Jewels in the crown

There are bargains to be found in the Dordogne and Corr�ze, and the countryside is utterly breathtaking, writes John Starr

Northern Dordogne and the Corr�ze are areas of outstanding natural beauty and are fantastic places to live or have a second home. This area is known locally as P�rigord Vert, P�rigord being the old French name for Dordogne.

Some of the properties available to buy here also have a natural beauty and they offer some of the best value for money in France. According to figures collated by Notaires de France, average house prices in the Dordogne are €148,000, compared with a national average of €197,000 (excluding the area in and around Paris where prices are much higher).

Prices in the Corr�ze are slightly, lower with an average of €136,000. Obviously prices vary within each department but you get the picture that some spectacular bargains can be picked up if you know where to look.

Great locations

In northern Dordogne, Nontron, Brant�me, Thiviers, Exideuil, Lanouaille and Hautefort are some of the most beautiful towns. All of these places, together with the lovely countryside in which they are situated, are great locations in which to own a house.

The River Dronne meanders through Brant�me, where you can visit many restaurants and historic places. Thiviers’ markets are a must if you are interested in local produce and the ch�teau at Hautefort is not to be missed. The area is not as populated as other parts of France but although you are not surrounded by people, you are far from isolated.

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The area is made up of small farms and hamlets, and people enjoy the slow lifestyle that most of us come to France for. There is an active life in all the communes and the people are very receptive and welcoming to new locals coming to live in the area. There are some delightful properties suitable for developing into business enterprises such as g�te complexes and campsites.

The city of P�rigueux is the capital of the Dordogne department where the pr�fect, the administrative head, is based. The city is steeped in history with its Roman and medieval architecture, and its beautiful narrow cobbled streets.

It also has an opera house and theatre, not to mention restaurants, bars and nightlife. Recently, a visiting French friend remarked to me that it is very similar to a miniature Paris, without the Eiffel Tower!

North-eastern Dordogne blends gracefully into the Corr�ze with its undulating countryside of hills and dales. The Corr�ze boasts colourful contrasts, with the V�z�re, Auv�z�re and Dordogne rivers running through beautiful green valleys. The River Dordogne has been tamed by a total of five dams to produce a number of large lakes in the south of the Corr�ze. There is kayaking and canoeing on these rivers, and many competitions are held during the summer months, bringing competitors from all parts of the country and beyond.

Part of the Limousin region, the Corr�ze is situated on the western edge of the Massif Central and contains some of the prettiest villages in France. Agriculture is the main economy, with arable land making up around one third of the department. There are plenty of the well-known Limousin cattle to be seen in the fields. Tulle, capital of the Corr�ze, has a population of 15,500, and stretches out over 3km on both banks of the River Corr�ze. A vibrant market is held every Wednesday in front of the Gothic and Romanesque cathedral, selling lace, clothes and an extensive selection of local produce.

Humble onion

Brive-la-Gaillarde is a market town with much to entertain visitors and inhabitants. As well as the usual weekly market, Brive boasts a flower market, held in the lovely old square of Place Latrelle. That essentially French vegetable, the humble onion, is celebrated in the form of a yearly market held at the end of August.

For those with more cultured tastes there are truffle markets throughout the winter, and a famous book fair in autumn. Two gourmet items must be tasted when in Brive: walnut liqueur and the highly unusual but delicious violet-coloured mustard, which is produced with the addition of grapes.

Property prices in the Limousin are generally regarded as some of the cheapest in France, but while this is often the case, bargains are becoming harder to find as more and more househunters discover the delights of the region.

The town of Argentat is one of France’s best-kept secrets. Delightfully pretty, with clean whitewashed houses and distinctively shaped grey slate roofs, it lies amid some of the most unspoiled and beautiful landscapes you’ll find.

The River Dordogne, in all its glory, runs right through the middle of Argentat, adding to its appeal and providing the ideal location for a number of excellent and very picturesque restaurants along the quayside. Dining here, while gazing out onto the river with its old and new bridges and softly flowing waters has to be one of the most romantic experiences in France! There are also a good number of shops and other amenities to be found in the centre of town.

Also situated on the banks of the Dordogne, the town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne knows nothing of modesty as its name literally means beautiful’. The village does, however, have good reason for this. Its small Romanesque abbey is widely seen as one of the best examples of such architecture, while many of the riverfront houses have glorious fa�ades from the 17th and 18th centuries. Added to this, the village is superbly situated, provoking those with a passion for the outdoors to fall in love with it, including Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun, which gave it a glowing review.

If you love strawberries, you will experience heaven in May at the annual strawberry festival. There are plenty of games and competitions to pass your time and you’ll also be able to delve into an unimaginable array of strawberry products. Don’t eat too many though, as you’ll need some room for the main event of the day – an attempt to build a huge strawberry tart. Once completed everyone is free to tuck in.

Arnac-Pompadour is another famous place in the Corr�ze. The town is famous for its ch�teau, which was once owned by Lady Pompadour, erstwhile lover of King Louis XV, and the Pompadour National Anglo-Arab Stud, headquarters of the French National Stud. Events in dressage, cross-country and racing are held over the summer months with people coming from all areas of France to compete. This area is very popular with horse-lovers.

Land here is so inexpensive compared with the UK that it is an ideal place to keep horses in the lush green fields and there are so many lanes for horses, walkers and cyclists to take to explore the countryside.

Transport links

With the A20 motorway from Paris to Toulouse running through the Corr�ze, it is easily accessible and as it is a small department, just a short trip over the border brings you into the Dordogne. Limoges airport is just an hour’s drive away and from here it is an easy journey to the UK.

The new Brive-Vall�e de la Dordogne airport has signed a deal with CityJet to fly three times a week to London City airport. The high-speed TGV train stops at Brive on its way from Paris to Toulouse.

Cut across the Corr�ze to join the A89 at Brive and less than two hours eastwards, you could be skiing in Clermont-Ferrand, while travelling two hours westwards could see you on holiday in Bordeaux, on the edge of the beautiful Arcachon Basin, enjoying the fresh sea air and beautiful beaches. The positioning of the area has so much to offer that you have to live here to really discover everything.

The best news of all is that property for sale in the Corr�ze offers genuine value for money. It is one of the cheapest departments of France in which to buy property but that does not mean that you have to lower your standards or expectations. Far from it!

Prices have softened in northern Dordogne and there are many good-value properties to be purchased. Whether you are looking for a property to renovate or ready to walk into, a moulin, a maison de ma�tre, a farmhouse with land or whatever takes your fancy, you will be sure to find it here. With prices at their lowest for many years, now is the time to check out this beautiful part of the P�rigord and Limousin regions.