Lifestyle is the buzzword for today's overseas home-hunters. Rental income and solid medium- to long-term investment are important but the days of making a fast buck in an emerging market have been replaced by buyers looking for a home to enjoy with family and friends.
Figures from Savills Second Homes Abroad shows 69 per cent of buyers choose easy coastal access as an important reason for their purchase.
So it's back to trusted favourites such as southern France and Spain's Balearic islands: Mediterranean hotspots a few hours from London where sun and sea combine with culture and a solid infrastructure. While the top end of the market in these prime spots has remained most resilient to the downturn, the western Med offers opportunities for smaller budgets, too.
France on the Med
France, the most popular tourist destination in the world, is now the top choice for overseas buyers. France didn't see the dramatic house price decline of Spain and its banks have continued to lend on second homes.
The relative stability of the market and easy access from London mean that buyers remain confident to invest. In wealthy Côte d'Azur, £425,870 buys a new two-bedroom, 645sq ft apartment overlooking the yachts in Monaco Harbour, through Erna Low (020 7590 1624). However, head west and you get more for your money. The average price in the Var, one of the most beautiful departments in Provence, is £274,380 and in Languedoc around the buzzy city of Montpelier it drops to £183,320.
In the Var, Leggett (08700 115151) is selling a traditional stone house in Canton de Fayence for £384,000. The four-bedroom property is 40 minutes from St Tropez and 20 minutes from Cannes. Thirteen miles from St Tropez, an 830sq ft two-bedroom apartment in the Provençal village of La Garde Freinet is £196,300 through Chesterton Humberts (020 3040 8210).
An immaculate five-bedroom house 20 minutes from Narbonne and the coast, with views over Corbières countryside, has been reduced from £460,860 to £405,380 through Leggett.
Road to Spain
Spanish prices may have dropped back to 2003 levels but don't be tempted too far off the beaten track, says Barbara Wood of The Property Finders (0800 622 6745). "Lesser-known spots remain comatose and I can't see any rising stars on the horizon.
Buyers are concentrating on traditional, rock-solid locations." On the Andalucian coast, that means the area around Marbella, San Pedro and down to Estepona or east of Malaga around Nerja. Inland, Woods tips pretty villages around Ronda and Gaucin.
One mile from Puerto Banus, a three-bedroom apartment in a gated complex with underground parking is £337,100 through Alcantara Estates (00 34952 853363) while inland, near the lake at Iznájar, a well-renovated, four-bedroom country house 45 minutes from Malaga is £384,000.
Closer to Gibraltar airport, Finca Cortesin is a 70-acre golf and hotel estate where top-end villas sell from £2.39 million. One- to three-bedroom apartments on the award-winning resort share the impressive spa, gym and sports facilities, with prices from £264,560 through Cluttons Resorts (020 7584 3050).
Nothing is more than one hour from the coast on the Spanish islands of Majorca and Ibiza. On Majorca, Engel & Volkers (00 49403 61310) reports strong sales for properties with sea views at Llucmajor, close to Palma airport.
At Calvia, a traditional market town in the south-west, Sotheby's (00 34971 674807) has a renovated 500-year-old townhouse with two bedrooms and courtyard garden for £328,570. A cosy three-bedroom townhouse in Soller is £281,630 and a compact flat in smart Andratx is £179,224, both through Engel & Volkers. In Deia on the north-west coast, which has some of the island's priciest homes — including Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's — an airy, three-bedroom flat with two terraces is reduced to £337,100 through Knight Frank (020 7629 8171).
Ibiza is a more seasonal market but one that has withstood the economic downturn better than elsewhere in Spain. The last 10 of 90 apartments at Les Terrasses de Cala Tarida in San Jose, 10 minutes' walk from the beach, start from £213,360 for two- and three-bedrooms, through Savills (020 7016 3740).
In Roca Llisa a 520sq ft one-bedroom modern apartment with a sea-facing terrace is £337,100 through Aylesford (020 7349 5100). This would be a comfortable bolt-hole on the ever-popular White Island.