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Buying in France Part Three

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  • Buying in France Part Three


    To the French, Limousin is the place God forgot, the countryside at its most rural and remote. The farmhouses can be splendid — vast affairs with high-pitched roofs — and the scenery (because of the area’s high rainfall) is reminiscent of Sussex in the north and Devon in the south.
    Limousin is cattle-raising country and still the cheapest region in France — but prices are set to rise, thanks to an extension of the A89 from Bordeaux and the A20 from Paris, plus a new airport near Brive. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in people buying in the region, partly due to the arrival of low-cost airlines,” says David Frere-Smith, from French Property Links.

    Village houses needing work start at about £18,000. A four-bedroom farmhouse with land will cost about £83,000.

    This vast region stretches from the Spanish border all the way to Limousin. Its capital, Toulouse, has everything you would expect from a leading French metropolis: theatres, great restaurants, cinemas, an international airport and even an Ikea. An added bonus is its range of Asian restaurants, something Brits in France often miss.

    The second city is Cahors, a pretty, medieval place surrounded by attractive countryside. The land here is mainly agricultural — lots of fields with vast hay bales, swathes of sunflowers and stunning views — and the cuisine tends to be heavy: foie gras, cassoulet and Roquefort cheese.

    Midi-Pyrénées is a rich region historically, its landscape dotted with ancient villages, castles and Romanesque churches. The new Millau viaduct, connecting the motorway from Paris to Barcelona in Spain, at the point where it is interrupted by the River Tarn, is worth at least a visit. The view from the bridge south is one of the most spectacular in France.

    Property is still relatively cheap in this region, and you can find real bargains in rural areas. Carl Schofield, of Vialex International, says prices are stabilising after a 34% increase over the past three years. “There is an excellent selection of properties on the market, renovated to better standards than before and at reasonable prices,” he says. “I predict an increase of up to 5% in 2005.”

    For about £200,000, you can buy a five-bedroom stone farmhouse with some land and a pool. But you may not get to use the pool much — snow in the winter is not uncommon. The Midi-Pyrénées will suit people who like driving, as the distances between towns are vast. And plane-spotters: Toulouse is home to Airbus.

    Pays de la Loire
    Nantes, the capital, is consistently voted the best place to live in France by the French media. Close to the sea, it is dynamic and popular with culture vultures because of its many theatre companies. Angers, gateway to the Loire Valley, is a pretty town where you can sit at a bar in a cobbled street and simply watch the world go by.
    The Mayenne, one of the region’s five départements, has more chateaus per square mile than Paris, but it is not the most welcoming place — some Brits living there say they feel discriminated against. The Vendée, with 100 miles of sandy beaches, is the most visited place in France by the French after Provence. Property prices vary: the Mayenne is cheap, but the coast is expensive. “On the coast, a four-bedroom farmhouse will cost you about £
    140,000,” says John Evans, of Eclipse Overseas. “Inland, you’re looking at closer to £105,000. Anything that is good-quality is selling very quickly at the moment. There is a lot of demand.”

    The Pays de la Loire as a whole has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, which calls it a “cultural landscape of exceptional beauty”. The climate is a bit like Dorset’s, muggy and rainy, but much warmer. Go here if you want somewhere different. Which area you pick will depend on what kind of character you are. In cosmopolitan La Baule, you can rub shoulders with glamorous Parisians. In the Mayenne, you’re more likely to rub shoulders with livestock.


    This will not suit those of you moving abroad to get away from Brits — it is crawling with them, but with good reason. The climate is fabulous, the mixture of mountains and sea is stunning, the light is unrivalled and the nightlife is wild. The downside is that it will take you hours to get to the beach in the summer, and parts of it have become horribly built-up. Prices are also pretty steep. And if you’re looking for your dream house on the beach at Cap d’Antibes, think again. “It doesn’t exist,” says Emile Garcin’s Bruno Taxy. For just over £1.3m, you can buy a four-bed fisherman’s cottage close to the beach at St Tropez. Bruno concedes that properties on the Riviera are often overpriced. A similar property in Lubéron, a mountainous region in western Provence, would be half as much. The region’s capital is Marseilles, France’s oldest city. The area around the old port is lovely and the cobbled back streets are worth exploring, but it’s a pretty unromantic place, trying to live down its reputation as the drug capital of France. Aix-en-Provence is a better bet if you’re after urban living. Nice and Cannes have little to recommend them beyond shops and the beach. St Tropez is more charming, but with prices to match.

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