Where the British buy abroad: favourite destinations

The British once went abroad clutching teabags. Now they buy homes and even drink the water
At the start of Queen Elizabeth's reign in 1952, only the wealthy travelled abroad. The prohibitive cost of air travel and strict currency controls meant that most Britons holidayed on the UK coastline — shingle beaches and no sun often being the norm.

Lime Grove, Barbados
From £190,630: at Lime Grove, Holetown, Barbados, one- to three-bedroom apartments (020 7016 3740)

Those who could travel further headed cautiously for the British colony of Barbados, the safe Swiss Alps or the Côte d'Azur, following in the footsteps of an earlier royal, Queen Victoria. Yet for the average Briton, tales of high living in house parties from the Caribbean to Cannes were alien.

Through the Swinging Sixties things changed, and by 1971 Britons were making six million trips abroad each year. This rose to 70 million in 2011. Over that same period a strong pound and soaring house prices encouraged 450,000 of us to invest in a home abroad.

Les Collons in the Verbier ski area
£626,190: four-bedroom chalets at Les Collons in the Verbier ski area (020 8905 5511)


Spain and France are the perennial favourites but have been joined by more distant destinations from Turkey to Cape Town. The two main factors encouraging this geographical diversity have been budget airlines and easy access to finance. Well before easyJet and Ryanair, Laker Airways blazed a trail. By last year 42 million passengers were travelling with easyJet alone.

Mortgage availability has also improved in those 60 years. Mortgages to foreigners started in France in earnest in the 1980s, says John Busby of French Private Finances, and with interest rates close to historic lows, now is a great time to secure a mortgage there. "France is possibly the most open country in the world to lend at present," says Busby.

"Mortgage rates reached 15 per cent in the past 20 years but today are around four per cent fixed for 20 years with 70 per cent loan to value available. In France finance is available, albeit with careful checks to complete."

Despite the global slowdown there is still an appetite to own a property abroad. A report from Savills last year showed that the number of investors abroad had reached record highs. Budget flights mean it can be cheaper to reach parts of Europe than Cornwall for Londoners, while modern technology means more of us can work remotely. A desire for safety means that the old favourites from 60 years ago remain in favour: Switzerland, the south of France and Barbados for example, joined by new favourites like Turkey.

Sainte-Foy villas near Val d'Isère
From £159,650: new one- to three-bedroom Sainte-Foy villas near Val d'Isère with communal pool and sauna (0844 879 2903)

The original favourite

While France is still the most popular destination for overseas owners, buyers have changed where they buy, often choosing culturally vibrant Paris over traditional sea and sand destinations. Rental returns are increasingly important at all levels of the market, as budget-conscious owners aim to at least cover some of the running costs of their home, and cities offer good potential yields.

Expect to pay from £201,000 for a Parisian studio and from £321,760 for a smart one-bedroom flat in the desirable Marais. Susie Holland of Vingt Paris advises owners to buy two studios, which are easy to rent for €1,200 (£965) a month, rather than one big apartment. "France is a stable market with good value property and interesting leaseback schemes," says Joanna Yellowlees-Bound of Erna Low. "Paris values are up 23 per cent this year and there are good deals from the Alps to the coast."

The Seventies favourite

Spanish prices have tumbled 50 per cent and finance is tight so most house hunters tend to be cash buyers. On Mallorca, Taylor Wimpey is selling off-plan and newly completed apartments from £160,880. It says that sales rose 21 per cent in the first four months of 2012. On the less developed east coast prices are back to 2003 levels. At Cala d'Or close to the marina, furnished two-bedroom 753sq ft apartments in four-storey blocks at El Puerto start at €195,000 (£156,860). Nearby at Puerto Cristo, two-bedroom apartments at Cala Anguilla start at €243,500 (£195,870).

Four-bedroom villa in Sotogrande
£844,600: four-bedroom villa with separate guest house, in Sotogrande, southern Spain (020 7016 3740)

Up and coming Turkey

One of the undoubted stars of the past decade, south-west Turkey combines affordable property with strong yields. Apartments in Fethiye start from £95,000 while in Bodrum, A Place Overseas has one-bedroom apartments from £40,000.


* French Private Finance: 020 7471 4515; frenchprivatefinance.com
* Vingt Paris: +33 9 70 46 69 01; vingtparis.com
* Taylor Wimpey Spain: 0800 0121 020; taylorwimpeyspain.com
* Place Overseas: 020 8371 0059; propertyturkeyforsale.com

The hand-picked holidaymakers

An early pioneer in helping Britons travel abroad was Erna Low, an Austrian-born woman who established chalet parties to the Alps. From 1948 she placed adverts in the personal columns — and initially vetted each applicant — taking groups of 10 to 20 people to the Alps for a fortnight for £15 each and joining them on the slopes.

"The key difference between skiers now and 60 years ago is that skiing used to be for the elite whereas now it is open to all," says Erna Low MD Joanna Yellowlees-Bound. "It has become classless over the years. Prices for ski holidays have not really gone up in the past 10 years and anyone can book a holiday whether you stay in a cheap French studio or a luxury chalet. The ski market has grown to over one million skiers compared to just tens of thousands in the Fifties."

Early tips from Erna included advising her clients to wear their heavy ski boots on the plane to dodge baggage weight restrictions and allowing them to prepay in sterling to circumvent strict foreign currency controls. She also expanded into school groups, and one of her clients in the Seventies was a teenage Princess Anne.

Erna Low died in 2002 but her company carries on, taking 15,000 skiers to the Alps each year and operating a successful property sales arm, predominantly in France.

* Erna Low: 0844 879 2903; ernalow.co.uk

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