Lisbon: Europe's most underrated capital city
The Portuguese capital, Lisbon, with its steep streets tumbling down to the Tagus River and historic Moorish quarter, is perhaps Europe's most under-appreciated city: take a closer look and you'll find history, dynamic architecture and a thriving arts scene.
There are, however, clear signs of the economic torpor that has settled over Portugal. Predictions are that there will be 5,000 property sales transactions this year, a quarter of the number in 2006, and sales agents make little effort to hide the problems.
"Portuguese banks are not lending and there is the threat of rising property taxes as values are reassessed," says Frederico Mendoca of Abacus Property. "Offers are routinely 20 to 30 per cent below even reasonable asking prices."
A £579,000 three-bedroom apartment in Lisbon's prime area sold for £406,000 this summer, a 28 per cent reduction. Opportunities are there.
Close to the river, Lapa is the prime residential area, filled with embassies and flat-fronted pastel pink and yellow palacios where a good two-bedroom apartment with river views is around £563,000.
The British Embassy recently relocated within Lapa and the old building is home to Lisbon's top project. Ambassador Residences offers eight apartments and two villas from £2 million for 2,370sq ft through Abacus.
There's better value in Campo de Ourique where tree-lined squares offer shaded restaurants and shops, and also in Estrela where old palacios are being restored into apartments. Expect to pay £281,460 for 1,615sq ft.
Other areas to consider are trendy Baixa and Avenidas Novas, close to the airport, where two-bedroom apartments start from £241,250.
The Alentejo coast south of Lisbon stretches for 30 miles towards the Algarve but is not as well-known as the holiday hotspot.
Three new projects hope to change that: Comporta resort backed by financial giants Espirito Santos with plans for Iberia's first Aman resort, Pinheirinho Hyatt, and Troia resort.
Troia is one hour south of Lisbon on a beautiful sandy peninsula bordering the Sado River and the Atlantic, complete with a resident colony of dolphins.
Development there started in the late Seventies and three unattractive tower blocks from those days are still standing. Now owned by Sonae, a publicly quoted Portuguese company, Troia has a golf course fringed with pine trees, a 184-berth marina, casino, two hotels and close to 600 properties.
Ninety per cent of the development is completed with 240 homes sold, mainly to Portuguese owners including José Mourinho, Chelsea FC's former manager. Furnished studio to two-bedroom apartments by the beach or marina start from £159,200, contemporary 1,830sq ft townhouses from £458,350 and detached three-bedroom villas from £1.12 million, through Savills.
All homes are within walking distance of the fabulous white sand beach with views to a protected green natural park. The homes and facilities are concentrated in one area of the 1,000-hectare resort.
"Buyers choose Troia as a safe family-friendly destination with plenty to do," says Joanna Leverett of Savills.
"The Alentejo coast is roughly the same size as the Algarve but has a very different, low-density approach to tourism."
There's also a golf course at Pinheirinho Hyatt Resort, a 160-room five-star hotel with 700 apartments and villas one hour south of Lisbon on a two-mile stretch of beach.
Prices, through Cluttons Resorts, start from £193,000 for one- to three-bedroom apartments and from £1.28 million for villas, all with a rental pool managed by Hyatt.
Portuguese holiday haven
Chris and Lucy Kirkness from Wimbledon knew what they wanted in a holiday home: somewhere easy to reach, not overdeveloped and with good sports facilities and restaurants.
They found it in Troia, buying a one-bedroom apartment off-plan in 2009. "We love Troia's deserted beach, the fresh air and the sunshine," says Lucy, a law lecturer.
"It feels very Portuguese and we enjoy simple pleasure there. And the local wines are spectacular."
Chris, a headhunter, and Lucy visit for long weekends throughout the year and 10 days every summer. Their three grown-up children also use the apartment.
"Troia and the peninsula remind me of my childhood near Sandbanks in Poole," says Lucy. Through Savills (savills.com/international; 020 7016 3740).
CONTACTS AND FACTFILE
Savills: savills.com/international; 020 7016 3740
Cluttons Resorts: cluttonsresorts.com; 020 7584 3050
Annual maintenance: charges at Troia start at £1,640 for townhouses.
Troia: apartments at Troia are sold furnished and come with a six per cent guaranteed rental return for four years.