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Alghero, Sardinia

Sardinia is one of Italy’s most popular holiday spots, thanks in no small part to its spectacular 1,100-mile coastline. And one of the jewels in its crown is Alghero, the scenic medieval city on the north-west coast. Anyone thinking of buying Alghero property will find a beautifully unspoilt fishing port with a long sandy beach shaded by pine forests and offering breathtaking grottos and rocky coastlines.

In summer the city’s charms attract an influx of tourists that doubles its population to over 100,000, meaning excellent rental returns if you invest in Alghero property.

The heart of Alghero is its walled old town overlooking the sea and surrounded by seven watchtowers. The picturesque medieval centre, with its cute walkways and cobbled side streets, is mainly pedestrianised. Here you find the hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars that earn Alghero its reputation for unbeatable seafood. The old town is nicknamed Barcelonetta (little Barcelona) because of its heavy Catalan influence.

The Catalans invaded in the 14th century and their legacy remains, lending the city an atmosphere unlike any anywhere else in Italy. Restaurants serve Catalan cuisine; many locals speak an ancient form of the north-east Spanish dialect; street signs carry the Catalan equivalent under the Italian road names; and Catalan-language magazines are widely on sale.

If your foray into the Italy real estate market brings you here, you will find that despite the surge in interest since budget airline Ryanair began flying here in 2000, Alghero property prices still offer good value. One-bedroom apartments in the old town start at around €120,000 at 2009-10 prices with two bedrooms from around €175,000.

The town’s history can be traced back to the 13th century, when it first appeared in historical archives. Then it was a small fort town founded by the Genovese, who would later be overrun by the Catalans. Today the old fort walls encircle the part of the city that juts out toward the Mediterranean Sea. On the northern side of Alghero lies its modern port, while the new city extends towards the hinterland.

A few of Alghero’s most luxurious hotels and most animated bars in summer are situated along the coastal road that heads south. Meanwhile, the Alghero beach runs northwards, behind private villas, hotels and camping sites.

Alghero, in common with most Italian cities, knows how to throw a street party and there is no end of fiestas. There is the Sea Urchin Fair in late January/early February. Easter sees several torchlit processions and other solemn religious occasions, followed in summer by the honouring of the Virgin of Valverde, usually in the first 10 days of July. The Tourists’ Fair around August 3 welcomes visitors with wine, food, song and dance. August also sees the Alghero Summer Music festival of classical music concerts. Then it’s back to religious matters, as San Michele is remembered from September 28-30 and San Francesco on October 4.

There are also numerous attractions just a few miles outside the city. .Grotto di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto) is a spectacular network of caves north of Alghero. You can take the even more scenic, hour-long route by boat from Alghero marina. Alternatively, take the leisurely drive along the coastal road. One drawback: when you get there you’ve got 654 dizzying steps to climb down to reach the caves. And then back up afterwards. But the breath-taking view out to sea more than makes up for it.

If you have come by car, on your return journey stop off at the Nuraghe di Palmavera, a complex that houses the well-preserved remnants of stone buildings left by the Bronze Age people who once lived on Sardinia.

Other spots worth visiting include Sassari and Olmedo, both north-east of Alghero, and the seaside town of Bosa, which is 15 miles south and has Castello Malaspina, a castle dating from the 1100s with 14th century Spanish frescoes.