It is still possible to find the classic Breton cottage, built of stone and slate, with dark holes as windows, at a price of around pounds 12,000. Rutherfords (25 Vanston Place, London SW6 1AZ, tel: 071-386 7240) has one on its books at the moment inland of Vannes, simply described as having four main rooms and half an acre. In contrast, a restored stone and slate semi-detached house in Brittany, near Dinan, which comes with more than seven acres of woodland, is priced by the same agents at pounds 58,000. It has original beams, a granite fireplace, two bedrooms and a large store.
Moving south to the warmer Lot region, there is a pair of cottages near Cahors that have water and electricity connected but are still in a raw state needing restoration, priced at pounds 45,000. One half of this stone building already has four rooms, the other could be converted to a three-bedroom cottage, and there is also a stone barn in the garden, which runs to three quarters of an acre.
By comparison, a fully restored French farmhouse which has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a barn that could be converted into a summer let will cost pounds 89,000 through Rutherfords. It lies near Mirande in the more expensive Gers region deep down below the Pyrenees, around one-and- a-half hours from Toulouse airport.
In the north, close to Hesdin, the town that was used as a location for the Inspector Maigret TV adaptation, a brick house with a three-storey converted hexagonal dovecote is on the market for pounds 120,000. It has four bedrooms, a huge loft, electric central heating and is set in 10 acres. It is for sale through L'Abri-Tanique Residential (tel: 010 33 21 81 59 79).
At the top end of the market Sotheby's International Realty (34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA, tel: 071-408 5196) handles flats and townhouses in Paris as well as chateaux close to the city. The moated Chateau de Wideville, near Versailles, buried in the forest of Marly, is currently for sale. The interiors shimmer with richly gilded and beamed ceilings, 16th-century fireplaces and spectacular tromp l'oeil marquetry, while outside is a 1635 garden folly believed to be one of the most important in France. There is also a heliport, and motor car race track, two lakes and parkland of 113 hectares, all priced together at more than pounds 14m.
To rival it in the south of France, at Cap Martin, is Les Zoraides, the house and stunning gardens owned by Daisy Fellowes during the Thirties. As Paris editor of Harper's Bazaar she threw wild parties which were attended by the Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson, who also borrowed her yacht to escape the press in 1935. The house, with its marbled staircase, guest houses, staff house, salt water swimming pool and pavilion, is priced at more than pounds 17m.
For houses set in the mountains above the Costa Blanca, Propertunities (13/17 Newbury Street, Wantage, Oxfordshire OX12 8BU, tel: 0235 772345) has a rich list. Most of them are inland, among the mountains and valleys near the city of Alcoy and the village of Cocentaina. Few have fitted kitchens or bathrooms, but most have exposed beams and open fires.
Among cheaper properties, at pounds 18,600, is a country house with three bedrooms, mains water, two-and-a-half acres of olive and almond trees, a swimming pool, and the possibility of electricity. A restored Spanish country house with six bedrooms, swimming pool, drinking water, electricity and 10 acres of fruit, olive, pine and almond trees costs around pounds 72,000.
For those who prefer modern Spanish pueblos set amid golf courses and tennis courts, there is La Manga on the Costa Calida, developed by Bovis. Prices vary from pounds 80,000 to pounds 85,000 for a new, air-conditioned two-bedroom apartment overlooking an 18-hole golf course, to pounds 40,000 for a basic two-bedroom resale apartment, to pounds 170,000 for a four-bedroom villa with a pool. (Freephone 0800 252 235).
Some of the cheapest properties in Italy lie along the coastline of Calabria in the deep south, at the foot of storybook mountain ranges. Little fishermen's cottages can be picked up for pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000 through Brian A French Associates (12 High Street, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, HG5 OEQ, tel: 0423 867047). They are habitable in the summer only, for the winters in this area are bleak.
Le Marche is the place to look for piles of near-derelict stone and tile. A stone house of 250 square metres with a barn of 100 square metres with services connected can be had from Brian A French for pounds 19,000. Or there is a detached farmhouse, in good enough condition to move into, with stables, six rooms, a bathroom and two outbuildings, at pounds 33,470.
Prices in Umbria have shot up. A stone house with three to four bedrooms, two living rooms, a cantina and storerooms, which is one of 10 built within a medieval castle, is priced at pounds 100,000. The top four floors of a five-storey medieval tower cost pounds 41,300. Moving further upmarket to Tuscany, there is a stone farmhouse, set on a promontory below a castle. Partly restored, it has its original terracotta floors, a bread oven and five acres of land with a tobacco barn, all for pounds 115,000. These are all available through Brian A French Associates.
Venice remains one of the prizes of the international property market. An apartment overlooking the Grand Canal, with oak- beamed ceilings, marble decorations, Gothic arched windows, situated in a house built for the Perducci family between the 14th and 15th centuries, is for sale through Sotheby's International Realty (address above) at pounds 1.25m.
One company that specialises in finding the windowless stone house with mountain-top views and the tinkle of goat bells in the distance is Halcyon Properties (3 Dukes Close, Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 2TU, tel: 0323 891639). This agency concentrates its efforts mainly among the bays and olive groves of the Peloponnese, and in the Saronic Gulf islands that include Aegina and Poros.
At the lower end of the market is a stone house on two levels in need of renovation in a village close to Methana town, on a peninsula on the sea route between the islands of Poros and Aegina. It is priced at pounds 24,000. Also near Methana is a two-room cottage with a kitchen, outhouse, courtyard, and garden full of citrus trees, priced at pounds 31,000.
At the upper end of the market, on the books of Sotheby's International Realty (address above), you could find a villa on the north-east coast of Corfu, set in four acres of grounds plunging down to the sea, with four bedrooms and numerous terraces, at pounds 910,000. Sotheby's is also selling the harbour windmill on the island of Hydra. It has two bedrooms, a loft, a swimming pool in the gardens and stunning views over the curved harbour bay. All this is to be had for pounds 260,000.
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