Inside Silvio Berlusconi’s £4 billion property empire

Inside Silvio Berlusconi's £4 billion property empire

For those with a love of flamboyance and an extra £220 million to spend, it would make a magnificent – if somewhat austere – home.

Villa Certosa boasts almost every luxury rite of passage necessary to satisfy the most demanding superstar, status-conscious Russian billionaire or even a James Bond villain in search of an unlikely lair.

Welcome to what was said to be the favorite of the 14 houses owned by billionaire Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi, or Benvenuti – who was as famous for his ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties as he was three times prime minister.

His death on Monday at the age of 86 has focused attention on his vast portfolio of palazzos, villas, lakeside mansions, penthouses and apartments spanning the length and breadth of Italy and beyond.

Even the most conservative valuation estimates the value of Berlusconi’s property empire at £4 billion. And a favorite was Villa Certosa, a sprawling 26,000-square-foot pile of 68 rooms on 170 acres in Sardinia that he bought in 1970.

Billionaire and Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi was famous for his ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties and being prime minister three times.

Ruby the Heart Stealer (real name Karima Kayek) was a 17-year-old Moroccan-born prostitute who stole Berlusconi’s affections.

Villa Certosa boasts almost every luxuries needed to satisfy the most demanding superstar, status-conscious Russian tycoon or even the ambitious James Bond villain in search of an unlikely waistline.

The Italian premier’s villa ‘Villa Certosa’, Porto Rotondo, near Olbia, Sardinia, Italy is home to this amphitheater complex.

It was there that he liked to take and show his most important guests. When Tony and Cherie Blair visited in 2004, he put on a £50,000 fireworks display that rocketed into the Mediterranean sky spelling out ‘Viva Tony’. (The trip was chiefly remembered for Breyer’s desperation not to be photographed next to Berlusconi, whose flowered bandana replaced a new hairdo.)

Here, too, on the island’s fabled Costa Smeralda, Berlusconi was seen sunbathing with Vladimir Putin and where he was photographed surrounded by topless models said to have been flown in an Italian air force plane.

Guests who prefer discretion can come through a secret tunnel hollowed out of a cave where they can disembark from their boat out of sight of the paparazzi.

A monument of ostentation besides 25 bedrooms, five swimming pools and a 300-seat fake ancient Greek amphitheatre, the villa dazzles any visitor with a mock volcano in its grounds, which emits the sound of an eruption at the flick of a switch and sends fake lava cascading from its cone.

When the switch was first turned on, the pretend fire and the rumble of artificial vibrations were so realistic that the fire brigade attended.

Money was no object. There were five pools as well as a man-made lagoon, full-size football pitch, golf course, tennis court and helipad. The grounds were planted with 1,000 cacti, olive and orange groves and 400 varieties of flowers.

Villa San Martino in Lombardy began as the home of the Berlusconi family, but became notorious for the Italian Prime Minister’s Bunga Bunga parties.

Palazzo Grazioli is a grand townhouse in the center of Rome filled with art

Villa Garnetto is Berlusconi’s country palace near the town of Lesmo in Lombardy.

The Italian Prime Minister owns Caribbean properties including Emerald Cove in Antigua

In 2009, when the tycoon was in his prime as Italy’s leader, it was also the scene of a scandal.

Photographs published in Spain – where he took legal action to prevent their appearance in Italy – showed not only topless women but a naked man by the pool, later identified as former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek.

Berlusconi tried to stop it with his usual firmness. His guests, he explained, were showering, adding: ‘Do you shower in a jacket and tie?’

With so many traits, it was inevitable that they featured frequently in his colorful life story. His first and perhaps most significant purchase was the Villa San Martino in Arcore, near Milan, which was his main residence for nearly 50 years.

But if his Sardinian mansion resembled a theme park, the villa he lived in with his first wife Carla was a family home, at least initially.

Bought with the proceeds of his investments in Italy’s construction boom in the 1960s – he built an entire Milan suburb from scratch – Berlusconi packed the 18th-century manor house with Renaissance paintings and other treasures.

The artworks were the backdrop to her family-friendly parties, where a star guest was a 17-year-old Moroccan-born dancer nicknamed ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’.

The basement is where he reportedly saw showgirls from his own TV channel offering pole dances and striptease dressed as nuns – events Berlusconi later described as ‘elegant soirees’.

Paragi Castle in Portofino is a 17th-century castle owned by Berlusconi that was once occupied by Napoleon’s troops.

One of Berlusconi’s two lakeside homes, Villa Bellinzaghi in Como will set you back £11m but your neighbor is George Clooney

Another frenzy was party-hosting at the Palazzo Grazioli, a grand townhouse in Rome with an impressive collection of art, including frescoes and antiques, and where he liked to fly the Italian tricolor from the first-floor balcony.

Behind closed windows, Berlusconi entertained a prostitute who later reported: ‘I thought I saw a few things but I’ve never seen 20 women for one man.’

Boasting her ‘Guinness Book of Records’ stamina, he claimed she kept him up until 8am, keeping her energy up with a ‘disgustingly sweet’ herbal tea.

Villa Borletti, the headquarters of Berlusconi’s holding company in Milan, was also the site of a secret meeting with actress Veronica Lario, who became his second wife, when she saw him perform topless in a theater production.

By then his property empire was growing. In the seventies and eighties he bought four mansions in Lombardy, including the massive 147-room Villa San Martino. Next, the fabulous villa on the Italian lake Campari, bought from the famous fortified wine family.

He paid £11 million for another waterfront home, Villa Bellinzaghi, which overlooks Lake Como and comes with a marble banqueting room.

Abroad, he had homes in Cannes, France, Antigua, Barbuda and Bermuda. Her most modest purchase? A house called The Two Palms on the island of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost point.

Amazingly, he bought the derelict property with white-washed walls the day he promised the locals that he would rid the island of thousands of refugees who had landed there from Africa.

But the future of The Two Palms is as uncertain as the rest of Berlusconi’s real-estate holdings, even if refugees remain to this day.

Will his five children sell them or divide them among themselves? He makes only one condition: Villa San Martino – the scene of the Bunga-Bunga party – must remain in family hands. With such a history it may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing.

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