Country houses for sale

10 great places around the world to base yourself for overseas adventures, from wild swimming to, er, playing boules

If you're looking beyond the pandemic and are thinking of a holiday home overseas, Antonia Windsor picks out 10 places which cater to all sorts of tastes, from the adventurous to the more sedate.

Best for wild swimming: Sicily, Italy

From the powder-soft sand of Sicily’s beaches, you can take easy dips in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, but for the ultimate exhilarating summer swim, you should try what the Italians call acqua dolce (literally, sweet water).

Wild swimming in this southerly Italian island is, indeed, sweet. For a sense of complete seclusion, head to the freshwater pools at Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve (above). Also known as the Laghetti d’Avola, these natural bathing spots are set in a dramatic limestone canyon with 984ft walls, formed by the River Cassibile.

Be prepared to walk for more than an hour through a hillside of plane trees, willows and ferns down to the emerald-green pools, with a slightly longer climb back. Luckily, there is a bar at the top to quench your thirst —or you could head to the nearby seaside town of Avola to sit in the shade of palm-lined piazza for a glass of Nero d’Avola, the hearty red wine that is made in the region.

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Avola property

Set in the Avola countryside, close to the beautiful town of Noto, Villa Meti has a minimalist design, four bedrooms and an open-plan living area matched by outdoor seating and dining spaces — plus a spectacular infinity pool.
€1.9 million, Sotheby’s International Realty


Best for summer road trips: Highway 395 through California, USA

Tufa rock formations at South Tufa, Mono Lake, California

Think of a summer drive and you might conjure up the image of a convertible on Pacific Ocean Highway, but the US has another great summer driving route that not many people know about. On the eastern side of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range lies Highway 395, which skirts the intersection of arid desert, rolling sagebrush and alpine mountains.

You’ll drive through expansive valleys, past crystal-clear lakes, natural hot springs and wildflower-lined mountain hikes, bursting with colour.

Further up the 395 sits the magnificent, one-million-year-old State Reserve Mono Lake, with its otherworldly ‘tufa towers’, mineral formations that rise out of the water creating a lunar landscape.

This ancient inland sea is saltier than the ocean and harbours a thriving, but fragile eco-system of interdependent plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world — including a newly discovered, microscopic worm, temporarily dubbed Auanema sp., which has three different sexes, can survive 500 times the lethal human dose of arsenic and carries its young inside its body like a kangaroo.

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Just off the Nevada leg of Highway 395, in Zephyr Cove’s Elk Point Country Club sits this spectacular property, which has been newly renovated in a contemporary style and comes for sale furnished — even down to the full bar.
$3.95 million, Mayfair International Realty’s associate Chase International 


Best for wildlife spotting: Gibraltar

Gibraltar Monkey or Barbary Macaques sitting on top of the rock above Gibraltar.

Imagine if wild monkeys roamed everywhere in Europe, barrelling onto barges in Bruges, pinching pains au chocolat in Paris or stealing sunhats in Siena.

Thankfully (or perhaps sadly?) there’s only one European outpost left for these mischievous creatures and that’s the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, where about 230 Barbary Macaques live on the limestone rock.

Often mistakenly called apes, they are actually Macaca Sylvanus tail-less monkeys and were originally recorded when a Spanish historian from Gibraltar, Alonso Hernández del Portillo, wrote what might be the first history of the place in the early 17th century.

Today, the monkeys are managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society and receive water and vegetables, fruit and seeds as a supplement to natural food resources. They are also numbered and microchipped and get regular check-ups.

Monkeys aren’t all Gibraltar has to offer the wildlife enthusiast, either. The rocky peninsula is famous for its soaring congre- gations of migratory birds on their way to and from Africa and several dolphin species breed in the bay, which is also visited by the occasional migrating whale.

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Gibraltar property

Eight-bedroom Fortress House is one of Gibraltar’s oldest and largest colonial houses. In need of restoration, it could make an extraordinary home once refurbished.
£3.15 million, Savills


Best for deserted beaches: Algarve, Portugal

Ilha Deserta Algarve Portugal

Picture a sand-swept island with a six-mile coastline, where the only crowds are of flamingos and storks. Ilha Deserta, commonly known as Barreta Island, is the least developed and inhabited of an archipelago of sandy islands off the coast of Faro in the Algarve, which make up the Ria Formosa Natural Park.

Catch a water taxi or ferry from Faro’s Porta Nova Pier, but don’t forget to find out the times of the last boat home, as you won’t find anywhere to stay on the island. Idle away a day with a walk to Cabo de Santa Maria beach, officially the most southerly point of mainland Portugal, a glorious stretch of golden sand facing the heaving blue expanse of the Atlantic. When you tire of sunbathing, head to the marshy lagoon on the north of the island to see those flamingos and storks.

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Set in Quinta do Lago, by the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, this six-bedroom villa has landscaped gardens and a pool.
€4.45 million, Savills


Best for waterside dining: Lake Como, Italy

Varenna, Lake Como - Holidays in Italy view of the most beautiful lake in Italy, Lago di Como.

There’s been something missing at the sophisticated Italian pleasure lake. You can enjoy yachts, speedboats and even hot-air balloons, but a lakeside fish restaurant was hard to find. Now, the union of two notable family businesses has solved that problem, with the launch of Giacomo al Lago at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, bringing the well-known Milan restaurant to the grande dame lakeside hotel.

This season’s launch comes with a menu celebrating the freshest seafood, from the delectable red prawns of Mazara del Vallo to sea bream and snapper. The restaurant is at the newly opened T Beach, Lake Como’s first ‘beach club’, where vintage sun loungers line a beach of real sand and look out over the hotel’s famous floating swimming pool.

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Lake Como property

Right across the lake from Tremezzo, in Bellagio, stands this spectacular Belle Époque villa, which has 15 bedrooms, lake and mountain views and almost 10 acres of land. It does need restoration, but has the potential to become one of the most exceptional properties in the area.
€2.95 million, Engel & Völkers


Best for adventurous families: The Ötztal valley, Austria

Oztal

Every child loves a mascot and Widi the friendly mountain sheep with big eyes encourages little ones to explore Austria’s dramatic Ötztal Valley. Widi lives at Widiversum Hochoetz, an adventure park where children do challenges to find a magic crystal, but you’ll find its face all over the region.

It even gives its name to an activity programme offered by many of the hotels in summer. But there’s more to do in this corner of Austria beyond looking for Widi: hike to Stuibenfall, Tyrol’s highest waterfall, discover the Ochsenbrunnen Forest Playground or head to the water slides of Area47, the country’s largest outdoor adventure park.

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Oztal property

This chalet in Imst, thought to date from 1650, links charming period details with views of the Ötztal.
€710,000, Engel & Völkers


Best for hiking: Verbier, Switzerland

Verbier

You may know Verbier as the ski town where you could bump into James Blunt at breakfast or Pixie Lott at lunch. When the snow melts, the mountains become a grassy playground for walkers and hikers.

About 250 miles of footpaths zigzag slopes dotted with dabs of yellow buttercups and red poppies amid the sound of cowbells and crickets and perhaps even the cry of a golden eagle. Majestic Pierre Avoi, one of the most iconic symbols of central Valais, keeps watch over the area.

Despite its name, ‘pointed’, from avouè, it is almost rectangular and reaches a height of about 8,114ft. From the top, you can see the Val de Bagnes, La Tzoumaz, the Rhône Valley and even Mont Blanc. It’s reached easily on foot, with or without using the ski lifts from Verbier, but the last few yards are via ladders.

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Verbier chalet

Set above Savoleyres, this five-bedroom chalet has direct access to summer walks and winter skiing.
Price on application, Knight Frank


Best for diving: French Polynesia

Drone aerial video of Fakarava atoll island motu Blue Lagoon, Teahatea and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve French Polynesia Tahiti, coral reef and Pacific Ocean. Tropical travel paradise in Tuamotus Islands.

For feeling the fear and swimming anyway, it doesn’t get much better than diving into a sea full of sharks. The waters around French Polynesia are the largest designated shark sanctuary in the world and, if you visit in July, you can experience a phenomenon known as the ‘wall of sharks’.

This occurs in the south pass of the island of Fakarava, where more than 700 sharks flood the pass to feed on grouper fish. Dive here and you’ll be surrounded by up to 19 different species.

Live there

North of Fakarava, on the Rangiroa Atoll, Motu Teta is a palm-studded private island complete with the requisite pure-white sand, turquoise waters—and an exquisite seven-bedroom lodge.
€2.6 million, Sotheby’s International Realty


Best summer cocktail: Puerto Rico

Caribbean Beach

For that quintessential taste of summer, head to Puerto Rico, the birthplace of the piña colada.

Cocktail culture plays a leading role in the island’s vibrant gastronomic offering and the sandy Caribbean shores or cobbled streets of San Juan set the perfect stage to enjoy the iconic summer drink.

Made of coconut cream, pineapple juice, white rum and ice, it has mysterious origins — three different bartenders claim to have discovered it. Two hail from the Caribe Hilton Hotel, where they say they invented it in 1954, the other from Barrachina Restaurant in Old SanJuan, where they say he invented the tropical delight some years later in 1963. Its contested history aside, the piña colada is now the national drink of Puerto Rico and wherever it’s served on the island, you can savour the sweet taste of summer in a glass.

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Puerto Rico property

Set in manicured Italian gardens two blocks from the beach, this extraordinary house has been designed to an exacting standard, with marble floors, a Carrara marble bath and painted ceilings.
Price on request, Christie’s International Real Estate


Best for boules: St Paul de Vence, France

Cafes, shops and art galleries line the narrow cobblestone roads in the medieval hilltop village of St Paul de Vance on the French Riviera.

Two letters incorrectly addressed to ‘Saint Paul les Boules’ and ‘Saint Boules de France’ made their way, correctly, to the mayor of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, such is the centrality of the game of boules to this Provençal village.

The main square at the entrance, Place de Gaulle, is known more commonly as Place du jeu de boules. Here, villagers and tourists sit in the shade of plane trees or on the terrace of Café de la Place, listening to the thud of boules on the pitch.

Tournaments are held throughout the summer, bringing the locals together and drawing their share of celebrity competitors — French actor and singer Yves Montand even sponsored a competition for village children.

The place has long been a hangout of artists and sculptor César created a piece known as Fanny for the Café de la Place: it represents two plump buttocks that players have to kiss when they lose without scoring any points.

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St paul de Vence property

This 17th-century château near St Paul de Vence combines a rich history with beautifully designed interiors, 148-acre grounds and magnificent views.
€6.9 million, Knight Frank