Property shopping in south-west France
- Credit: Archant
The south-west corner of France is equal parts paradise and playground, where you can ski the peaks and surf the waves. Yvonne Russell explores this stunning area
The hexagon of mainland France covers more than 550,000km2 of beautiful and dramatic landscapes. However, I would argue that nowhere can it offer such an intriguing contrast as in the deep south-west where I have been working as an estate agent for the last four years.
I have been living with my husband and three dogs in Hautes-Pyrénées since 2009. We initially purchased our property as a holiday home and investment and only saw it on the day of the final signing with the notaire. We have friends out here who found the property and we chose it from pictures that they sent through. I’m not sure that this is a route I would recommend to anyone else but thankfully it worked out brilliantly for us!
Along with my neighbouring colleagues at Leggett Immobilier we cover an area that encompasses the departments of Hautes-Pyrénées, Gers, Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Landes. To paint a picture in your mind, just imagine a patch that encompasses the beach-blonde surfers riding the waves in Biarritz through to the international skiers and snowboarders that flock to the winter resorts in Cauterets and St-Lary.
The four seasons...
Before moving to France I lived in the bustling and cosmopolitan city of Edinburgh, but nothing could have prepared me for the different cultures and landscapes I have experienced since making the move across the Channel.
I love the changing countryside throughout the year. From yellow fields of riotous sunflowers in July and August to dramatic views of the Pyrénées bursting with snow in the winter, it’s never dull or boring.
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The south-west corner of France also offers some world-class golf courses, fabulous market towns with locals offering a huge array of treats, dedicated cycle routes and some of the finest bars and restaurants in France (or even Spain if you fancy popping across the border).
It’s not just the landscape that is varied though – the style and price of property is a real pick ’n’ mix too, with bourgeoise townhouses in Biarritz rubbing shoulders with gabled Basque houses and then typical ski chalets and apartments in the Pyrénées.
The departments I mentioned have very different property prices too. According to the Notaires de France the average resale house prices are as follows:
• Hautes-Pyrénées: €145,000, with a big premium being paid for anything in or around one of the many fabulous ski resorts.
• Gers: €143,500, with the highest prices being paid around the town of Auch, which hosts the préfecture and is the main economic driver for the department.
• Pyrénées-Atlantiques: €209,800, although you should expect to pay far more than this if you want to be on the coast near those fabulous beaches.
• Landes: €170,500, with prices inland, around Mont de Marsan, being far lower than those around Dax and towards the coast.
We don’t seem to have been as affected by the crise financière as much as other areas either, with the notaires reporting that property prices only fell by 1.9% in Midi-Pyrénées last year and even rising by 0.7% in Aquitaine over the same period. Don’t be fooled though – it’s a buyer’s market and the locals know that they need to price their houses sensibly if they want them to sell.
It’s not only Brits who find these departments attractive. According to research by BNP Paribas, around 47% of all international buyers in Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées are from the UK, with plenty of purchases being made by Belgian, Dutch and Spanish buyers, and an increasing number of Americans investing money in the ski resorts.
Enough of the statistics though – what can you actually buy for your hard-earned pound, euro or dollar? I took a look through the 8,700 properties in France currently being marketed by Leggett Immobilier to bring you a sample of those that can be found in and around my patch of paradise.
Let’s start with an absolutely cracking barn conversion in Gers that comes with four bedrooms, a two-bed gîte, a 10x4m swimming pool and just under one hectare of pretty gardens. The property is situated in the heart of the Gers countryside but it is only five minutes from bustling Marciac (renowned for the quality of its summer jazz festival) so this really is a desirable location. The owners are asking €625,000.
Staying in Gers, another property that really stands out from the crowd is a former convent. It has been lovingly restored and is quite magnificent, boasting five bedrooms, five bathrooms and bags of character. I know the property well and feel that it would also make a terrific chambres d’hôtes or venue for upmarket corporate events.
Overall the house offers 230m2 of habitable space and sits in grounds of a little over 2,500m2 close to Castelnau Magnoac. The asking price is €495,000.
Moving south into Hautes-Pyrénées, I’d like to show you a honey-coloured, stone maison de maître. Its price tag of just €285,000 represents remarkable value. This beautiful property sits on the edge of a hamlet in landscaped grounds of 1.2 hectares with lovely views over the surrounding countryside. It has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, lounge, drawing room and overall accommodation of 211m2 so is perfect for family life or holidays.
There are also some attractive barns that, given planning permission, could be renovated to turn the property into something truly spectacular. The market town of Trie-sur-Baise is close by and you can be at Lourdes/Tarbes airport in around half an hour.
Heading towards the coast into Pyrénées-Atlantiques, one of my colleagues is selling a luxurious, modern villa only a short distance from the centre of St-Jean-de-Luz. If you have never been there, St-Jean-de-Luz is the next resort you come to if you head south from Biarritz and is a fun place to be. It has a lively town centre, gorgeous beaches and some of the best shops and restaurants around.
The house sits on an elevated plot, with great views and the owners have spared no expense in making it the epitome of living in style. It has four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a spectacular round dining room in the tower, which also leads up to a private study with glorious views. The sunny terrace leads to an outdoor entertaining area with plenty of shady seating areas and a jacuzzi/exercise pool. The gardens stretch to more than 9,000m2 and include a games room. The asking price has been reduced from €699,001 to €682,500. And no, I’m not sure what the extra one euro was for either!
If you are looking for land then I know just the property for you. Staying in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in the countryside close to Garlin is a 17th-century farmhouse that sits within glorious grounds of over 12.5 hectares (that’s more than 30 acres in old money). Within the grounds there is a stream, a small pond, plenty of wildlife plus a pool, a barn, and a pigeonnier. The good news is that you will not be isolated either because all of this beautiful privacy is only five minutes from a village with shops, cafés, restaurants and services.
The house itself has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and overall accommodation of 284m2. It has been lovingly restored to make the most of its old stone walls and sturdy timbers, and the whole ensemble is ideal for someone looking for peace, tranquillity and space to walk around in their own grounds undisturbed. The asking price is €528,940.
Finally I’m going to move department one last time and take you into Landes. This little-known area holds some of the hidden gems of the south-west and for €417,000 one could be yours. It’s a 13th-century château that was previously a monastery and is now a beautiful home with potential to be turned into a spectacular setting.
There is plenty here to fire your imagination, such as the monks’ banqueting hall (once used for weddings and special occasions), imposing towers and even winemaking facilities including the original vats and six wine presses. The château currently has four bedrooms and 320m2 of habitable space and it sits in grounds of just under one hectare.
I hope that you have enjoyed my whistle-stop tour of the most south-westerly corner of this country I call home. We’re delighted that we made the move and I heartily believe that you could be too.
Yvonne Russell is an agent for Leggett Immobilier