The Eurostar has come of age. It is 18 years since the first trains sped under the Channel to France, giving British Francophiles more opportunities to explore.
Since 1994 the service has become faster and slicker. Today trains leave St Pancras almost hourly, taking 135 minutes to reach Paris and connecting onwards to sought-after cities such as Bordeaux and Avignon.
"Over recent years we've seen a surge in the number of Brits travelling with us between London and France to visit second homes and family and friends in France," says Mary Walsh, communications director for Eurostar.
"Over half of passengers questioned on our Avignon route told us they preferred high-speed rail to flying, while three quarters said they found the journey relaxing and hassle-free."
Raise a glass to the Bordeaux Renaissance
Few cities have enjoyed as great a renaissance as Bordeaux. Once dirty, gritty and largely ignored, the city 300 miles south of Paris in southwest France, is now a prized destination for relocating French workers, European weekenders and the gateway to 8,500 wine growers in the romantic regions of St Emilion and Entre Deux Mers.
The city centre clean-up started in 1996 under Mayor Alain Juppé and in 2007 Bordeaux was rewarded with Unesco World Heritage status. It now boasts more than 350 listed 17th- and 18th-century buildings, a modern, clean tram system and a regenerated waterfront on the mighty Garonne, crammed with art galleries and restaurants.
"Paris to Bordeaux takes three hours, a time set to be reduced to two hours and 10 minutes by 2020 with improvements to the TGV line," says Trevor Leggett of Leggett Immobilier.
"Average house prices are £197,130 and gross rental yields are three to four per cent. Outlying villages, such as Blaye on the Right Bank, have an average price of £92,270 and like the centre, saw double-digit price increases from 2010 to last year."
Prime residential areas in the centre include Place Gambetta, a short stroll from Rue St Catherine, Europe's largest pedestrianised shopping street and the "Mayfair and Park Lane of the Bordeaux Monopoly Board" according to Leggett.
Younger buyers in this buzzy university city could be tempted by the up-and-coming quayside around Margaux where £179,500 would secure a small two-bedroom apartment.
Close to the Bordelais Park in central Bordeaux, Classic French Homes has a four-bedroom duplex apartment for £502,400 and an elegant three-floor townhouse, five minutes walk from Bordeaux centre with eight bedrooms, a walled garden and a pool for £1.09 million.
A four-bedroom family home in Carbon Blanc, a direct tram ride from the centre, is £293,400 while a five-bedroom house in upmarket Le Taillan is £382,250, both through Leggett (08700 11 51 51).
Join the Parisian elite in Avignon's Old Town
Eurostar's (08432 186 186) summer-only non-stop service from St Pancras to Avignon runs from July 7 to September 1, 2012, taking less than six hours to reach the lavender and sunshine of Provence. It's a journey that gets more popular each year says Eurostar's Nick Mercer.
A note of caution for first-time users: Avignon has two train stations, with the TGV link from Paris situated just outside the centre.
Like Bordeaux, Avignon's Old Town complete with ancient ramparts is a Unesco heritage site but as a holiday home destination beloved by wealthy Parisians and international buyers, prices are higher than in Bordeaux.
"The high-speed link to Avignon has been a major contributor to the success of real estate demand in the area," says Mark Harvey of Knight Frank. "It underpins the area as a year-round destination, attracting regular holiday usage and also weekend commutes from London, Brussels and Paris."
Les Alpilles is a popular area for British buyers, especially chic villages such as St Remy, 35 minutes from the coast, where a good four-bedroom house would rent for up to £2,500 a week in July and August.
Within 20 minutes of Avignon, Home Hunts (020 8144 5501) have a renovated four-bedroom house close to St Remy for £822,000. The same amount buys a six-bedroom 17th-century country house between Avignon and the Luberon through Chesterton Humberts (020 3040 8210), while a pretty four-bedroom farmhouse, two miles from St Remy, with gardens and a pool is £800,260 through Knight Frank (020 7629 8171).
Philippe Colombu of Leggett Immobilier advises investors to look in the centre of Avignon where properties sell quickly and studio apartments — if you can find one — start from £134,215.