Pop­u­lar­ity con­test

Look­ing for French voisins rather than Bri­tish neigh­bours? Catriona Burns dis­cov­ers the five ar­eas where the Brits don’t tend to buy

Living France - - Contents -

Don’t want to live among other Brits? If you’re look­ing for French neigh­bours, find out where you should be house-hunt­ing

The Bri­tish love af­fair with France is very much a long-term re­la­tion­ship, and with its ex­cel­lent food and wine, rich cul­ture and low house prices, the coun­try has en­ticed some 150,000 Brits to re­lo­cate there.

In fact, the lat­est re­port from French bank BNP Paribas shows that of all for­eign buy­ers, the Brits bought the most prop­er­ties in France in 2016. The re­port also re­veals the most pop­u­lar ar­eas they chose to live in (note that the re­port was pub­lished be­fore France in­tro­duced its new re­gions in 2016). If you want to be close to your fel­low ex­pats from Blighty, you should con­sider liv­ing in the south-west of France – one of the most pop­u­lar ar­eas with Brits. But if you like the idea of hav­ing more French voisins than Bri­tish neigh­bours, there are five re­gions which re­main un­der the radar. Here’s where you should be look­ing…

1 BUR­GUNDY

A land­scape of un­du­lat­ing hills dot­ted with time-for­got­ten vil­lages, sun­shine-yel­low mus­tard fields and world-fa­mous vine­yards, Bur­gundy of­fers a quintessen­tially French way of life. But de­spite of­fer­ing the dream that many Brits har­bour, Bur­gundy is still over­looked by many Bri­tish buy­ers.

As with most Bur­gun­dian towns, life in Beaune, in Côte-d’Or, cen­tres around good food and wine. Cob­bled streets are lined with from ageries, pâtis­series and res­tau­rant ta­bles dressed in red-che­quered ta­ble cloths, while at the Satur­day mar­ket on Place Carnot, ta­bles groan un­der the weight of fresh fruit, home-grown veg­eta­bles, dried wild flow­ers, poulet de Bresse and lo­cal cheese such as Époisses and Mor­bier. Of course, there’s plenty of wine to go with all this food. Beaune is en­cir­cled by the Côte-d’Or vine­yards and be­low its streets you’ll find one of the largest net­work of wine cel­lars in the world; an un­der­ground maze of dusty vin­tages be­ing aged to per­fec­tion, while the town’s Hospices de Beaune hosts one of the world’s most fa­mous wine auc­tions. Bur­gundy wine is a big rea­son why Scots­man Michael Pat­ti­son set­tled here al­most 20 years ago. “I love that Bur­gundy has such spec­tac­u­lar food and wine,” Michael says. “We have ac­cess to smaller pro­duc­ers that make un­known but in­ex­pen­sive and won­der­ful wine which is re­ally great!”

Food is also big in the Bur­gun­dian cap­i­tal of Di­jon. Renowned for mus­tard and

pain d’épices (gin­ger­bread), the city is also home to an ex­cel­lent se­lec­tion of restau­rants where you can tuck into Bur­gundy spe­cial­i­ties such as boeuf bour­guignon, oeufs en meurette (poached eggs and meurette sauce) and cheese-filled gougères (baked savoury choux pas­try).

If you want to burn off all that gas­tro­nomic in­dul­gence, you’ll have no ex­cuse liv­ing in this area where you can cy­cle through the cen­turiesold vine­yards, hike around the Parc Ré­gional du Mor­van or glide along the River Yonne in a ca­noe. Many peo­ple come across Bur­gundy by pass­ing through, and if they choose to make a stop, chances are they will be here to stay, just like Michael.

“Bur­gundy kind of chose me rather than the other way round!” he says. “Ge­o­graph­i­cally it’s in a great po­si­tion, as it’s close to Paris and Lyon. You don’t re­alise it’s hap­pen­ing but Bur­gundy kind of sneaks up on you and then you’re hooked!”

2 FRANCHE-COMTÉ

From the gen­tly rolling farm­land of the Saône val­ley to the high alpine peaks in the east, Franche-Comté is a ru­ral par­adise that is largely undis­cov­ered by Brits. Life in this forested cor­ner of France can be bliss­fully sweet and sim­ple – think fish­ing for trout in alpine tor­rents, swim­ming in crys­tal-clear rivers and eat­ing lo­cal Comté cheese while sip­ping the lo­cal vin jaune. The birth­place of Vic­tor Hugo, Be­sançon is the cap­i­tal of Franche-Comté and has a beau­ti­ful ci­tadel de­signed by Vauban, where you can eas­ily spend the day. Climb to the top for spine-tin­gling views over the city and stroll around the ci­tadel walls (there is even a small zoo you can ex­plore). Down in the city, lo­cals shop for re­gional spe­cial­i­ties such as sausages from Mont­béliard and Morteau at the cov­ered mar­ket, and the path­way along the River Doubs that is en­cir­cled by trees, is al­ways a pop­u­lar place for a morn­ing run.

Franche-Comté is also home to the Jura moun­tain range which is France’s pre­mier cross-coun­try ski­ing area, and is a con­sid­er­ably less crowded al­ter­na­tive to the Alps, of­fer­ing an idyl­lic life in the hills.

3 CHAM­PAG­NEAR­DENNE

I think if I bought a home in France, one of the first things I would do is pop open a bot­tle of cham­pagne, as many home­buy­ers would. But de­spite its fizz be­ing the cel­e­bra­tory drink of choice the world over, Cham­pagne-Ar­denne is not a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion for Bri­tish prop­erty buy­ers.

In con­trast to the glam­our of­ten as­so­ci­ated with it, Cham­pagne-Ar­denne of­fers an idyl­li­cally ru­ral life­style. Rolling plains lead on to peace­ful lakes and mead­ows in the south, while the north of the re­gion boasts oak forests and rolling green hills. If you want to get back to na­ture, the Ar­dennes area that rises from the north-east and stretches to the Bel­gian bor­der is ideal. Marked foot­paths along the Meuse val­ley of­fer bliss­ful days out spent walk­ing while the 150,000 hectares of wood­land in the Ar­dennes for­est is per­fect for hik­ing and moun­tain bik­ing.

While Ar­dennes’ hills and val­leys call out to hik­ers, climbers, horse rid­ers and kayak­ers, it also ap­peals to his­tory buffs, and in most of the lit­tle towns and vil­lages you won’t have to ven­ture far from your own front door to dis­cover a slice of the past as most have a church, cas­tle or mill with a story to tell.

You’ll find a quirky scene in Charleville-Méz­ières, the cen­tre of France’s pup­petry in­dus­try, where an en­chant­ing pup­peteer clock is sure to pro­vide sweet mem­o­ries for chil­dren that grow up here. The creative theme con­tin­ues in Châlon­sen-Cham­pagne, home to the na­tional school for cir­cus acts.

Of course, many peo­ple come to Cham­pagne-Ar­denne to fol­low the Route du Cham­pagne; dis­cov­er­ing cham­pagne vine­yards and ex­plor­ing cham­pagne houses in towns such as Reims and Éper­nay. New Zealan­der Gle­nis Foster wel­comes many such tourists, along with many cy­clists and his­to­ri­ans to her B&B Auprès de l’Église in the vil­lage of Oyes where she has lived since 2005. As Gle­nis at­tests, the area might not be pop­u­lar with ex­pat res­i­dents, but it is ever-pop­u­lar with tourists and so it could be a good op­tion for those con­sid­er­ing open­ing an ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness. “We love the re­gion for its gen­er­ous, wel­com­ing and proud peo­ple,” Gle­nis ex­plains. “We love its flat plains of spec­tac­u­lar, ev­er­chang­ing beauty, plus the wine, the gor­geous ar­chi­tec­ture, and the fun we have had ex­plor­ing pretty vil­lages along the smooth wind­ing lanes through the vine­yards. It is a re­gion of sea­sons; each dis­tinct and equally beau­ti­ful.”

4 AL­SACE

Sit­u­ated in the north-east of France, Al­sace is a land­scape of spec­tac­u­lar moun­tains, vine-cov­ered hill­sides and post­card-pretty vil­lages. Even though the re­gion has changed na­tion­al­ity four times since 1871, it has a strong iden­tity; a place where cen­turies-old tra­di­tions are kept alive and well by the lo­cals. One such cus­tom that con­tin­ues to thrive is wine­mak­ing – Al­sace is known for its dry, sweet white wines such as ries­ling and gewürz­traminer.

Many of Al­sace’s charm­ing vil­lages could be straight from the pages of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Gin­ger­bread-style houses fes­tooned with pink gera­ni­ums sit side by side on crooked streets; lo­cals bum­ble down the cob­ble­stone al­ley­ways by bike and walk­ers cross quaint stone bridges that slope over canals. It is lit­tle won­der one of its vil­lages, Kay­sers­berg in Haut-Rhin, was voted France’s favourite vil­lage on the TV pro­gramme Le vil­lage préfére des Français.

Al­sace’s cities also have lots to of­fer. Lo­cated half­way be­tween Paris and Prague, Stras­bourg is known as the ‘cross­roads of Eu­rope’ and is home to sev­eral EU in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Though Stras­bourg is a very cos­mopoli­tan city; home to a melt­ing pot of na­tion­al­i­ties (with a buzzing ex­pat scene), it has still kept hold of its Gal­lic charm with its

half-tim­bered houses, criss-cross­ing canals and twist­ing lanes pro­vid­ing a folksy feel.

Col­mar in Haut-Rhin is also en­chant­ingly quaint, and the town has some im­pres­sive churches and mu­se­ums to its name, too. Its colour­ful canal quar­ter, known as ‘Lit­tle Venice’ is best ex­plored by boat. There are also plenty of places to hop off for a mug of cho­co­lat chaud and slice of kougel­hopf fruit cake, in­clud­ing nearby Place des Do­mini­cains. Come din­ner­time, lo­cals like to wind down in one of the cosy win stubs with a glass of Al­sa­tian wine.

But per­haps most be­guil­ing of all is Al­sace’s coun­try­side. Louis XIV once de­scribed Al­sace as a “beau­ti­ful gar­den” and his de­scrip­tion is best seen to­day in Al­sace’s mix of vine­yards, forests and farm­ers’ fields that ap­pear un­touched by time.

5 LOR­RAINE

For many Brits, pack­ing a slice of quiche Lor­raine in their pic­nic bas­ket is as close as they get to this de­part­ment in north-eastern France. But with low prop­erty prices, sto­ried towns and awe-in­spir­ing land­scapes, there are plenty more rea­sons why house-hunters should be con­sid­er­ing Lor­raine as a place to live.

Lovers of the great out­doors will find plenty to keep them oc­cu­pied in the un­spoilt coun­try­side. Here you will find three large na­ture re­serves, in­clud­ing the Bal­lons des Vos­ges, where spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain lakes pro­vide a stun­ning back­drop for win­ter sports, and the Lor­raine Re­gional Na­ture Park where salt marshes, lakes and rivers at­tract an­glers and wa­ter­sports en­thu­si­asts all year round. Liv­ing in Lor­raine would also mean hav­ing the Vos­ges moun­tains on your doorstep, with plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for walk­ing, moun­tain bik­ing and ski­ing.

If you would pre­fer to spend your time sit­ting and watch­ing the world go by, you’d be hard pushed to find bet­ter than Place Stanis­las in Lor­raine’s his­tor­i­cal cap­i­tal of Nancy. An el­e­gant square flanked by restau­rants and ho­tels and en­closed by gold iron gates, it is a per­fect place to peo­ple watch and ap­pre­ci­ate the city’s 18th-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­tural at­trac­tions. Metz in the Moselle de­part­ment also al­lures art afi­ciona­dos, par­tic­u­larly for the stained-glass win­dows de­signed by Marc Cha­gall in the Cathé­drale St-Éti­enne that watches over the town’s his­toric cen­tre. There are some 20 bridges cross­ing the rivers and canals in Metz, with lots of lovely walks to be en­joyed along the river­banks. Dur­ing Au­gust you can join lo­cals in the Fête de la Mirabelle, cel­e­brat­ing Lor­raine’s favourite fruit, the plum – the re­gion ac­counts for 70% of the world’s plum pro­duc­tion. Per­haps the fes­tiv­i­ties will in­spire you to mas­ter the spe­cial­ity of tarte aux mirabelles, or, if you don’t fancy bak­ing, or­der it in one of many cosy bistros, along with a glass of the tra­di­tional eau-de-vie, flavoured with – you guessed it – plums.

5 4 1 2

Châteauneu f-en-Aux­ois in Côte-d’Or 3

The high life: Be­sançon and the River Doubs from above

En­joy­ing the café cul­ture on Place du Marché-au-Pain in Troyes

Time­less: Al­sace’s coun­try­side is dot­ted with vine­yards, quaint churches and choco­late-box cot­tages

Pic­ture-per­fect: canals in Metz

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