A taste for France

It isn’t hard to understand the appeal of France for the 500,000 Britons who own a home there. For starters there’s the beautiful countryside, historic cities, Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, the Alps and the Pyrenees, not to mention some of the best regional produce in the world
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With 31 airports with direct flights from the UK on a good range of low-cost and scheduled airlines, it is easy to reach our nearest Continental neighbour. And from November this year, the Eurostar terminal in London will relocate to St Pancras, speeding up train times to the heart of the French capital to a brisk two hours and 15 minutes.

British buyers looking for a relaxed lifestyle own property all over France, from Alpine chalets to Parisian pieds-à-terre, but property analysts have spotted a new trend: French specialist VEF claims 12 per cent of buyers in France this year will buy primarily for investment.

If you are dreaming of a bolthole across the Channel, here are some properties to whet your appetite and kick-start the search:

1. Normandy

Apartments from €148,000 (£101,500, excluding VAT)
Normandy may not have the best weather in France, but it’s just a hop across the Channel for Brits and traditionally has provided good-value property. There are hotspots though: wealthy Parisians holiday there, pushing up prices in fashionable Deauville, the ‘Cannes of the North’. Elsewhere, Normandy has history aplenty, from the Bayeux tapestry to the abbey on Mont-St-Michel.

One- to three-bedroom apartments have been built in a two-acre park near Port-en-Bessin, outside the historic city of Caen and two hours from Paris. There is golf nearby at the prestigious Omaha Golf Club amid long, dune-swept sandy beaches. The properties, built from local stone, can be bought freehold or through the French leaseback scheme with an annual guaranteed rental of four per cent to 4.5 per cent and a French VAT rebate.

Pierre & Vacances (0800 001 5551)

2. Gascony

Maison de Maître, €925,000 (£633,000; ref: IP908)
The rolling hills of south-west France south of the Garonne River leading towards the Pyrenees are home to Gascony, also known as Gers, a quiet region of lakes, agriculture and traditional country fairs. Typical property includes farm cottages and large family mansions with prices well below those in the Dordogne.

The 18th century Maison de Maître, 40 miles west of Auch, has five bedrooms, a 540sq ft family kitchen and elegant period features. The established grounds extend to 12 acres, with lawns leading down to a stream, while a pool and a boules pitch provide family fun. There is even a separate gîte should buyers want to run a business. The nearest airpot is at Pau, one hour away, while Toulouse is nearly two hours away.

Purslows Gascony (00 33 562 67 61 50)

3. Avignon

Provençal stone house, €1.3 million (£889,500; ref: 3768MMG)
France’s high-speed train, the TGV, means you can be in Avignon, one of France’s most delightful cities, within six hours of leaving London. From the Palais des Papes to the ruins of the famous 12th century bridge, Avignon is a treat. Visitors pack in for July’s three-week Festival d’Avignon, an established arts extravaganza.

Twenty minutes south of Avignon, this five-bedroom Provençal stone house comes with its own 645sq ft cottage, perfect to run as a gîte. The half-acre grounds include a large pool, while the main house has been fully restored with stone fireplaces and a separate summer kitchen.

Latitudes (020 8951 5155)

4. Villefranche-sur-Mer

€2,120,000 (£1,450,000; ref: Aylesfords)
The town of Villefranche-sur-Mer was at the head of the queue for natural beauty. Nestling in between Nice and Monaco, it faces on to a natural deep-water harbour with steep hills behind and a glorious muddle of Italianate villas and narrow, winding streets. This is an exclusive corner of the Cote d’ Azur next to Cap Ferrat while Italy is just a quick Ferrari spin away. Russian, Irish and American buyers have pushed property prices up here in recent years and it’s not hard to see why.

Blow the budget with this four-bedroom villa just minutes from the centre of Villefranche. Soak up deluxe views over Villefranche Bay and the Cap Ferrat peninsula from a number of terraces or relax by the heated pool. The property is fully renovated and includes a separate studio.

Aylesford International (020 7351 2383)

5. Chateau du Colombié

From £1,950 to £3,950 for one week's rent
And for anyone who hasn’t settled on a summer holiday, how about renting this rather lovely Lot and Garonne pad?

Chateau du Colombié is a perfect fairytale castle set in acres of rolling countryside complete with Rapunzel-like turrets and baronial halls. It’s halfway between the cosmopolitan cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse in an oh-so-quiet corner of southwest France. Colombié can sleep twenty-three people comfortably, making it ideal for a large family celebration. There are seven principal bedrooms, five modern bathrooms, a vast eat-in kitchen overlooking the valley, a baronial dining room and elegant salon. Outside, beside the stone pool, is a separate two-bedroom cottage.


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