The Mor­bi­han Gulf in Brit­tany be­longs to the Club of the most Beau­ti­ful Bays in the World

Har­bour­ing de­sires for a home by the sea? Go for the Golfe du Mor­bi­han, sug­gests

French Property News - - News - Carolyn Reynier

While flick­ing through the pa­pers one day last Septem­ber, a story about a seafood fes­ti­val caught my eye. The key num­bers were as fol­lows: 700kg of oys­ters opened by 130 vol­un­teers, 300kg of moules­frites, 1,100 crêpes and galettes, an in­de­ter­mi­nate num­ber of bot­tles of white wine, cider and beer, im­pres­sive quan­ti­ties of mer­guez and chipo­latas, plus sea shanties, coun­try danc­ing – all for the delec­ta­tion of 1,500 vis­i­tors from near and far. This sounded like my sort of fes­ti­val. It was the Fête de l’huître which closes the sum­mer sea­son in Ar­radon, a lit­tle port just west of the an­cient walled town of Vannes.

We are on the shore of the Golfe du Mor­bi­han, a small in­te­rior sea shel­ter­ing part of Brit­tany’s south coast from the At­lantic swell. The Mor-bi­han, (mean­ing lit­tle sea in Bre­ton) was cre­ated many thou­sands of years ago when the At­lantic in­vaded the land near Vannes and Au­ray, drown­ing river val­leys – which be­came the area’s char­ac­ter­is­tic ‘ rias’ es­tu­ar­ies – and en­cir­cling an­cient hills, which be­came around 40 is­lands. Today, it is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion famed for its colour­ful ports and beau­ti­ful is­lands sur­rounded by turquoise wa­ters.

Ar­radon and around I thought it would be fun to look at prop­erty along the north­ern edge of the Golfe, be­tween Au­ray and for­ti­fied Vannes, which was founded by the Ro­mans. I started on the western side with Ni­co­las Si­mon at Im­mo­bilier Moc­quard in Le Bono, four kilo­me­tres from Au­ray and 20 from Vannes. This lit­tle mar­itime vil­lage of 2,500 souls is tucked away in a cove of the Sal which joins the river Au­ray as it runs down into the Golfe du Mor­bi­han. Ni­co­las’ sec­tor ex­tends east and south to Plougoume­len, Baden, Lar­mor-baden and – just on the out­skirts of pre­fec­ture Vannes – the com­mune of Ar­radon.

In Le Bono, orig­i­nally a fish­ing vil­lage, you find small old stone fish­er­men’s cot­tages ( maisons de pêcheur). These of­ten re­quire ren­o­va­tion; ex­pect to pay €150,000-€200,000 for one that does. If you pre­fer some­thing more

mod­ern, there are con­tem­po­rary prop­er­ties in es­tates both in and out­side the vil­lage priced around the €300,000 mark.

You’ll find sim­i­lar styles of prop­erty in the other com­munes al­though prices are “very ex­pen­sive” in the larger vil­lage of Ar­radon be­cause it is “la pre­mière couronne de Vannes”, says Ni­co­las. You of­ten hear this ex­pres­sion; the word ‘ couronne’ means ‘crown’ or ‘ring’, which here in­di­cates that Ar­radon lies in the first pe­riph­ery around Vannes. If it was a lit­tle fur­ther re­moved from the pré­fec­ture it would be in the “deux­ième couronne”.

Along­side the fish­er­men’s cot­tages you find the ‘ mai­son néo-bre­tonne’. These pop­u­lar

houses started ap­pear­ing in the 1960s and are typ­i­cally white with steep slate roofs and prom­i­nent gran­ite sur­rounds on the doors and win­dows, giv­ing them a cer­tain ca­chet. Ni­co­las is sell­ing one in Le Bono – 140m2 of liv­ing space, with four bed­rooms in grounds of 1,260m2 – for €299,250.

Above par in the Golfe The spec­tac­u­lar views over the Golfe de Mor­bi­han and its is­lands mean you can eas­ily spend a mil­lion eu­ros or more for a top-end home. Ni­co­las some­times has these ex­cep­tional prop­er­ties in his port­fo­lio, par­tic­u­larly at Lar­mor-baden which lies at the end of a head­land south of Baden.

The com­munes of Ar­radon and Lar­mor-baden are both très cotées mean­ing they’re highly sought af­ter. Both are mar­itime villages with a lit­tle port and easy ac­cess to the gulf for sailors. And this is re­flected in prices. For ex­am­ple, says Ni­co­las, in the com­mune of Lar­mor-baden you will pay at least €500,000 for a house – “quelque chose de cor­rect”, an­other use­ful ex­pres­sion mean­ing some­thing de­cent and ad­e­quate with liv­ing space of around 150m2 on a plot of 1,000m2 but no sea view.

Views are ex­pen­sive here, he adds, as peo­ple come from the four cor­ners of France to live in Mor­bi­han. His buy­ers of main homes may work lo­cally or in Au­ray or Vannes. Parisians and oth­ers of­ten pur­chase a sec­ond home ini­tially and sub­se­quently re­tire here.

There are pos­si­ble in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties too, with strong de­mand for long-term lets and not much avail­able.

Ca­role Bénéat-chau­vel, based at her agency’s Vannes of­fice, ex­plains that the small town of Ar­radon is shel­tered by the Golfe du Mor­bi­han and has a rich and var­ied land­scape of

wood­land, coun­try­side and mar­itime coast­line. Since the early 20th cen­tury, fam­i­lies have been at­tracted to the area in par­tic­u­lar thanks to its beaches and deep har­bour as well as as its prox­im­ity to Vannes with its hos­pi­tal and shops.

The com­mune has man­aged to re­tain its rus­tic char­ac­ter and today only the cen­tre has tall build­ings. Along the shore you find “de­meures de car­ac­tère”, most dat­ing from the early 20th cen­tury. Ex­pect to pay be­tween €1.5m and €2.5m for one of these dwellings, de­pend­ing on its con­di­tion. Since the 1960s, some large fam­ily prop­er­ties have been di­vided up to make way for con­tem­po­rary vil­las, she adds. Prices are in the re­gion of €2m for a prop­erty over­look­ing the sea with around 250m² of liv­ing space.

Suit­ing your bud­get

If these are a bit over bud­get, you could per­haps look for an apart­ment. A stu­dio in Ar­radon is cur­rently on sale for €111,300 while a one-bed­room apart­ment is on the mar­ket for €103,700 at Séné, in an area of pro­tected marsh­land just south of Vannes. An­other at Lar­mor-baden with port view is on the mar­ket for €127,200 and a ground-floor two-bed­room apart­ment with cel­lar and park­ing at Baden has a price tag of €238,000 (all on be­neatchau­vel.com).

In and prior to the early 20th cen­tury, houses were grouped to­gether in vil­lage cen­tres or

around the main ham­lets such as Le Mous­toir and the pretty ports of Lar­mor-baden and Le Bono. Most of these fish­er­men’s cot­tages (which con­sist of a ground floor with at­tic above) and the smarter “maisons de cap­i­taine” (which have an ad­di­tional first floor) have al­ready been ren­o­vated. You can find the for­mer for €300,000-€400,000, and the lat­ter for around €500,000. Ca­role adds that today, two-thirds are oc­cu­pied as main res­i­dences while the rest are hol­i­day homes.

If you yearn for a ren­o­va­tion pro­ject what about an 18th or 19th cen­tury longère? You find these for­mer agri­cul­tural build­ings, many of which have re­tained their char­ac­ter, in the coun­try­side sur­round­ing the gulf. Around 30m in length, they cost around €180,000-€200,000, grow­ing cheaper the fur­ther you move in­land.

With the ar­rival of the high-speed rail link, we are ex­pect­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in pur­chase en­quiries and doubt­less prices too

Island life

The two main in­hab­ited is­lands in the Golfe du Mor­bi­han are the Ile-aux-moines and the Ile-d’arz if you don’t count the Quiberon penin­sula or the is­lands of Belle-ile, Houat and Hoedic, which are just out­side the gulf. In by­gone days, the is­lan­ders mainly worked in mar­itime-re­lated in­dus­tries as fish­er­men or cap­tains of fish­ing boats, sailors who had sailed the Cap Horn route or to the cod banks in New­found­land. Their ves­sels, and by ex­ten­sion the mariners, were known as cap-horniers or terre-neu­vas (well, you never know when you might be able to drop those terms into a con­ver­sa­tion with an an­cient mariner!).

Prices for island fish­er­men’s cot­tages are sim­i­lar to the main­land and, un­sur­pris­ingly, ur­ban plan­ning is strictly con­trolled so the is­lands have re­tained their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Ca­role says there has been a grow­ing trend over the past 20 years for re­tirees to buy and ren­o­vate houses here. They of­ten keep a small apart­ment in their home city of Paris, Nantes or Stras­bourg where they spend some of the win­ter months. Dur­ing the school hol­i­days, the prop­er­ties are usu­ally oc­cu­pied by chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

Ev­ery­one is look­ing for qual­ity of life, a tem­per­ate cli­mate and ab­so­lute se­cu­rity. “On these is­lands, houses re­main open and don’t need a se­cu­rity sys­tem,” says Ca­role. Hav­ing lived on an island my­self – same ocean but much fur­ther north – I know what she means. It is a very spe­cial feel­ing. The Ile-aux-moines, in the gulf, and Belle-ile, out at sea, are the most pop­u­lar be­cause they have a bet­ter daily boat ser­vice and are bet­ter equipped for ba­sic pro­vi­sions. They also ben­e­fit from deep­wa­ter ports and beaches.

“The sea­sonal let mar­ket is also boom­ing,” says Ca­role. “This is a rel­a­tively new and grow­ing phe­nom­e­non. More and more clients are buy­ing to let out their prop­erty when not us­ing it them­selves. With the ar­rival of the high-speed rail link con­nect­ing Vannes to Paris in two-and-a-half-hours by TGV we are ex­pect­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in pur­chase en­quiries and doubt­less prices too.”

The gulf is your oys­ter

So why not go for the Golfe? Twelve thou­sand hectares of sea shel­tered from the ocean swell, the Golfe du Mor­bi­han is a mem­ber of the Club of the Most Beau­ti­ful Bays in the World. You can fly into the aérog­are of Vannes Golfe du Mor­bi­han if you have your own plane or into Nantes At­lan­tique air­port if you don’t. If you sail, the world is your oys­ter. So why not tuck into them at Ar­radon, pot­ter around Plougoume­len, or bank on Le Bono – and you, too, may just find the house of your dreams.

Les Fêtes His­toriques in Vannes

Look­ing down on the fish­ing boats of Port-anna in Séné Sail­ing by a church in Pen­boch, near Ar­radon

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