We love France for its food and wine, its weather, history and general way of life. It is a society where spending time in a local cafe watching the world go by is a national hobby and midday is a sign to down tools and prepare for lunch. When a set three-course lunch routinely costs €14 (£10) no wonder the labourer lunches with the lord.
An appealing aspect of French life for time-strapped Londoners are the wonderful markets held in towns and villages throughout France: a welcome return to old-fashioned values for those more used to doing a weekly supermarket grab. As well as local delicacies, why not pick up a property bargain close to the stalls in one of these market towns?
St Foy la Grand
You’ll hear plenty of British voices in this Gironde town on the banks of the Dordogne river every Saturday when the market fills the streets around the central square. There is even a stallholder selling British sausages.
But this is a resolutely French area selling fabulous local produce. Regional specialities include foie gras, duck, prunes from Agen and Bergerac, and Bordeaux wines.
This Girondine-style three-bedroom manor house is on the edge of the village of Velines, 15 minutes from St Foy la Grand. The house has been renovated by the present English owners, while the attic floor is boarded and insulated and could be adapted to create more bedrooms. The property has extensive gardens as well as a garage and utility room and separate workshop.
Priced at €450,000 (£334,650) from Overseas Homesearch (www.overseashomesearch.co.uk; 0800 652 0769).
The Languedoc has been one of the healthier regions of France for property price increases; almost double the national average of 3.8 per cent last year, according to the FNAIM, the association of French estate agents. It has the country’s fastest-growing population and excellent access, with airports at Montpelier, Nimes, Carcassonne, Perpignan and Toulouse.
The university city of Montpelier has a good choice of markets: a flower market every Tuesday at Espace Mosson and a flea market every Sunday, while daily food markets are held in Rue de la Loge and Halles Castellanes. Other regular markets include a dedicated organic market twice a week and a weekly farmers' produce market - a great excuse to sample local delicacies such as wild boar, spit-roast chicken, the freshest oysters and a full range of spicy Corbières wine.
This Maison de Maître (master's house) in a winemaking village of the Herault is 35 miles from Montpelier. The three-storey property requires some updating but has seven bedrooms and large gardens. It is priced at €572,134 (£425,470) from VEF (www.vefuk.com; 020 7515 8660).
There is a market of some sort every day in the Provencal city of Avignon. Brocantes, book markets and a daily covered food market – except Monday – at Les Halles d’Avignon, filled with the produce of this sun-drenched corner of southern France. Pedestrianised streets and a medieval centre make Avignon a fabulous city to walk around. If you need more, the Roman towns of Arles and Orange, both with their own markets and both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are close by.
Knight Frank is selling this 19th century Mas in Provence for €1.3 million (£965,370). The five-bedroom house has beamed Provencal ceilings and limestone floors. Located on the edge of the Luberon National Park, it is perfectly placed for the antiques market town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, while the TGV station and airport at Avignon are 30 minutes away. Contact Knight Frank (www.knightfrank.com; 020 7629 8171).
Only five hours from London on the new speedy Eurostar service, Burgundy’s capital, Dijon, is another youthful university city, invigorated by the 25,000 students at the University of Bourgogne. The bustling covered market square sells the best of local food: snails, cassis, beef and wonderful cheeses. This is a rural part of France where the vineyards – including Cote d’Or and Chablis – are among the oldest in France and the white Charollais cattle graze on green slopes just as they have for centuries.
Burgundy4U is selling Beaunotte, 16 apartments and cottages in a stone watermill 45 minutes northwest of Dijon. The 7.5-acre grounds will have a communal tennis court and pool. Prices are from €95,000 to €350,000 (£70,550-£260,000). Contact Beaunotte (www.beaunotte.com; www.burgundy4u.com; 00 33 (0)3 80 20 86 20).
Every Tuesday and Saturday the Place des Lices in the seafront town of St Tropez explodes in a riot of Provencal colour. As well as the typical Mediterranean food – tomatoes, wine, olive oil – the open-air market stalls sell antiques, fabrics, clothes and local crafts.
All along this dazzling Mediterranean coast, there are plenty of markets to visit. One of the most visually striking is the flower market in the Italian Quarter of Nice - perhaps the best way to start a Sunday on the Cote d’Azur.
Seventy-five minutes from Nice airport and five miles from the sea, Hugo Skillington Immobilier is selling this four-bedroom property above the Bay of St Tropez close to Grimaud. The villa has a pool and tennis court, and there are good views over the Maures mountains. Priced at €2.4 million (£1.78 million) (www.skillington.com; 00 33 (0)4 94 44 10 44).