Oligarchs rush to buy villas as sanctions bite hard
Moscow millionaires are buying luxury properties close to a Tuscan town, as fears grow over US and EU sanctions and political instability caused by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
Six in ten buyers in Lucca are from the former Soviet Union, according to a local estate agent.
Russian oligarchs have colonised the smart Tuscan beach resort of Forte dei Marmi for decades, buying holiday villas from wealthy Milan industrialists.
Now, spurred by the Ukrainian crisis, they are also moving inland, with villas around Lucca - 16 miles from the sea - now a prime target, said agent Dimitri Corti, who deals in larger homes.
He said Russians have been making enquiries about buying Villa Paolina, a 17th country house with sea views where Napoleon's sister Pauline Bonaparte once stayed, said Mr Corti.
"Interest is growing in the area around Lucca and six out of ten our customers are from Russia and the former Soviet Union," he confirmed.
Agents have already reported sanctions are prompting Russians to move their wealth abroad, and Mr Corti said political instability in the region was also a cause.
"A Ukrainian who came here for a month on holiday left his family here when he returned and is now looking for a house here," he said.
When they first arrived in Italy two decades ago, Russians were ridiculed for their questionable taste, wearing fur coats in August and drinking heavy Tuscan red wines with fish.
But Mr Corti said their move inland was connected to their growing refinement : "They are now sending their children to school in London and New York," he said, "and they are appreciating that Lucca is full of fascinating and historical 19th century villas," he added.
However, Lucca, which is the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini, boasts a central piazza built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre and Renaissance-era earth ramparts where locals take cycle rides. (The Daily Telegraph)