clooney-ville) with lake view, 1 bedroom and a balcony for only 170,000 euro. Of course you won't find these little bargains on the internet. They are private sales. So you just need to be 'in the know'.

The moral of the story is if it looks like a bargain, bag it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mission accomplished - rental property with lake view for only 550 euro per month

I have to say, I am pretty happy with myself today. You may remember yesterday's challenge was to find a rental property meeting a host of criteria for a long-term rental. I viewed 2 unsuitable properties yesterday – both were on the 'bad' side of the village of Argegno i.e. the side where the sun never shines in winter. Unfortunately a lot of people never realise this as they only see the properties in the summer when the sun is shining and if they don't ask, well the agent certainly isn't going to tell them! That's fine if you only want it as a summer holiday home, but more and more people are realising that the Italian sunshine on Lake Como is an all year round phenomenon. So holiday home owners are choosing to spend more and more time here. It is especially lovely to visit for Christmas and New Year and celebrate in good old-fashioned style with nativity scenes and Christmas lights and avoid the commercialised hassle of Christmas in the UK. Even in December you can sit outside for a coffee in the main Piazza and envoy the winter sunshine. But it is still very cold if you are out of the sun and it does go bitterly cold at night, so you definitely want a house on the sunny side of the valley.

Anyway, I am distracting myself from telling you about my property search success for yesterday's exacting clients. If you remember their criteria were as follows: 2 bedrooms, fully furnished, modern kitchen and bathroom, outside space (with plenty of sun), parking, lake view AND all this within walking distance of the lakeside village of Argegno. Well I did it! Ticked all those boxes, got an extra bathroom thrown in, as well as private gated parking and all that for only 550 euro per month. That's less than half the cost of the other 2 properties on the other side of the valley that I viewed yesterday. Just shows that you can do anything if you have the right contacts. OK so they will have to be pretty fit to walk it up from the village in ten minutes, but it is perfectly do-able and a lovely walk through ancient hamlets and back streets, keeping you well away from the main road. Job done!

On to my next mission to find something very similar, but only for the months of June. July and August – an even harder task when you consider that these are the highest peak season periods for holiday rentals when 2 bedroom properties can fetch as much as 1500 euro PER WEEK and these guys only want to pay that per month. I think I have definitely got my work cut out there – something is going to have to give, whether it be budget or location – or both. Let' s see. Watch this space.

If you want to rent - either long term or short term - simply contact us

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Today's mission long-term rental property

Not as easy as it sounds. Most owners, who rent their properties out in this area, one of the most popular on Lake Como (from Colonno to Como including Argegno, Laglio, Carate Urio and Moltrasio), are pretty switched on and know that weekly summer rentals is the way forward. The incomes are much greater i.e. 1000 euro per week for a nice 2 bed, as opposed to around 500 euro per month or less for an annual rent. So not hard to do the sums, average summer rental period is May through September, making 20 weeks, at least (a good property would get 26 weeks) = a min. of 20K. And then you can use it yourself for the rest of the year! As opposed to an annual income of just 6K.
So the challenge is to find an owner, who has not yet realised this, or for some reason would prefer to rent for the whole year (guaranteed income, even if it is a lot less and no changeovers to worry about or property management).
So after much internet research and 'putting myself about' in the local village asking everybody and their Granny, if they have somewhere to rent – nothing fancy, just needs to be fully furnished, with up-to-date kitchens and bathrooms, parking, lake view, external space and within walking distance of the village!!! Sounds like a tall order – indeed it is. Anyway, off to some viewings (not many options though). Was lucky enough to find a new property, with a new and 'innocent' owner, just above Argegno, as well as a refurbished old town house in the small hamlet (frazione) of Muronico (home to 5 cats, 3 dogs, lots of oldies, as well as a couple of new arrivals in the form of me and my husband, the only household with a computer and broad band internet connection – more of that later). So will let you know how I get on.

If you want to rent - either long term or short term - simply contact us

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spring arrives early in Lake Como

Wow! woke up to glorious sunshine today. Spring is in the air. So who cares if George Clooney is rumoured to be leaving. He'll struggle to find anywhere more beautiful (and it probably is just a rumour). Spent the morning doing my 'day job' property searching for lucky hopefuls coming to live on the Lake. One brief struck me as a bit of a challenge, only 150K to spend, wanting a lake view, outside space and a rental income! Not as hard as I thought though, after a few phone calls to my extensive network (gleaned through 13 years of making it my business to know everything about property on Lake Como), I now have a list of 6 great options, in various places along the lake - Argegno (up and coming and the next 'boom' village on the lake), Laglio (already very well-established and usually pricey (thanks to the Clooney-effect) and even a couple in Como Town itself. And all very rentable as well (meeting my exacting criteria). Then onto a much more exciting search - 12 million to spend! Am I the girl to help with that one - you bet I am! I must have the best job in the world:

1. I live on the most stunning Lake in Italy and can count Donatella Versace, Richard Branson, and Michael Schumacher amongst my illustrious neighbours.

2. I spend my days mooching round other people's houses.

3. Then I have fun showing potential buyers around and introducing them to my favourite bars and restaurants.

Off to continue my search for 12 million pound period Liberty-style villas now. Hardly a bind! p.s. if you know of any let me know.

and how about know you live in Italy when the driver of the car in front of you is on her mobile phone, driving with one hand and then uses that one hand to wave hello to the local policeman and he just waves back.