The Italian countryside is scattered with historic ruins in need of a benefactor. Farmhouses, castles, even entire villages lie empty, abandoned because of a decline in the rural way of life.
Many noble families, faced with spiralling running costs on their extensive country estates, simply gave up the struggle and retreated to their city palazzos, leaving rural properties to crumble.
Tuscany in central Italy, still the top Italian destination for British buyers, has plenty of opportunities for investors with money and patience, but few projects are as dramatic or ambitious as Castelfalfi, 40 minutes from Pisa.
New for old
Castelfalfi is an entire 800-year-old Tuscan village and agricultural estate on a quiet hilltop overlooking Volterra, where once 600 people would have lived, growing tobacco, vines and olives.
The 1,100-hectare estate — that's six times the size of Monaco — has a central borgo including a medieval church, castle and 18 farmhouses spread across gentle hills and valleys.
Abandoned in the Sixties, Castelfalfi was bought five years ago by German group TUI, Europe's largest travel company. The firm now has full planning permission to create a residential golf and leisure resort in a beautiful corner of Italy.
Work has started on the site where, by the middle of next year, TUI plans to open a 32-room boutique hotel in a converted tobacco barn, an extensive pool complex and shops selling local products.
Two golf courses, a clubhouse and a restaurant are already open and two larger hotels and further restaurants are planned for a second phase, along with a spa, conference centre and cookery school.
In total Castelfalfi will have 190 homes for sale. The original borgo, the heart of the village, is being transformed into 41 apartments and the old farmhouses (casali) will be renovated into villas with pools and gardens.
Property in phase one through Knight Frank includes apartments — from £190,000 for 538sq ft — 11 new-build golf villas from £991,680 and 18 restored casali, at £2.48 million. Castelfalfi will operate a rental management programme giving 85 per cent of income to owners.
There is more golf on offer at Bagnaia, eight miles south-west of Siena, where a new course, spa, hotel and off-plan flats and villas priced from £495,840 are for sale. Property is based around a 13th-century borgo and castello with hunting and an equestrian centre (contact Knight Frank).
Castello di Casole 20 minutes' west of Siena is a 4,200-acre working estate where 30 four- and five-bedroom casali start from £239,650 for an eighth share with whole ownership from £3 million. This spring American owners Timbers will open the Castello as a five-star 41-room hotel with spa (Castello di Casole).
Giving in to Tuscany's abundant charms
Philip and Clare Hurley from Suffolk have owned four-bedroom Casa al Forno in the Castelfalfi area since 2001. Initially they tried to buy a house near Montepulciano owned by two Sicilian farmers but every time they made an offer the price went up.
"We were extremely cautious in the purchase process, using an extra lawyer and architect, as we bought a roofless wreck surrounded by open farmland," says teacher Clare. "But our builders were brilliant and it was all delivered on time."
The Hurleys visit for around 10 weeks a year, otherwise renting out the property through www.tuscanynow.com. "Many people don't realise how wonderful Tuscany is out of season," says Clare.