The Var: France's region of rest, relaxation and rosé

Mary Wilson explains why the locals prefer Var's tranquillity to the glitz of the Côte D'Azur
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The Independent Online

North of the Côte d'Azur is an area known as rural Var. It is everything the coast is not - peaceful, rural, real France as opposed to one filled with foreigners and where property is about twice as expensive as in the hinterland. UK purchasers often start on the coast when they are younger, looking for the razzmatazz and the glitz, but move inland when that type of life begins to pall.

Last year, Peter and Marie-Louise Waumsley bought a plot of land at Domaines de Saint Endréol, which is near the town of Draguignan. This 370-acre development was started in 1992 and has a well- established 18-hole golf course, designed by Michel Gayon, with the most stunning views. The course is popular with the locals and visiting celebrities, such as David Beckham, have been spotted on the greens.

The Waumsleys had a four-bedroom villa built for them and moved in during September to live there full time. "We had been renting in the area for three years," Mr Waumsley says. "Basically we love the tranquillity. But it's only seven minutes north of the A8 and from there it takes less than 45 minutes to reach the coastline and the beach.

"We love the food, the wine, the people, the location and the climate. At the end of March, when everyone in the UK was shivering, we drove out to a lovely restaurant high up in the mountains and ate lunch outside in the sun, looking at the fabulous view. Our villa is on a rise in a valley and we are surrounded by vineyards. It's in the area where most of the Provencal rosé is made. We overlook the valley and can sit on our terrace and watch the setting sun. It's beautiful. We have come here because of the quality of life, the climate and the chance to escape."

Jeremy Rollason, of Savills International, worked in Antibes for two years and knows the area well. "Although people go to rural Var for the tranquillity, it's very much part of the Riviera," he says. "St Tropez, Cannes and Nice are all within easy driving distance, although I never went to St Tropez in July and August. During those months you need to be there by 9am and leave after 7pm, otherwise you just get stuck in a frightful log jam of traffic."

Saint Endréol is surrounded by a large plain, one of the lowest in central Var. It's encircled by mountains with vineyards to the west and nearby a number of pretty villages. The deeper you go into Var, the more dramatic the landscape becomes with outcrops of craggy rocks. The River Endre meanders through the development, but, to the north, there are several deep gorges and all around are areas of gorse, olive, pine and cork trees.

Another plus for the area is that although there are a good number of converted maison de maîtres, farmhouses and village homes for sale, new developments are thin on the ground, as the planning restrictions have prevented the area from becoming like the Costa del Sol. "There is a much higher demand for new-build properties now," says Brian Groocock, who is an associate of Savills, which is marketing Les Domaines de Saint Endréol. "Development land is at a premium, with planning permission hard to achieve and it is unlikely that the development would be allowed to be built if it was started today."

The residential element has slowly evolved with there being now three hamlets, each self-contained and dotted around in the pine trees which surround the golf course. As well as golf, there is a beautiful health spa and 35-room hotel, you can play tennis or go jogging in the grounds and it's somewhere which appeals to both people who want to spend a lot of time there or second-home owners who want a property they can lock up and leave.

Each hamlet has its own communal swimming pool and at Le Castellet, which is under construction, there will be 60 houses and apartments. This hamlet is at the highest point of the estate and so has wonderful views across the vineyards and the mountains. All the properties have a typical Provençal feel about them with colour washed exteriors, contrasting shutters and mottled roof tiles. Prices for the two and three-bedroom houses start at £280,000 and residents will be given discounts on green fees and club membership.

For someone looking for an older property, Knight Frank is selling a charming four-bedroom house in the middle of a hamlet near Le Luc for about £330,000 and a beautifully renovated country house near Claviers with four bedrooms, covered terrace with barbecue, swimming pool and adventure playground, all in a very large plot of land. This is for sale for about £569,000.

Hugo Skillington, who has lived in Gassin for 35 years and is now Knight Frank's representative in the area, says: "It is a magical area. It is amazing how quickly you can get away from the coast, where there are too many people and too many cars, to somewhere which feels almost isolated. The light is amazing and the landscape has attracted painters, writers and cinema directors, who have all realised its amazing potential."

Brian Groocock, 00 33 498 10 20 90

Savills, 020 7016 3740

Hugo Skillington, 00 33 494 44 10 44

Knight Frank, 020 7629 8171

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