"Two years ago, there was a definite movement from the countryside to cities for buyers in Italy, attracted by smaller, easily manageable property," says Rupert Fawcett, of Knight Frank. "Today, the desire for cities is still there with a small number of buyers, mainly younger couples or retirees. Families still want the space and pool offered by country properties."
© Richard I'Anson
A city home provides culture on tap, vibrant daily life and plenty of places to drop in for the morning espresso or evening bellini.
"Living in an Italian city provides convenience and the greater opportunity to become part of the community and learn the language," comments Lynne Davie of Beauchamp Estates. "Accessibility to Tuscany's major cities of Florence, Siena and Lucca is excellent, with two airports — at Pisa and Florence — and good road and rail networks."
A village mentality in friendly Florence
In Florence, residency provides many benefits. Locals get privileged access to open days in private palazzos and reduced prices on cookery courses, while the compact city has excellent rail connections to Rome in 90 minutes and Venice within two hours.
As with many Italian cities, some aspects of Florence have changed little in hundreds of years, so day-today practicalities — parking, for example — can be problematic. Other downsides include the summer's heat, sky-high tourist numbers and a scarcity of modern homes refurbished to international market standards. Light and outside space, even a small balcony, are hard to find and carry a premium. "Florence is a city with a village mentality," says Lynne Davie, who lives there with her teenage son. "It is small-scale and friendly, and the perfect central base to explore Tuscany."
For city bustle without the 24-hour noise, look at trendy San Niccolò, south of the Arno river, only a 10-minute saunter from the centre. Knight Frank has 538sq ft studios from £431,900 in a restored 15thcentury palazzo behind the Uffizi Gallery. Expect to pay from £610,780 for a two-bedroom apartment in acceptable condition. A two-bedroom apartment in Via Ghibellina needing modest updating, with good views of the Duomo, is £676,200.
At the top of the market, a four-bedroom family apartment in the historic centre, in a painstakingly restored building with rare private parking and a courtyard garden, is £2.2 million through Beauchamp Estates.
Look at Lucca
Florence is a hard act to follow, but Lucca in northern Tuscany is more than up to the challenge. This miniature city of skinny stone houses, narrow alleys and church-filled piazzas was built on the wealth of medieval silk merchants and retains an appealing affluence. Property prices are not a snip compared with Florence, only 10 to 20 per cent lower on average, says Rupert Fawcett, but they have fallen 25 per cent from their 2007 highs and with Pisa airport only 30 minutes away, Lucca looks enticing.
Knight Frank's local associate has one-bedroom restored apartments in the historic centre from £366,400 for a 645sq ft property.
A two-bedroom apartment of 1,400sq ft on the second floor near Piazza San Francesco with a balcony is £523,400 and a similar-size one to restore, close to Lucca's thick walls, is £392,500.
Enjoy peace in Siena
The second of the two annual Palios, Siena's famous bareback horse race, will be run on Friday this week, packing the Piazza del Campo with international tourists.
Summer aside though, this is one of Tuscany's quieter cities, yet also one of its most beautiful and prestigious. Chesterton Humberts has a selection of apartments in Palazzo dei Tufi, a restored four-storey building set in its own park with views of Siena, priced from £205,000 for one bedroom.
Cluttons Italy has a five-bedroom apartment in an elegant 16th-century building in a quiet street close to the Cathedral and Duomo, with garage and private garden, for £1.9 million.
Knight Frank: 020 7629 8171; knightfrank.com
Beauchamp Estates: 020 7499 7722; beauchamp.it
Cluttons Italy: 00 39 075 8450100; cluttonsitaly.com
Chesterton Humberts: 020 7201 2071; chestertonhumberts.com