Hunting in the Sologne
We visit the medieval royal hunting ground-turned wetland paradise
“So Intense” – that’s the tourist board slogan for La Sologne, the unspoilt region of woodland and wetland in north-central France where King François I established his royal hunting ground some 500 years ago.
Perhaps it refers to the vivid autumns of its dense forests, the pink flowers of its heathland, the vibrant orange bricks of its distinctive half-timbered houses or the misty magic of its lakes, pools, rivers and marshes.
Lying south of the regional capital Orléans and the mighty Loire, east of Blois, west of Gien and north of Vierzon, the Sologne is mainly in the Loir-et-cher department with Cher and Loiret making up the rest.
If you enjoy hunting, shooting and fishing, this is the place for you for not only do wild boar, deer, quail and pheasant roam the forests but eel, carp, perch, pike fill the rivers. If you prefer shooting wildlife digitally, set off on foot and you are sure to come back with a full memory card of photos. And if you’d rather sit back and see the sights, saddle up and discover the Sologne on horseback.
For culture vultures there are several striking châteaux, including Cheverny, Chenonceaux and Chambord – once François I’s hunting lodge and now a world-famous emblem of Renaissance architecture. Paris is just 200km to the north while Tours, préfecture of the Indre-et-loire, is half that distance to the west.
Still waters I’d like to talk about property in La Sologne des Etangs, an area bordered by the A10, A71 and A85 motorways. I have taken as a centre the village of Vernou-en-sologne, right in the heart of the étangs (large ponds) surrounded by the forests of Cheverny, Boulogne and Bruadan. You really need to have a good map in front of you to fully appreciate the watery nature of these parts.
There are plenty of quiet little villages and hamlets to choose from. If you prefer to be close to the shops you should go for one of the old brick village houses typical of the region, says Eric Tharaud at Immobilier de Sologne. They are often terraced and have a little courtyard or garden at the rear. As soon as you move away from the centre you find small detached properties, again in brick. They usually have a garden and may have outbuildings.
Despite its royal links, Eric explains that the ancient region of Sologne is historically a poor, rural and working-class one. The vast marshy area ( marécage), was drained out in the mid 19th century under the short reign of France’s
second and last emperor Napoleon III (you will find him buried in the crypt of St-michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, Hampshire – but that is another story).
Before Napoleon III there was nothing, continues Eric. So apart from a few earlier domaines and hunting châteaux, most houses date from the late 19th or early 20th century. With the arrival of many industries, notably those manufacturing tiles and bricks thanks to the large amount of clay in the Sologne, this period became known as the âge d’or.
Country life Prices here are relatively low. You can quite easily find in these small towns and villages – be it Vernou-en-sologne, Neung-surBeuvron to the east, Montrieux-en-sologne, La Marolle-en-sologne – village houses of 80m2 -100m2 à retaper ( requiring some work) for around €80,000-€90,000. If you want something a little larger with a bit more land, for €100,000-€150,000 “on peut trouver son bonheur” – a useful expression which you hear often, meaning you can find exactly what you’re looking for, your heart’s desire.
However, if you have set your heart on one of the Sologne’s hunting estates – a propriété d’agrément or de chasse is the description you will hear used – add a zero. The most recent sale of this order was a brick château, not far from Salbris, which sold for over €4m.
Not everybody wants to hunt, of course; you may be looking for an attractive large property for other leisurely family holiday pursuits. Happily there is a wide range available so you can also find smaller propriétés d’agrément with a handful of hectares for your horses in the €200,000-€400,000 bracket. “But when you start seeing properties with 100 hectares and houses of 400-500m2 with outbuildings and woodland – that’s when you see prices climbing,” says Eric.
Town life If you prefer to be in town have a look at sous-préfecture Romorantin-lanthenay, Salbris or Lamotte-beuvron for characteristic brick-
built detached terraced houses. Window openings are small, with roofing in small local tiles. Apartments exist but are rare.
Romorantin-lanthenay, the capital of the Sologne, is close to the A85 motorway. This is less practical for road access from the UK than the other two smaller towns which are near the north-south A71, but better placed if you fly into Tours-val-de-loire airport, or, a couple of hours away, Limoges airport to the south.
It has quite a rich historic centre, Eric says, and you can find good opportunities for about €100,000 for around 100m2. Indeed, prices rarely exceed €150,000 in these rural sectors. You find similar types of property in Salbris and Lamotte-beuvron, both with exits from the north-south A71 motorway, although Eric points out that Romorantin is larger, older and perhaps prettier, with more ancient remains.
Village life If you prefer country to town but still want to buy your baguette or pick up your poulet locally you will find neighbourhood shops and services in Neung-sur-beuvron, for example, which also has schools, a doctor and pharmacy. Eric’s foreign clientele tends to be Dutch rather than
The story goes that one Sunday at the opening of the hunting season Stéphanie was preparing an apple tart for hungry hunters. In the heat of the moment, she absentmindedly forgot to line the tin with pastry and popped it into the oven with just apples in it. Realising her mistake, she decided to simply add the pastry on top of the apples, cooked the tart in this way, turned it out and served it ‘upside down’. The hunters much appreciated this new dish and thus was born the famous tarte Tatin.
Estate life Bernadette explains that the châteaux in Sologne are usually constructed in brick and generally date from the late 19th-century. We’re not far from Blois, in the Loire Valley, where you have a few houses with a bit of tuffeau stone, the local fine-grained limestone, but that’s rare here, she says.
Buyers purchase the larger estates not necessarily because they are sportsmen but simply to be able to walk through the woods. “We have more woodland than plain around Vernou-en-sologne,” says Bernadette. “There is no doubt that if you want land you will find what you desire in Sologne.” For example, she is
currently marketing a property with 40 hectares near Vernou for €1.2m.
Domaines can vary between 10 and 200 hectares although the latter are rare, she adds. She confirms that these properties are ideal for keeping horses because, as well as woodland, there are often a few fields around the buildings.
The soil here is relatively poor, she continues. It is not the clay-chalk soil you find north of the Loire in La Beauce, the region immortalised by the 19th-century novelist and playwright Emile Zola in La Terre. “So we don’t in general have fantastic crop yields. People will cultivate crops for their animals or to attract wild boar for hunting but not to earn money.” Cultivation also maintains the soil and prevents the creation of wasteland.
Renovation life If you are in search of a renovation project you may just find one although over the past 15 years or so many former farms have been bought up, renovated and resold, says Bernadette. Most of her clients are buying second homes. However, thanks to the train station in Lamotte-beuvron, folk who are still working do so mainly in Orléans or in the French capital, which you can reach in 90 minutes. Bernadette thinks Lamotte-beuvron may be the new capital of the Sologne. “When people buy, they want to buy near Lamotte. Why? Because there’s the train station and the motorway.”
There is indeed easy road access from the A10, A71 and A85 motorways, and trains from Paris-austerlitz stop at Lamotte-beuvron, Salbris and Vierzon. If you’re intent on travelling under your own steam you can arrive by bike via the Loire à Vélo cycle trail from Muides-sur-loire and St-dyé-sur-loire. Alternatively, you could travel by Shanks’s pony on the long distance walking path GR41 (GR stands for grande randonnée) to the south via the Cher valley and Romorantin, or further east from the Berry via the GR31.
So you see, there’s absolutely no excuse for not getting yourself down to the Sologne. See you there!
Château de Moulin at Lasssay-sur-croisne is known as the pearl of the Sologne
A wild boar with her young