Versace villa sale sparks buyer frenzy

The firm auctioning off slain fashion mogul Gianni Versace's former villa claim the luxury Florida property has sparked a frenzy among potential foreign buyers.

Versace villa sale sparks buyer frenzy
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was murdered at his home in Florida in 1997. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP

The Casa Casuarina failed to find a buyer when it was on the market last year, but the owners hope the buzz generated by an auction will convince someone to part with more than $40 million (€30.2 million).

"We have been contacted by a bunch of international buyers, from Russia and a lot from South America," Adam Marshall, a lawyer at a firm that represents the latest owners said.

The palatial mansion, complete with marble and mosaics, is situated in South Beach, just a stone's throw from the ocean.

It was here, on the doorstep, that Versace, 50, was shot dead in July 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan.

In the wake of the murder, the Italian fashion designer's family put the property up for sale and it subsequently changed hands in 2000 for $19 million (€14.3 million).

Most recently, the villa had served as a boutique hotel.

For now, the upcoming sale remains shrouded in mystery and it appears unlikely the press will be able to witness the September 17th bidding process.

"We can't reveal their identities for the moment," said Marshall of those interested.

"No one wants to make public their names when we are asking a $3 million (€2.27 million) deposit and to show wherewithal to pay $40 million (€30.2 million)."

"Casa Casuarina is the Mona Lisa of real estate in South Florida," said Coldwell Banker realtor Jill Eber, who gave reporters a tour of the property on Tuesday.

Eber highlighted – among other things – a swimming pool lined with 24-karat gold and palm trees that provide both shade and privacy from prying paparazzi.

"It's a unique property because there is nothing more iconic than this villa," she said.

"You can see, you can feel Versace's vision, Versace's soul everywhere,"

Eber added. "He's everywhere here. Versace lived and owned it and designed all you can see in this property."

Casa Casuarina boasts 10 bedrooms and 11 baths, mosaic flooring and an array of frescoes and murals custom-made for Versace.

Two rooftop terraces boast spectacular views of the beach and an observatory has everything one needs for an evening of star-gazing – cushions, armchairs and a bar.

Other luxury features include gold-plated bathroom fixtures and an open-air courtyard.

A suite once occupied by the designer himself contains a king size bed, as well as a huge bathroom, a walk-in closet and even a small terrace overlooking the sea.

The Mediterranean mansion was built in 1930 by architect and philanthropist Alden Freeman in tribute to a house built in the Dominican Republic in 1510 by Diego Columbus, the son of explorer Christopher Columbus.

Seven years later, in 1937, the house was sold to Jacques Amsterdam, who called it "The Amsterdam Palace."

It was in 1992 that Versace bought the property for $2.9 million (€2.19 million), in addition to the empty Revere Hotel next door. He spent $33 million  (0€24.9 million) on renovations.

The villa went on sale more than a year ago for $125 million (€94.6 million) but, in the absence of buyers, the asking price dropped to $75 million (€56.7 million) several months ago.

Potential buyers have until September 12th to make a deposit and prove they meet the requirements to make an offer.

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Italy bakes world’s biggest Christmas cake panettone

Forget mistletoe, Christmas is not Christmas in Italy without a slice of panettone -- and festivities kicked off in Milan on Sunday with free slices of the biggest Italian candied cake in the world.

Italy bakes world's biggest Christmas cake panettone
The giant panettone cake at the Victor Emmanuel II shopping gallery. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Weighing in at 140 kilogrammes (308 pounds), the two-metre (over six foot) high marvel was sliced up into 1,200 pieces for sweet-toothed tourists and locals at the Victor Emmanuel II shopping gallery near the city's Gothic cathedral.

“Panettone is the Christmas dessert par excellence. Fashions may change, but panettone remains an unshakable tradition,” Angelo Bernasconi, owner of the San Gregorio patisserie behind the giant dome-shaped delight, told AFP.

The Milanese factory makes the traditional cake with its candied fruits and raisins not just for Italy but around the world, with some 200 of the golden buns headed to a New York caterer alone each week.

In the run-up to Christmas “we never stop,” says Bernasconi's partner Savino Moretti, who is retired but comes twice a week to pass on his 50 years of experience to the pastry team.

The pair, aged 67 and 68, say the secret to their success lies in the mother dough, which they inherited along with the shop from the master baker, who made it — so legend has it — by adding a dash of horse urine to the mix for acidity.

It takes 36 hours to turn out a panettone, with raisins and candied peel added to the mix of water, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and vanilla. Once baked, the cakes are hung upside down for 10 hours to allow the butter to drop.

The giant version had to be cooked in a special oven and was baked “a lot longer and more slowly,” Bernasconi says.

“It tastes good, but a little different from usual. It's a little dry, otherwise it would collapse,” he added.

According to the Italian agricultural association Coldiretti, three quarters of Italians will have a slice of panettone at some point over the Christmas holidays — perhaps with a dollop of mascarpone cream or washed down with a sweet liqueur.

By Céline Cornu