Anyone talking about the South of France is generally referring to the stretch of Provençal coastline between Monaco and St Tropez. This hang-out of the rich and glamorous is a dream destination for the select few who can still afford to pay the region’s sky-high property prices.
There is, however, an alternative South of France, where prices are more reasonable, the pace of life less frantic and the beaches paparazzi-free. A couple of hours west of the Côte d’Azur is the Languedoc-Rousillon, where rolling countryside is dotted with vineyards and peaceful small towns, the coastal resorts are family-friendly and accommodation ranges from waterside apartments to pretty farmhouses that start from under £200,000.
“Languedoc-Roussillon is up-and-coming compared to Provence,” says Alex Charles of local agency Crème de Languedoc. “It doesn’t have Provence’s sky-high prices or bling factor and, apart from some touristy beach resorts, has escaped that region’s overdevelopment.”
Charles, who has homes starting at around £60,000, claims the best deals are to be found inland, where “you can still find ramshackle, stone-built village houses at rock-bottom prices”. For traditional ambience, he recommends Roquebrun, Saint Chinian and Berlou in the Orb valley. “Authentic, attractive spots with no shortage of character property.”
Marjorie Mondoloni-Dwyer, of Chesterton International, also favours the charming inland villages and recommends lovely towns such as Pezanes, Uzes and Medon. “Places that are beautiful, accessible and around 20 minutes from the sea.”
For easy access to the Languedoc’s beaches, she rates the coastal towns of Marseillan and Sète highly and says the port of La Ciotat is also worth investigating. “Prices in this region are 50 per cent cheaper than the Côte d’Azur, where costs are completely crazy,” she adds.
According to Mondoloni-Dwyer, buyers should expect to pay between £150,000 and £500,000 for properties that range from new one-bed apartments to three-bedroom villas. She says development in the area hasn’t spoilt its rural feel, though she admits some dated and unattractive resorts do blight the area’s otherwise pristine coastline.
However, those who can’t give up their dream of owning on the glitzy French Riviera shouldn’t despair as it’s still just possible to find small but affordable holiday pads. French specialist Latitudes has apartments near Antibes starting at £110,000 and in Nice from £80,000. It also has properties priced from £125,000 in the pretty port of Menton, close to the border with Italy.
“Menton is beautiful and not as well known as other towns on the Côte d’Azur, so it can be cheaper,” says Mondoloni-Dwyer, who is also selling apartments there from £220,000. “It’s a wonderful location but it still cannot be compared to the Languedoc, where you will get so much more for your money.”
France: Buyer’s guide
* The Languedoc is easily accessible, with airports at Montpellier, Marseilles, Carcassone and Toulouse.
* Prices in France are predicted to drop an average of 10 per cent in 2009, with rural areas expected to be particularly affected.
* Many French developments offer guaranteed rental returns but you can pay a premium for this type of property and personal use may be limited.