The tiny isle with big potential that struck a cord with UK retirees

VINTAGE scenery and an easy-care lifestyle are in plentiful supply on the Mediterranean haven of Malta.

It has been a veritable home from home for expat escapees since the 1960s thanks to former colonial ties with the UK and the country’s dual official language of English.

The creation of the Maltese Permanent Residence Scheme in 1988 has seen upwards of 15,000 Brits set up home on the island over the past two decades.

But if there’s one corner of this island republic still to show its true potential, it is Gozo, a bite-sized outcrop of serene ruggedness just four miles off the mainland.

To get there, visitors can either hop into a helicopter at Valletta airport or catch the roll-on roll-off ferry from the northern port of Cirkewwa. For British retirees Anne, 67, and Tony Leneve-Roff, 70, this short journey sealed their retirement fortunes, leading them to up sticks from Bristol in 2007.

“Tony was stationed in Malta with the Navy back in the Sixties and always talked about retiring here when the time was right,” said Mrs Leneve-Roff.

“We looked at the mainland but it’s quite built-up now, especially on the coast. gozo, by comparison, has more of a low-key, step-back-intime feel. We’ve family-run village shops up the road and a small doctor’s surgery. Hop in the car and 10 minutes later we’re at the beach. everything we need is within reach.”

The couple found their £130,000 three-bed new-build apartment in the on rural village of Gharb through local agent Frank Salt. “It was only the second property we looked at but the valley views did it for us,” said Mrs Leneve-Roff. “And it’s just a short drive from the capital Victoria. It’s a ground-floor unit so we don’t have to worry about mobility in later years. There’s a communal garden shared between five other flats and a lovely pool. The residents are a mix of locals and expats, so there’s a real sense of community.”

To date, rural tourism has been the lifeblood of the local economy. Recently, however, EU funding has resulted in a substantial upgrade of the island’s infrastructure, improved roads and leisure facilities including a phased expansion of the marina port.

Such changes are attracting buyers who may have originally considered a place on the mainland. John Cutugno, of Homes In Malta, said: “Property values on Gozo currently lag a good 30 per cent behind those on Malta. Small studios can be picked up for around £70,000, family-sized holiday homes from £150,000. Large villas with private pools and renovated period homes sell for upwards of £350,000.

“Every village has its own charm, character and lifestyle too. Zebbug, Xaghra and Qala are popular but the capital Victoria is also proving a good stomping ground for turnkey townhouses and apartments.”

“Brits, Italians and Germans tend to go for character property,” added Marie Grech of Frank Salt. “Many have converted the residences into modern living spaces without losing the home’s innate character.

“Large open-plan interiors are common with limestone walls, roof gardens and expansive courtyards. Conversions invariably include adding a small pool at a cost of around £10,000.”

Such capital outgoings are offset by cost-of-living savings that run a good 20-30 per cent below the UK. “We pay just £300 a year in maintenance fees and have no rates or council tax to pay,” said Mrs Leneve-Roff, adding: “Foreign residents have no tax levied on their worldwide income or wealth and are subject to a flat income tax rate of 15 per cent on remitted income.

“Stamp duty is also low and pension funds are easily transferable, which makes relocation an attractive proposition, especially when you consider there’s no inheritance tax or capital gains tax on a primary residence. We sold our property in Bristol, so we hope we’ll have a nice little nest egg to leave to the grandchildren.”

Moving from a bustling city to a small community hasn’t been without its challenges. “Applying for residency is straightforward but there’s a lot of paperwork involved as it takes several months to complete. Living in a tight-knit community does mean you sometimes crave a change of scene, a bit of anonymity, city life and noise. We find the best antidote is to hop over to Malta for a ‘top-up’.

“All in all, however, it’s the right location choice for us. We never get the feeling we’re somewhere where touristic demands will supersede daily life.

The island is developing but I’d like to think it will retain its integrity while welcoming the outside world. Time will tell.”

Source: Sunday Express by Laura Henderson

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