High and mighty
My field of business is exclusively new-build French property in the south-west of France. To offer the very best money can buy in new-build, I visit the area several times a year to hand pick every property I choose to sell, keep a close eye on development progress, maintain a close relationship with my partners in property development, and to bring clients for property visits. For this reason I have got to know Pyren�es-Atlantiques with an all-season insight complementing the summer family holiday experience.
As indicated by its name, Pyr�n�es-Atlantiques nestles between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyr�n�es at the south-western corner of France. This department is part of the Aquitaine region and is, despite its small size, a world in itself; a big country in terms of diversity of landscapes, activities and lifestyles, with a unique cultural identity. The department is a very sought-after destination in France and sometimes goes by the shortened name of Pays Basque.
The department boasts a magnificent coastline with family-friendly beaches in Hendaye or St-Jean-de-Luz, or the sporty beaches of Bidart and Anglet, which are renowned surfing paradises. You can enjoy the coastline in a more leisurely fashion by taking a stroll along the Sentier du Littoral, the coastal path that connects Bidart to Hendaye and offers dramatic views of the Atlantic.
The coast shelters villages such as Bidart, Gu�thary and Ciboure, which are picturesque without being purpose-built tourist villages, as well as cities like trendy Biarritz or the smaller and deliberately old-fashioned St-Jean-de-Luz. The longest and widest beaches are located in Anglet where there are no less than 11 plages.
There, just 3km from the ocean in a beautiful and almost completed development, with a vast landscaped garden and stylish Basque architecture, a top-floor two-bedroom flat of 66m� with parking and 10m� terrace is for sale at €261,000, a value-for-money investment for this very sought-after area.
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The Basque Country boasts not only a dramatic coastline but also interesting countryside with as many as seven golf courses offering great views of the ocean or Pyr�n�es. You will also find picturesque scenery with stunning views of the Pyr�n�es and their gentle foothills, and charming little villages: Sare, Espelette (renowned for its dried red peppers), Itsassou, Ainhoa, Biriatou, to name but a few, all with traditional Basque architecture. Part of the charm of the Pays Basque is the architecture: immaculate white houses, with woodwork painted a dark green or dark red colour, and sloping roofs with Roman tiles. The soil is fertile and well-watered thanks to the proximity of the mountains, thus offering a rich emerald-green and gold landscape of meadows and maize fields, even in the hottest of summers.
If you could see yourself living here, a newly built three-bedroom house with a small garden in a development of village houses near the village of St- P�e-sur-Nivelle, with nice views of the Pyr�n�es, will cost you €280,000. There are two golf courses in the vicinity: Golf de Chantaco (12km) and Golf de La Nivelle (16km) and the St-Jean-de-Luz bay is just 15km away.
If you want to be even closer to golf, just 3km from Biarritz is the village of Bassussarry, which has all amenities as well as offering a choice between Bassussarry and Arcangues golf courses. Here, a budget of €175,000 will buy you a one-bedroom apartment in a new-build development featuring typical Basque architecture and set in large landscaped gardens. A three-bedroom/90m� apartment on the top floor with a terrace would start at €298,000.
The great Pyr�n�es
Being at the foot of the Pyr�n�es range, the department also boasts many outdoor activities. Just 60km from Pau, the ski resorts of La-Pierre-St-Martin, Gourette and Artouste offer miles of ski slopes, as well as snow-shoeing in winter and hiking, climbing, rafting, canoeing, kayaking or simply fishing in summer. For those who prefer a less sporty approach, there are stunning views of both ocean and peaks from La Rhune mountain or visit St-Jean-Pied-de-Port with its Vauban-built citadel and narrow streets.
For an urban outing, you have a choice of some very different towns. Biarritz is the best known of the Basque towns, with beautiful belle �poque architecture, chic boutiques, tea salons and trendy restaurants. Its neighbour, Anglet, offers a more relaxed lifestyle, with its many beaches, two golf courses (Chiberta and Golf de L’Imp�ratrice) and the vast pine forest, the Foret du Pignada.
St-Jean-de-Luz has a wide and sheltered bay with a long sandy beach fringed by traditional Basque houses, with the beautiful scenery of the Pyr�n�es as a backdrop. Inland, Bayonne is a town with strong cultural identity. The majestic architecture, inherited from a rich history, is of course part of the charm. The classic 18th-century buildings on the quays are reminiscent of Bordeaux, while the ramparts, watchtower, Ch�teau Vieux, Ch�teau Neuf and the citadel are a reminder of the town’s military past.
As the number of golf courses might suggest, the weather is sunny and summers are warm (an average of 25�C with peaks up to 30�C), and the water temperature averages 22�C in summer. When clouds coming in from the Atlantic get hooked by the Pyr�n�es, there might be substantial rain, but it doesn’t last long since the Atlantic climate is changeable, and a rainy morning is often followed by a sunny afternoon.
This explains the lush, if not exactly tropical, vegetation. The winter climate is mild on the coast but more extreme as the altitude rises in the Pyr�n�es.
Part of the charm of the region is its joyful lifestyle and great gastronomy. If Basque people are hard workers, they are also renowned merrymakers. The regional identity is a mixture of influences: the Spanish flavour can be found in the tapas tradition and the festive spirit; the French south-west culture is to be found in rugby, gastronomy and the local accent; the strong Basque identity is kept alive through traditions such as ‘pelote basque’ (a game played with a raquet and ball) or the Bayonne summer festival.
Basque cuisine is as varied as the territory it comes from, be it from the sea or the land. There is a strong tradition of fishing dating back to the 19th century, when Basque fishermen used to sail to Newfoundland to catch whale and cod. Try merlu � l’espagnole, a white fish baked in the oven and served with grilled garlic in a vinegar sauce, or sea bass or gilt-head, simply grilled a la plancha (meaning grilled on a metallic plate), or crab soup called txanguro.
Inland, the food is not as light as the seafood but is by no means less tasty! You seriously cannot leave Pays Basque without sampling a txuleta – a grilled steak on the bone. One of the renowned specialities of Basque country is, of course, the Espelette pepper, which features in many recipes. For those with a sweet tooth, the g�teau basque has a delightful almond filling, while mamia is a dessert made from ewe’s milk curd. To drink, Basque cider is unique, slightly acid and very different from the cider of Brittany.
There are a lot of good restaurants in Pays Basque, from gastronomic to simple beach places – but they all take their job seriously!
The property market
The population is on the up. In the Bayonne area, it has grown by 7.6% from 1999 to 2010 and Aquitaine in general is the fourth largest French region in terms of demographic growth. The population is expected to grow by 23% until 2040 if the trend continues. This growth relies on a rich and diverse economy made up of tourism and services, agriculture, cattle and fishing, industry and a good transport network, including the international airports of Bordeaux, Biarritz and Pau.
The new-build property sector is closely supervised by the local authorities who, under pressure from their voters, want to keep property accessible to local people. They therefore try to resist speculation on land price, which is not the case in other parts of coastal France. Nevertheless, places like Biarritz, with an average of about €6,500m�, are not for all purses, but if you have €459,000 to spare you could be enjoying a vast two-bedroom apartment of 73m� with a balcony just 200m away from the prestigious H�tel du Palais.
A new-build apartment in Pyr�n�es-Atlantiques costs an average of €3,450/m� while in southern Normandy it would cost €3,950/m� and on the C�te d’Azur €5,065/m� according to the Notaires de France figures.
In conclusion, Pays Basque is a good, reliable investment option, with property available at varied prices and cheaper than in some other regions, offering a great lifestyle and attractive climate. If your mind is not yet made up on where to settle in France, why not consider the very welcoming and endearing Pays Basque? n
Emmanuelle Constant, Sunny French Property www.sunnyfrenchproperty.com