Living on the edge
A short hop from the UK and you’ll be on some of the prettiest coastline in France. Janine Zdziebczok explores Calvados on sea’
With temperatures even here in Normandy hitting the giddy heights of 22�C by late March, it is perhaps not surprising that, since the spring, an increasing number of people have been looking for a holiday home. More particularly, they have been asking for suggestions as to where along the coast would make a good location.
The hundreds of kilometres of coast that encompass the Calvados and Manche departments of Lower Normandy offer a huge variety of holiday activities, from watersports, golf, riding, land yachting, rambling or even paragliding for the more adventurous, to a simple bucket and spade holiday for the young family. Other options include taking in some culture and spotting the locations from which so many Impressionist artists painted, or learning more of our shared history by visiting the Normandy landing beaches and the many associated museums.
Access from the south coast of England via the ports of Cherbourg, St-Malo, Caen and Le Havre is easy, while in less than three hours from arriving at the Channel Tunnel terminal, you can be celebrity-spotting in Deauville. For a taste of what is on offer I’ve taken a day trip along the 120km Calvados coast, an area that I know and love.
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However, before setting off, there needs to be a slight reality check.
The majority of holiday properties and second homes sit empty for a large part of the year and so there are a few key issues that are worth consideration even before discussing location and property style.
When it comes to the size of plot, the dream of having somewhere with a large garden to relax in during those precious days away from the office is not uncommon, but the practicality of maintenance cannot be ignored. If you don’t wish to spend the first few days of any visit hacking your way through the shrubbery, you must either factor in the cost of employing someone to tend the house and garden in your absence, or be realistic and look for a property with a small, easy-to-maintain plot. Remember, if you are looking for a coastal location then the beach can be your playground.
Consider too the implications of the maintenance and security of a more remote property. If this is a real priority for you, it would be wise to think about ensuring that the property is checked regularly, particularly after any periods of exceptionally severe weather, to ensure there are no nasty surprises on arrival for your holiday.
But, after those few words of caution, I can confirm that the choice is vast. From a static caravan in a holiday park, which could set you back less than €15,000, to a chic apartment in Deauville, via fishermen’s cottages and marina developments, there really is something to suit most tastes and, more importantly, most budgets.
Take the plunge
Lecture over, let’s fasten our seat belts and take to the road. The majority of towns mentioned in the following paragraphs merit a full article in themselves. However, I hope that this taster will encourage those of you considering a home here in Normandy to take the plunge and make a visit.
Our first port of call is Honfleur. Situated within what is known locally as the Golden Triangle’ of Honfleur, Deauville and Lisieux, there are very few days of the year on which this beautiful old port is not alive with visitors.
The summer months may be rather too frenetic for some but this makes it an ideal area for those who may wish to visit out of season and let their property during the busy months. The majority of houses within the historical centre have been converted into apartments but within just a few minutes’ walk of the old harbour and the bewildering selection of restaurants and coffee shops, you may be lucky enough to find a small house with garden hidden away.
Currently on the market for just under €500,000 is a three-bed house with views of the harbour while at the other end of the price range, 34m� of apartment a 10-minute walk from the centre is a more affordable €72,000.
Heading west out of Honfleur, we shortly arrive in Trouville. Driving along the main route through this cosmopolitan resort, we gain glimpses of small impasses’ (dead ends), where tiny studios start at around €50,000. They may be little more than beach huts, but you are less than 100 metres from the beach, bistros and harbour. They are favoured by the French themselves and can make a good investment.
Crossing the River Toques brings us into Deauville, and there can be few towns sitting in such close proximity to each other that are more different. Perhaps this is best demonstrated by a story told by an immobilier as we were driving between viewings.
Having gone to Deauville for a special celebratory meal with his wife and friends, it still being quite early, they decided to visit the casino. Unfortunately, one of the group was wearing jeans and they were denied access. Undeterred, they crossed over the river to Trouville where their custom at that casino was welcomed with no dress restrictions.
Property in Deauville can reach breathtaking prices, not dissimilar to those in the south of France. Much loved by Parisians and famous for its annual American Film Festival, boardwalk, racecourse and polo, the town still has much to offer as a holiday base with a calendar of events taking place throughout the year. Your budget for a large apartment with sea views and balconies will need to be significant. Nonetheless, an apartment of 30m� can still be found for around €100,000.
Continuing westwards we pass through many charming smaller resorts all with wonderful sandy beaches, delightful restaurants and interesting small shops to while away those inevitable wet summer days that we do have in Normandy!
Lock up and leave
If it is a lock-up-and-leave property that you are looking for, Port Guillaume, a purpose-built development that evolved originally in the 1990s from the site of a former steelworks and that has been developed further more recently, is sandwiched between the belle �poque resorts of Cabourg and Houlgate.
With dedicated parking spaces for cars included with the majority of properties, and the possibility of parking’ for your boat as well, the choice here ranges from bright apartments to three- or four-bed houses, many with small gardens. Prices start at around €70,000 to purchase your own piece of tranquillity.
Crossing over the River Orne, whether via the historical Pegasus Bridge or by taking a quick detour along Caen’s northern p�ripherique and travelling a few kilometres further on past the ferry port of Ouistreham, there is now a significant change in our surroundings.
We are now driving through small seaside towns, with smaller stone-built cottages replacing the rather grand Anglo-Normand architecture. These small resorts are ideal for those with young families. The beaches are still wide and sandy but the pace of life here is much slower. You will need to be aware that, out of season, many smaller businesses will be closed, but for some this gentler lifestyle is exactly what is needed when taking a break.
Approximately 40km on from Ouistreham, we pass through Port-en-Bessin. A charming port, its size seems somewhat at odds with its importance as Calvados’ first fishing port. But as the sign at the entrance to the town proudly advertises, this is no summer resort but a port that is alive throughout the year.
Here the fishing boats are constantly entering and leaving this harbour and in the autumn, the importance of this very activity is celebrated with the Coquille
During July and August, the town takes on a slightly more commercial feel with a weekly night market and firework displays. There is no real beach in the centre, and what there is consists largely of scallop shells, but a few minutes out of the town, there are miles of sandy beaches to enjoy and the views from the clifftop paths are some compensation. Property within the town itself is always in short supply and those with harbour views are quickly snapped up. However, if you are prepared to consider a more recently built bungalow or small house, a budget of €200,000 will be sufficient.
At the end of our journey, and some 30km further on, we reach the departmental border with Manche and the small town of Isigny-sur-Mer. Stone fisherman’s cottages occasionally come on to the market here and can be well worth the challenge to convert into a holiday home. Current plans are to further develop the existing boatyards and marina but I hope that will not change the atmosphere of this unassuming little town.
So, while not strictly a coastal resort, but sitting as it does on an estuary, Isigny gives excellent access to the Marais-du-Cotentin regional park. Throughout the year, this haven for flora and fauna presents an ever-changing panorama with endless opportunities to relax by exploring the paths and waterways of this protected area. Such a contrast with Honfleur from where our journey began.
Janine Zdziebczok is a property finder based in Calvados
Tel: 0033 (0)2 31 90 09 80