Inside Silvio Berlusconi's £4billion property empire

Bunga Bunga Towers and a villa with a fake volcano: Just two of the 14 homes Silvio Berlusconi left in his £4billion property empire

  • Villa Certosa was said to be billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s favourite property
  • He was as famous for his ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties as for being prime minister 

For those with a love of flamboyance and £220million to spare, it would make a magnificent – if somewhat tacky – home. 

Villa Certosa boasts just about every vulgar accoutrement required to satisfy the most demanding superstar, status-conscious Russian billionaire or even aspiring James Bond villain in search of an improbable lair.

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

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

Even the most conservative assessment estimates the worth of Berlusconi’s property empire at £4billion. And best-loved was the Villa Certosa, a sprawling 26,000 sq ft pile of 68 rooms set on a 170-acre estate in Sardinia which he bought in the 1970s.

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

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

Villa Certosa boasts just about every vulgar accoutrement required to satisfy the most demanding superstar, status-conscious Russian billionaire or even aspiring James Bond villain in search of an improbable lair

Italian Premier’s villa ‘Villa Certosa’, Porto Rotondo, near Olbia, Sardinia, Italy is home to this Amphitheatre complex

It was there he liked to take his most important guests and show off. When Tony and Cherie Blair visited in 2004, he put on a £50,000 firework display that culminated in rockets spelling out ‘Viva Tony’ in the Mediterranean sky. (The trip was chiefly remembered for Blair being desperate not to be photographed next to Berlusconi, whose floral bandana covered a new hair transplant.)

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

Guests who preferred discretion could arrive via a secret tunnel hollowed out of a cave where they could disembark from their boats beyond the gaze of the paparazzi. 

A monument to ostentation, quite apart from its 25 bedrooms, five swimming pools and 300-seater faux ancient Greek amphitheatre, the villa stuns any visitors with a mock volcano in its grounds, which at the flick of a switch emits the sound of eruption and sends fake lava cascading out of its cone.

When the switch was turned on for the first time, so realistic was the belch of the pretend flames and the roar of artificial tremors, that the fire brigade appeared.

Money was no object. Along with the five pools there was a man-made lagoon, full-size football pitch, golf course, tennis courts 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 Berlusconi family home, but became infamous for the Italian Prime Minister’s Bunga Bunga parties

Palazzo Grazioli is a massive townhouse in the centre of Rome filled with art

The Villa Gernetto is Berlusconi’s rural palace located near the town of Lesmo in Lombardy

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

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

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

Berlusconi attempted to brush it off with his usual brashness. His guests, he explained, were taking a shower, adding: ‘Do you take a shower in jacket and tie?’

With so many properties, it was inevitable that they featured so often in his colourful life story. His first and perhaps most significant purchase was the Villa San Martino in Arcore, near Milan, and which was his principal residence for almost 50 years. 

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

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

The artworks were the backdrop to his not so 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 is said to have watched showgirls from his own TV channels offering pole dances and stripteases dressed as nuns – occasions Berlusconi later described as ‘elegant soirees’.

Paraggi Castle in Portofino is a 17th Century fort owned by Berlusconi which was once occupied by Napoleon’s troops

One of Berlusconi’s two lakeside homes, Villa Belinzaghi in Como will set you back £11million but your neighbour is George Clooney

There was another frenetic bout of party-hosting at the Palazzo Grazioli, a huge townhouse in Rome with an impressive collection of art including frescoes and antiques, and where he liked to fly the Italian tricolour from a first floor balcony.

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

READ MORE: Italy’s scandal-hit former PM Silvio Berlusconi dead at 86: Billionaire tycoon famed for notorious ‘Bunga Bunga’ sex parties dies after leukaemia battle 

Complimenting his ‘Guinness Book Of Records’ stamina, she claimed he kept her up until 8am, maintaining his strength with a ‘disgustingly sweet’ herbal tea. 

Villa Borletti, headquarters of Berlusconi’s holding company in Milan, was also the location of his clandestine meetings with the actress Veronica Lario who became his second wife, after he saw her perform topless in a theatre production.

By then his property empire was growing. During the Seventies and Eighties he bought four mansions in Lombardy, including the colossal 147-room Villa San Martino. Next, the fabulous Villa Campari in the Italian lakes, bought from the eponymous fortified wine family.

He paid £11million on another waterside home, Villa Belinzaghi, that overlooks Lake Como and comes with a marble banqueting room.

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

Bizarrely, he bought the understated property with white-washed walls on the same day he promised locals he would rid the island of the thousands of refugees who had landed there from Africa.

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

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

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