We meet those who love this part of Provence, in­clud­ing a best­selling au­thor

Made fa­mous by ‘A Year in Provence’, the Luberon of­fers quaint Provençal vil­lages and balmy coun­try­side. Carolyn Reynier re­vis­its to find out how the au­thor – and the prop­erty mar­ket – are far­ing

French Property News - - Contents - rosier.pro agence-sud-luberon.com par­c­du­luberon.fr

Some 10 years ago I spoke to Pe­ter Mayle, au­thor of A Year in Provence, about his homes in the Parc Na­turel Ré­gional du Luberon. He dis­cov­ered the area by ac­ci­dent when he and his wife Jen­nie vis­ited Gordes – “sun­set one night, the whole thing was ab­so­lutely rav­ish­ing”. Fel­lows play­ing boules, others sit­ting in a café, din­ner in a lovely restau­rant – this is the life, they thought, if we can ever live out here it would be great.

Their first house was near Ménerbes, north of the Mon­tagne du Luberon; their sec­ond close to Lour­marin in the south. Pe­ter talked of the chang­ing sea­sons, win­ter tast­ings of lo­cal wines in the café, truf­fles, wild mush­rooms and spring veg­eta­bles picked two hours be­fore they come to the mar­ket. “It’s heaven,” he said.

To find out more about Pe­ter Mayle’s heaven I spoke to Jean-marc Rosier whose agency is in the sunny hill­top vil­lage of Gordes. He ex­plained that ev­ery­thing con­structed in the com­mune has to be in lime­stone with Ro­man tiles ( tu­iles canal), in keep­ing with the ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­tural style – “a real se­cu­rity from a vis­ual point of view,” he adds.

Gordes’ rich ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage in­cludes a hand­ful of hô­tels par­ti­c­uliers, pri­vate man­sions, of­ten built into the vil­lage fabric. “They may be ter­raced on one side, some­times on two, but they are very rarely iso­lated.” He ex­plains that in olden days, these Luberon hill­top vil­lages served a strate­gic pur­pose and were con­structed as de­fen­sive bases.

Ar­riv­ing be­low Gordes, you had to cross sev­eral lanes and pass be­neath high walls from which you could be at­tacked. To­day, house­hunters can ex­pect to pay from €800,000 to sev­eral mil­lion eu­ros for a prop­erty in the vil­lage.

Plain speak­ing

Vil­las on the plain can be found from €500,000; these must also re­spect the obli­ga­tions of stone and ter­ra­cotta tile con­struc­tion. Jean-marc says it is one of the rare com­munes where even agri­cul­tural build­ings must be built in ac­cor­dance with these con­di­tions, i.e. with ex­posed stonework

Those who wish to build would like to see more land re­leased for con­struc­tion – those who al­ready live here would not

( pierre ap­par­ente). “And be­lieve me, it changes the price enor­mously,” he adds.

The sur­round­ing ham­lets of vil­lage houses, per­haps with a lit­tle out­side space, have their own charm. Les Gros, an an­cient Protes­tant ham­let, has a ter­raced con­struc­tion with a “cer­tain cir­cu­lar­ity” form­ing a kind of de­fen­sive mi­cro-ram­part. In Les Im­berts, ly­ing more on the plain, you find more ru­ral build­ings.

Old build­ings for ren­o­va­tion are rare and the area’s pop­u­lar­ity means de­mand for build­ing land is strong. Those who wish to build, or who al­ready own land with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion, would like to see more land re­leased for con­struc­tion – those who al­ready live here would not, laughs Mon­sieur Rosier.

To the east lies Rous­sil­lon and its ochre quar­ries. Fol­low­ing the Sec­ond World War there was a rivalry be­tween the artis­tic sides of the two vil­lages with Rous­sil­lon be­ing a bit more bo­hemian than Gordes, he ex­plains. Gordes de­cided to go for the so­lid­ity of stone; Rous­sil­lon opted for the sim­ply aes­thetic ap­proach – ochre colours.

You oc­ca­sion­ally find tiny vil­lage houses squeezed in be­tween two larger ones, with just a small ter­race for €150,000-€200,000; and you can find prop­er­ties with an in­ter­nal pool worth over two mil­lion eu­ros. Ei­ther way, the façade will be painted in ochre. “It’s oblig­a­tory, like stone is oblig­a­tory chez nous,” says Jean-marc.

There are some ex­tra­or­di­nary prop­er­ties in other vil­lages – Ménerbes, La­coste, Bon­nieux. Cou­turier Pierre Cardin bought and re­stored the La­coste château, with links to the Mar­quis de Sade, which hosts an an­nual mu­sic and the­atre fes­ti­val (this year from 15-24 July). How­ever, some ar­eas may be close to the road and noisy, while others are too en­sconced in the Luberon it­self. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Jean-marc says build­ings with the great­est value tend to be large old former bastides and en­tirely ren­o­vated mas or other stone dwellings built from the lo­cal white lime­stone which takes on a grey­ish hue with age.

Sea­sonal vari­a­tions

With a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of sec­ond homes, es­pe­cially in the up­per price bracket, there is a high-end sea­sonal ren­tal mar­ket. How­ever, most vil­lages are closely linked to the busy tourist sea­son so life be­comes un­doubt­edly qui­eter dur­ing win­ter months with lo­cal busi­nesses clos­ing for hol­i­days and main­te­nance work.

Ar­naud Rip­pert, at an­other fam­ily agency, Agence Sud Luberon in Lour­marin, ex­plains that the south­ern Luberon has Aix-en-provence as its ref­er­ence point, 30 min­utes away, whereas the north­ern side has Avi­gnon. Al­though south­ern vil­lages are also touristy, they are an­i­mated ( vi­vants) all year round. North­ern vil­lages like Gordes are pretty and may be bet­ter known in­ter­na­tion­ally, but many sec­ond homes are only oc­cu­pied in July and Au­gust and Ar­naud con­firms that it can be a bit dead in the win­ter.

Lour­marin is well known thanks to the French writer and philoso­pher Al­bert Ca­mus (1957 No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture; think The Stranger and The Plague), who bought a house here and is buried in the ceme­tery. You may have heard these lines: “Don’t walk be­hind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not fol­low. Just walk be­side me and be my friend.” That was Ca­mus.

Set back from main roads, it is a quiet vil­lage at the start of the pic­turesque Combe de Lour­marin, the small de­part­men­tal road cross­ing the moun­tain chain to Apt. As Ar­naud ex­plains: “It’s at the foot of the Luberon so it’s in a very, very beau­ti­ful spot.”

In the same lo­cal­ity, within a ra­dius of

around 10km, other vil­lages pop­u­lar with buy­ers in­clude Cu­curon, Vaug­ines and An­souis. Shops are open year round and the prox­im­ity of Aix is a big help. It may be worth look­ing, too, at Lau­ris, close to the Du­rance river, which is be­com­ing more pop­u­lar, adds Ar­naud.

There are many sec­ond homes here too (and so a good sea­sonal let mar­ket) but own­ers tend to come year round, not just in sum­mer. They may live in Paris or Lon­don, but they come south ev­ery third week­end, and for all the hol­i­days. Mar­seille Provence air­port and the high-speed TGV (Aix and Avi­gnon) are nearby.

Prop­erty styles

The wide choice of prop­erty varies from stone vil­lage houses to large es­tates ( grosses pro­priétés) via mod­ern vil­las and an­cient mas. A vil­lage prop­erty may come with no out­side space (just a pot of basil on the win­dow sill), or could have a ter­race, even a gar­den (very rare and there­fore pricier). Ex­pect to pay €300,000€350,000 for a 100m2 vil­lage house with ter­race. Those with gar­dens are of­ten larger; Ar­naud re­cently sold one (200m2, ren­o­vated, pool in gar­den of 400m2, two park­ing spa­ces) for €1.15m.

Vil­las of 150m2-200m2 built in a tra­di­tional style over the past four decades or so, in a good lo­ca­tion, with no work re­quired, and a pool and gar­den would cost be­tween €600,000 and €800,000. A 170m2 mas at Cu­curon with pool in grounds of 6,000m2 re­cently sold for €650,000. De­pend­ing on the con­di­tion, Ar­naud says you could pay up to €850,000, while the larger es­tates can eas­ily pass the mil­lion euro mark.

Al­though it is dif­fi­cult to­day to find an old tum­ble­down prop­erty for ren­o­va­tion, the area is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pe­riod of “sec­ond restora­tions,” says Ar­naud. These houses were orig­i­nally ren­o­vated decades ago and to­day’s prospec­tive buyer of­ten wants to redo ev­ery­thing.

How­ever, this is not re­flected in lower prop­erty prices, for two rea­sons. Firstly – an­other dif­fer­ence with the north­ern Luberon – there are fewer build­ings in the south. Se­condly, folk who buy here have made the choice to buy in the south­ern Luberon and they don’t sell un­less they’re too old, di­vorce or die, hence there’s not an enor­mous amount for sale.

In the north­ern Luberon there is a real sec­ond home mar­ket. Peo­ple buy, ren­o­vate to their taste, come on hol­i­day for four or five years, and re­sell. So turnover is quicker whereas in the south it av­er­ages around 10 to 12 years – “C’est un mi­cro-marché,” laughs Ar­naud.

A not in­con­sid­er­able ad­van­tage of the south­ern Luberon is that you are more pro­tected from the Mis­tral, the strong and chilly wind that hur­tles down the Rhône val­ley. The Luberon chain forms a nat­u­ral bar­rier. “Ob­vi­ously if the Mis­tral is blow­ing, it’s go­ing to blow here, too, but much less strongly than in Avi­gnon, the Alpilles or in the north

Luberon,” says Ar­naud. And all the south­ern vil­lages which are backed up against the moun­tain are, of course, very shel­tered from it.

I’ll leave you with an­other quote from Al­bert Ca­mus: “In the depth of win­ter I fi­nally learned that there was in me an invincible sum­mer.” I do hope these Vau­cluse vil­lages may lure you to the Luberon so that you can ex­pe­ri­ence both.

Top left: The an­cient hill­top vil­lage of Gordes, in the north­ern Luberon Be­low left: The 12th- cen­tury Cis­ter­cian abbey of Notre-dame de Sé­nanque near Gordes, sur­rounded by laven­der fields Top: Ochre fa­cades in the streets of Rous­sil­lon (north­ern Luberon) Above right: The Sen­tier des Ocres at Rous­sil­lon, Be­low: The vil­lage of Lour­marin (south­ern Luberon)

Above: Restau­rants around the étang at Cu­curon, in the south­ern Luberon Right: The vil­lage of An­souis (south­ern Luberon)

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