How do you decide which area is right for you when you’re househunting in a country as large and diverse as France? Nadia Jordan shares her top tips
France is a large and varied country, so how do you choose exactly where to buy a house? There seems an impossible number of options and the difficulty is how to narrow these down without simply putting a pin in a map.
I would start by making sure all the background basics are in place from which you can narrow and then further refine your search.
1. The city
Even if you are looking for a country property, it makes a lot of sense to be within striking distance of a decent-sized city that has a major airport with international carriers, rather than rely on regional airports and low-cost routes which change frequently. Toulouse is the capital of the Midi-Pyrénées and one of the fastest growing cities in France. It is very dynamic and underpinned by the aero-industry (with Airbus as its main player), high-tech industry and the healthcare sector ? it is home to the new ‘Oncopole’, the largest specialist cancer hospital in Europe.
It has a large and growing international airport with flights departing for worldwide destinations, plus there is also has a very efficient railway system with lines to Bordeaux and Paris, as well as to the south and Spain. Moreover, Toulouse is both a vibrant student city, with one of the best universities in France, and also a sophisticated and elegant metropolis full of world-renowned museums, galleries and theatres.
In fact, there is something for everyone here and I would suggest that it makes sense to be within an hour of a similar-sized city for anyone looking to buy a property in France.
If you are looking for space and an unspoilt environment then, again, you are spoilt for choice in France. If you want flat, open spaces and châteaux, you will find them in the Loire Valley, whereas if you love mountains and chalets then the Alps are the place for you. Here in the Midi-Pyrénées region, however, we have a bit of everything, with some of the most varied countryside and most beautiful scenery in France. In addition, there is the backdrop of the snow-capped Pyrénées mountains for ever-changing views all year round.
There are seven different climates in France so it makes sense to decide what sort of weather you prefer before you pinpoint a particular area. If you like it desert-hot then the Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon are for you (beware the Mistral and the Tramontane winds though) and if you like it cooler and damper then the regions north of the Loire will suit you better.
Here in the Midi-Pyrénées it is a mixture of both, and the region enjoys 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. There are long, hot summers; short, cold winters, and mild, sunny autumns, while spring rains ensure the lushness and beauty of the countryside and keep the farmers and gardeners happy.
4. Sports and activities
Most people want to continue with their sports and hobbies when they come to France, whether to live permanently or while on holiday. Sports and activities are also the perfect way to meet local people and become involved in the community. Certainly in the Midi-Pyrénées there is almost every conceivable sport available.
What is more, there are no elitist sports here, which means that things like tennis and golf are open to everyone from all backgrounds, at whatever level and without the huge membership fees often applicable in other countries. Plus, new members are welcomed with open arms.
Skiing and winter sports are, of course, a big draw in this region too, particularly in the Ariège and Haute-Garonne departments where a number of ski resorts can be reached within an hour from most areas. Skiing in the Pyrénées is hugely varied with 38 resorts offering slopes for every level of skier, but at a fraction of the cost of most Alpine resorts.
5. Business and work opportunities
Do your research. For example, many areas of France are saturated with incomers trying to make a business by running gîtes or chambres d’hôtes. There are, however, large pockets of Midi-Pyrénées where there is a real shortage of quality holiday accommodation, particularly in Ariège and parts of Haute-Garonne. Generating an income will be much easier if you are filling a required business need.
6. Year-round communities
You are never very far from a boulangerie in France but access to local services and amenities is also likely to be important. And yet in many parts of France where tourism is the main industry, some towns and villages can be closed up for much of the year. Haute-Garonne and Ariège, however, are departments where people live and work all year round and, as such, have a wealth of lovely market towns and villages to choose from where you can really become part of the community and mix with local people, rather than just other tourists and expats.
You might like the idea of a Provençal mas, a villa on the Côte d’Azur or a Parisian townhouse, but if your budget does not stretch to the prices of those areas then you are going to be disappointed. In the Midi-Pyrénées region we are lucky that there is a huge variety and style of houses available to suit all budgets, from renovation projects to ski apartments, farmhouses, manoirs and châteaux. It is rare that I turn down a client search for lack of budget, as long as their expectations are realistic.
Once all these elements have been taken into consideration, you can start narrowing your search to tighter parameters, such as being close to a lake, within 10 minutes of a market town with facilities, close to a good restaurant or a property with a mountain view.
From here, you can then further narrow down your choice to particular towns, villages or ski resorts, or to places close to walking and cycling trails and then to the specifics of the type of house, such as the size, the amount of land and how much work, if any, you are prepared to undertake.
Do not rush the search stage – it is this groundwork that is most important and a big part of my job. Equally, do not get too tied up in the details because, certainly if you end up in the Midi-Pyrénées region, I am pretty sure that you will find not just your perfect property but also your coin de paradis.
Nadia Jordan runs Foothills of France, a property search service in the Midi-Pyrénées, and is a licensed search agent
Tel: 0033 (0)6 45 23 62 48