Off and on, I’ve been living in France for about 30 years. My first home was in the Dordogne region, near the enchanting medieval town of Sarlat. Now I’m further south in the village of Lacoste, high above the Luberon Valley in Provence - where the weather and property market are hotter.
This region was once home to countless monasteries and to seven Popes. The infamous Marquis de Sade lived in the château perched above Lacoste, but today it is the home of couturier Pierre Cardin, who retains it for his lifetime in exchange for refurbishing the property and opening it up to tourists.
The influx of visitors has done little to change the village below the castle, which remains shop- and traffic-free thanks to its impossibly steep and narrow streets.
The Luberon covers roughly 500 square miles (including the Luberon National Park) and is an area for discerning Francophiles who know to turn away from the crowded southern French coastal towns.
The area has surprisingly few UK homeowners, and the payback for the adventurous house seeker is that property prices are half those in the coastal areas. There is always a daily market on somewhere, and plenty of village shops full of delicious fresh fare.
There’s also plenty of tourism, thanks to A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle’s hugely successful book of 25 years ago. Mayle now has a home in the rather chic village of Lourmarin, famous for its snooty shopkeepers and "Parisian" residents who like to think they have no need for tourists.
The civilised way into the Luberon is by TGV to nearby - and beautiful - Avignon from St Pancras, which after a quick change at Lille glides you into Provence in under six hours from London. There is a small airport with regional flights from the UK, and Marseilles airport is an hour away down the motorway.
Victoria Templeman of Maison Victoire (maisonvictoire.com) is based in Isle-sur-le-Sorgue, the antiques shops and repro furniture capital of France, famous for its weekend market. Currently she has on her books a number of enchanting "live the dream" properties, such as the Mas/chambre d’hôte in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (but don’t buy unless you like antiques) at about £2 million, or a beautiful stone house in the picturesque village of Maubec at about £800,000. There is also a totally delightful stone courtyard house in the famous village of Bonnieux for just over £500,000, and if you are looking for a very reasonable bolthole there’s an apartment to start you off at about £130,000. Bonnieux is unspoilt mainly because tourist buses find it hard to get round its winding roads.
Sotheby’s has an enterprising young couple - Pascal and Alliene Danneau - running its local office (luberonsothebysrealty.com) in the majestic hilltop town of Gordes. They will help with sales, interior design, and handle your renting, and Pascal reports that "wealthy Russians who have given up on the traffic-riddled, glitzy Cannes and St Tropez coastline" are now coming through.
He has a seriously nice 400sq m five-bedroom Mas in the Luberon Valley surrounded by cherry orchards at £2 million, and just above Gordes there is a small village house with garden, good views and its own boules pitch for £1 million.
Pascal says: "There’s plenty for sale at all prices, although larger homes move quickly. Expect to pay from £200,000 for a small village house to around £1 million for a small country house with land, and there is always a Provençal statement home in woodland somewhere for £5 million."
Chris Banks, an East Ender who has lived and worked in the Luberon for 25 years, runs an estate agency (bacon-immobilier.com) and confirms that prices are more realistic now, but adds: "Britons love our village and are still looking. We have a number of small and medium-size homes for sale in Bonnieux. There’s a four-bedroom village home (ref 2197) at £795,000 but there are smaller ones starting at £350,000."
“For over the £1 million mark there is a five-bedroom 18th-century home between Bonnieux and Apt, the main town nearby, at £1.2 million (ref 2159) and a five-bedroom house with five acres at £1.15 million (ref 2202)."
If you want to rent while you look go to just-provence.com.