...some fresh French air....

A home in the moun­tains can be en­joyed in sum­mer and win­ter – Carolyn Reynier es­chews the Alps and Pyrénées to ex­plore two stun­ning vil­lages in the Mas­sif Cen­tral

French Property News - - News -

Those of you who love the French moun­tains – cov­ered with daz­zling white snow in win­ter or ablaze with colour­ful flow­ers, shrubs and trees the rest of the year – are sure to be fa­mil­iar with the Alps and the Pyrénées. How­ever, you may not know that there are a to­tal of seven French mas­sifs (in­clud­ing Cor­sica) and that France Mon­tagnes pro­motes moun­tain tourism in them all. And did you know that over 40 ski re­sorts in France ful­fil the re­quire­ments for the ‘Famille Plus’ la­bel, which in­clude crèches for ba­bies over 18 months, snow ‘gar­dens’ where young chil­dren can learn to ski, and spe­cial begin­ner areas for fam­i­lies to learn to­gether? Le Mont-dore and Su­per-besse are two such Famille Plus re­sorts in the Parc Na­turel Ré­gional des Vol­cans d’au­vergne, in the Puy-de-dôme de­part­ment. This is a won­der­fully pre­served land­scape of small ex­tinct vol­canic cones ( puys), lakes and more of those green scenic roads and blue view­point sym­bols than you can throw a stick at. It is also home to St-nec­taire, one of my favourite cow milk cheeses. It doesn’t get much bet­ter.

Open Dore Le Mont-dore (1,300m) is a moun­tain vil­lage at the sources of the Dor­dogne, south-west of the pré­fec­ture town Cler­mont-fer­rand. The

Neo-byzan­tine ar­chi­tec­ture of the early 19th-cen­tury ther­mal baths – there are no fewer than eight ben­e­fi­cial ther­mal springs – is a classified His­toric Mon­u­ment.

In win­ter, there’s down­hill and cross-coun­try ski­ing, snow-shoe­ing, speed-rid­ing and a lu­dopark for freestyle prac­tice and snow scooter hire. In sum­mer, there’s swim­ming in Lac Cham­bon, hik­ing on var­i­ous GR ( grande ran­don­née) foot­paths, rid­ing, sum­mer to­bog­gan­ing and more.

To the south-east, sep­a­rated by the Monts Dore and the ma­jes­tic Puy de Sancy (1,885m), Besse-et-st-anas­taise, built on a lava flow at 1,050m al­ti­tude, is a lively me­dieval Petite Cité de Car­ac­tère with a rich ar­chi­tec­tural past. Here nau­ti­cal ac­tiv­i­ties take place on Lac Pavin, the deep­est lake in Au­vergne, and the Cour­goul Gorges are also nearby. Around 7km higher up, the ski re­sort of Su­per-besse (1,350-1,850m) of­fers, along with the usual ski­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, panoramic views from the Per­drix cable car, an open-air sum­mer ac­tiv­i­ties park, and an Es­pace Su­per VTT for moun­tain bik­ers.

To find out about prop­erty in Le Mont-dore I spoke to the splen­didly named Eze­quiel Dos San­tos at Agence Coudard, who mar­kets prop­er­ties here and in La Bour­boule, a few kilo­me­tres to the west. In Le Mont-dore you can find a wide range of ac­com­mo­da­tion, from stu­dios and three-bed­room apart­ments to houses and chalets. Most apart­ments are set within old build­ings, former fam­ily homes or ho­tels which have been con­verted into small res­i­den­tial co-pro­priétés. Houses and chalets, rare in the vil­lage cen­tre, are gen­er­ally on the

out­skirts. You can pay €3,000/m2 or more for a small stu­dio in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion with no work to be done. If you are look­ing for any­thing over 60m2 in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, ex­pect to pay €2,400-€2,700/m2.

There is good de­mand for chalets be­cause of the ‘ es­prit mon­tagne’ they in­spire. Houses will take a lit­tle longer to sell. Eze­quiel says the price bracket for an 80m2-100m2 house in a good state of re­pair re­quir­ing just a lit­tle fresh­en­ing up is circa €180,000-€220,000. “Ev­ery­thing de­pends on whether there’s any land, the hab­it­able sur­face etc,” he adds.

The build­ing ma­te­rial here is gen­er­ally pierre de Volvic, which comes from the Nugère vol­cano lava flow north of the Chaîne des Puys. Volvic (known world­wide for its min­eral wa­ter) lies 15km north-west of Cler­mont-fer­rand, whose Gothic cathe­dral was built from the Volvic stone. Roofing can be ei­ther thick, heavy lauze stone or slate ar­doise tiles.

Dual at­trac­tion

Le Mont-dore re­ally is a typical and quaint moun­tain vil­lage whereas La Bour­boule, orig­i­nally very much geared to the ther­mal baths, is larger and more spread out. “They are two to­tally dif­fer­ent com­munes,” Eze­quiel ex­plains. Al­though the ar­chi­tec­tural style and types of prop­erty in La Bour­boule are sim­i­lar, prices are not; they are 30-40% cheaper, de­pend­ing on the prop­erty, than in Le Mon­tDore. The rea­son is that clients are es­sen­tially buy­ing a sec­ond home for their own use but also for sea­sonal let­ting. “You’ll rent out more weeks in Le Mont-dore – there is less de­mand in La Bour­boule,” says Eze­quiel.

Al­though both places have spas (with your carte vi­tale na­tional health­care card and a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion, the French so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem par­tially re­im­burses you for cures), Le

Mont-dore is closer to the ski slopes – around 3km from the down­hill runs. So de­mand is more con­cen­trated here than at La Bour­boule, which picks up rental business when Le Mont-dore is full up.

If you han­ker af­ter a ren­o­va­tion project, you can find houses and apart­ments for restora­tion or fresh­en­ing up in both places, se­cure in the knowl­edge that you can book into the baths for your own restora­tion and/or fresh­en­ing up as and when re­quired.

The baths came long be­fore the ski­ing. The Le Mont-dore ones, built on Ro­man re­mains, were con­structed in 1817; those of La Bour­boule date from the late 19th cen­tury. This dual at­trac­tion of ther­mal baths and ther­mal ski­wear makes buy­ing to rent an in­ter­est­ing in­vest­ment op­por­tu­nity. “We vir­tu­ally work 10 months out of 12,” says Eze­quiel.

As an ex­am­ple, a one-bed­room apart­ment (35m2-40m2) with so­fabed, thus sleep­ing four, can be rented out in high sea­son for around €450 per week. High sea­son in­cludes Christ­mas, New Year and Fe­bru­ary hol­i­days for ski­ing, and July-au­gust for tourisme vert. Then there are the curistes who gen­er­ally come for three weeks (a cure is 18 days) dur­ing a pe­riod from April to the closure of the ther­mes in mid-novem­ber. In­vest­ing in prop­erty here could prove a lu­cra­tive propo­si­tion; the agency help­fully of­fers a concierge ser­vice.

This is a nat­u­ral, pre­served part of the world of­fer­ing plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties for all ages, says Eze­quiel. The land­scapes, panora­mas – what­ever the sea­son – are “vrai­ment fab­uleux.”

Su­per star

It’s a sim­i­lar story on the other side of the Monts Dore where we come to Besse-etSt-anas­taise and Su­per-besse. Here I met

This is a won­der­fully pre­served land­scape of ex­tinct vol­canic hills, wa­ter and more of those green scenic roads than you can throw a stick at

Camille Deschamps, who runs Su­per Besse Immo and is also a chas­seur im­mo­bilier, of­fer­ing a prop­erty-find­ing ser­vice. Besse-et-stA­nas­taise is a me­dieval vil­lage and build­ings here come un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Bâ­ti­ments de France. So if you think, for ex­am­ple, that you can cre­ate, re­place or en­large win­dows at your whim, think again.

These an­cient build­ings have been di­vided up into small apart­ments, of­ten rented out by the week to hol­i­day­mak­ers. Ex­pect to pay around €60,000 for a stu­dio in the his­toric cen­tre. If you want some­thing larger, you will find de­tached houses, built in the 1960s-70s, just out­side the me­dieval cen­tre for around €300,000 for 150m2.

A shut­tle bus takes you up to the ski re­sort of Su­per-besse, which was built 50 or so years ago. In sum­mer, you can swim in the small ar­ti­fi­cial Lac des Her­mines, ideal for chil­dren, and there are plenty of other out­door ac­tiv­i­ties. “Sum­mer is re­ally for les sportifs,” says Camille.

Al­though she points out that the apart­ment block ar­chi­tec­ture is “not that great”, if you want to be near the ski lifts, shops and restau­rants you are much bet­ter off buy­ing in the re­sort cen­tre. A one-bed­room apart­ment will cost around €95,000. If you want some­thing larger, there are tim­ber chalets on the out­skirts, usu­ally equipped with elec­tric rather than cen­tral heat­ing. Ex­pect to pay around €200,000 for, say, a com­pletely ren­o­vated 70m2 chalet (“they’re not very big”). If you’re happy to do the work you could pay about €150,000 for 80m2-90m2.

The build­ing stock may be old but the free

shut­tle bus passes by each street cor­ner and runs up to 9pm be­cause the slopes are now equipped for ski­ing en noc­turne.

There are two sea­sons here: a wealth of lakes and walk­ing in the sum­mer, and ski­ing at the re­sort of Su­per-besse in the win­ter. Whereas Besse-et-st-anas­taise op­er­ates year-round, Su­per-besse does not. “At the end of Septem­ber there’s noth­ing; it’s closed. Things take off again mid-de­cem­ber,” Camille ex­plains.

Prop­erty prices re­main “très cor­rects” and de­mand is high. It may also be worth look­ing at other areas such as Picherande near Lac Chau­vet 10km south-west of Su­per-besse and, to the north of Besse-et-st-anas­taise, the tourist des­ti­na­tions of Murol and Lac de Cham­bon. “These sec­tors are much in de­mand,” says Camille.

To reach these Au­vergnat des­ti­na­tions, you travel by train to Cler­mont-fer­rand then on­wards by bus. You can fly into Cler­mon­tFer­rand Aul­nat or Li­mo­ges air­ports, but the sim­plest may be to drive via the A89 or the A71/A75 mo­tor­ways. How­ever you choose to travel to this an­cient pre­served vol­canic land­scape, it will be worth the ef­fort. Mas­sifs, by def­i­ni­tion, are not the eas­i­est places to reach. But, oh, just wait un­til you get there.

There are two sea­sons here: a wealth of lakes and walk­ing in the sum­mer, and ski­ing in the win­ter

Lac Pavin, the deep­est lake in Au­vergne

A stun­ning view of Su­per-besse ski re­sort

The vil­lage of Besse-et-st-anas­taise

Snow­shoe walk through the Sa­lon du Ca­puçin at Le Mont-dore

Sum­mer horserid­ing at Chas­treix south-west of Le Mont-dore

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