Try the drive before you buy

As budget airlines open up new corners of Europe to British buyers, transport is becoming a make-or-break factor, says Ginetta Vedrickas
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Low-cost transport to your overseas home is a vital consideration when it comes to deciding on location. And, as economy airlines expand to airports all over the continent, new property hot-spots are emerging.

Low-cost transport to your overseas home is a vital consideration when it comes to deciding on location. And, as economy airlines expand to airports all over the continent, new property hot-spots are emerging.

The Live France Group is about to open an office in Pau, Aquitaine as a result of Ryanair's service between Stansted and Pau, which began in April. "It's made a big difference," says Live France's Phillippa Bowman: "Most of our clients state that they want their homes to be within an hour of an airport offering cheap flights and, although people generally hadn't heard much about Pau before, it now seems that they are willing to give it a go."

Pau property prices are rising as a result. Live France is marketing a renovated 16th-century chateau in Pau for €1,150,000. The 10-bedroomed B&B has three independent gîtes and is set within seven hectares of parkland. But if prices have risen, so too have airfares. "When they announce a new line they make the fares ridiculously cheap at first, but after a few months they go up and in school holidays it can end up being fairly expensive."

Bowman regularly flies back to the UK but the addition of Pau airport has widened her options and allows her to compare prices: "We can fly from Perpignan, which has two daily flights, or from Carcassonne, Toulouse or Girona, so we choose whatever is cheapest at the time." Bowman finds that many clients opt to use Spanish airports such as Barcelona or Girona, where car hire is cheaper than in France.

Live France also has an office in Normandy, but Bowman is seeing English buyers opting to go further south than ever before. "Perpignan used to feel so far away but with all the choice of flights more people are now choosing to buy there." But Bowman believes that a "hard core" of British buyers will always opt for second homes in Normandy and Brittany: "Many people holidayed there as children and this is the part of France that they like best."

Opting to buy a property in northern France does not mean that transportation will be low-cost, however. Bowman often hears complaints about ferry fares: "When you compare them to flights I don't think they are competitive, but many clients want to drive so they stick to them out of habit."

Two years ago Jim Webster bought a house near Cherbourg, where he now runs a gîte. He has received few bookings this year, directly as a result of ferry prices, he feels. "I think most people wonder why they should spend hundreds of pounds coming to Brittany, where the weather may be bad, when for the same or less they can fly the whole family down to the south of France or Spain, hire a cheap car and come back with a tan rather than a cold." Webster wants the ferry companies to take action: "They might find that if they made their prices a bit cheaper, or offered incentives, they might get more people using them."

Webster is not alone in his view: is a forum for homeowners in France who believe that fares are too high. The site shows how to find cheaper ferry crossings but also details how some travellers have tried to cut costs - and been banned from using the ferries as a result.

Karen Tait, editor of French Property News, regularly receives complaints such as Webster's in her mailbag, and has herself experienced steep pricing. "Last time I enquired about a ferry crossing, the fare for two motorbikes in August was around £500." She, too, would like to see more competitive rates and, while she has noticed the shift in buyers heading further south, including previously little-known destinations such as the Auvergne and Limousin, she believes that the north will always hold an appeal for buyers who want to take their own cars. "If you are going as a family and are taking lots of things with you for your property then it's still more convenient and cheaper than buying summer flights."

Solicitor Paul Massey lives in Islington, north London but his second home, a "mini chateau" is in a small village to the west of Rouen in Normandy. Massey has owned his French house for more than five years and has tried many different modes of transport but finds Eurotunnel best: "It's very convenient. I can leave my Islington home and be at my French property in around five hours. In winter it is particularly reliable compared to ferry crossings." Massey is also a member of Eurotunnel's Property Owners Club, which allows frequent travellers to bulk-buy tickets at cheaper rates. "You pay an initial joining fee but you also get loyalty points, which you can put towards your next trip," he says.

Live France Group: 0871 7174143 or 0033 4684 56916

Eurotunnel Property Owners Club: 0870 2430892;