A home in the hills

For a nat­u­ral high, head to the Haut-langue­doc Nat­u­ral Re­gional park, where out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and prop­erty op­por­tu­ni­ties abound, re­ports Carolyn Reynier

French Property News - - Fpn Contents - 3gim­mo­bilier.comim­mo­bilier-lasal­ve­tat.com la­caune.com lasal­ve­tat­suragout.fr parc-haut-langue­doc.fr

Head to the Haut-langue­doc re­gional park for a nat­u­ral high

If you’re han­ker­ing for a home in the hills, sur­rounded by lakes, rivers and streams, where the air is pure and fresh, yet not a mil­lion miles from the Mediter­ranean, this is the place for you. The Parc Na­turel Ré­gional du Haut-langue­doc – 306,000 hectares ris­ing from 56m to 1,267m al­ti­tude – is in the Oc­c­i­tanie re­gion, to the west of Mont­pel­lier.

Lovers of na­ture and the Great Outdoors need look no fur­ther. We’re off to find your per­fect prop­erty or beau­ti­ful bolt­hole around the two moun­tain ranges of the Monts de La­caune in the Tarn depart­ment, and the Monts de l’es­pinouse in Hérault.

Sit­u­ated on a wa­ter­shed, with wa­ter drain­ing into the At­lantic on one side and the Mediter­ranean on the other, the park has many wa­ter­falls and gorges, of­fer­ing canyon­ing and kayak­ing for the more ad­ven­tur­ous. There are beaches and nau­ti­cal bases of­fer­ing all man­ner of wa­ter-based ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing sail­ing and wa­ter-ski­ing on the blue lakes of Rav­iège and Laouzas. Roam through green forests, across heather-mauve moor­land, bocage (hedged fields), and wooded coun­try­side, on foot, horse­back or moun­tain bike.

This is a land of an­cient vil­lages and stand­ing stones, of Protes­tant tem­ples, chapels and churches. The di­verse flora and fauna in­cludes the Mediter­ranean mou­flon (a wild sheep) in the Réserve Na­tionale de Chasse, and close by, at the east­ern end of the Monts de l’es­pinouse, you have the Mont Caroux and the Héric gorges.

I have cho­sen to fo­cus on two cen­tres: La­caune in the south-east cor­ner of Tarn and La Sal­ve­tat-sur-agout to the south, in Hérault.

A warm wel­come

La­caune is a for­mer spa town renowned for its hams and char­cu­terie, which have ob­tained an IGP, In­di­ca­tion Géo­graphique Protégée. The oceanic and Mediter­ranean in­flu­ences of this moun­tain ter­ri­tory’s cli­mate are per­fect for the dry­ing and ma­tur­ing of La­caune’s hams, saucisses and saucis­sons. The Peyro Le­vado nearby is one of largest men­hirs in Europe.

The main town­ship in the Monts de La­caune, La­caune lies at an al­ti­tude of 850m. Al­though its ther­mal hey­days of the late 19th/early 20th cen­turies are long gone, the warm spring wa­ters re­main and the cre­ation of the com­mu­nauté de com­munes brought with it the Es­paces des Sources Chaudes, a mag­nif­i­cent en­sem­ble of in­side and out­side pools, hot tubs, sauna and wa­ter slide.

There are lots of as­so­ci­a­tions in this lit­tle Tarn town which is sur­rounded by forests, woods and lakes, and not far from Avey­ron, says Fran­coise Desclais-boudal of 3G Immo Con­sul­tant. Snow can fall in win­ter which al­lows you to make use of ski slopes and snow shoe paths on the Col Piquo­talen, at an al­ti­tude of 1,100m on the road to La Sal­ve­tat-sur-agout.

The mid­dle moun­tain cow-scat­tered ter­rain of the Monts de La­caune of­fers good walk­ing for the more en­er­getic. You may also come face to face with the La­caune breed of ewes whose milk makes that tangy king of blue cheeses, Ro­que­fort, in Avey­ron. For­est for­ays will fill your fry­ing pan with fab­u­lous fungi. To the south-east, border­ing Hérault, is the 323ha Lac du Laouzas.

“The area is pop­u­lar with folk liv­ing else­where in the re­gion – Mar­seille, Mont­pel­lier, Albi and Cas­tres – who buy sec­ond homes here in search of the tran­quil­lity and fresh­ness of our moun­tains,” Françoise tells me. The lo­cal econ­omy is fu­elled by the salai­son, salt­ing and cur­ing of pork to pro­duce char­cu­terie, and the nearby Si­do­bre gran­ite quarry. Em­ploy­ees of both in­dus­tries are clients for main homes in the sec­tor. There is a Sun­day morn­ing market and a monthly fair on the third Satur­day.

Françoise re­ceives re­quests for four main types of prop­erty. Ter­raced and slate-roofed vil­lage houses, with or with­out a ter­race or gar­den, re­stored or for ren­o­va­tion, sell for €30,000-€50,000. Peo­ple work­ing at the cur­ers or quar­ries with a bud­get of €140,000€200,000 are clients for de­tached three/ four-bed­room prop­er­ties with some land.

For €40,000-€80,000 you can also find rus­tic stone houses – not nec­es­sar­ily large – with a fire­place, land and no neigh­bours, which may re­quire ren­o­va­tion. If you are look­ing for some­thing larger in a sim­i­lar ru­ral lo­ca­tion, a bud­get of €150,000-€250,000 could buy you a stone agri­cul­tural prop­erty with a min­i­mum of 10 hectares of wood­land or mead­ows.

Jour­ney’s end We head south now into Hérault to La Sal­ve­tat-sur-agout, which is tra­versed by the long-dis­tance GR653 hik­ing path, one of the San­ti­ago de Com­postela pil­grim­age routes. It hosts a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal, po­etry and coun­try danc­ing fes­ti­vals. The main eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties are La Sal­ve­tat lightly sparkling min­eral wa­ter, for­est and wood­land man­age­ment, and, hap­pily, there are still two re­main­ing moun­tain char­cu­terie pro­duc­ers.

Two wa­ter­sports cen­tres – Les Boul­douïres and the Gua des Brasses – on the banks of the Rav­iège lake, the largest on the Plateau des Lacs, of­fer a va­ri­ety of wa­ter­sports (only jet skis are pro­hib­ited). If you pre­fer to be on land, you can ram­ble, ride or moun­tain bike through deep forests or along­side lakes and rivers where you can catch trout, perch and pike.

There are rel­a­tively gen­tle walks on the So­mail mas­sif to the south and the Plateau des Lacs, with more de­mand­ing hikes to the east on the mas­sifs of Mont Caroux and the Es­pinouse sum­mit (1,124m). The use­ful mush­room page on the La Sal­ve­tat web­site will help you iden­tify your ceps from your chanterelles, and your morels from your pied-de-mou­ton.

La Sal­ve­tat-sur-agout is a large me­dieval vil­lage of 1,200 in­hab­i­tants, says Is­abelle Barthez of the Cabi­net Im­mo­bilier Peltier Barthez. Dur­ing the re­li­gious wars, the orig­i­nal 11th-cen­tury up­per part of the vil­lage, ly­ing at 800m, was a place of refuge for the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. Here you have small stone

slate-roofed ter­raced houses at least three storeys high, with one small room circa 15m2 per floor. Gen­er­ally, these old houses have no gar­dens al­though there are lit­tle squares nearby al­most ev­ery­where.

Own­ers are el­derly and many houses are in a poor state of re­pair, adds Is­abelle. When prop­er­ties come onto the market, prices can start as low as €20,000, ris­ing to an av­er­age of €60,000 once ren­o­vated.

Of the 50 or so houses here, there are around 10 or so larger prop­er­ties (100-150m2), still with­out a gar­den but with one or two larger rooms and cor­ri­dor per floor. These sell for around €100,000.

Around 150m lower down, large func­tional houses with three or four bed­rooms and gar­den were built in the 1950s-60s and are priced around €140,000. Both up­per and lower town have shops. “We have two dif­fer­ent lives – the up­per quar­ter and the lower quar­ter. And the in­hab­i­tants are lazy, ev­ery­thing is ac­ces­si­ble by car,” laughs Is­abelle. “Even in the up­per vil­lage; the roads are very nar­row but you can drive through them.”

Hap­pi­ness is a ham­let Leave La Sal­ve­tat and you find a dif­fer­ent way of life in the many sur­round­ing ham­lets. In times gone by there were lots of farmers, now less nu­mer­ous, and so these ham­lets, some with up to 50 houses, were very ac­tive, she ex­plains. There are no shops but you will usu­ally find an area for play­ing pé­tanque; it is “a very, very dis­tinc­tive way of life.”

You can find small houses with a bit of gar­den and larger prop­er­ties with land. If you are look­ing for a ren­o­va­tion project, you could pick up a prop­erty re­quir­ing work for around €50,000. At­trac­tive well-ren­o­vated stone houses can sell for €200,000-€250,000.

Want a lake view? Then head for Lac de la Rav­iège. Its con­struc­tion was ter­mi­nated in 1957, Is­abelle ex­plains, and since the 1985 Loi Mon­tagne, build­ing around the lake has been pro­hib­ited. This means these pri­vate lakeside prop­er­ties, mainly built just af­ter the dam, at­tract a premium. Each year there may be a cou­ple of houses on the market – with di­rect ac­cess to the lake and pon­toon for your boat – sell­ing on av­er­age for €200,000-€250,000.

Old farm build­ings for con­ver­sion are rare. The pre­vail­ing spirit in the Parc is to pre­serve na­ture, ex­plains Is­abelle: “We don’t want in­dis­crim­i­nate con­struc­tion.” Most va­cant farms are in nat­u­ral or agri­cul­tural zones so the PLU (Plan Lo­cal d’ur­ban­isme), the lo­cal ur­ban mas­ter plan, does not au­tho­rise ren­o­va­tion if they have been un­in­hab­ited for a long time so they fall into ruin. Is­abelle did re­cently sell a large old farm­house with out­build­ings and 25 hectares for about €250,000.

Viva la dif­férence Head east and you ar­rive at fra­grantly flower-filled Fraisse-sur-agout, a com­pletely dif­fer­ent vil­lage from La Sal­ve­tat, says Is­abelle, even if it’s only 10km away. There are just a cou­ple of shops; it’s smaller and quiet. In the cen­tre, there are per­haps a max­i­mum of 30 old vil­lage houses; mod­ern hous­ing de­vel­op­ments were built in the 1970s-80s. In gen­eral, prices are higher than in La Sal­ve­tat.

There are var­i­ous vil­lages and ham­lets which are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with prospec­tive pur­chasers. Have a look at Moulières by the lake, head­ing west to­wards the Tarn and, just over the bor­der, Le Rouquié in the com­mune of La­mon­télarié. Larger Con­dax is lively and pop­u­lar. Also worth check­ing out is Le Rieu, be­tween La Sal­ve­tat and the Lac du Laouzas.

The re­gional park of­fers an ex­cel­lent ar­ray of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, with each area of­fer­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent, says Is­abelle. Places like Le Saut de Vé­soles are very wild, for ex­am­ple. “You can walk round the lit­tle lake; it’s su­perb,” she says. Nearby the 75km Pas­s­apaïs walk­ing and cy­cling path runs from Maza­met in the west to Bé­darieux at the east­ern edge of the park.

Most of Is­abelle’s clients are hol­i­day home buy­ers – the pop­u­la­tion in­creases three or four-fold dur­ing the sum­mer. They all come in search of a qual­ity of life which is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from home. So for lovers of na­ture and the Great Outdoors, it has to be the Parc Na­turel Ré­gional du Haut-langue­doc – the nat­u­ral choice.

Walk­ing in Haut-langue­doc, over­look­ing Lac du Laouzas


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