On safari in France's southern sun

Take your car by Motorail for a house-hunting foray in the South of France, says Mary Wilson
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The Independent Online

France has long been a favourite holiday spot - and home-from-home - for many Brits. But no matter how many cheap flights are on offer to whisk you across the Channel, you'll still need a car once you're there. Which is why if you're looking for property, especially in southern France, let the train take the strain of getting you and your car there: use the Motorail network to guide you when it comes to choosing your holiday home location.

France has long been a favourite holiday spot - and home-from-home - for many Brits. But no matter how many cheap flights are on offer to whisk you across the Channel, you'll still need a car once you're there. Which is why if you're looking for property, especially in southern France, let the train take the strain of getting you and your car there: use the Motorail network to guide you when it comes to choosing your holiday home location.

From May to September, you just need to get to Calais by the evening and put the car on the autotrain. You jump aboard a separate train, which has sleeping carriages with two, four or six berths. In the morning, you arrive at your destination, hopefully refreshed after a good night's sleep. For the rest of the year, the service only operates from Paris, but that still saves you at least eight hours of driving.

One of the main advantages of taking your own car, especially if you have children, is that you can load it up with everything you want, including all the favourite toys and bulky items you usually have to leave behind. Motorail takes you to Brive, Toulouse, Narbonne, Avignon and Nice - all great areas for holiday-home hunting.

BRIVE

The countryside around Brive is very agricultural and there is little industry except for tourism. It is a popular area for holiday makers and has come a long way since M. Jacques Chirac, who was born there, came to power. "It is now a thriving area with excellent rail, road and air networks and is regarded as the up and coming area of France," says Vanessa Alcock of France Limousin Immobilier, which has an affiliation with FPDSavills. "Last year, house prices rose by 30 per cent with 80 per cent of the buyers being English." she says. "They come for a more relaxed way of life, seldom found in Britain now."

What's for sale:

A five-bedroom villa at Venersal on three floors with pool, sauna, gym and office for sale for €274,410 (£184,724) (France Limousin Immobilier; 00 33 555 20 01 79).

A 19th-century, four-bedroom house with separate three-bedroom gîte, 1.6 hectares and pool for €290,000 (£195,199) (Domus Abroad; 020-7431 4692).

A four-bedroom country house with large terrace, barn and two stables plus 1.2 hectares of landscaped garden in Uzerche for €179,400 (£120,691) (France Limousin Immobilier; 00 33 555 20 01 79).

A two-bedroom, wood-boarded chalet in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne with magnificent views for €91,560 (£61,609) (France Limousin Immobilier; 00 33 555 20 01 79).

NICE

If the ritzy-glitzy life is what you're after, take the train to Nice and enjoy all that the French Riviera can offer. "In most parts of the Côte d'Azur, supply simply cannot match demand and stringent planning restrictions have limited the number and size of new developments, fuelling the rise in prices in the region," says Olivier Morvan of Hamptons' Nice office. Prices range from €120,000 (£80,800) for a new apartment in Cannes right up to €5m (£3.4m) for a villa with pool at Cap d'Antibes. With 36 yacht harbours along the Côte d'Azur, you can sail, sunbathe or visit nearby Monte Carlo.

What's for sale:

A two-bedroom apartment with drawing room, dining room and balcony overlooking the promenade for €390,000 (£262,600) (International Property; 01962 736712).

A Provençal-style villa in a gated development behind St Paul de Vence with three bedrooms for €1.2m (£808,000) (Hamptons International, UK office; 020-7589 8844).

A seven-bedroom period townhouse in the heart of Vence with walled garden and views of the foothills of the Alps, for sale privately for €640,000 (£431,000) (from Jill Hutchinson, who manages houses for British owners; 00 33 493 58 98 88).

A villa in Tourrettes sur Loup behind Cap d'Antibes, newly renovated, with four bedrooms, terrace, swimming pool and garden for sale for €450,000 (£303,100) (David King Associates; 07020 940 020).

TOULOUSE

Toulouse is one of France's major towns, on the river Gers. With distinctive red-brick architecture, it is known for the huge British Aerospace presence there, the abundance of vineyards, corn and maize fields, and local specialities such as foie gras and cassoulet. Most people using the Toulouse motorail will head west into Gascony, which is prettier and more hilly. "This is a very popular area and becoming more so by the minute," says David King of the eponymous agent. Prices are still very reasonable and you could find a decent village house or cottage in Gascony for around €100,000 (£67,400), a maison de maitre with four bedrooms for around €200,000 (£134,750) or a manor with a gîte from €300,000 (£202,142).

What's for sale:

A stone maison de maitre north of Auch with four bedrooms, terrace, pool, large garden and barn for €425,000 (£286,360)(Purslow's Gascony; 00 33 562 67 61 50).

In Vic Fezensac, a 19th-century three-bedroom maison de maitre, plus four bedrooms in a guest house, five acres, stabling and vines for €564,000 (£379,440) (David King Associates; 07020 940020).

Near Caussade, a 19th-century stone maison de maitre with six bedrooms, 1.5 hectares of grounds including plum orchard and barn for €533,000 (£358,600) (Domus Abroad; 020-7431 4692).

A half-timbered 16th-century manor house, recently renovated to high specifications with four bedrooms, studio wing, 1.3 hectares and pool for €680,000 (£457,500). (Purslow's Gascon; 00 33 562 67 61 50).

AVIGNON

Avignon is a medieval town contained within city walls, known for its papal palaces, but also its squares and cafés, great designer shops and an annual arts and music festival. Around the town there are rolling hills and vines, as well as some quite dramatic scenery. The coast is less than an hour away and the mountains a little further, also the Cevennes, which is fabulous walking country. "I think this has the best potential for future investment," says Trisha Mason of VEF (020-7515 8660). "You can get twice as much for your money around Avignon than you would around Aix-en-Provence and it takes only two hours to reach Paris by TGV."

What's for sale:

A modern villa near Les Baux de Provence with two bedrooms, workshop, garden and pool for €440,000 (£296,000) (Francophiles; 01622 688 165).

A house near Bonnieux which is arranged as two flats but could be turned into a four-bedroom house with pool and secure gated garden for €401,052 (£270,000) (Francophiles; 01622 688 165).

A five-bedroom, three-bathroom villa four miles from Avignon built in 1998 with a one-bedroom apartment, for €550,000 (£370,120) (Francophiles; 01622 688 165).

A 19th-century stone farmhouse near Cavaillon in one acre of wooded grounds with two bedrooms and swimming pool for €540,000 (£363,400) (Latitudes; 020-8951 5155)

A restored farmhouse in Robion in one acre of wooded grounds with four bedrooms, garage and pool for €545,000 (£366,700) (Latitudes; 020-8951 5155).

NARBONNE

Narbonne is surrounded by vineyards, rolling countryside and pretty villages. The Mediterranean is just 15 minutes away and the terrain varies greatly from flattish land covered by swathes of vines to gentle hills and, an hour to the north, the more dramatic scenery of the Montague Noire. There is a mix of agriculture, industry and tourism and the British like it around here because the area is not as expensive as the Côte d'Azur, nor is it as over-run by foreigners as in Provence. "Prices in Narbonne have gone up a lot and the area seems to be hugely sought after by both British and French second home owners," says Penny Zoldan of Latitudes. "Old properties are hard to find, but there are lots of new villas around."

What's for sale:

A two-bedroom town house in Cruzy on three floors with two bathrooms, office and garage, large roof terrace, for €250,000 (£168,200) (Agence Hamilton; 00 33 468 46 06 27).

A four-bedroom house in the village of Pouzols Minervois with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a 60 square-metre courtyard for €210,000 (£141,300) (Agence Hamilton; 00 33 468 46 06 27).

A modern single-storey villa near Narbonne in one acre with three bedrooms, pool and garage for €276,000 (£185,700) (Latitudes; 020-8951 5155).

A new development of houses and apartments at Narbonne Plage called Les Grandes Bleues with three-bedroom houses, starting at €168,900 (£113,600) (Latitudes; 020-8951 5155).

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