Puglia, Italy, from $70,000
Waiting to be spellbound before you decide where to buy a summer retreat?In Puglia, a dose of magic comes with the mortar. Sandwiched between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, this thin peninsula is a cultural crossroads of bewitching beauty. Legacies of cultures from Greek to French have blended with local lore to produce a distinctive mythology. The region's fish dishes are said to be aphrodisiacs, and the cone-shaped houses called trulli, scattered throughout the Itria Valley, are believed to have mystical powers. Their tepee shape keeps cool air in, while the religious symbols painted on their rooftops keep evil spirits out.
The prices in Puglia, which is considered off the beaten track, are a fraction of those in Tuscany and Umbria, starting at $70,000 for an unrestored trullo. A group of elegantly remodeled trulli near the whitewashed town of Ostuni—each with one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a veranda—lists at $600,000 for all three. The pool is surrounded by bougainvillea, citrus trees, olive groves, and pines. Because of region-sponsored construction incentives, and a supply of nearby artisans who have perfected their crafts over generations, modernizing a trullo is easy. Sitidoltremare, 39-02/2951-3091; http://www.sitidoltremare.it
Italian vacationers migrate south for Puglia's pristine beaches, succulent food, and hilltop hamlets. Alberobello is the undisputed trullo capital: hundreds of stone cones stand proud like geological wonders. Nine miles south is Martina Franca, known for its artists and galleries. In summer, during the town's music festival, everyone from classical cellists to Dixieland bands performs from balconies around the crowded central square. Ostuni, minutes from sandy beaches, is crowned by a Gothic cathedral with Baroque side chapels.
Sitidoltremare is the only agency that shows photos with its Internet listings. The company's architect owners restore and sell ancient trulli and 17th-century masserie, or large farms. Masseria Gorgognolo, less than half a mile from the beach, has six bedrooms, five separate apartments, and a swimming pool, for $1.1 million. Near Ostuni, Masseria Falascusa comes with 14 trulli in a row, surrounded by almond and olive trees, for $640,000.