Living in: Provence
The Luberon valley in Provence, France. (Hugh Schofield)
Imagine chucking it all in, Peter Mayle-style, for a mas (farmhouse) on a vine-covered hillside where you will make your own wine while sipping pastis and making friends with your crusty winemaking vigneron neighbours. You are picturing Provence. Tourists flood the region in summer, looking for their place in the sun, but those who own a little piece of this paradise enjoy every season.
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What is it known for?
The good life, one saturated with Provençal colours and flavours, with endless fields of lavender and white-washed stone farmhouses that epitomize the French country chic ideal, immortalized by artists old and new. And do not forget the cuisine and the chefs who are drawn to use what the land produces, from humble bar-restaurants to the Michelin-starred restaurants gastronomique. Perhaps most enticingly, more than half of France’s rosé comes from the region.
Provence is a large region that includes many areas, from the inland mountains of the Alpes de Haute Provence to the golden beaches of the Cote d’Azur. The natural beauty and the tidy, picturesque villages, weekly markets, and range of activities — from horseback riding to skiing — make it a sought-after region for holiday-makers and second-home buyers alike.
This has also made house prices somewhat impervious to the vicissitudes of the global economy. “The Provence market has survived the economic crisis and our colleagues in France are optimistic for the future,” said Anne Mizrachi of French property agents Latitudes.
Where do you want to live?
“There are many reasons why people want to purchase a house in Provence,” said Mizrachi. “Some are looking for a bolthole in the sun — a lock and leave type property, others for a more substantial holiday home with a swimming pool.” And then there are those looking for an investment who want to rent out their properties. They tend to look in places that are magnets for holiday renters, particularly city properties like those in Cannes, Nice, Marseille, Avignon and so on.
Vauclause is a popular area, made so by Peter Mayle and his A Year in Provence books; the medieval villages of Gordes, Lourmarin and Roussillon in particular. In the Bouches de Rhone, Aix-en-Provence is a perennial favourite, and people also search down near Marseilles and the coastal resorts.
St Tropez in Var, along with Les Issambres and Le Lavandou attract buyers who want a coastal property, but prices have pushed land hunters inland to Fayence, Lorgues, Grimaud and Cogolin. Houses with sea views along the Cote d’Azur such as Cannes, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Beaulieu and Nice command the highest prices. “Coastal properties within easy reach of an airport are usually more expensive than inland properties,” said Mizrachi. “You’ll pay a premium for a sea view. A one-bedroom apartment on the Cote d’Azur would start around 250,000 euros.” A two-bedroom penthouse with a terrace and panoramic views of Nice just steps from the seafront costs around 1.3 million euros.
The least expensive area is the Alpes de Haut Provence, in hilltop villages like Valbonne, Mougins and St Paul de Vence. You may get a lot more for your money, but even there, a three-bedroom house with mountain views and a swimming pool costs can cost almost 1.3 million euros as well.
Just travelling from one part of Provence to another can make for a wonderful day or weekend trip. There are train connections to all other parts of France and the TGV from Marseilles makes the trip to Paris in just three hours. There are intercity connections to Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
Provence is mainly served by the Nice airport, and Air France has non-stop flights to New York and other international cities. The Marseilles and Nimes airports are served by regional European airlines with flights to the UK and the rest of Europe.
In Provence, every hillside and town has its own personality and ambience, so to merely like a property is not enough, you must also like the location and the local village. If you are attracted by a house and are considering putting in an offer, let the agent know straight away. “You need to register your interest,” explained Mizrachi. “In France, a house can be sold and off the market within a day.”