Follow a British couple as they visit Brittany to try and find a holiday home for less than €90,000
Buyers: Angela and Pete are in their mid-50s and from West Yorkshire. Now that their two children have left home they have downsized and are looking for a holiday home where they can enjoy a warmer climate without having to get on a plane (as Pete hates flying).
Location: Brittany. Because they have a long drive down to the south coast to catch the ferry they don’t want a long journey on the other side, so they’d like a house in Côtes-d’Armor or Morbihan within 1h45 of St-Malo and well within three hours of Caen port. They love the sea, but are not really beach people and think their money will go further if they househunt inland.
Property wishlist: A traditional Breton cottage (ideally detached) with at least two bedrooms, a garden and parking space. Close to a village or perhaps in one. They don’t mind doing a bit of work but don’t want a major project.
DAY ONE: FRIDAY
All worries about whether I locked the front door have long vanished as we roll off the ferry at Caen. By the time the sun comes up we’re whizzing through the Normandy countryside towards Brittany. Normally we sail from Portsmouth to St-Malo when we go to France, but Thursday night crossings won’t start again until Easter. Anyway the drive from Caen only adds 90 minutes to our journey, even with a quick café crème in Villedieu-les-Poêles.
Skirting Mont St-Michel bay, crossing the Rance estuary and resisting the urge to stop in medieval Dinan we arrive, around 10am, at Rosaires beach, just beyond the department’s capital St-Brieuc. We’re not actually beach lovers (you won’t catch Pete in flip flops), but even if we buy a holiday home inland I’m sure we’ll often visit the coast and our kids won’t visit unless there’s sand within a short drive. La Grande Plage des Rosaires delivers. It’s a long sandy bay with tonnes of space and shallow waters that apparently turn turquoise on sunny days. There are a few places to eat and drink but it doesn’t look over-commercialised.
After a little potter we drive 15 minutes further on to the historic port of Binic. Now this is more our scene. Our daughter Emily came here on a school trip 10 years ago and took dozens of selfies by the marina, on the beaches and in the back streets crowded with little shops and seafood restaurants. We’re a day late for the quayside market and it’s a nippy February day, but even so I can see why this little seaside resort is nicknamed ‘the beauty spot of Côtes-d’Armor’.
At lunchtime, Pete somehow persuades me to have my first ever mussels and chips, pointing out it would be rude to ignore the moules-frites signs. I’m out of my comfort zone, but it’s surprisingly tasty especially when washed down with the local cidre, which is much nicer than the fizzy fermented apples I drank in my youth. Suitably refreshed, we head to our first property viewing.
We never dreamt our €90,000 would stretch to a characterful detached house and garden near the sea. Yet this traditional Breton longère, near Bringolo, seems to tick the boxes for well under budget at €82,125. Sure, we might change the decor, but I love the slate floor in the kitchen-diner, hallway and downstairs shower room and the oak boards in the cosy lounge. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms with exposed stone and beams. Through the double-glazed windows you can see beautiful countryside including half an acre of land that comes with the house. It feels very peaceful yet we’re only five minutes’ drive from two villages with amenities and only 20 minutes or so from Binic. Find out more about this property on lbvimmo.com
Our next property is a bit further inland, yet still only 35 minutes’ drive from Les Rosaires beach. At €88,000, it’s just under budget and I’m enchanted by the detached granite cottage with its new slate roof and honey-coloured wooden doors and windows. The interior is clean, fresh and beautifully laid out with two bathrooms, two double bedrooms plus a large landing which could take an extra bed if necessary. Pete starts dreaming of converting the old stone ruin out front while I imagine barbecues in the manageable-looking garden. The agent says a mixture of French and British families own the other homes in the hamlet. This property is no longer on the market but you can find similar ones on leggettfrance.com
Afterwards we drive 2km into the local village of Senven-Léhart, which has a bar and butchers, and on to St-Connan where there’s a lovely lake.
We’re told that Guingamp to the north is a charming riverside town with fabulous cobbled streets. But instead we’re heading south just over the border into Morbihan and the town of Josselin where we’re staying the night. We break up the 1h10 drive with a detour to Lac de Guerlédan, Brittany’s biggest inland lake. Today it’s almost deserted (though the cosy café is quite busy) but we can see that come the summer it will be full of families swimming, kayaking, cycling and picnicking in the sunshine.
It’s dark by the time we arrive in Josselin, gasping in admiration at the illuminated riverside château that stands guard over the town. We check into the 14 St-Michel, an elegant B&B and, after dinner at the cosy Pizzeria du Château, we’re soon fast asleep.
DAY TWO: SATURDAY
We had talked about going for a long walk along the River Oust this morning to burn off our pains au chocolats. But Pete has a better idea: climbing the basilica bell tower. My heart is thundering when we reach the top of the stone spiral staircase and look out over the gorgeous little town with its colourful timber-framed buildings. By the time we get down, the Saturday market is in full swing. We hungrily snap up some bread and cheese (some beetroot-flavoured Comté!) and pop into Espace Zen, the workshop of a sculptor whose adorable clay, lime and stone figures are dotted all over Josselin, peering down at folk from window ledges and alcoves.
Our first property viewing is at 11am near a village called La Croix-Helléan a few minutes’ drive east of Josselin. Priced at €87,330, it’s a handsome large Breton house with white rendered walls, granite surrounds and a new slate roof set in 1,790m² of garden with a large separate piece of woodland nearby. I’m surprised by how peaceful and rural it feels, given that we’re close to a dual carriageway, but I suppose the roads in France are much quieter. A fitted kitchen, shower room and two bedrooms are in place but the interior needs quite a lot of work to bring it up to date. If you converted the huge cellar and attic, it could be a superb holiday home, but I’m not sure we have the time and energy for that. Find out more about this property on affordablefrance.co.uk
Back on the road, we continue 10km east to Ploërmel which, we discover, is a bigger, more functional kind of town than Josselin with a large retail park. We’ve come to see the lake, Lac au Duc, which is a lovely spot with a sandy beach, canoe centre, café, playground and cycle path. Wrapping up warm, we find a picnic table near the waterside and wolf down our bread and cheese before warming up with a speciality tisane at Le Hangar, a cavernous old locomotive shed beautifully converted into a biscuiterie, tea room and gift shop.
Our last viewing of the day is half an hour north of Josselin at Ménéac close to the Côtes d’Armor border. We’ve noticed that this area of central Brittany has quite a few properties within our budget. There are bargains galore in central-west Brittany too, around Rostrenen, but the patch we’ve chosen is particularly handy for the St-Malo ferry.
Recently reduced to €84,500, the house is semi-detached yet screened from the neighbouring property with trees in its big garden. I love the open-plan living area with its huge fireplace and corner kitchen and the fact that there is a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. The dining space is modest but most of the time it will just be Pete and me and in summer we’ll hopefully eat on the patio. Upstairs there’s a modern shower room and another two bedrooms, one of which has a mezzanine too. Again I think we would update some of the rooms but it doesn’t look as though anything needs doing urgently. Find out more about this property on ahouseinbrittany.com
After the viewing, we take a stroll around Ménéac, a decent-sized village with a choice of places to eat, drink and shop and I’m pleased to say I can really picture myself queuing up at the local boulangerie.
Although it’s tempting to cram in lots of property viewings, I’m glad we’ve allowed time on this trip to wander a bit aimlessly and discover new places. We’re full of excitement and enthusiasm about our future in France as we drive back to Caen. Here we’ll stay the night before catching the Sunday morning ferry to Portsmouth, giving us plenty of time to get back to Leeds for work on Monday morning. I just hope I locked the front door.
Angela and Pete are a fictional couple and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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