In sight of San Marco

It boasts two fine Palladian churches and the legendary Cipriani hotel, but Venice’s most southerly island was until recently home to a melancholy clutch of prisons, factories and boatyards. When Sir Elton John bought a one-bedroom apartment in a 17th-century palazzo on Giudecca a couple of years ago – with views across the water to San Marco through three Gothic windows – it signalled a dramatic reversal of fortunes for this little-known district.

Virtually ignored by the four million tourists who descend on La Serenissima every year, yet just eight minutes by vaporetto to the Ducal Palace, Giudecca has at last shed its downmarket popolare image. “It used to have a bad reputation and people would be reluctant to go there,” says Carole Francis, an Irishwoman working for the Venetian estate agents Gabetti (00 39 04 152 22086). “Now people from all over Italy, as well as foreigners wanting to buy here, ask for it by name – including Sir Elton John, when he was looking. It’s the nearest we have to London’s Docklands; it has the most fabulous views, and is the last area in the city to be gentrified.”

Giudecca’s inglorious past means that prices are still 20 per cent below the heights commanded by the traditionally grand sestieri, or districts, round the Grand Canal and Dorsoduro – for now. But they are now the fastest-rising in the city, which as a whole saw property values surge by a staggering 20 per cent last year.

There are still some bargains here, for both the older buildings and the many new-builds. In fact, the massive construction going on in Guidecca is offering virtually the only chance to buy a contemporary, waterside residence in Venice. If you’re visiting the city for Carnival in February, it may be worth making some viewing appointments now. “People love the fact that you can move straight into one of these modern flats, without all the complications, restrictions and hidden costs that you normally get with moving into a building that’s 500 years old,” says Anne-Marie Doyle of London-based agents Italian Homes. “Also, lovely though those old buildings are, finding one to buy is becoming increasingly difficult.”

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A one-bedroom flat in a dazzling new stone-and-steel building on the corner of two canals is on the market for £184,000 via Italian Homes (020-8878 1130). Another, with a garden, part of a more traditional redevelopment of an old limestone factory centred round an attractive courtyard, is valued at just £150,000 through Gabetti.

Italian Homes (www.italian-homes.com) also has a rather grand third-floor modern apartment that has three terraces with sweeping views over the lagoon, three bedrooms and a Carrara-marble lined bathroom. It is on the market for £388,000. Many new-build properties can be found in the Judeca Nova redevelopment of a German clock factory. No fewer than 10 blocks, mostly unapologetically modern with chrome balconies and plate-glass windows, have been completed or are under construction. Most have gardens – a rarity in Venice – and new canals. These are wider than the ancient ones in town, and the relative abundance of green space makes Giudecca feel airier than the rest of the city. There are even public playgrounds and a public swimming pool at Chimisso.

“A lot of foreigners, particularly the British, coming into Venice are worried about the lack of privacy here as everyone does live on top of each other. There is really no such thing as a private garden or terrace, completely un-overlooked as you might have back home in Britain, and that takes a bit of getting used to,” says Francis, who is married to a Venetian and has lived in the city for 20 years. “But Giudecca does feel more spacious than some districts, and you can still get to the art and the culture in the centre in a few minutes.”

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Unique to Giudecca are a handful of private houses surrounded huge gardens, such as Villa Fiorita, a huge 100-year-old villa with walled grounds extending to 1,000sqm. Near the famous Giudecca restaurant, Harry’s Dolci, in the Sant’Eufemia district, the villa even has its own jetty and is being marketed through Gabetti at £1.75m. Some new developments also provide another virtual unknown in Venice – a private gym. One such development, Zuecca Due, sited towards the eastern tip of Giudecca near the Cipriani, will offer 18 apartments ranging in price from around £190,000 to £700,000 when it goes on the market at the end of this month.

“These are very modern, Italian designer apartments, two of which will have water frontage,” says Doyle of Italian Homes. “They are also incredibly cheap for Venice.” British buyers in Giudecca have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of workmanship and design in the apartments – both new-build and conversions, such as an old brewery now sold out, which was particularly impressive. Most have solid wooden or marble floors, and high quality fixtures and fittings, and tall ceilings. Rarely, however, do they come with kitchens – Italians expect to take their units, cookers and fridges with them when they move. In new apartments, showers may not even have their doors or attachments fitted, although boilers and bath tubs will normally be fitted as standard.

Once finished, however, some of the investment may be recouped through the strong holiday let market. Two-bedroom flats can command up to £1,000 a week for short-term lets with more holiday-makers starting to ask for the relative peace of Giudecca. Now it has finally been “discovered” though, it is difficult to predict how long that tranquillity will last.

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