Many investors who consider buying property in Italy are inevitably drawn to Tuscany.
However, its decades of rising prices have seen more and more investors turn their attentions to Umbria, its neighbor to the east. And in truth the allure of owning property in Umbria is understandable almost on a first visit.
With good reason the region proudly labels itself The Green Heart of Italy. Umbria, the only landlocked region on the Italian peninsula, has some of the country most beguiling rural landscapes within its borders.
It measures just over two million acres, yet a third of it is made up of scenic woodland that takes in no fewer than seven nature reserves.
This is a region that has retained an unspoiled charm, boasting a series of lovely medieval towns that appear to have been unchanged for centuries – Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, Spello and Todi to name a few.
The region's centuries of history seem to seep from every cobbled step and church facade in these towns and villages, which are close enough to one another to be explored in one fell swoop, even on a relatively brief visit. In addition it is not besieged by the millions of tourists who flock to Tuscany and consequently is all the more delightful for it.
So it comes as little surprise that Umbria is arguably the second most popular region, behind Tuscany, among investors in property in Italy – a trend accelerated when Perugia's airport was extended in 2006 to take international flights.
In truth, properties in large swathes of Umbria have soared to close to Tuscan levels. Expect to pay about EUR400,000 for a restored farmhouse in Umbria and around EUR250,000 for a two-bedroom apartment or house. If you are happy with a fixer-upper, a rustic property to restore can cost under EUR100,000. But bear in mind you may spend an additional EUR300,000 bringing it back to its former glory.
However, these average prices do not portray the whole story and there are highly affordable properties available in Umbria if you look in the right places. For instance, on the northern shores of Lake Trasimeno, a one-bedroom property in Tuoro sul Trasimeno can go for just EUR100,000. Meanwhile, expect to pay EUR20,000 more for a new-build two-bedroom apartment and EUR220,000 for a new-build three-bedroom property.
Note also that in the current economic climate it is something of a buyers' market – canny buyers can often knock up to 15 per cent off the asking price if they are prepared to dig their heels in and bargain hard.
Where in Umbria to buy? Nothing beats going to the region to get a feel for it yourself, but Umbria has so many delights that it is sometimes difficult to decide where to start. An ideal option is to base yourself in either Assisi or Orvieto and spend a week exploring.
Although Perugia is Umbria's administrative capital, Assisi is its spiritual heart, the town where Italy's patron saint St Francis set up his religious order in 1209. It is now a magnet for pilgrims worldwide, chiefly for the basilica that bears St Francis's name and houses his remains.
However, if one town in Umbria rivals Perugia for religious significance it is Orvieto, perched atop giant cliffs and boasting an amazing cathedral.
Other must-sees include Bevagna, which lies on the Roman ruins, Spello, a delightful town on the slopes of Monte Subasio and the wine-producing town of Montefalco, dubbed "Umbria's Balcony" for its stunning views that stretch as far as Spoleto and Assisi.