Popular holiday homes in western Var

Leave the glitzy Côte d'Azur behind and head for the calmer waters of western Var to buy a home
While the Côte d'Azur has bagged most of the headlines in the South of France for decades, fans of the coastline further west keep quiet about its plentiful charms. This rocky coast from Marseilles, past Toulon to Cavalaire in the Var region, is a beauty with charming fishing villages, intimate coves and small marinas.

Le Lavandou
© Alamy
A view of the harbour in former fishing village Le Lavandou, near the French president's official holiday residence
After the Alpes-Maritime, the Var is the second most popular region of France for holiday homes yet remains relatively uncrowded. There are two reasons for this, says Tess Sheeran of Sheeran Serre, Savills associate in the Var.

"Strict planning rules and the local geography of steep hillsides and dense forests have prevented largescale coastal development," she says. "Buyers are attracted by the prices, well below the price of a comparable home in St Tropez, but it is the peace and low-key lifestyle they most enjoy."

£559,430: four-bedroom villa in Le Pradet
£559,430: for sea views from a four-bedroom villa and garden in Le Pradet (020 7016 3740)
Access improved dramatically in 2007 when Toulon-Hyères airport extended its runway, leading to year-round flights from London City and summer ones from Stansted. In addition, by 2014 the extension of the high-speed Marseilles to Toulon TGV line should be complete, making the journey from Paris a swift three hours and 10 minutes.

"This area provides plenty to do," adds Sheeran. "You can take a ferry to the Porquerolles islands, sail to Corsica or be in St Tropez within an hour. There's 267 miles of coastline and pretty working villages."

Toulon to Le Pradet

In general, property prices rise as you travel east from Toulon towards St Tropez but it is still possible to search out a substantial house with sea views for close to £812,000. On the outskirts of Toulon a pretty four-bedroom Belle Epoque villa across the road from the beach with good views is £1.3 million. An equivalent in St Tropez could reach £5 million, says Sheeran. Thirty minutes from Marseilles in La Cadière d'Azur a renovated detached four-bedroom former schoolhouse overlooking vineyards is £645,500.

In smart Le Pradet, close to Toulon airport with its own small port, a 1,380sq ft house five minutes climb from the beach is £559,430 through Sheeran Serre. The west-facing property has excellent sea views and is arranged as two apartments, each with two bedrooms, and has a garden with space for a pool.

Prices soar for direct water access. A modern four-bedroom villa on the beach in Le Pradet with a three-bedroom guest house and indoor and outdoor pools is £4.484 million.

four-bedroom house in Le Beausset
£803,830: a restored four-bedroom house in Le Beausset west of Toulon, has two and a half acres of land and a pool (020 8144 5501)

Exclusive eastern Var: Cap Nègre to Cavalaire

Heading further east, Le Lavandou is a former fishing village turned charming town with a dozen sandy beaches, an active water sports centre and a bustling weekly Provençal market. This is an area with classy credentials: the official holiday residence of the French President is nearby while Carla Bruni, until recently France's First Lady, has an idyllic estate hidden among parasol pines and mimosa at the end of exclusive Cap Nègre.

In Aiguebelle, part of Le Lavandou, three- and four-bedroom refurbished apartments of 1,000 to 1,280sq ft across the road from the beach with large terraces and garages cost from £450,550 while in chic Rayol-Canadel £1.542 million will buy a seven-bedroom family-friendly cliff-top home with sea views five minutes walk above the beach, both through Sheeran Serre.

"The Aiguebelle apartments would rent for a minimum of £1,625 a week in high season," says Sheeran. "Buyers at all price points are interested in rental returns." In Cavalaire, Home Hunts has a three-bedroom villa for £639,410 and a four-bedroom house for £645,500, both facing out to sea.

Alex works from dawn to dusk - for three months

Alex Viale owns and runs La Pinède, a laid-back beach club at picturesque St Clair, 20 minutes from Toulon, where local residents include supermodel Jerry Hall and artist Tracey Emin. His bar looks across to Cap Nègre and to the small island of Porquerolles.

Alex Viale portrait
Alex Viale runs a beach club near Toulon
"We don't have mass tourism here," says Alex, 39. "It's a beautiful coast, well protected with no high rise and very regional. "We are between the glitz of Cannes and urban Marseilles and not that well known."

Alex, originally from Somerset, lives nearby in the highest house in hilly Aiguebelle. He works from dawn to dusk for three months of the year in high season, often hosting weddings and parties. He says his favourite time of the year is "May and September when there are fewer visitors but the weather remains good".

Contacts and fact file

* Sheeran Serre: through Savills (020 7016 3740; savills.co.uk)
* Home Hunts: (020 8144 5501; home-hunts.com)
* Leggett Immobilier: (0870 011 5151; frenchestateagents.com)
* BA and Easyjet fly from Heathrow and Gatwick to Marseilles, Ryanair from Stansted to Toulon and CityJet from London City to Toulon.
* Stamp duty is 2.5 per cent on new build property and six per cent on resale property in France.

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