Graham Downie heads off around the French coastline to find out what’s on offer for property-hunters who want to be by the sea
“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” John F. Kennedy
He wasn’t wrong – the 35th President of the United States – there really is something special about the sea. Many of my favourite childhood memories involve building sandcastles, splashing in the waves or simply eating an ice cream under a clear blue sky.
Living in France, we are blessed with a staggering 3,427km of coastline that varies from long, flat, sandy beaches to towering, craggy peninsulas. I’m not sure that I know of another country that can offer such a variety of beautiful resorts, some with the influences of neighbouring Belgium, Spain and Italy.
If you are interested in buying your own seaside home, France has properties to meet all tastes and budgets. From a small apartment just the other side of the Channel that you can use for long weekends, to a stunning villa on the Riviera that will keep you occupied throughout the summer, there is something for you.
We’re going to take an anti-clockwise tour of the coastline starting on the dramatic shores of Normandy and finishing in… well, you can probably guess. So, designer sunglasses and factor 30 at the ready, here we go.
The unbeatable variety of lower Normandy
The Notaires de France website says that the average property price here is €140,000 with a rise of 8.1% in 2010/11.
Janine Zdziebczok is a buying agent who runs Calvados Property Finders and she knows this area well. She tells me that the Cotentin Peninsula offers a wide range of property to suit all tastes. Janine highlights the area from the Bay of Mont-St-Michel to Carentan in the east, which has more than 250km of wildly varying coastline and towns along the way.
As the Notaire de France figures highlight, this is an area that won’t necessarily break the bank. Janine says that she has recently bought a property for some clients from Hawaii. It was a two-bedroom stone cottage with pretty gardens at both front and back. The house had views over the imposing local ch�teau and was only five minutes from the beach. Total cost, staggeringly, was under €80,000. Now that’s a bargain.
Asked to pick an area that she thinks offers exceptional value, Janine responds: “Barneville-Carteret, midway along the western coast, is a delightful resort. As its name suggests, it’s actually two small towns sitting either side of the entrance to the port. Barneville has wonderful blue flag beaches and Carteret is littered with photogenic 1900s villas.
“Popularity with French holidaymakers, and particularly Parisian second-homeowners, has helped to maintain stable property prices. Currently, a large apartment, with balcony and garage, in a stylish modern apartment block (the design of which owes as much to ship building as house building) is on the market at €600,000.
“However, for those with a more modest budget, you can still pick up an apartment within walking distance of the beach for less than €100,000.”
Sandy shores and cliffs of the Atlantic coast
The Notaires de France website states that the average property price here is €150,000 with a rise of 5.2% in 2010/11.
With around 2,500 hours of sunshine every year, it is easy to understand why this stretch of western France is known as the coast of light’.
With the whitewashed houses, blue shutters and terracotta roofs, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the Med. The good news is that you are closer to the UK and prices are lower. You’ll also find that English is still rarely spoken and you quickly get a good opportunity to practise your French language skills on the friendly locals.
Jacqueline Miller runs Ma Maison Parfaite, which is a buying agency covering La Rochelle, �le-de-R� and the Vend�e coast. I ask her to identify two towns that she likes personally and is happy to recommend to her clients. The first is, unsurprisingly, La Rochelle. The port is guarded by two iconic stone towers that are flanked by stylish caf�s and restaurants.
Jacqueline tells me: “Houses in the old town do become available but are always in high demand so you need to be quick on your feet if you want to buy one.
“For those with smaller budgets we can sometimes find studios from around €80,000 but again it pays to have good contacts with local agents and vendors. We recently viewed an architect-designed house – straight from a film set, it was a contemporary home but full of French style. Set in a fashionable suburb, the owners are asking €565,000.”
The second town chosen by Jacqueline is St-Jean-de-Monts. This was popular in the 1990s as a tourist destination for families seeking camping or mobile home holidays. Over the last five years it has undergone an impressive investment and rebuilding programme and is now totally revamped.
Even more work is planned with many apartments due a facelift over the next few years. The town is always popular for holiday lets and Jacqueline thinks it offers prospects for both capital growth and a decent yield. She has recently visited an apartment with sea view that is being sold privately for just €68,000; it is an excellent investment opportunity.
Miles of sandy beaches in Pyr�n�es-Orientales
The Notaires de France website says that the average property price here is €178,000 with a rise of 11.6% in 2010/11.
When one thinks of the Mediterranean coastline, one usually pictures a suave James Bond screaming around a hairpin bend on the Riviera in his Aston Martin. However, if you visit the beaches around Perpignan in the Pyr�n�es-Orientales, you won’t be disappointed.
Caroline Hill runs Perpignan Properties and is a property finder who covers the 50km stretch of coastline from Leucate in the north right down to Cerb�re on the Spanish border. She says that this area offers something for everyone, from nature lovers to naturists!
Caroline goes on to say: “Many of the coastal towns are what I would describe as multi-functional’. They are not just seaside resorts but have something to offer all year round. They come in three parts: the plage’ the port’ and the ville’. For example, Canet-Plage is the perfect place for a family summer beach holiday, Canet-Port is a great place to watch the expensive boats while you eat a gourmet meal, then slightly inland you will find Canet-Ville, which is much more residential with schools, attractive churches and local shops. Prices start from just €70,000 for a tiny beachfront studio apartment to, well, whatever you want to pay for a lavish villa!”
The world-famous C�te d’Azur
The Notaires de France website says that the average property price in the Alpes-Maritimes is €430,000 with a rise of 9.9% in 2010/11. Rebecca Russell who runs C�te Abode, a buying agency based in Nice, says: “Proximity to the sea is the first thing people want when looking for property on the French Riviera. With its stunning coastline, chic towns and ideal climate, the C�te d’Azur has everything. Prices are high but you are paying for the best seaside address in France.
“Buyers know that the C�te d’Azur is a safe investment spot and thus property prices have not dipped – especially for prime locations. It can be a bit of a shock if you come expecting a bargain, as the market here for good property is as competitive as ever.
“If you are looking for a long-term investment and high rental returns then buy in Nice or Cannes. Walking distance to the beach is key for both. However, for that picturesque village feel, then Villefranche, with its family beach, is my choice. It’s expensive but it has that old-fashioned on-holiday’ feeling.”
Graham Downie has over 25 years’ experience in the international property market
Calvados Property Finders 0033 (0)2 31 90 09 80
Ma Maison Parfaite 0033 (0)2 28 14 01 12
Perpignan Properties 0033 (0)4 68 57 82 55
C�te Abode 0033 (0)4 93 07 13 63