The priority for a growing band of busy Londoners searching for a second home is to stay within two hours of the city.
Wise weekend commuters apply the same criteria as daily commuters and search out lesser-known counties and less-expensive locations knowing that their money will go further, and that, if they want to rent out their investment, similar time-conscious couples will make use of their property rather than one in Devon or Cornwall - which can take longer to get to than Paris or Barcelona.
Convenience is key for a seamless town-and-country lifestyle to become a reality.
Property search agents see this trend as their clients clamour to be near train stations or a motorway back to the capital. Buyers are shunning properties down winding lanes or on congested routes, even when the hideaway cottage on offer is idyllic.
A lot of London-based buyers are equity- or cash-rich but time-poor, and want a quick escape and a quick return," says Andrew Palmer, of property consultant DTZ Residential.
Analysis of the rural market by Knight Frank shows "price polarisation" between top-quality properties closer to London and those further afield. Over the last 12 months, values have risen fastest in the Home Counties (10.7 per cent, or twice the national average).
In the Cotswolds, an ever-popular backyard for Londoners, properties have been subject to bidding wars, with buyers paying 20 per cent over the odds.
One exception to the Home Counties rule is Warwickshire, not previously on the radar for most London second home buyers. "Shakespeare’s County" is dissected by the M40 which runs between London and Birmingham.
The south of the county is largely rural and sparsely populated and includes a small area of the Cotswolds. It is about 30 per cent cheaper than the latter, yet equally accessible and close to pretty market towns, canals and the cultural attractions of Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford.
The Thatch is a sizeable, refurbished, listed three-bedroom cottage at the summit of Whitely Hill, close to the attractive village of Henley-in-Arden. It comes with a garage block incorporating an office and studio flat, which could be let to provide additional income. The price is £550,000. Call Savills on 0121 713 4000.
Your mansion, an hour from London
For 25 years, Summers Place, a listed Victorian mansion in the ancient Sussex Weald, was owned by auction firm Sotheby’s and was the place to buy grand country house furniture and garden statuary.
Sitting in 13 private acres close to the village of Billingshurst, the peaceful rural setting belies its close proximity to efficient road and rail connections. It is a country retreat location yet with one-hour trains to Victoria, and a 20-minute hop to Gatwick or Brighton.
Eleven apartments have been created in the mansion, while town houses, mews cottages and an in-keeping apartment block have been built in the grounds - 34 properties in total. Prices start at £360,00. Call Berkeley Homes on 01403 784016.
Despite the longer road trip, East Anglia is gaining in popularity because property remains significantly cheaper than in the western Home Counties.
Diss, right on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, falls just outside the traditional commuter belt (trains to Liverpool Street take 97 minutes) but offers the charms of a medieval market town plus the natural beauty of the Waveney Valley, with Norwich to the north for big-city pursuits. Traditional nearby villages include Hoxne, which is set around a village green and has an historic priory, while Mellis has the largest common in Suffolk (237 acres).
Cottages can be picked up for about £200,000, while larger detached character houses with a garden cost from £375,000, according to estate agent Musker McIntyre. Call 01379 644822. Hopkins Homes builds in traditional market towns, sleepy villages and coastal locations such as Southwold and Aldeburgh.
Just launched is King’s Mead, a select scheme of eight four- and five-bedroom houses in the heritage town of Framlingham (known for its superb castle), recently voted the number one place to live in Suffolk by Country Life magazine. Prices range from £320,000. Call estate agent Clarke and Simpson on 01728 724200.
Best-kept secret places
Savills has identified a few "best-kept secret destinations" in the Home Counties where journey times are roughly 75-90 minutes from the capital and take you into the heart of the countryside.
Going east into Essex, The Teys (Great Tey, Little Tey and Marks Tey) on the edge of the Colne Valley, see the county get seriously pretty. The average house price here is £249,942.
The Darling Buds Of May television series was filmed in the delightful village of Pluckley, close to the North Downs in Kent.
A feature of the village is the distinctive architecture of the sought-after Dering Estate, which once owned many of the houses. Here the average house price is £306,625.