The eter­nal val­ley

It is pop­u­lar for good rea­son, but you can still find a warm wel­come and af­ford­able prop­erty in Vau­cluse, as well as a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, finds Solange Hando

French Property News - - Fpn Contents -

De­spite its pop­u­lar­ity it’s pos­si­ble to find af­ford­able prop­erty in Vau­cluse

Can you feel the sun on your face all day long and catch the in­tox­i­cat­ing fra­grance of wild woody herbs? Can you see vine­yards and vil­lages bathed in golden light, cherry or­chards and olive groves and sun­flower fields? Are you sur­rounded by lots and lots and lots of fra­grant laven­der? Then there is a good chance that you are in Vau­cluse, the beat­ing heart of Provence.

Bor­dered by the Rhône to the west and the River Du­rance to the south, the depart­ment of Vau­cluse ac­tu­ally gets its name thanks to an­other river, the Sorgue, which is fed by the largest spring in France, the Fon­taine de Vau­cluse. It rises in the heart of the depart­ment from a val­ley that abruptly ends in a cliff face, mak­ing it a closed val­ley, or val­lis clausa in Latin.

Vau­cluse has been ad­mired for mil­len­nia, not just by the 4.2 mil­lion tourists who visit an­nu­ally now but by the great and good of yes­ter­year, in­clud­ing the Popes and the Ro­mans. Yet it is still pos­si­ble to come to this lovely patch of south-east France and en­joy life as a prop­erty owner.

“The strong com­mu­nity life means it’s easy to in­te­grate,” says Juli­ette Borg, an es­tate agent for Leggett Im­mo­bilier in the area. “You can join a lo­cal club, at­tend a fes­ti­val or a cul­tural event, wan­der around a Provençal market or chat in a bistro.”

The depart­ment has a very pleas­ant cli­mate, she adds, and a var­ied land­scape in which any­one can find their dream home.

“Prop­er­ties range from old mills and farms to moun­tain chalets, mod­ern homes and ar­chi­tect-de­signed vil­las,” she says. “Prices are fairly high in the Lubéron but cheaper prop­er­ties are avail­able across the depart­ment. This is Provence at its best and com­pared to the Riviera, it is much more af­ford­able.”

Vau­cluse is also easy to ac­cess. Eurostar runs di­rect trains from Lon­don to Avi­gnon or you can fly from Lon­don to nearby Nîmes (Ryanair) or in sea­son from Southamp­ton or Birm­ing­ham to Avi­gnon (flybe).

Lubéron and Lit­tle Venice In the south-east, the Lubéron still echoes to the words of Peter Mayle, whose best­selling mem­oir A Year in Provence has been fos­ter­ing Bri­tain’s love of ru­ral France since 1989. It may be busy in the high sea­son but the Lubéron re­gional park – a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve – is a na­ture lover’s de­light, with chal­leng­ing hikes or fam­ily walks me­an­der­ing across hills, forests and arid scrub­land ( gar­rigue). The park cov­ers 1,850 km2 from 70m to 1,125m on the peak of Mourre Nè­gre. There are birds and but­ter­flies, canyons and lakes, dry­s­tone shep­herds’ huts and five vil­lages des­ig­nated among the most beau­ti­ful in France.

Here, sur­rounded by vine­yards, olive groves and al­mond trees, is Lour­marin, the an­i­mated vil­lage where Peter Mayle moved in later life. Them there’s the vil­lage of Rous­sil­lon, with its amaz­ing ochre cliffs likened to Colorado. Ménerbes, the set­ting for the film A Year in Provence, is a for­ti­fied vil­lage perched on a rocky spur while the 1,000-year-old cas­tle of An­souis looks out over the for­est-cov­ered hills. And close to the laven­der-rich Cis­ter­cian Abbey of Sé­nanque is scenic Gordes with its cob­bled streets and Re­nais­sance cas­tle dom­i­nat­ing the plain of Cavail­lon.

On the edge of Vau­cluse, Cavail­lon is the gate­way to the Lubéron, fa­mous for its mel­ons and hill­top paths look­ing over the Du­rance val­ley to the Monts de Vau­cluse to the north. Then it’s only a short drive to L’isle sur la Sorgue, known as Lit­tle Venice be­cause it is al­most en­closed by the river and criss­crossed by canals with flower-draped bridges and old wa­ter­wheels cov­ered in moss. There are wa­ter­side restau­rants and cafés and art gal­leries housed in el­e­gant man­sions. But the ‘is­land’ is best known for its an­tique shops and fairs which at­tract an in­ter­na­tional clien­tele.

Just out of town, a unique nat­u­ral won­der might hold you spell­bound: af­ter heavy rain, the River Sorgue dis­plays the big­gest resur­gence in Europe. It’s a steep climb to the source but at the foot of the cliffs, ca­noes sail on emer­ald wa­ters and the pretty vil­lage of Fon­taine de Vau­cluse in­vites you to re­lax in the shade. This is the ‘closed val­ley’ which gave its name to the depart­ment.

Around Avi­gnon On the left bank of the Rhône, Avi­gnon is the depart­ment’s pré­fec­ture, a colour­ful city known for its theatre fes­ti­val and the old district guarded by re­stored me­dieval ram­parts. There are cob­bled lanes and bour­geois houses, myr­iad mu­se­ums and lots of churches. The top at­trac­tion, how­ever, is the Palais des Papes, home to the Popes in the 14th cen­tury. Fortress and palace all in one, it’s one of the most im­pos­ing Gothic build­ings on the Con­ti­nent, dwarf­ing the basil­ica ris­ing next to it. The ad­join­ing path takes you up to the Rocher des Doms, a hill­top gar­den fra­grant with rose­mary and thyme, over­look­ing the city on one side.

On the other, the River Rhône and the glis­ten­ing boats cruise past the Pont d’avi­gnon, the leg­endary ru­ined bridge im­mor­talised in the song. Only four arch­ways still stand but, along­side the Basil­ica and Palace, it is part of the his­toric cen­tre listed by UNESCO.

If you like na­ture, the largest river is­land in the coun­try beck­ons just min­utes away. Barthe­lasse can be reached over a mod­ern bridge but the free ferry ride is more at­mo­spheric. With or­chards, sun­flow­ers, farm­land, it’s a lovely spot laced in cy­cling and walk­ing trails and you might see herons, cor­morants, beavers, badgers, hedge­hogs and more. The old tow­path of­fers the best views of the Popes’ Palace across the wa­ter.

The Avi­gnon Popes were par­tial to the lo­cal wine and a small piece of the neigh­bour­ing depart­ment of Drôme, known as the En­clave des Papes, is to­day of­fi­cially part of Vau­cluse as a nod to the fact that the 14th cen­tury Popes liked the wine pro­duced there and bought the land.

The vine­yards around Avi­gnon still yield the su­perb AOC wines aptly named Châteauneuf du Pape, 95% red pro­duced mostly from gre­nache grapes. Walk­ing around the vine­yards is a treat and a chance to dis­cover your favourite vin­tage.

It’s all a world away from the early wines en­joyed by the Ro­mans but the an­cient em­pire left its mark nev­er­the­less. A short drive from Châteauneuf brings you to the city of Or­ange with its lofty tri­umphal arch and fa­mous theatre, which hosts the sum­mer opera sea­son and claims to be the best pre­served theatre wall in Europe. Both sites are listed by UNESCO. To the north, the quaint com­mu­nity of Vai­son-la-ro­maine has its own Ro­man ves­tiges along the River Ou­vèze while the old me­dieval district clings to the hill.

Vau­cluse is a se­lect area where new de­vel­op­ments tend to be pri­vate dwellings built on avail­able plots of land. The prop­erty market is buoy­ant nev­er­the­less, from vil­lage houses to de­tached vil­las with gar­dens and pools, their tiled roofs and ochre walls re­flect­ing the tra­di­tional style. Most au­then­tic of all are the mas de Provence, the old farm­houses built with lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, but you will also find some el­e­gant bastides, once home to wealthy landown­ers.

Avi­gnon has plenty of prop­er­ties for sale but noth­ing comes cheap. I found a small town­house for €294,250 and an 18th-cen­tury man­sion near a park for €758,000 while apart­ments ranged from €230,000 to over €1m. The at­trac­tive Lubéron hills are gen­er­ally highly priced with a three-bed­room villa in Lour­marin for €527,725 and an­other in Ménerbes for €867,000 while a ren­o­vated farm­house in Rous­sil­lon was on the market for €1.102m. How­ever I spot­ted a small house in need of ren­o­va­tion for just €109,000 near Apt, in the qui­eter and more re­mote Grand Lubéron.

In L’isle sur la Sorgue, I saw a four-bed­room farm­house with a large gar­den for €450,000 while a six-bed­room gîte in Châteauneuf du

With its tran­quil wa­ter­ways, L’isle sur la Sorgue is known as Lit­tle Venice

The strong com­mu­nity life means it’s easy to in­te­grate The Lubéron re­gional park – a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve – is a na­ture lover's de­light

Lubéron re­gional park

Is any­body danc­ing sur le pont d’avi­gnon?

Gordes, one of the Plus Beaux Vil­lages de France

L’isle sur la Sorgue

A flower-be­decked house in Cavail­lon old town

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