Why investing in property in property in Languedoc, France makes so much sense
Louise Hurren packs her bucket and spade and checks out the scene for investing in property in Languedoc, France.
Hunters of homes overseas come in many shapes and sizes, but they often have one thing in common. Be they sun worshippers or surf bums, beady-eyed bird watchers or back-to-nature nudists, amateur anglers, yachting yuppies or happy holiday makers, they do like to be beside the seaside.
And with four out of its five départements bordering the Med, the region of Languedoc Roussillon in southrn France has something for almost everyone. From cheerful family resorts in the Aude and Herault to the quaint fishing villages of the Côte Vermeille, not forgetting the upmarket chic of well-heeled private beaches near the regional capital of Montpellier, the combinations of sea, sand and sun are seemingly endless. Similarly, there are many different styles and types of property to be found, with wildly diverse price points. While a humble holiday flat within a purpose-built development in the Aude can be picked up for peanuts (see our Property for Sale pages for an idea of prices), you’ll need to dig a little deeper when it comes to a waterfront penthouse apartment with panoramic views in La Grande Motte.
Despite the vast differences in style and price, there are several points that hold true for all types of seaside property. Firstly, coastal proximity comes at a premium, but head inland and prices start to decline. And naturally enough, coastal homes anywhere reflect the cost of the region to start with (for example, the Languedoc is cheaper than the Côte d’Azur, but more expensive than Normandy).
Secondly, if you’ve decided to head to Languedoc in the south of France in sunny weather and higher temperatures, be aware that motoring all the way to the Med will take the best part of a day, and with a young family in tow, it could be a less than fun experience. Fortunately, the Languedoc is exceptionally well-served by the no-frills airlines, whose cheaper flights to a variety of destinations (see our Travel pages for details of all flights from the UK and Eire into the Languedoc). Improved French rail services have really helped open up the south of France, too.
Thirdly, remember that if you do want to be beside the seaside, the type of property in Languedoc, France may well be limited; just as farmhouses are found inland, so apartment blocks and brand new villas have sprung up in and around many coastal resorts. Familiarise yourself with what goes with the territory, and accept that your choice will be restricted by the area in which you are searching. If you want an old barn, a former winegrower’s domaine or outbuildings to convert, then house hunting on the Languedoc coastline is not for you.
French property agents have noted a growing interest in new build developments, with clients accepting that what this type of property may lack in olde-worlde charm, it more than makes up for in comfort and practicality. Says one Languedoc estate agent: “Our clients tend to fall into two distinct categories; those who want a traditional, older-style home inland and who are prepared to undertake the maintenance and repairs that go with it, and conversely, those who want a ‘turn up and go’ property as close to the sea as possible, with the peace of mind that no-hassle, new home ownership can bring.”
The Languedoc coastline runs from the Spanish border all the way to the start of the Camargue, crossing the départements of Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard, from west to east. Each stretch has its specific character and charm, and the inevitable pros and cons (for a highly detailed insight into the best – and worst – of Languedoc’s beaches, see our Beach Report pages). Similarly, you’ll find information about climate, geography and specific towns and villages by visiting our Plan Your Visit section, but for starters, here’s what you need to know about the Languedoc coastline, in a nutshell.
The Best Bits
Property in Pyrénées-Orientales has the advantage of being close to the coast and the mountains – which is good for year-round letting potential (swim in summer, ski in winter). The winter sports angle is an important one, as coastal resorts here tend to close down out of season. There are some very pretty fishing towns down towards Spain (Collioure is one the quaintest and most expensive, with Banyuls at the other end of the scale). Cap d’Agde is a large new resort and also one of largest nudist centres in France; if you want to let it all hang out, this is the place to come. Languedoc has more than 300 days of sunshine per annum, an infamous Tramontane wind (you might want to avoid buying in an exposed position or within eyesight of wind turbines – they’re there for a reason, you know) and 22 marinas, so it’s understandably popular with sailors and windsurfers. Water quality and respect for the environment is generally good. None of the Languedoc’s coastal resorts has the bling-bling showy chic of neighbouring Côte d’Azur, France (some would say this is a good thing), but the nicer, private beaches with their cocktail bars and restaurants at Le Grand Travers (between Montpellier and La Grande Motte) have a reputation for stylish glamour after dark.
The Worst Bits
The nastier, cheaper, over-run beaches near the larger towns tend to be charm-free zones, and the ugly, quickly built pink holiday flats nearby are no better. Steer well clear. The A9 autoroute (motorway), known as la Languedocienne, is fast. Very fast. Except in the height of summer, and at the start – and end – of school holidays, when it can get dreadfully slow as traffic jams form. Frankly, I’d avoid it if I were you.
Apartment blocks (résidences), holiday complexes and new villa property abound in Languedoc, France, from budget-priced bolt holes to luxury pads with all mod cons. Traditional village houses here tend to be stone-built, with super-thick walls, and small windows with wooden shutters; gardens are rare (if you’re wondering why, those who used to live in Languedoc village houses worked in the fields all day under the blazing sun and they certainly weren’t looking to lounge outside when the day was done). Houses with roof terraces and patios are consequently in high demand; agents will often tell you that a property has potential for a roof terrace, but it’s best to pop into the local town hall (mairie) and check out score first, rather than just taking the agent’s word for it.
Prices for property in Languedoc, France are generally lower than further along to the east (not for nothing is it nicknamed ‘poor man’s Provence’). Low maintenance holiday homes or small maison de village in the less-popular villages further inland are probably your cheapest bet. House prices have climbed year-on-year in the Languedoc for the last five years, so for an accurate idea of property prices in the Languedoc, check out the homes currently advertised on our Property For Sale pages. The website of the French National Association of Estate Agents (FNAIM) www.fnaim.fr is useful for tracking house prices and comparing them across regions, but for a more detailed picture, you’ll need to identify some estate agents operating in the same area and then compare the listings on their sites.
Prices start to climb the closer you are to the Med. Within an hour of the sea, stone-built townhouses to renovate can be found for the same price as a small, one-bedroom flat in a grotty London suburb, or closer to the coast in the medieval town of Pézenas (a big hit with the Brits), a three-bed apartment sells for around the same value as a pokey studio in the crummier suburbs of Brighton, for example. Purpose-built coastal apartments within 30 minutes’ drive of an airport are ideal for sun-seekers on short breaks, with the added attraction of good investment and rental potential; choose from a simple one-bedroom apartment, or a larger option within a complex with swimming pool and other leisure facilities.
Trains, planes and automobiles
Four carriers fly from twelve UK airports into four Languedoc cities, making it super-accessible. There’s also the TGV high-speed train service (Paris to Montpellier in less than four hours, London to Montpellier in just under eight), and the new Millau viaduct and A75 motorway have certainly made motoring in le midi more enjoyable.
Ryanair serves Montpellier, Nîmes, Carcassonne and Perpignan; Easyjet flies into nearby Marseille (it’s not technically in the Languedoc but for house hunters considering the Gard and Herault departments it’s certainly near enough, and flight times and prices can often compare favourably with those on offer at Nîmes or Montpellier). British Airways can fly you to Marseille or Montpellier (though at the time of writing, the latter is only served from April to October), Air France offers Marseille, Montpellier and Perpignan, although not all of these are direct from the UK. Alternatively, let the train take the strain: Eurostar’s summer service runs from London Waterloo or Ashford through to Avignon. It’s a long old drive from the UK, but you can always put the car on Rail Europe’s motor rail service (weekly from May to mid-September) to Avignon, Nice and Narbonne, and if you book yourself an overnight trip with couchette, you arrive nicely refreshed in the morning. But if you're looking for property in Languedoc, France, then you'll find it's well worth the trip.