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
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
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