Invest in some stylish mock architecture

Is it a historic town near Bordeaux, or a new resort built by Canadians? Well, both. Laura Latham takes a closer look

If you've always dreamed of owning a traditional property in rural France, but don't want to be isolated or get involved in renovation work, a new development in the Bordeaux region may be just the ticket.

Domaine Haut-Gardegan is a pocket of rural charm surrounded by farm land and vineyards, less than 20 minutes from the beautiful medieval town of St Emilion. The estate features hundreds of mature trees, a ruined 19th-century manor house, and many original outbuildings. All form the backdrop to a new village, which, though being built from scratch, is designed to look as though it has always been there.

As well as a mix of flats and detached houses, the 12-acre estate will have cobbled streets, a village square with restaurant and bar, and shops run by independent local retailers. And the old stable block is being regenerated into a market place where you will be able to buy fresh produce, just as you would in any farmers' market.

Will it be a Disney-esque attempt to capture the magic of Bordeaux? Well, it makes a refreshing change from the faceless new-builds in more developed locations – but it may come as little surprise that there is transatlantic involvement: the Canadian developer Intrawest bought the site after the original owner failed in his attempt to turn it into a golf course, and though there will still be an 18-hole course, designed by the champion Tom Lehman, the main focus of the project is the village.

It will be built in the traditional mellow stone of the area, and according to strict planning laws. To ensure that Domaine Haut-Gardegan fits in with the landscape, France's chief architect is overseeing style, theme and quality. "Approval has to be given by him so that it's in keeping with the vicinity," says Intrawest's Benoît Delaby.

The original manor house at the centre of the development dates back to 1890, but burnt down in the 1950s and is now a shell. Nevertheless, the company decided to keep it as a focal point, and the structure help to preserve a sense of the history and character of the original estate. " The chateau will have some renovation, but it will be left as a ruin. Along with the open market and exhibition space, it will be the soul of the site," says Delaby.

Not everything at Haut-Gardegan is as you would find in your average village, though. In addition to the golf course (which will be open to the public) there will be a spa, swimming pools, acres of formal gardens, a conference centre and a cookery school, all aimed at drawing visitors throughout the year. The company hopes to attract a top chef for the school, where residents and visitors can do classes.

Property is priced from £205,000, which gives you a 42sq m, one-bedroom apartment with terrace and views over the countryside or golf course. At the upper end, a 98sq m three-bedroom penthouse apartment, with Jacuzzi on the terrace, is £615,000, and when the villas are released, they'll be more expensive still. So, it's not cheap, but the proximity of sought-after St Emilion raises prices. Plus, residents will have access to on-site facilities, including concierge services.

The developer can also rent apartments from owners under the French leaseback system. Joanna Yellowlees-Bound of Erna Low, which is marketing the site, says owners could expect to make a return of around 4 per cent (based on 60 per cent occupancy for 10 months of the year).

But you may find that you're there more than you think – part of the beauty of owning in this area is that you can hop over with ease. It'sa 90-minute flight from the UK to Bordeaux; three hours from Paris via TGV; or around 10 hours by car.

www.bectivelesliemarsh.co.uk

www.ernalowproperty.co.uk; 020-7590 1624

Buyers' guide

* French law dictates that, on death, any assets pass to the children, even in preference to a surviving spouse.

* This means that children from previous relationships can claim against an estate, unless you have community property registration, leaving all assets to a surviving spouse.

* The leaseback scheme means that you lease the property back to the developer's rental pool for either nine or 11 years. In return, he or she pays you a guaranteed percentage for use.

* The upside of leaseback is that there's no VAT (currently 19.6 per cent) to pay on purchase, plus you get a guaranteed rental return.

* The downside is that owners have a restricted number of weeks' use and, under current law, developers have the right to renew the contract indefinitely.

* If you sell a leaseback property within 20 years, you no longer have to pay the remaining tax due, providing that the new owner is continuing with the leaseback contract.

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