Property: Normans invite a British invasion

Britons' interest in French homes gains momentum, and not just ancient ones

Northern France is well known as the place to pick up an old farmhouse for next to nothing and then spend years doing it up. But you can find newly built houses and apartments there which are easy to get to for the weekend and which can be bought, moved into, locked up and left.

George V Loisirs, a major French property company, is developing two large sites on the coast at Deauville and Dives-sur-Mer. Both can be reached by several routes - by Le Shuttle to Calais followed by a three- hour drive; by air direct from Gatwick to Deauville; by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen followed by a half-hour drive; or by the new fast ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, which takes two and a half hours, and then less than two hours by motorway.

Patricia Fevrier, of UK agents A Place in France, says: "There has been so much interest from potential English purchasers who have driven past the site that we are now running a sales campaign in the UK." Since May, about 10 properties have sold to Britons at each development, and at Deauville the company has released the second phase ahead of schedule.

Andrew and Debra Sanders, who live in Nottingham, have just bought a one-bedroom apartment at Dives-sur-Mer. He says: "We've been going to Normandy two or three times a year for about 10 years and have looked at all sorts of properties. We are not DIY types and didn't want to get into restoring something. We like the area and wanted somewhere which we felt was real France, rather than too touristy".

The properties also have rental potential. One-bedroom flats at Deauville, for example, could let for pounds 210 a week in the winter and pounds 260 in summer.

The development at Deauville, Le Domaine de Clairefontaine, is on a wooded site between two race courses. Properties range from one-bedroom apartments up to four-bedroom detached houses. There are two tennis courts and a swimming pool and prices are from about pounds 47,000 to pounds 120,000.

At Dives-sur-Mer, a pretty medieval town from which William the Conqueror set sail for England, the company is building Le Village de Port Guillaume around the harbour. It will have shops, restaurants and bars and 1,000 homes ranging from studio apartments to three-bedroom farm-style houses. Prices are from pounds 27,000 to pounds 75,000.

Recently built or newly refurbished properties in northern France also are plentiful. Near Feuqieres, in Picardy, Domus Abroad is selling a restored two-bedroom cottage with two reception rooms, oak-beamed ceilings, a walled, south-facing garden and garage for pounds 36,000. It has a cellar and a loft.

Also in Picardy, Cluttons Daniel Smith is selling La Maison de l'Abbe Prevost in Hesdin for pounds 260,000. This recently restored townhouse has eight bedrooms, a panelled dining room and a pretty internal cobbled courtyard.

Frank Rutherford, of Rutherfords, which sells property all over France, reckons that most new coastal properties are bought as holiday homes.

The agency has a selection of apartments in attractive, newly built blocks along the coast.

A third-floor apartment, 300 metres from the beach at Cabourg - a smart resort between Caen and Deauville, has two bedrooms - kitchenette and balcony and includes furniture in the pounds 42,500 asking price.

A one-bedroom, first-floor apartment about 600 metres from the beach at Blonville, just west of Deauville, is for sale for about pounds 27,000.

A Place In France: 0170-583 2949; Domus Abroad: 0171-431 4692; Cluttons Daniel Smith: 0122-7457 441; Rutherfords: 0171-386 7240.

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