In the first of a two-part series, Ruth Wood debunks some of the common misconceptions about buying French property
Myths often contain grains of truth. It’s not that they’re lies exactly but that they tend to be shorthand for a more complicated picture that can’t easily be captured in a pithy phrase. Unfortunately, if you don’t see this bigger picture while property-hunting in France, you could miss out on the home of your dreams. This month: location, location, location.
Myth: It’s grim up north Industrial, flat, cold and full of trenches – if you think this sums up northern-most France think again. Hauts-de-france, encompassing Nord-pas-de-calais and Picardie, is a region of rolling hills, pasture and forest, bordered by long sandy beaches. It’s rich in history – think of Agincourt, not just the Somme – and enjoys a mild climate comparable to inland Brittany.
“This area has so much to offer,” says Ronnie Mcgowan, who lived there for many years. “There are wonderful gardens such as Valloires, lakes and marshes such as Condette, forests such as Hardelot, rivers such as the Canche and Authie, and stunning seaside resorts like Le Touquet-paris-plage with millionaire homes hidden among the trees and so posh that a notice in the main street forbids the display of ‘naked chests’.
“I have driven many great coastal roads, in France and around the world, but for me the coast between Wimereux and Sangatte beats the lot with its curves and bends, its hill climbs and marvellous sweeps of pale sandy beaches, its windswept headlands and capes. On a sunny day, the sea glitters, the ferries run like toy boats and the famous white cliffs of Dover are clearly visible in all their splendour. Magical.”
Myth: West is best
Traditionally, British buyers have largely ignored the regions of Grand Est and Bourgogne-franche-comté bordering Switzerland and Germany, perhaps in the belief that the climate or scenery is not up to scratch. Tell that to the French. In the six years that popular TV show Le Village Préféré des Français has been running, they have twice crowned a Grand Est village their favourite in the land – Kaysersberg this year and Eguisheim in 2014, both Alsation villages loved for their colourful half-timbered houses.
When Peter Stewart, staff writer on our sister publication France Magazine, visited this corner of Alsace in the summer, he was reminded of Provence, despite being 500 miles further north. “Alsace is covered in sunflowers and lavender fields, thanks to its surprisingly warm summers,” says Peter. “We basked in Mediterranean-like temperatures of 28-30°c, which one hotel owner told us were the norm from June to September.”
Living France magazine editor Vicky Leigh also knows the region well, having lived there as a student. “It really is a hidden gem,” she says. “The mix of languages and cultural influences from Germany make it such a fascinating part of France. It has many great wines and delicious food too – tarte flambée is not to be missed!”
Further south, Bourgogne-franche-comté is also “highly underrated” says FPN’S staff writer Sophie Gardner-roberts, who grew up there. Not that she minds if the natural beauty of the Morvan and Haut-jura regional parks remains unspoilt and property prices stay low.
“Farmers and vignerons work the land while sleepy villages are regularly animated by markets and unique fêtes,” says Sophie. “To the east, in the Jura mountains, you can find impressive peaks, charming pastures, vast lakes and hearty gastronomy – everything you find in the Alps but at a lower altitude, closer to the UK and much cheaper.”
Alsace is covered in sunflowers and lavender just like Provence
The famous Alsace wine route, in the shadow of the Vosges mountains
Colmar, Petit Venice, Alsace