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Exploring the Midi-Pyrénées

PUBLISHED: 17:15 30 November 2012

Les Allées d'Etigny: a typical French street

Les Allées d'Etigny: a typical French street

Nadia Jordan

Whether you're looking to make a permanent move or find the perfect holiday home, you're sure to find it in beautiful Midi-Pyrénées, says Nadia Jordan

When looking to buy a house, most of us start the process with our heads and finish with our hearts. Luckily, in this part of France, it doesn’t matter which you use; you can safely buy a house here with your heart or your head because it is both a sensible place to invest in property and a wonderful place to live or come on holiday.

Ariège, Haute-Garonne and southern Gers stretch south between Toulouse and the Pyrénées to make up one of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of France, and yet this area still has some of the best-value property you will find. Moreover, the huge range and varied styles of the houses here mean that there really is something for everyone, from grand châteaux to village houses and ruined barns, which means that your property dreams are much more likely to come true in this region.

Of course, different parts of the region have different property markets and corresponding styles and prices. For example, the closer you get to Toulouse, the more expensive the property. Many Toulousains own smart weekend houses 30-40 minutes south of Toulouse and there is also an increasing demand for houses within commutable distance of the vibrant city.

That said, it is still possible to find a large stone house with a big garden within an hour of the city for around €300,000. As you go further into the countryside, the range of properties increases in almost direct proportion to the decrease in prices and there are still plenty of farmhouses and village houses available for around €200,000. Here is a guide to the most sought-after towns and villages in each area and the average prices:

ARIEGE

Although much of Ariège is within an hour of Toulouse, this department still has some of the best value property in southern France, with prices slightly higher around St-Croix-Volvestre, Carla-Bayle, Betchat, St-Lizier, le Mas-d’Azil and Foix where there is easier access to Toulouse, and slightly lower towards the mountains around St-Girons, Oust and Massat, Castillon-en-Couserans and Seix, near the ski resort of Guzet Neige.

As far as house prices are concerned, the Ariège department, which historically has had a very stable (and incredibly good value) property market, is seeing a gradual rise in prices. In 2010, it recorded one of the largest property price increases in France with values continuing to climb since then, albeit at a slower rate, according to Notaires de France.

This just goes to show that yesterday’s backwater is tomorrow’s hotspot and, while property here is still very affordable, it will not always necessarily remain so. For now though property is still extremely good value, particularly for old farms with outbuildings or mountain hideaways, both of which are generally high on the wishlist of people looking for homes in the area.

The average price of an old stone, three-bedroom house in Ariège is €125,000, compared with the average price in the Midi-Pyrénées region as a whole which is €193,000.

It is still also possible – and this will undoubtedly change here as it has done in the Alps – to find a wooden shepherd’s hut in the mountains, minutes from the ski slopes with stunning views and on a sizeable plot for around €50,000-€100,000.

Many of these are now being snapped up and turned into luxury ski chalets, but that dream of owning a chalet or mountain retreat is still achievable in Ariège at the moment.

There is also no shortage of land in the region and lots of opportunities for living the good life or setting up a new business. Interestingly, Ariège must be one of the last few remaining areas of France where there is actually a shortage of holiday-letting accommodation, particularly close to St-Girons and the mountains.

HAUTE-GARONNE

The Haute-Garonne department is home to both the bustling metropolis of Toulouse and a rural backdrop of undulating hills and valleys. Places to live that are particularly sought after are the pretty market towns of Aurignac, Aspet, Salies-du-Salat, Arbas and Montesquieu-Volvestre as well as the villages around the spectacular historical town of St-Bertrand-de-Comminges, and the lovely spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon with its ski resort, Superbagnères.

The capital of Haute-Garonne and the Midi-Pyrénées region is Toulouse, and the Haute-Garonne department has seen a substantial increase in property prices over the last few years led by Toulouse, one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe, where property is hugely in demand.

In 2011, property prices continued to rise at over 5% on average throughout the region. Head south and west of Toulouse, however, and prices begin to fall so this is a great place to look for good-value, beautiful properties, often with land, outbuildings and mountain views, but still within easy access of the city.

This is an ideal region for foreign buyers, whether you are looking to live permanently and work in Toulouse, bring up family and make the most of the excellent local and international schools, retire in a region full of lively communities or run a gîte or bed and breakfast business. Everything is possible and stunning landscapes come as standard.

The average price of an old, three-bedroom stone house in Haute-Garonne is €251,500, compared with that Midi-Pyrénées regional figure of €193,000. However, this is skewed by the higher property prices that you will find in the central parts of Toulouse.

GERS

Gers is one of the least populated departments in France and, as a result, property prices have remained stable and very affordable. Moreover, this is a part of France that is known for its beautiful stone houses in traditional French style and its pretty bastide villages. The southern part of Gers offers good value for money as well as being less developed than the northern part of the region.

The average price of an old, three-bedroom stone house in southern Gers is €154,500 compared with the regional average of €193,000. Indeed, it is in this area that I am finding the best deals for my clients right now.

There is also a huge variety of property styles, from beautiful châteaux to pretty village houses. Gers has a very high number of châteaux. Early examples were primarily defensive while later examples, from the 16th century onwards, were built more for comfort and as a sign of wealth. Many of these châteaux change hands here for a fraction of the price of those in other parts of France so, here at least, making your home your castle really is possible.

TRANSPORT LINKS

Toulouse International Airport is just outside the city to the west and receives direct flights from the UK and worldwide, making it the easiest entry point for Haute-Garonne, Ariège and Gers.

British Airways flies to Toulouse from Heathrow four times a day, while easyJet runs services from London Gatwick and Bristol. CityJet flies direct from London City Airport to Pau and Jet2 flies from Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh to Toulouse. For Ryanair, Tarbes airport is about 60-90 minutes from the region and Carcassonne is within a two-hour journey. Air France, meanwhile, goes all over the world from Toulouse, and has also just launched a low-cost operation from the airport which is proving very popular.

There are many train services to Toulouse and by 2020 there will be a TGV line from Toulouse to Paris, bringing the capital to within three hours by train.

Nadia Jordan runs Foothills of France, a property search agency based in the Ariège, Haute-Garonne and southern Gers

www.foothillsoffrance.com

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