House Hunter: 'We want a home in France far from expats'

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Ann Pollard writes: "As devoted Francophiles, my husband and I have decided to move to France in a few years when we take early retirement. We have holidayed all over the country for many years, we speak reasonable French and have also developed a passion for the food, drink and culture.

"Our main concern is that we will move to France and find ourselves living next door to a family from Kent. I realise that France has been a favourite home-buying destination for the British for a long time, but where can we go to avoid them? We would really like to love to buy somewhere with a genuinely French feel where we won't be surrounded by expats. Have you any recommendations?

"The property need only be small as it is just for myself and my husband, though we would like a garden. We have a budget of around £180,000 - this will need to include all associated costs - and we would like something traditional-looking with plenty of character. We are both keen walkers and love the countryside, so a rural or village location would be preferable."


Katy Pownall writes: "The main thing you must bear in mind during your search for La France profonde is that anywhere with daily flights and other direct transport links is going to have an expat population. To find a truly French area, you will need to look in places well off the beaten track. You will probably have most success in the central regions of France where few inroads have been made, even by intrepid Brits. I would particularly recommend the Auvergne region in the heart of the Massif Central, which remains wild, unspoilt and largely untouched by both Brits and Parisians.

Famed for its volcanically moulded topography, the Auvergne comprises four departments: the Cantal, Haute Loire, Puy de Dome and Allier. It is rural and has beautiful countryside popular with outdoor enthusiasts and walkers - which should suit you. The area isn't well known and, until recently, has been fairly inaccessible. Getting there still isn't especially easy, but it is do-able and access continues to improve. Ryanair now flies to St Etienne in the neighbouring Rhône Alps, though flying into Rodez (also serviced by Ryanair) may be closer to the Cantal. Road connections have improved massively, too, and trains run to stations such as Aurillac and Cahors.

As well as avoiding crowds, another upside to choosing a remote area is the lower prices, and the Auvergne is pretty cheap compared to the rest of France. With your budget of £180,000, for example, you could purchase a renovated six-bedroom property with plenty of land and outbuildings. As you are seeking a more modest property, however, you are likely to have a lot of spare change at the end of your transaction.

Your request for a property of character can also be easily satisfied in the Auvergne. Traditional Auvergnat cottages are constructed of creamy beige stone and most of the carpentry is in oak. The roof is made of lauze (heavy slate) and is usually steeply curved to allow snow to slide off. There may also be a traditional fireplace, which tends to be 3m wide and 1m deep with an open fire or log burner. If you do choose to buy in this area, make sure your home has a good central heating system, as winters can be very chilly.

Another area you may wish to try to escape Brits is Aveyron, which is a department in the Midi-Pyrenees, close to the Auvergne. Aveyron shares many of the same features as the departments of the Auvergne: a dramatic landscape scored by gorges, rivers and woodland and some wonderful property at really very exceptional prices.


Property one: A character stone house in Viplay, Allier, in the Auvergne.

Price: €187,000 (£129,000).

Agent's details: This property has a living space of 150sqm, comprising four bedrooms (one in the tower), two bathrooms, a kitchen room, dining room and living room. It features exposed beams, open fire, double glazing and central heating and sits in almost three quarters of an acre of wooded, enclosed garden.

Contact: Latitudes (020-8951 5155,

Property two: Auvergnat cottage, Senezergues, Cantal, in the Auvergne.

Price: €210,452.

Agent's details: A lovely, traditional stone house with oak beams and floors and an original fireplace. Situated in a quiet village, this three bedroom-property has a living space of 180sqm and has been tastefully restored and decorated throughout. Inside, there is a fitted kitchen, downstairs shower room and toilet and upstairs family bathroom. Outside, there are two gardens, one of which has a pergola and a spring.

Contact: Sifex (020-7384 1200,

Property three: A two-bedroom country home near Montbazens, Aveyron.

Price: €168,859 (£116,631).

Agent's details: Built in the 19th century, this pretty south facing property has a living area of 120 square metres though there is the option to extend into the attic. Rooms include a laundry, kitchen, cellar, workshop, garage, bathroom and sitting/dining room. There is a terrace and 2000 square metres of mature gardens. Oil fired central heating and double glazing throughout. Rodez airport is nearby.

Contact: Francophiles (01622 688165,


* The scenery: Chiefly rural, and still very French. This is a good area for hiking, biking, white-water rafting and even skiing. The Park Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne is one of the largest in France and is situated in Cantal and the Puy de Dôme. The landscape is peppered with renovated wash houses, fountains, drinking troughs and sacadous - the sheds used to dry chestnuts. There are also lots of Romanesque and Gothic churches.

The food: Includes comfort dishes such as potatoes cut into large slices, then steamed in a pan with slices of tome fraîche (Cantal cheese). Potée Auvergnate is an Auvergne stew with salt pork knuckle and sausage cooked in stock with vegetables.

The property: Among the cheapest you will find in France, by virtue of the area being undiscovered by outsiders. The Auvergne is one of the few places where you can still find renovation projects for £25,000 and fully renovated properties for £150,000.

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: