What to buy on the other French Riviera

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Fran­qui. “One word for me is par­adise, and I don’t want to tell too many peo­ple,” says Anne Sta­ple­ton of Pri­vate Prop­erty Sellers. “It could eas­ily ri­val the jet-set lo­ca­tion of Plage de la Paloma,” in ritzy St-Jean-Cap-Fer­rat near Nice.

The sandy beach at La Fran­qui has the lap­ping waves of the Mediter­ranean on one side and a la­goon on the other, leav­ing a thin strip of sand in the mid­dle that leads to the five-mile-long Plage les Cous­soules. These la­goons, or étangs, are typ­i­cal of the area – part of the 173,000-acre Re­gional Nat­u­ral Park – and here wild flamin­gos, pink salt lakes and hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent types of birds make up the land­scape. In La Fran­qui, prop­erty is around €240 (£210) per sq ft, com­pared with €1,245 per sq ft in Plage de la Paloma, says Sta­ple­ton.

Head­ing north to the next étang is a clus­ter of lo­ca­tions that of­fer the per­fect cock­tail of wild la­goon and Mediter­ranean hol­i­day life: Gruis­san, Nar­bonne and Bages. The lat­ter is a charm­ing fish­ing vil­lage with a hid­den la­goon beach and Mai­son des Arts that holds six art ex­hi­bi­tions a year.

“Bages is com­pa­ra­ble to Saint-Paul de Vence on the Riviera, a charm­ing hill­top vil­lage that at­tracts artists, gourmets and those in the know,” says Na­dia Jor­dan of prop­erty finder Foothills of France. Last year Jor­dan bought a three-bed­room stone vil­lage house with la­goon views in Bages. An idyl­lic prop­erty with cas­cad­ing pink bougainvil­lea, it sits next door to the con­vivial Les Beaux Arts restau­rant. She bought it for €300,000 and now rents it out at langue­do­clo­ca­tion.com; prices range from €800-€1,400 a week.

East of Bages on the Étang du Grazel is Gruis­san, which has one of the most im­pres­sive stretches of golden beach on this side of the Mediter­ranean coast. On a penin­sula, some peo­ple draw sim­i­lar­i­ties to St-Jean-Cap-Fer­rat, but the beach it­self could com­pare to Pam­pelonne in St Tropez.

Gruis­san has three dis­tinc­tive ar­eas – port, beach and old town – and is fa­mous for its coral-pink salt flats and salt pro­duc­tion. At restau­rant La Cam­buse du Sau­nier you can try fresh lo­cal seafood sea­soned with fleur de sel de Gruis­san while over­look­ing rip­pling pink wa­ters.

With iconic beach huts made fa­mous in the 1986 film Betty Blue, Gruis­san’s white sands are a bliss­ful way to spend long sum­mer days. Julie Reaney, a con­sul­tant at buy­ing agents Home Hunts, says that more of these cov­eted stilted bun­ga­lows are be­ing built, and some con­tem­po­rary homes are also on the way. “You can buy a 35sq me­tre (377sq ft) studio for €85,000,” she says, ad­ding that a 75sq me­tre (807sq ft) chalet need­ing re­dec­o­ra­tion would cost about €200,000.

The area is in high de­mand. Karl O’Han­lon, the de­vel­oper of Château Capi­toul, a wine estate be­tween Gruis­san and Nar­bonne, put new-build prop­er­ties up for sale in April last year that sold out in four months. His next project is in Bages’s neigh­bour­ing vil­lage Peyr­iac-de-Mer. Renowned for its board­walks across the reedy la­goons and flocks of flamin­gos, prop­er­ties are on sale with Sphere Es­tates start­ing at €325,000.

Once a Ro­man port, Nar­bonne’s cen­tre has trans­formed into a tourist hotspot with bustling restaurants and bars along the Canal de la Robine. Sta­ple­ton com­pares it to An­tibes on the Riviera, at half the price.

“You’d be look­ing to spend an av­er­age of €148 per sq ft,” she ex­plains, ad­ding that the av­er­age cost of an apart­ment in An­tibes is €414 per sq ft.

“Nar­bonne is a fun, bour­geois French city with the Mediter­ranean coast right on its doorstep,” says Chi­tra Pullen of Pullen Real Estate. Fam­i­lyfriendly Nar­bonne Plage has been a favourite with the French for years and of­fers a sur­pris­ingly wide three­mile stretch of soft sand. Pullen says that a studio in the city costs around €100,000 and a three-bed­room house is around €300,000. “You can also find lovely high-end homes in sur­round­ing vil­lages, which are al­ways pop­u­lar as rental prop­er­ties,” she adds. Pullen Real Estate is sell­ing a four-bed­room prop­erty in Salles-d’Aude at €452,000. It is 20 min­utes from Nar­bonne and sum­mer rentals bring in €2,200 a week.

If you need a strong rental per­former then Col­lioure, a fish­ing vil­lage in the Pyrénées-Ori­en­tales stud­ded with coves, is an­other good bet. Com­pa­ra­ble in style to St Tropez or even Ville­franche-sur-Mer, agents say you can ex­pect to rent a cen­trally lo­cated loft or fish­er­man’s cot­tage for more than 25 weeks a year.

Buy­ing in this area, rather than on the east­ern side of the Mediter­ranean “is bet­ter value for money in a gen­uinely au­then­tic en­vi­ron­ment,” says Neil Hitchen, an agent with Col­lioure Prop­erty. Al­though the town is bet­ter known than most of the re­sorts on the “other Riviera”, bag­ging a bar­gain is still pos­si­ble. You can buy a two-bed­room apart­ment with Col­lioure Prop­erty for €184,000.

“It’s a hid­den gem,” says Hitchen. “Here you’re about as far south as you can be on the same Med as the Riviera with­out the crowds.”

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