With fewer people, more natural spaces and low infection rates, under-the-radar regions are experiencing a tourism boost during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Clara-Laeila Laudette
MADRID, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The popularity of once under-the-radar regions like Asturias on Spain's northwestern coast has boomed as Spaniards factor in their handling of the pandemic alongside newfound priorities including sparse population and abundant natural spaces.
For the first time in 27 years, the town of Villaviciosa, close to the sea in Asturias, passed the 15,000-inhabitant mark, the mayor's office said, after adding almost a thousand new residents in the past seven months.
The region "has become a national oasis", said Ramon Perez, director of real estate agency Inmogestion Asturias, adding that his phone has been ringing off the hook as a growing number of residents from the Spanish capital Madrid seek to flee one of the country's worst COVID hotspots.
Perez, who has a portfolio of over 4,000 properties, said demand for plots of land and chalets multiplied to "unimaginable" levels.
"Madrilenos were always important clients, but now they're buying to register as residents in Asturias, work remotely and avoid contamination hubs," Perez said. "The virus invites them to come live here, as options for leisure change."
Although a recent surge in cases has closed restaurants and bars in Asturias, its coronavirus infection rate stood well below the national average for months. Even now, Asturias has Spain's seventh-lowest two-week infection rate compared to 18 other regions, health ministry data showed.
While house prices in large cities like Barcelona and Madrid have been dropping since Spain emerged from its first lockdown in June, in Asturias they rose almost 3% in the third quarter compared to the second.
Even in the regional capital Oviedo, prices rose 3.5% compared to 2019's third quarter, defying the trend for lower prices in urban centres.
Overall in Spain, real estate prices grew 12% in August year-on-year in counties with under 5,000 inhabitants, property portal Idealista said.
(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, additional reporting by Belen Carreno; editing by Ingrid Melander and Ed Osmond)