France: There is no time Toulouse

There is still at least one unspoilt, accessible area of France to consider, says Mary Wilson
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The Independent Online

The Tarn-et-Garonne has always been one of the discovered areas of France, but it is does have the secret ingredient: excellent communications. The département is bounded by the rivers Tarn, Garonne and Aveyron and is north-east of Toulouse. Many of the budget airlines fly to Toulouse - Ryanair flies to Rodez - and, last year, the final piece of the new A20, which runs down the middle of France from Paris to Toulouse, was completed. This is convenient for both Parisians and second-home owners from the UK who prefer to drive an easy run down to the area.

"This has made a huge difference, but it hasn't spoilt anything," says Charles Smallwood of Agence l'Union, which has an office in St-Antonin-Noble-Val in the heart of the Tarn-et-Garonne and has recently become an affiliate of Savills.

"I've been there for 16 years. Of course, there have been changes and property prices have almost doubled over the past 10 years, but the area is still virtually crime-free, people talk to each other and kids play in the street," he says. "It's essentially very French. The area is very rural, with beautiful countryside. There's very little traffic, wine's still cheap and you can eat well - duck, foie gras and truffles being some of the specialities of the area."

The medieval town of St-Antonin-Noble-Val, which is a riverside market town, was put on the map in 2001, when Charlotte Gray was filmed there. "I think it also brought the area to the attention of Parisians, many of whom wouldn't have heard of it before," says Smallwood. "They chose the town because it is so unchanged from years gone by."

Now that the firm has links with Savills, it expects to see more interest from investors, second-home owners and those thinking about making a permanent move in the months to come. "This part of France is relatively untouched by developers and has not been overtaken by the British as other parts have been," says Naomi Greatbanks of Savills. "The Tarn-et-Garonne region is one of the most scenic parts of France I've ever seen with its medieval hilltop villages - it's reminiscent of Tuscany, and we feel that this is a new and exciting area, which is better value for money."

Properties for sale range from a townhouse needing restoration to a stone country house in 10 acres. This is close to the village of Belfort du Quercy and has been beautifully restored by its owners. The main house, which is on one floor, has three bedrooms, a study, a large kitchen/dining room with a vaulted beamed ceiling, and a huge living room with a high, beamed ceiling and a large open fireplace.

Then there is a summer living/dining room and a kitchen with pillars, a beamed roof and an exposed stone wall leading on to a terrace. There is parking for two cars in a pigeonnier-style garage, a workshop/playroom and a modern A-frame guest house a little distance away from the main house in a wooded area with an open-plan main room with a living, kitchen and bedroom area, a bathroom and a large sun deck. A large lily pond lies behind the main house and the property is for sale for €795,000 (£548,000).

If you like the thought of running water and a home in the middle of the countryside, then you could buy a restored mill in five acres near Villefranche de Rouerque for €400,000 (£275,000). Set in grounds with a trout river, lawns, mature trees and flowering shrubs, the mill has a dining room with beamed ceiling and central feature of the original stone mill-wheel and raised stone plinth, underneath which you can see the mill-race.

On the first floor, there is a large living room, a massive stone fireplace and two bedrooms, and on the top floor, up a ladder-style staircase, you find the main bedrooms, with an adjoining study, dressing-room area and shower room. "The wardrobe and cupboard on the landing could be converted to create space for a conventional staircase," says Smallwood. In the garden, there is a garage, laundry area and store, which could be converted into a holiday apartment.

Or, if you fancied a little renovation project, you could buy a beautiful period townhouse in the main square of St Antonin, opposite the town hall, with fabulous views from the top. This needs restoration, but is just about liveable in. On the ground floor, there are two rooms, with beamed ceilings, terracotta floors and fireplaces, on the first floor a living room, second room and tiny kitchen and, on the third floor, two further rooms. This is for sale for €120,000 (£82,750).

And for considerably more money, Savills is selling a 12th-century chateau, called Alix, close by in Lapeyrere, which is 45 minutes from Toulouse. The building now mainly dates from the 18th century and is surrounded by 60 acres of grounds and woodland. With beamed ceilings, an antique oak staircase, antique terracotta-tile floors and a dining room with a chestnut floor, it has six bedrooms, plus another three rooms which have not been completed, a large games/fitness room and two more rooms for conversion. In a separate house, completely restored, there are five en-suite bedrooms and two living rooms, plus a stable block, and stunning views of the Pyrenees. The whole thing is for sale for €1.85m (£1.24m).

Agence l'Union (00 33 5 63 30 60 24)

Savills (020-7016 3740)