Straight off the ferry Lovely places and properties within easy reach of the Channel ports
Here are just some of the things you could miss if you roll off the ferry in France and zoom south without looking back. A sky-piercing monastery on an enchanting island; a coastal footpath of huge pink boulders that glow orange at sunset; ancient mountains, rivers, lakes and forests; long sandy beaches and peaceful coves; the stomping grounds of William the Conqueror and Claude Monet; five World Heritage Sites – the list goes on.
All these can be found within minutes of leaving the Channel ports, making this sliver of northern France the perfect place for a weekend retreat or permanent home with easy access to the UK. Join us on a househunting journey along the coast.
Calais and Dunkirk What springs to mind when you think of the Somme? A bleak no-man’s land of mud and mayhem? Or gently rolling hills and pristine long beaches, forests and valleys, stunning châteaux and crumbling cob farms, food and music festivals, brocante sales in every village and UNESCO World Heritage-worthy cities?
For Jennifer and Drew Allen it’s the latter. They can leave London on a Friday evening and be at their holiday home in Barly, west of Arras, just four hours later, returning home on the last Sunday ferry from Calais or even early on Monday morning.
“It’s our own sanctuary,” says Jennifer. “We considered a place in Italy or Spain but this is so close we’ve been able to come every three weeks or so. We’re in a farming village where not a lot happens, but to be honest, that’s the attraction.”
Now that the couple are able to move permanently to France, they’re selling up (see listing below) but say they will miss the stunning Opal Coast and enchanting communities such as Le Crotoy and St-valérysur-somme as well as the tranquil countryside and antique markets of Lille, Arras and Amiens. What’s the property market like? Housing in Nord, Pas-de-calais and Somme is cheaper than further along the coast in Haute-normandie, though prices are creeping up. A house in Somme, for example, costs an average of just €123,000, less than a third of what you’d be expected to pay across the Channel in East Sussex. Predictably the cities and Opal Coast beaches command the highest prices, especially the resorts of Le Touquet Paris-plage (where a typical house will cost you €560,000) and Fort-mahon-plage as well as the
ultra-accessible fishing port of Wissant, known as the Perle d’opale.
If you’re prepared to drive 90 minutes or so, Tim Sage, an agent for Leggett Immobilier, recommends quieter (and slightly cheaper) coastal spots such as Berck, St-valéry and Le Crotoy, or coming inland to the Seven Valleys. Houses in bustling Hesdin and legendary Azincourt, for example, cost a quarter of what you could find in Le Touquet.
“This is the agricultural heart of France,” says Tim of the rolling farmland and forests between Montreuil-sur-mer, Aire-sur-la-lys and Authie. “It’s very pretty and the people are incredibly friendly. After two world wars they are used to foreigners.”
Some of the finest sights, experiences and properties in France can be enjoyed within minutes of leaving the ferry, says Ruth Wood
Though not the popular seaside resort it once was, Dieppe is a gateway to the Côte d’albâtre (Alabaster Coast) a 130km stretch of dramatic white chalk cliffs sculpted by time and tides. Within minutes of leaving the ferry you can be dining on oysters freshly plucked off Pourville-sur-mer or strolling along the pebbly beach near Varengeville-sur-mer where towering white cliffs stretch as far as you can see. Further on you’ll find the sandy resort of St-aubin and the fishing and weaving village of Veules-les-roses, a favourite haunt of Victor Hugo. To the south is the cathedral city of Rouen where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and the Boucles de la Seine Normande regional park where charming villages line the sinuous river.
Like Le Havre, Dieppe is little more than two-and-a-half hours from Paris and close to the Plus Beaux Villages of Gerberoy and Lyons-la-forêt as well as Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. What’s the property market like? Houses in Seine-maritime cost an average of €150,000, making the department more affordable than further west, though more expensive than further east. Around Dieppe, there are a handful of property hotspots, such as the coastal communities of Varengeville and St-aubin, but a house here will still cost less than a seaside home in Calvados. Houses in the countryside of Eure, south of Seine-maritime, do not cost significantly less, though prices fall the further south-west you travel and rise the closer you get to Honfleur in the north or Paris in the south-east. Le Havre Le Havre celebrates its 500th anniversary this year and its stark post-war architecture has UNESCO World Heritage status. Most visitors, though, quickly spread out to the beautiful locations in all directions. To
the north-east are the magnificent white cliffs of the Alabaster Coast, perhaps best seen from the pebbly beach at Étretat with its iconic chalk arches. South-west over the Normandy Bridge lies the Côte Fleurie (Flowery Coast), long known as the Parisian Riviera because of its chic beach resorts. The crème-de-la-crème is Deauville, famous for its pristine white sands, colourful beach parasols and villas.
This coast also forms the northern edge of the Pays d’auge, Normandy’s emblematic heartland of apple orchards, lush pasture and half-timbered ( colombage) houses in picturesque communities such as Beuvron and Cormeilles. The Plus Beau Village of Le Bec Hellouin is worth a visit for its colourful
colombage and its abbey, which provided England with three archbishops of Canterbury. What’s the property market like? Le Havre is in Seine-maritime, the same department as Dieppe (see above) and on the border with Calvados, the same department as Ouistreham (see below).
Welcome to Calvados, home of William the Conqueror, the D Day beaches, Camembert cheese, apple brandy and picture-postcard houses. The landscape around Ouistreham (Caen) is one area that has not been overlooked by Brits. You’ll find us a hop, skip and jump from the port admiring the Bayeux Tapestry, remembering the fallen at Pegasus Bridge and enjoying the sunshine on the beaches stormed by the Allies in 1944. We sit in cafés around Honfleur marina, sun ourselves in impossibly elegant Deauville and gawp at the half-timbered houses in villages such as Beuvron-en-auge. Head south through fields of maize and cattle into Orne and the regional park of Normandie-maine and you find a landscape perfect for hiking, climbing, canoeing and horse-riding. Charming settlements include St-céneri-le-gérai, Lassay-les-châteaux and Domfront. What’s the property market like? Calvados is the most expensive department on the Channel, especially the Côte Fleurie stretch between Ouistreham and Honfleur. Typically,
you won’t get change from €500,000 for a house in Deauville where prices are nearly triple the department average of €170,000. However, Trouville, Caborg and Houlgate are slightly more affordable and the marina town of Honfleur is not as expensive as you might think, at €200,000 for an average house.
Beuvron-en-auge, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, attracts a premium but other attractive Pays d’auge settlements, such as the market town of Cormeilles in Eure, are significantly cheaper.
Prices are also lower along the D-day beaches, past Bayeux, and south-east, even in lovely communities such as Bernay and Le Bec Hellouin. Directly south of Caen in the department of Orne, there are bargains to be had especially the western side around Domfront, where an average house costs €82,000, though the thermal spa town of Bagnoles de l’orne is pricier.
Fresh off the ferry, many Brits put their foot down and zoom through the Cotentin peninsula in a blur. But those who linger are rewarded. Turn left out of the port and within half an hour you’ll be in the traditional Norman fishing port of Barfleur, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France.
Half an hour in the other direction will bring you to the Cap de la Hague, a wild and atmospheric cape teeming with migratory birds, botanical treasures and the odd coastal path hiker.
Running down the peninsula’s western flank are vast empty beaches with crashing surf and grassy dunes as well as little fishing ports and shelterered bays, offering views of the Iles de Chausey and Channel Islands.
“You can be virtually on your own on the beach and the sunsets are to die for,” says Darryl Miles, who runs local estate agency Miles Immobilier. “I like the cathedral city of Coutances; it’s a beautiful place with little bars and restaurants around the main square and a brilliant jazz festival.” What’s the property market like? Manche is the most affordable department on the Channel coastline with a typical home costing €120,000 and many homes available for half that price, though the western coastline is more expensive. According to Darryl, “cheap and cheerful” lock-up-and-leave holiday homes costing €50,000-75,000 are popular with Brits while those with €150,000 or more to spend are usually looking for a permanent home with savings left over to enjoy. “You do get a lot of people who buy a holiday home that later becomes a main residence,” he adds.
Although the French are keen on Granville, from where you can take a ferry to the Iles de Chausey, and job hunters gravitate towards Cherbourg, Brits prefer traditional and affordable villages inland such as Hambye.
Within moments of exiting the ferry terminal here, you can be sunbathing on golden sands
beside turquoise waters or exploring the walled city’s narrow cobbled streets. A hop across the Rance estuary brings you to the genteel resort of Dinard while a trip down its banks takes you through the Plus Beau Village of St-suliac to Dinan, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Brittany, and on to book town Bécherel, France’s answer to Hay-on-wye.
An hour’s drive east of St-malo is one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions: the island of Mont-st-michel and its iconic monastery. Travel west and you come to the Emerald Coast with its picturesque ports such as Binic and sandy resorts such as Sables-d’or-les-pins.
Inland you’ll find wonderful cycle paths, the ancient forest of Brocéliande and large lakes such as Guerlédan. What’s the property market like? Bucking the trend in the rest of Brittany, house prices in the department of Ille-et-vilaine are on the rise, up by 3.7% on this time last year, though not yet at their 2007 peak.
The most expensive area outside the capital Rennes is the ultra-desirable beach resort of Dinard where houses cost an average of €305,000 while along the Emerald Coast prices are predictably highest in tourism hotspots such as Lancieux, Sables-d’or-les-pins, Pleneuf-val-andré (€203,500), Binic, St-quayPortrieux (€150,000) and Erquy (€177,500). However, these prices still compare favourably with Brittany’s south coast.
If your budget won’t stretch that far but you
The white cliffs of Etretat have inspired many artists
Mont St-michel at sunset
The Iles de Chausey off the Cotentin peninsula