On Landes and sea
Sun, sand and surf await for property hunters as Carolyn Reynier heads down to the seaside villages of Hossegor, Capbreton and Seignosse in Aquitaine for the end of the season
Look down from the air on our destination this month and you will see just two colours: a mass of blue and a swathe of green. The blue is the Gulf of Gascony in the mighty Atlantic, the green is the Landes forest.
This is the southern Landes, on the border with Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Spain; to the north-east lies the Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne and today I am looking at property in the three seaside communes of Hossegor, Capbreton and Seignosse.
The Landes de Gascogne park is the largest cultivated forest in Europe, covering around a million hectares. Century-old trees grow here, including cork oaks and maritime pines, while during the autumn arbousiers (strawberry trees) grow in the sandy soil producing their characteristic red strawberry-like fruit. Keen botanists should also look out for the perennial Eagle Fern, so named because the base of its brown stalk resembles a royal eagle, which is also much at home in the sandy soil here and often reaches a height of two metres.
This Atlantic coastline is characterised by a chain of dunes and long sandy beaches as far as the eye can see – and, of course, the powerful tides which attract professional and amateur surfers from all over the world.
TALE OF THREE VILLAGESThanks to two bridges, a pleasant canal walk extends for 1,700m from the marine lake at Hossegor, while there is also a great 7km walk with explanatory panels that tell you about the lake, birds, fish, oyster beds and Hossegor’s literary history. You can also admire the resort’s rich architecture including the casino, which was built in the 1920s and is one of the most characteristic buildings in Basco-Landais style.
To the south, Capbreton lies at the mouth of the River Adour, an important whaling station until the early 16th century. Sailors, traders and ship owners prospered from fishing and from a flourishing trade with Spain and Portugal of its highly reputed vin de sable and cork, resin and pine planks from the surrounding forests.
The fame of the Capbreton vin de sable – one of the grape varieties used was called the pis de la chèvre because the grape had an oblong form resembling a goat’s udder – was such that it was served at the camp of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 when the French king François I met against Henry VIII.
In 1578, following extensive works, the Adour was diverted to Boucau Neuf and Capbreton’s prosperity began to wane. In the 19th century, France’s second and last emperor Napoleon III (interestingly buried in the crypt of St-Michael’s Abbey in Hampshire) instigated the works which would put new life into the old port. When the Hossegor canal was finally dug out in 1871 it not only connected Hossegor lake to the ocean, allowing sea water to come in and out with the tides, but also contributed to the regeneration of the Capbreton port.
However, it was the vogue for sea bathing towards the end of that century that saw Capbreton ride the waves of fortune once more. Today, the marina, surfing and water-based activities have transformed this ancient town.
Seignosse to the north divides into three sectors and is more characterised by long-standing residents than its more trendy neighbours. Five kilometres of forest bordered by a cycle path separate Seignosse-Bourg from Seignosse-Océan, a comparatively new coastal resort dating back to the 1970s. In between the two resorts you have a fantastic golf course, adjoining Hossegor.
Thierry Audouard at Audouard Immobilier in Hossegor tells me the towns of Hossegor, Capbreton and Seignosse are three different markets, and properties tend to be primarily villas, whether old or new. Capbreton has traditionally attracted a more family-oriented clientele who have been holidaying here for generations. Villas come with less land than in Hossegor (around 600-1,000m²) and urban planning is more tolerant making it easier to build apartment blocks.
In Hossegor, plots of land cannot be subdivided under 1,500m² to preserve a “certain quality” of urban property. Visitors are attracted by the golf course as well as the beach and although families come here, too, there is less family appeal than at Capbreton and a higher turnover of new visitors.
If you want a seaside studio, head for what is now known as Seignosse-Océan (Seignosse-les-Estagnots and Seignosse-le-Penon on your map) where accommodation is mainly in residential apartment buildings – small ones built in the early stages of development then larger ones with anything from 100 to 300 apartments per building. Prices are in the region of €2,800-€4,000/m² depending on the quality of fixtures and fittings and whether you get a sea view.
In Seignosse-Bourg old houses sell for between €300,000 and €600,000. If recent demographic trends continue the National Statistics Institute (INSEE) estimates a 20% population increase by 2040 so Seignosse-Bourg is seeing the development of modern lotissements (housing estates) in new sectors of town – either built in traditional style or lotissements écologiques.
In Hossegor, prices are higher; apartments sell for €4,200-€6,000/m² and it is hard to find a villa for under €700,000. These villas tend to be of older construction and prices can rise to €1.5-€2 million depending on size but especially location.
“Many houses have been bought to be pulled down and on the land people tend to rebuild a modern and, in general, much larger house,” Thierry says. “In Capbreton, where plot sizes are smaller, prices for apartments and villas are only slightly lower.”
The traditional local architectural style dates back to the ’30s. The most traditional maisons landaises are half-timbered with cob-filled walls and at least one balcony. With the creation of the Seignosse golf course came what Thierry describes as a rather Louisianan-style of property; the architecture became more modern with large bay windows but the big difference was the advent of colour – walls and timber painted in various hues.
“Personally, I think this is very good because having known nothing but brown timber for years, it’s nice to see some colour,” he says. “Nowadays, you see red, blue, green, yellow, avec un style résolument moderne.”
Invest in property here and you are unlikely to hear too many English accents. Buyers are primarily from Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and the Paris region and are buying second homes. Capbreton is not far from the job market of Bayonne so certain properties here appeal to purchasers of main homes.
While Seignosse-Océan remains very much a summer destination subject to school holidays, both Capbreton and Hossegor operate year-round thanks to holiday homeowners who have now retired here.
These three French villages on the southern Atlantic coast have so much to offer surfers and sun seekers, cyclists, golfers and walkers, but look down from the air and you will simply see a mass of sparkling blue and a swathe of lush green.www.hossegor.fr
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