European property deals in 2011 will likely near 140 billion euros (122.3 billion pounds) in total value, the highest since 2008, driven up by a string of big-ticket shopping centre deals against a bleak economic backcloth, research showed.

Real Capital Analytics said transaction volumes in the nine months to end-September totalled 95 billion euros, up 21 percent on the year-earlier same period, and dominated by deals in the German and Central European markets.

This core European strength helped to offset the UK's weak regional markets compensate for the continued low levels of transactions occurring in peripheral countries, notably Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece, RCA said in a research note.

For the full year, investment volumes are likely to surpass 2010 levels and encroach on 2008 market activity, RCA said.

European property transactions totalled 120.1 billion euros last year, 82 billion euros in 2009, and 142.8 billion euros in 2008, RCA said. Third-quarter transactions hit 32.1 billion euros, their highest level since the same period in 2008.

The prime retail sector in Europe continued to attract capital in (the) third quarter, RCA said, noting this was driven by demand for high-value shopping centre transactions.

These included Westfield Group selling a 50 percent stake in its Westfield Stratford City mall to Canadian Pension Plan and Dutch asset manager APG. RCA said the deal valued the mall at a total of 1.9 billion euros.

It was followed by two other chunky mall deals, notably the 360 million euros Skyline Plaza Shopping & Leisure transaction in Frankfurt, and the 277 million euros Galeria Mokotow transaction in Warsaw, Poland.

In the nine months to end-September, 75 billion euros of commercial property was transacted, including 36.2 billion of offices, 31 billion of retail, and 7.8 billion of industrial, RCA said.

Retail has held up surprisingly well, said Alan Patterson, head of European research and strategy at Axa Real Estate.

It's been led by a thin strip of dominant shopping centres at the top end of the market. Concerns about the economy and people's disposable income may mean that tails off, Patterson told Reuters in an interview.

There was an emerging appetite for risk earlier this year but you are seeing a flight back to the prime end of the market now, said Patterson. Capital preservation is the name of the game.

On November 1, property consultant DTZ said London's City financial district and Prague, in Czech Republic, offered the best defensive plays for property investors seeking to safeguard total returns if the pan European sector was dragged into a second recession by the euro zone debt crisis.

(Reporting by Tom Bill and Andrew Macdonald; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)