Unas­sum­ing Avey­ron

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The un­sung de­part­ment with just as many Plus Beaux Vil­lages as Dor­dogne

Deep in ru­ral France, the de­part­ment of Avey­ron is not the most ob­vi­ous choice for those buy­ing prop­erty in the south of France, but that is an es­sen­tial part of its ap­peal. While many house­hunters in the south flock to the shores of the French Riviera and pretty Provençal vil­lages, few ven­ture off the well-beaten prop­erty path and into the great un­known of this lit­tle-known cor­ner of north­ern Oc­c­i­tanie. But those fail­ing to do so, as I dis­cov­ered, are miss­ing a trick.

Avey­ron is one of France’s largest and least in­hab­ited de­part­ments – its pop­u­la­tion is un­der 300,000 – and so there is plenty of space for ev­ery­one to en­joy its un­spoilt land­scape of low-ly­ing moun­tains, sweep­ing plateaux and dra­matic gorges to the full. It means that you don’t have to be both­ered by neigh­bours, un­less you want to be. The de­part­ment is also home to hid­den-away vil­lages that seem­ingly haven’t changed in years, plus small yet vi­brant towns and cities that of­fer easy ac­cess to all that the de­part­ment of­fers.

Vil­lage life If you’re look­ing to buy a prop­erty in a breath­tak­ingly pretty French vil­lage, you’ll have plenty of choice. Avey­ron is home to 10 Plus Beaux Vil­lages – more than any other de­part­ment in France ex­cept Dor­dogne, which also has 10. There’s a chance you would never find some of these bu­colic gems if you didn’t know where to look, but that’s all part of their charm. Get­ting to Con­ques, in the north of the de­part­ment for ex­am­ple, re­quires an ear­pop­ping drive up twist­ing nar­row roads, but it’s well worth it for the for­est views that stretch as far as the eye can see, and for the feel­ing of be­ing bliss­fully lost in the mid­dle of nowhere.

It may feel like it has only just been dis­cov­ered but, of course, Con­ques has been known for years, mainly as a pop­u­lar stop along the Camino de Com­postela, wel­com­ing

With en­chant­ing vil­lages, cool com­pact cities and stun­ning coun­try­side to its name, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore prop­erty buy­ers go mad for Avey­ron, says Catriona Burns

some 30,000 ruck­sack-clad pil­grims ev­ery year. The pil­grim­age’s em­blem of the scal­lop can be spot­ted ev­ery­where in the vil­lage, from the scal­lop-shaped neck­laces sold in the sou­venir shops to those adorn­ing the pil­lars in the Ab­ba­tiale Ste-foy de Con­ques. Built in the 12th cen­tury, the abbey church holds the relics of Saint Foy and is dec­o­rated with stun­ning stained-glass win­dows by the Rodez-born artist Pierre Soulages.

Con­ques was the in­spi­ra­tion for Dis­ney’s new adap­ta­tion of Beauty and the Beast and from look­ing at the houses alone, it’s easy to see why. Steep cob­ble­stone streets are lined with prop­er­ties that look straight out of a sto­ry­book. Half-tim­bered houses are fronted by small doors – some of which might re­quire tall peo­ple to duck – and wooden shut­ters sprout­ing flow­ers that drift off through the streets. Rick­ety fences bor­der choco­late-box cot­tages where fire­wood is piled up out­side, and hand­crafted shale slates ( lauzes) on rooftops give the look of fish scales.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Avey­ron’s pic­ture-per­fect vil­lages have at­tracted many creative minds, in­spired by the lovely way of life in places like Ste-eu­lalie-d’olt. Nestling on the left bank of the River Lot, the me­dieval vil­lage is home to many artists and ar­ti­sans in­clud­ing one, Mar­cel Boudou, to whom there is a mu­seum ded­i­cated in the vil­lage. Artis­tic cre­ations can also be seen out­side the mu­seum walls with quirky pieces of pop-up art en­liven­ing the streets of this me­dieval vil­lage.

In the vil­lage of Es­taing the 13th-cen­tury château is the main at­trac­tion, and other prop­er­ties have taken on a sim­i­larly grandiose feel. Lots of Art Deco-style homes and prop­er­ties from the Belle Epoque era line the river­side. Many of the prop­er­ties in Es­taing are sum­mer­time res­i­dences as lots of lo­cals go to Paris for work only to re­turn in the sum­mer or hol­i­day pe­ri­ods. As such, Es­taing could be an ideal lo­ca­tion for a hol­i­day home, a place to come back to in the sum­mer when fes­ti­vals such as the sound and light show that is a weekly event from June to Septem­ber, make the whole vil­lage come alive.

If you’re look­ing for a prop­erty in a breath­tak­ing vil­lage, you’ll have plenty of choice

Prop­erty man­ager, Greg Perks ( home­away.fr) helps lots of sec­ond-home own­ers main­tain their prop­erty while they are away and says Avey­ron’s an­cient vil­lages are what at­tract many over­seas buy­ers. “My Aus­tralian clients love the old world charm of these vil­lages – they can’t find any­thing like it back home,” he says. “Avey­ron ticks a lot of boxes for us Brits too.”

Greg is con­fi­dent that no mat­ter what type of prop­erty you have in mind, you can find it in Avey­ron. “Prop­erty here tends to con­sist of very old stone houses, lots of farms, barns and a good se­lec­tion of char­ac­ter prop­erty to suit all bud­gets. There are ren­o­va­tion projects and fully com­pleted dream houses alike. Nearly all of them have much more land than you get back in the UK and even with the ex­change rate, you get a lot more bang for your buck.”

Charles Small­wood of Agence l’union says prop­er­ties on the mar­ket in Avey­ron fit with what most peo­ple want from a prop­erty in the French coun­try­side, cit­ing many buy­ers’ wish­lists of “a re­stored house with char­ac­ter and ex­ter­nal gar­den space and great views and within walk­ing dis­tance of the bar and boulan­gerie”. Ur­ban buys Al­though many house­hunters are at­tracted to Avey­ron for its vil­lage prop­er­ties, the de­part­ment also of­fers op­tions for those who want to be closer to big­ger towns and cities.

Avey­ron’s cap­i­tal Rodez is a good base to ex­plore the rest of the de­part­ment and is now firmly on the cul­tural map thanks to the open­ing of Musée Soulages in 2014. Hous­ing the life’s work of Pierre Soulages, the city’s most fa­mous son and one of France’s most cel­e­brated con­tem­po­rary artists, the mu­seum also hosts an ex­cit­ing cal­en­dar of tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions by other artists. The cherry on the cake is the mu­seum brasserie, Café Bras, where you can en­joy the culi­nary cre­ations from the award-win­ning chef Michel Bras.

Musée Soulages may be the big draw, but once you’re there you’ll dis­cover plenty of rea­sons to stick around in Rodez in­clud­ing the Gothic Notre-dame cathe­dral that was built be­tween the 13th and 16th cen­turies. Near the cathe­dral you’ll find the Em­ber­gues area, where me­dieval res­i­dences stand along­side 18th-cen­tury town­houses.

At €143,900, the av­er­age price of a house in Rodez is higher than the de­part­men­tal av­er­age of €96,700 but, in the grand scale of things, it is still very af­ford­able for a city lo­ca­tion, and with Rodez’s star on the up, buy­ing a prop­erty here could prove a sound in­vest­ment. The av­er­age price for apart­ments in Rodez is €1,390/m2.

To the north of Rodez is Avey­ron’s sec­ond city Mil­lau, per­haps best known for the grav­ity-de­fy­ing Via­duc de Mil­lau that leads into it. De­signed by the Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Nor­man Foster, the bridge is the high­est of its kind, soar­ing 270m above the Tarn Val­ley. Foster said cross­ing the bridge should be like “fly­ing by car”, but Mil­lau of­fers plenty more ac­tiv­i­ties to set your soul soar­ing. The city is a renowned des­ti­na­tion for ad­ven­ture sport, with paraglid­ing and hang-glid­ing be­ing some of its most pop­u­lar adren­a­line-filled pas­times.

For those who want to keep their feet on the ground, take a look at Mil­lau’s glove­mak­ing past at the Causse Gantier. Mak­ing gloves has been Mil­lau’s first in­dus­try for cen­turies and this stylish mu­seum shows how the com­pany make gloves for some of fash­ion’s big­gest names in­clud­ing Chanel, Kenzo and Yves Saint Lau­rent.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from No­taires de France, the av­er­age house price in Mil­lau is €160,000. Many fam­ily-sized homes are lo­cated on the out­skirts, with a view of the viaduct and the River Tarn flow­ing past, of­fer­ing a lit­tle mix of both city and coun­try life.

Into the wild With nat­u­ral won­ders such as the Gorges du Tarn and the Tarn val­ley on Avey­ron’s doorstep, the de­part­ment is ideal for adren­a­line junkies want­ing to scale rocky out­crops and take on fast-flow­ing or calm waters in a kayak. It’s also suited to those who sim­ply like to en­joy the great out­doors by hik­ing or horse rid­ing along the many pic­turesque bri­dle­ways. The Aubrac is one of Avey­ron’s most un­tamed cor­ners where you can find tra­di­tional farm­houses and stone-built prop­er­ties that blend into the ro­man­tic wild­ness of the sur­round­ings. Home to hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent plant species and wild an­i­mals, it’s an ideal place to buy a prop­erty if you want to get back to na­ture.

The low-key life­style that is cel­e­brated in Avey­ron is re­flected in its prop­erty prices. The av­er­age house price across the de­part­ment is €96,700, while the av­er­age for an apart­ment is €1,290/m2. While these prices in­crease slightly in Avey­ron’s more pop­u­lated lo­ca­tions, they re­main con­sis­tently low else­where. In a de­part­ment so loved for its peace and quiet, it’s re­as­sur­ing to know that its house prices pro­vide peace of mind too.

Con­ques: straight out of a fairytale

Es­taing vil­lage on the River Lot

Me­dieval vil­lage and abbey of Con­ques

Ste-eu­lalie d’olt

The spec­tac­u­lar Gorges du Tarn

Rodez is the cap­i­tal of Avey­ron

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