Joie de vivre
France has been a popular destination for generations, and isn’t showing much sign of losing its appeal
Separated by only 21 miles of choppy Atlantic waters, the British love affair with France, its closest European neighbour, is firmly established. Around eight million Brits will fly, drive or hop on the Eurostar this year to the world’s most popular tourism destination (nearly 80 million visitors in 2008), lured by the rich culture, varied landscapes and world renowned gastronomy.
But for many, simply visiting for two weeks each summer is not enough. Since the 1970’s over 100,000 Britons have purchased their very own pied-a-terre, be it a chic apartment in Paris, a gite in rural Provence, a traditional chalet in the Alps or a magnificent villa on the French Riviera. And it’s not hard to see why so many adore France. The nation has once again topped the Uswitch Quality of Life Index, enjoying one of the lowest retirement ages, longest life expectancy in Europe and highest spends on healthcare. Workers also benefit from 34 days holiday a year – compared with only 28 in the UK – and it comes only behind Spain and Italy for hours of sunshine. In addition to this high accolade, France ranked first in the International Living magazine Quality of Life Index 2010 for the fifth year running.
The French property market has remained stable despite the global recession, continuing to attract investors and second home buyers alike. This positive situation has been echoed
by the French Estate Agency Federation (FNAIM). France’s real estate laws and mortgage qualification procedures – combined with 2009’s tax incentives for French tax
payers and the many French leaseback property opportunities now available – has certainly created an attractive purchasing environment.
The country’s tight property legislation ensures that buyers are well protected and strict planning laws mean that the area you buy within is far less likely (than other
countries) to be spoiled by over-development. The increase in popularity of leaseback
property, due to the secure long-term investment and guaranteed returns it presents, has fuelled demand for French property, especially in key tourist locations including
the Alps, Provence and the south. Properties which can be reached via the Eurostar or by budget airlines are said to be worth up to 15 percent more.
Top ski resorts
A hidden gem, Sainte Foy is a ski resort that resembles a ‘true’ mountain village: local stones and regional woods, peaked roofs and balconies adorn the chalets like those of the past. The traditional Savoyard architecture and the authenticity of the community, lend a special charm to this village, which blends in perfectly with its landscape.
Situated in the centre of the major ski resorts of the Tarentaise Valley, Sainte-Foy-en-Tarentaise offers a range of skiing experiences from back country skiing through alpine forests to large open motorway and ‘free-riding’ runs.
Flaine is one of the most established and popular ski resorts in the Haute Savoie. Part of the Grand Massif domain, Flaine is linked to Samoens, Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval, with 267km of pistes, the first eight-seater high speed chairlift and the first snow cannons to be installed in Europe.
With a top elevation of 2,561m and a variety of runs available for all abilities, Flaine is an all round resort. There are a wide range of shops, restaurants and amenities (including ski schools) and the resort can be reached in 75 minutes from Geneva airport and three hours from Lyon.
La Plagne is the neighbouring resort to Les Arcs in the Tarentaise Valley. Lying at an altitude between 1250m and 3250m, it has a skiable area spread across four communes. Offering 134 slopes, (15 black, 30 red, 72 blue and 10 green), as well as a large off-skiing area, La Plagne is a varied resort offering skiing for all abilities.
It is also a modern resort with two cable-cars connecting Plagne Centre to Aime-La Plagne and Les Arcs, eight gondolas, 36 chairlifts and 38 draglifts. For those looking to enjoy other winter activities there is a bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track available. Within La Plagne, the village of Champagny-en-Vanoise is the perfect place to enjoy the Alps in the summer, with the Vanoise National Park right on its doorstep.
Les Trois Vallees
Les Trois Vallees is the largest ski area in the world connected solely by lifts and slopes. With more than 600km of ski slopes, 120km for cross-country skiing and 183 ski lifts, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular Alpine ski areas.
The well-known resorts of Courcheval, Meribel, Les Menuires and St-Martin-de Belleville can be found within Les Trois Vallees, as well as a wide variety of accommodation from purpose-built apartments to luxury chalets. Les Trois Vallees is highly accessible, with six airports within two hours’ drive of the resorts including Geneva, Lyon, Chambery and Grenoble. Moutiers train station – which is serviced by the Eurostar ski train – is only 25km from Courcheval and the region can be reached easily by road.
Les Arcs comprises five areas: Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000. Located in the stunning Tarentaise Valley, Les Arcs combined offers 425m of runs, 54 lifts and over 200km of descent including the 2,100m vertical drop from the Red Needle.
Les Arcs has something for everyone, from challenging black runs to gentle beginner’s slopes. There is also a famous Olympic speed skiing course and off-piste opportunities are numerous.
Buying a ski chalet
1) Choose the right resort
With hundreds of resorts dotted across the Alps, the choice can seem daunting. Think about what you want from a resort: the reliability of the snow (check the altitude), variety of runs, access to off-piste, number of ski lifts, cost of ski passes, availability of lessons and the all-important après ski facilities. If possible take the time to visit your favourite resorts, speak with local residents and other property owners to get a feel for what life is really like in the area – both in winter and summer.
2) Find your way there
The volcanic ash cloud released in 2010 affected many skiers’ travel plans, with flights from the UK to popular Alpine access airports such as Geneva and Grenoble suspended. Reaching your ski property by air is often the cheapest, easiest and quickest way; however, owning a home near train stations such as Moutiers, Aime-La-Plagne or Bourg St Maurice – which are well served by the Eurostar ski train direct from St Pancras International – offers residents (and potential renters) greater choice.
3) Pick the right property
The Alps offers a wide range of property types, from purpose built apartments to grand chalets of traditional design. Of course what you choose to purchase will be influenced by your budget, but most buyers opt for affordable apartments located in purpose-built developments close to resorts. A typical studio apartment will sleep two people. Consider the location of the desired development; is it truly ski-in ski-out? How far is it to the lifts and essential amenities?
4) Maximise your investment
Unless you are relocating to the Alps, your ski property will most likely stand empty for some periods of time. Why not maximise your investment by renting the property out, either directly or via a management agency? Purchasing a leaseback ski property is a very popular option as it allows buyers to enjoy personal usage as well as a pretty much guaranteed income as the property is rented out by experienced management companies to holiday makers year round.
5) Consider finance options
Contrary to popular belief, owning a ski property in the Alps can be affordable. Mortgages are widely available through brokers. Leaseback properties also offer finance packages, in some cases up to 100 percent. This, combined with the rental guarantee, makes them even more attractive to buyers.
Some of the most popular and well-known resorts include Chamonix, Megeve, Les Gets, Avoriaz, Val d’Isere, Les Arcs and Les Trois Vallees. Up-and-coming destinations such as Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise, located in the Savoie department, have seen a surge of interest due to the true ski-in ski-out location, traditional French village atmosphere and access to the slopes of Val d’Isere only 10 minutes away.
The recent economic downtown does not appear to have reduced overall demand
for property in the Alps but buyers are being more cautious, choosing the security of guaranteed income available with leaseback properties, for example.
Provence is one of the most popular regions of France, located in the south east on the Mediterranean coast and adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur.
Most of Provence has a Mediterranean climate, characterised by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow and abundant sunshine. A popular tourist attraction of Provence is the Camargue; only 80km from Marseille, Western Europe’s largest river delta covers some 930km² and is home to over 400 species of bird.
Provence as a second home destination was brought to people’s attention through the 1989 bestselling autobiographical novel A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. Documenting his family’s relocation to France, the novel captured the imagination of many looking for a little joie de vivre and became so popular it was turned into a TV Series.
The region is ideal for those who want to be within an easy drive of the famous Cote d’Azur but want to pay 20–30 percent less for their property. A number of new leaseback developments offering boutique apartments with no deposit and only €2,000 required for bank and mortgage fees released recently have become highly sought after.
Located in the south-east, Languedoc-Roussillon borders the regions of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, Rhone-Alpes and Midi-Pyrenees as well as the Mediterranean to the south.
Similar to Provence in character, Languedoc-Roussillon is rich in culture and natural beauty, with bustling cities such as the capital Montpellier, France’s eighth-largest urban area, Ales, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Carcassonne, the Roman city of Nimes and Perpignan, dubbed the “centre of the world” by Salvador Dali.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is famed for its wine production, with some 740,300 acres of vineyards, three times that of Bordeaux. The Mediterranean climate and range of soils makes the area highly conducive to wine production and it has been estimated that one in ten bottles of the world’s wine in the 20th-century was produced here.
The charming countryside is not the only attraction, however, as Languedoc-Roussillon’s coastline is a highly popular summer hotspot. 25 communes in the region have been awarded Blue Flag Beach status in 2010, ranking in top position ahead of the traditional seaside destinations of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.
Languedoc-Roussillon is a well established tourist area; growth rates of 10 percent between 1999 and 2006 made this the fastest growing region in France and one of the fastest in Europe. The region attracts around 15 million tourists annually and is currently the third most visited region in France. The vast numbers of visitors has created significant demand for rental accommodation across the region with the luxury four-star sector witnessing the fastest increase in occupation.
Owners of second properties, especially those within the leaseback scheme, are enjoying rental incomes by letting out their homes during peak seasons as well as capital gain as property values rise. There are at present some 315,000 second homes in Languedoc-Roussillon, accounting for 11 percent of all foreign owned homes in France. British owners own the majority of residential property at 28 percent. Property prices in the region have continued to perform well, with average annual price increases of 25 percent during the last decade, yet remain up to a third below neighbouring Provence.
South-west France is a premier wine-producing region of France and a destination only just being discovered by tourists. Locations of note within the south-west include
Bordeaux, Toulouse and the chic coastal resort of Biarritz. The region is not only viewed as a desirable area in which to live by the French themselves (with the university city of Toulouse widely regarded as one of the best) but also by foreign nationals looking for a relaxed, authentic, French way of life.
The south-west boasts more days of sunshine than most of Europe (in excess of 300 sunny days a year, on average) and features more parkland than much of France, including more than 200,000 acres in the Pyrenees National Park alone. Rich in culture, activities and strong regional identity, the area is becoming an increasingly popular tourism and property hotspot.
The port city of Bordeaux, home to over one million inhabitants, is the capital of the Aquitaine region and among the world’s major wine industry centres. Steeped in history, the city is ranked a UNESCO World Heritage site and wine has been produced since the eighth century in this region. Be it a charming cottage in the rolling hills or a chic apartment in the cosmopolitan city centre, Bordeaux has something to offer every property buyer.
Further down the coast, only 11 miles from the Spanish border, is the hip beach resort of Biarritz. This luxurious seaside town is popular with the French elite, tourists and – due to its location on the Bay of Biscay – surfers as well. The Biarritz Surf Festival is one the premier surf events in Europe and draws thousands of visitors each year. Biarritz has come to rival St. Tropez in recent years, attracting the young and fashionable in ever-greater numbers. Property in prime beachfront locations is highly sought after and demand for luxury rental accommodation is particularly strong in the peak summer months.
Information provided by Experience International (www.experience-international.com)