Holiday home gems
A recent survey revealed the top three places where the French would love to buy a holiday home – Karen Tait gets a taste of these French fancies
The seaside locations where the French dream of owning a second home
Where do the French dream of owning a holiday home? This was the question asked in a survey by Explorimmo, and the results are not as obvious as you might expect. Was Paris on the list, or St-tropez or Cannes? Nope. While the top three destinations are firm holiday favourites with the French, and some of the oldest seaside resorts in the country, they may have escaped British househunters’ attention. Then again, that could be a good thing, as they’re not exactly cheap!
In the number one spot, the Bassin d’arcachon is home to chic Cap Ferret and the elegant town of Arcachon itself. It’s followed by Deauville, where stylish Parisians stroll along the boardwalk and shop in designer boutiques, and Cassis, a southern resort at the heart of the stunning Calanques coast. All three are sparkling gems in the treasure trove of French coastal resorts. Who wouldn’t want to own a property there – the question is: can you afford it?
1 Region: Nouvelle Aquitaine Department: Gironde Population: 10,370 (Arcachon) Property prices: €5,439/m2 (Arcachon apartment); €5,220/m2 (Arcachon house) Getting there: Fly into Bordeaux airport; TGV to Arcachon rail station via London and Paris; 580km from St-malo to Arcachon
About halfway down the Atlantic coast, the scenic Arcachon bay is flanked by the exclusive resorts of Cap Ferret and Arcachon, where many of France’s rich and famous have holiday homes.
Arcachon is known for its elegant Victorian villas, or ‘ Arcachonnaises’, with ornate balconies, intricate brickwork and stained glass windows. The town’s quartiers include the sought-after Ville d’eté, where you’ll find the casino and beach, and Ville
d’hiver, further back in the pine forest; there’s also a Ville de Printemps and Ville d’automne. Arcachon is indeed a town of four seasons; with its mild climate, you can enjoy it all year round.
Cap Ferret has more of a village vibe, where a traditional fishing lifestyle and weatherbeaten wooden homes sit hand in hand with top-end restaurants and luxury villas.
Between the two, the bay is like an inland sea, protected from the Atlantic by the Cap Ferret peninsula and the 115m-high Dune du Pyla, the tallest dune in Europe and the best place to enjoy views across the bay. Look out for the Ile aux Oiseaux in the middle, a nature reserve for migratory birds. Turn inland and you’ll gaze across a green ocean – thousands of hectares of pine forest, also Europe’s largest.
The bay is famous for its oysters and picturesque wooden cabins on stilts, where oyster farmers used to keep an eye on their stock. Protected areas include the Banc d’arguin and Le Teich bird reserve, while the forest is part of the Landes de Gascogne regional park. It’s a great area for gentle outdoor pursuits: explore the 220km of cycling paths; take a boat excursion or try your hand at sailing or surfing; tee off at Golf International d’arcachon or Gujan-mestras; swim, fish or boat at the Etang de Cazaux; and horse-ride through the forest
The 76km of beach are of the laidback boardwalk and dunes variety, rather than the glitz of the Med, mostly gently sloping and sandy. There are pleasant promenades along most of them, while the 232m-long jetty at Andernos-les-bains is the longest in France.
Head inland to explore some of France’s best vineyards, home to names such as Margaux, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild. Arcachon has its own mineral water too, Les Abatilles; and when it comes to food, you have everything from snack bars to high-end dining.
Fewer than 40% of inhabitants live here full time; according to the French statistics agency INSEE, some 63% of properties in Arcachon are holiday homes and 62.4% in Lège-capFerret. This is not surprising when you consider Arcachon’s origins. Once a poor forested area, it was developed as a health resort around 150 years ago, for Bordeaux’s bourgeoisie to benefit from the sea air and balneotherapy.
It quickly evolved into a luxury resort and property prices reflect this. Average prices in Arcachon (€5,329/m2) and Cap Ferret (€6,224/m2) are considerably higher than the Gironde department as a whole (€2,829/m2). More affordable property can be found in other communes around the bay, such as La Teste-deBuch (€3,583/m2), Arès (€3,317/m2), Gujan-mestras (€3,016/m2), Andernos-lesBains (€3,660/m2) and Le Teich (€2,837/m2).
On Explorimmo.com, properties in Arcachon range from a 16m2 studio for €112,000 to a 650m2 waterside villa for €6.3m; and in Cap Ferret, a 19m2 studio for €130,000 to an €8.8m 10-bedroom house by the ocean. Away from these hotspots, I found a 44m2 one-bed apartment for €159,900 in Andernos-les-bains; a 100m2 three-bed house in Arès for €254,000; and a 49m2 two-bed mobile home near the beach in Gujan-mestras for €119,000.
The beaches of Arcachon bay are more the laidback boardwalk and dunes variety, rather than the glitz of the Med
With its glorious beaches, Deauville was another forerunner of the seabathing fashion, attracting French (and British) aristocracy who built the beautiful villas and mansions you can see today. The town remains a popular upmarket destination, and is known as Paris’ 21st arrondissement and the Parisian Riviera.
Another nickname is the Lady of the French Coast – perhaps the most famous female visitor was Coco Chanel, whose boutique helped turn the town into a fashionable resort. Designer outlets have followed in her footsteps ever since, along with art galleries, smart restaurants and prestigious hotels. Deauville also has two listed monuments: the 12thcentury St-laurent chapel and the Strassburger villa, a neo-norman house built in 1907 for one of the Rothschild family.
Deauville is known for its international film festivals, casinos, horse racing and wide sandy beach. The 500m-long boardwalk, the Promenade des Planches, is lined with beach huts named after celebrities from the American
Horses and Deauville go hand in hand. The racecourse was developed by the Duke of Morny, half-brother to Napoleon III, whose visits in the 1860s put the stamp of approval on this upcoming resort. Incidentally, Napoleon also declared Arcachon a municipality in 1857. It is interesting to see that these resorts which started their ascent at the same time are still firm favourites.
While the film festivals, boutiques and famous visitors prompt comparison with Cannes, Deauville retains a more old-fashioned charm. It may not have the balmy climate of Arcachon or Cassis, but it too can be enjoyed year round, not least due to its many festivals, events and leisure facilities (thalassotherapy, golf, sailing, horse-riding etc). It also has an international convention centre, the Palais des Congrès.
A small town which enjoys international repute, Deauville also offers easy access to other attractions. The Norman capital Caen is less than an hour away, while just 15km along the coast you’ll find the beautiful harbour of Honfleur, and inland there’s the rolling countryside and orchards of the Pays d’auge.
As one of the most sought-after resorts since the Belle Epoque, Deauville has many beautiful buildings. Neo-norman houses, built in the 20th century and sometimes referred to as ‘ Deauvillaises’, were inspired by traditional local styles, with half-timbered facades and sloping roofs punctured with small windows. The best villas are situated on the seafront with large windows to enjoy the view. In the surrounding countryside, you’ll find châteaux and manor houses as well as more humble rural homes.
Like Arcachon, the Deauville property market is dominated by holiday homes, mostly owned by Parisians; some 71% of properties are second homes. Unsurprisingly, prices are high, with the most expensive properties set between the race track and the sea.
At an average €4,556/m2, Deauville property is significantly more expensive than the wider Calvados department (€2,091/m2). While Deauville won out in the Explorimmo survey, its sister town Trouville-sur-mer, separated only by the River Touques, offers more affordable options (€3,708/m2). The oldest of the two resorts, it also has a casino, beachfront boardwalk and Belle Epoque villas, but it’s less of a ‘designer’ town, and very popular with families.
Small studios (15m2) in Deauville can be found on Explorimmo.com from around €70,000, with prices rising to €2.9m for a five-bedroom neo-norman villa in the exclusive ‘Triangle d’or’ (between the Normandy Barrière Hotel, Palais des Congrès and Place Morny). For Trouville, expect to pay from around €40,000 for a small studio apartment up to €1.75m for a well-placed five-bed villa.
There are 3,307,000
holiday homes in France (INSEE) 44% of holiday homes in France are by the sea
With its picturesque setting on the Mediterranean, pretty beaches, towering cliffs and charming harbour, it’s no wonder Cassis has evolved as a dream holiday – and holiday home – destination.
The resort is about 20km east of Marseille, separated by the stunning calanques, dramatic coves nestled between huge cliffs, best viewed by boat. Between Cassis and La Ciotat, Cap Canaille (394m), is the highest sea cliff in France, a landmark for sailors for centuries.
One of the first vineyards to benefit from the AOC (label of controlled origin) introduced in 1936, Cassis is known for its white and rosé wine (not to be confused with crème de cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur from Burgundy). They’re produced in the terraced hillsides above the town – wine-tasting is a must.
A visit to Cassis would have to start in the harbour, the heart of the town with its pastelpainted buildings, colourful fishing boats, lively bars and restaurants, and fishermen selling their catch of the day.
Although Cassis has Roman and medieval origins, most buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the steep streets behind the seafront, highlights include the 17th-century town hall (pop in to see medieval ruins through a glass floor in the reception area), 19th-century Notre-dame de-bon-voyage church and Villa l’ariane, now the library. You’ll also find Provençal stone fountains, small chapels and a local museum. For great views, head up the hill to the remains of the medieval Château des Baux, now a luxury hotel.
Place Baragnon hosts twice-weekly markets, and there are regular arts and crafts markets. There are plenty of festivals too, including one dedicated to fishermen in June and a wine
Deauville was a forerunner of the seabathing fashion, attracting French aristocracy who built the beautiful villas and mansions you see today
festival in September.
Cassis has long attracted arty types, including 20th-century artists Georges Braque, André Derain and Raoul Dufy, and writer Virginia Woolf, who referred to Cassis as ‘Bloomsburyon-méditerranée’. Sir Winston Churchill learnt to paint here and the streets are still full of artists today.
When the fashionable headed east to St-tropez at al, Cassis was left behind and so remains thankfully unspoilt. It offers easygoing Provence rather than supercharged Riviera; a slower pace of life, picture-postcard scenery and wonderful local cuisine and wine.
Although busy in summer, it is calm for most of the year. The Mediterranean climate is a big draw (hot and dry summers and mild and humid winters) while the calanques offer protection against the worst of the Mistral wind. The beaches are, of course, one of the best places to enjoy all that sunshine. The main town beach, Plage de la Grande Mer, is backed by cliffs and is a mix of sand and pebbles. Outdoor activities include hiking on the trails above the calanques or Cap Canaille, rock climbing, kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Cassis clearly has many attractions, but cheap property isn’t one of them. It holds its value well though and there is a strong rental market if you’re looking to bring in an income. More affordable property can be found in the surrounding villages.
Properties are often luxury villas or apartments, the best offering sea views. The average property price (€4,965/m2) in Cassis is much higher than the wider Bouches-du-rhône area (€2,823/m2). Even 10km down the coast at La Ciotat, prices fall to €3,817/m2; head 7km inland to Carnoux-en-provence and they’re €3,081, while 15km inland at Aubagne they’re just €2,801/m2.
On Explorimmo.com properties in Cassis range from a 16m2 studio in a residence with pool for €100,000 to a 170m2 five-bed seafront house for €3.7m. In Carnoux a two-bed apartment with balcony is €224,000, while in Aubagne 20m2 studios start at around €55,000.
While there are a lot of holiday homes here (some 33.8% are second homes), there is also a permanent population keeping this small town alive year-round.
Cassis offers easygoing Provence rather than supercharged Riviera – a slower pace of life, picture-postcard scenery and wonderful local cuisine and wine
The Bassin d’arcachon
Arcachon sits between the bay and forest
Beach huts along Deauville’s boardwalk are named after celebrities from the town’s American Film Festival
Half-timbered buildings are typical of Deauville
Cassis is at the heart of the Calanques national park
Colourful houses line the harbour in Cassis