Why You Should Be Buying In France


Unashamedly traditional, France’s green and pleasant land remains a region in demand.  Why you should be buying in France. Serena Templeton reports.

The Knowledge

A veritable bone of contention between the English and French during the Hundred Years War, France’s third largest department comprises four ancient Medieval ‘Perigord’ bands. The northernmost Perigord Vert (Green Perigord) embraces Mareuil, the principal town of Nontron and Thiviers; it’s lush remote landscape akin to parts of rural Limousin, with a heath-like plateau merging into the rugged boundaries of neighbouring Correze. Perigord Noir (Black Perigord) to the southeast is defined by darkened oaks whose silhouettes shape the high hills around Sarlat, the undulating countryside cut through by the Vezere tributary providing a dramatic setting for villages like Les Ezyies-de-Tayac and Domme. Sarlat, the Perigord Noir capital has a schizophrenic existence, soaking up the high-season tourist traffic before battening down the hatches for winter. Pristine vineyard trails lie to the southwest around Bergerac in the Perigord Pourpre (Purple Perigord), the Renaissance splendour of Chateau de Monbazillac dominating the south ridge hills of the middle valley. Dissecting the central region east to west is the Perigord Blanc (White Perigord), its limestone plateaux quarries famed for their noble white stone, seen to grace many a stately Perigourdine building.

What are the highlights?

A gourmet capital of regional cuisine-the best food can often be savoured in the humblest of restaurants-faisan au verjus (pheasant in grape juice), confit de canard (duck stew) and homemade tarte aux pommes, with market produce such as foie gras, truffles ‘black diamonds’ and pork presented in a myriad of inventive ways. Home of ‘1,001 chateaux’ and countless well-preserved bastide towns including Dome and Eymet, the region has an even longer and richer prehistory than its battle weary years as a cradle of human civilisation; the high concentration of Palaeolithic caves near the western edges of the Massif Central and northern Pyrenees and the 20,000-year-old Grotte de Lascaux near Montignac signs of prehistoric settlement.

How do I get there?

No-frills airlines including Easy Jet and Ryan Air fly to Bergerac and Bordeaux, with Limoges, La Rochelle and Poitiers airports a two-hour drive away. The TGV runs from Paris and Lille with a journey time from Paris to Angouleme of just over two hours. Calais is an eight-hour drive, although travel time is reduced significantly by choosing the southern ferry terminals of Cherbourg and St Malo.

What’s the property market like?

France’s ‘Little Britain’ has a deceptively broad buyer profile, with a growing pool of Dutch and Germans settling in the south around St Cyprien and Le Bugue. “The French love it here,” confirms local agent Francois Tigues, “and we’ve a big client-base from the north around Lille. The UK quotient has changed from a predominantly grey market inching towards retirement to a higher proportion of young families involved with e-business moving to the area full-time.” Despite recessionary times, buyers can still expect to pay a premium along the Dordogne Valley, upwards of 15-20 per cent around Sarlat in the Perigord Noir. Bergerac is catching up fast, Moneycorp confirming average house price increases within striking distance of the airport up by over 150 per cent since 2001, compared with just 10 per cent in remoter parts of the Dordogne.

“The average price of a restored four-bedroom house is around the £200,000-300,000 mark,” confirms Rita Besnainou of Immobiliere de l’Isle. “Renovation properties are about, but choice is more limited further south.” Local agents are also reporting a rise in demand for building land, although new planning laws have taken much of the countryside out of ‘building zones’ making attractive south facing property harder to come by. “Self-build is catching on,” says James Pattinson of Agence Immobilier du Perigord, “with a budget of £300,000 securing you a 4000 sqm plot and detached new-build through to completion.” Lower prices in the lesser-explored northeast around Nontron and Mareuil also provide value for money, with price reductions in the ‘homes with income’ category. “Owners running gites and selling on have not been able to produce proper sets of accounts with proof of income that would enable prospective buyers to justify a loan or large personal investment,” explains Tigues.


WHERE TO BUY NOW Perigord Blanc-Perigueux: Straddling the River Isle, this beautifully preserved prefecture is a relaxing alternative to southerly cities Bordeaux and Toulouse. Property prices have increased by 10 per cent per annum in the past four years, with satellite villages like Thenon and Rouffignac to the south and St Astier and Tocane to the north west enjoying a mini property boom.“As investments go, a semi-rural location within a twenty minute drive of the town is an ideal compromise for families,” says Besnainou. “The Perigueux area is popular but it’s not over-crowded, even in the summer months. The town is also ‘open’ all year round, something you won’t find further south around Sarlat, which is more susceptible to the vagaries of tourism.” Currently undergoing a re-vamp in the central quarter with both new-build and period renovations, prices for a restored townhouse start from £150,000, with detached country houses in the vicinity of Bourdeilles and Lisle selling for £250,000.

Perigord Blanc-Riberac

One of the central region’s most attractive market towns, Riberac has an established British presence, prices having levelled off in the past eighteen months according to Gerard Hidskes of The French Connection. “Clients are increasingly looking for older renovated properties-a reaction perhaps to dwindling number of local artisans and the time frame involved in completing restorations. The rental market is very strong in the area, with a three-bed house netting £900-1,500 per week peak season.” On the market with the agency is a beautifully restored three-bedroom maison bourgeoise with attic to renovate for £180,000.

Perigord Pourpre-Bergerac 

An important entry point for tourists into the Aquitaine, Bergerac has benefited from the ‘Ryan Air effect’ with successive waves of foreign capital coming into the area since 2003, and over 250,000 holidaymakers flying into the wine capital from the UK last year. “An increasing number of investors are relocating on a semi-permanent basis-taking advantage of the airport’s proximity to hop back to the UK,” confirms Tigues. Concealing a cluster of attractive sights amongst its labyrinth of cobbled lanes and half-timbered dwellings, the town’s worthy selection of renovated townhouses start from £150,000 with more substantial character properties on the vineyard fringes and surrounding network of self-contained bastide villages such as Eymet and Villereal from £225,000.

“Prestige properties anchored around Bergerac have room for negotiation price wise at present,” adds local agent Solange Villiers, “with a superior stock of stately properties and estates.” On the market with the agency is a beautifully renovated maison de maitre set in mature gardens with pool and outbuildings for £400,000.

Perigord Vert-Brantome

Located on the banks of the Dronne River, the ‘Venice of the Dordogne’ seamlessly mixes workaday living with salon-de-thé tourism. Pleasantly lively during the winter months, the established expat community fans out to surrounding villages such as Bourdeilles and Champagnac de Belair. “Brantome is sought-after,” says Besnainou, “but far from over-populated. It’s highly accessible just off the A89 plus community facilities are well maintained.” On the market with Perigord Weekend near Brantome is a semi-detached two-bedroom village house with garden for £100,000.

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