Understanding Languedoc's weather can have a big effect
on what villa you buy - and where it's located
Louise Hurren explains why sun-starved villa-hunting Brits might make for the Med, and the Languedoc region in particular.
When buying a villa in France, a warmer climate is often right up there near the top of the wish list. The south of France is an obvious choice for sun-seekers, but this area alone is so vast and varied that you can find dramatic variations in temperature and weather conditions, even within just one region. Sure, you can generalise about the Mediterranean climate that prevails in Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, but you only have to look at the Crème de Languedoc Weather pages to see that there’s much more to la météo in these two regions of the deep south. Yes, parts of le Midi do offer sunshine almost year-round, but temperatures change significantly as you head away from the coast, and in a region like the Languedoc that boasts both mer and montagne, you can swelter by the sea but feel distinctly shivery in the Cévennes – so don’t forget your Damart vest in the depths of winter.
A lot of literature about the Languedoc region mentions hot, dry summers, mild, humid winters, few rainy days and plenty of rays (more than 300 days of sunshine per annum is a frequently quoted statistic). As someone who lives in the Languedoc, I’d have to say this kind of info might be not too far from the truth, but it’s arguably not that useful; it’s based on generalisations and averages across a region that comprises no less than five départements, covering some 27,376 square kilometres (or 10,570 square miles, if that helps put it into perspective). That’s a lot of space. Remember, the Languedoc includes Mount Lozère (1,700 metres) and Mount Canigou (2,784 metres), extending north as far as the Massif Central (where things start to get a little nippy), and south (where things tend to hot up) down to a long stretch of Mediterranean coastline of virtually uninterrupted sandy beaches.
The point I’m trying to make is that those who feel drawn to buying a villa in Languedoc because of its scorching hot summers – and indeed, those who are turned right off for the very same reason – might want to think again. Let me spell it out: it all depends on exactly what you buy, and exactly where. I’ll give you an example. In the first eighteen months of our new life in France, my partner and I rented a villa in a valley, in the foothills of the Cévennes of Languedoc. For the south of France, the winters were pretty damn cold, and wet to boot. On the day we moved in it started raining heavily and continued to do so for three consecutive days. We watched in horror as our garden turned into a paddling pool, and the locals delighted in telling us that the Cévennes was, in fact, France’s wettest area, and that as Brits, we should be used to a spot of rain. The garden was large, and had no shade whatsoever. So when the mercury hit 40 degrees Centigrade and stayed around there for – ooh, about eight weeks across July and August – we found that we couldn’t go outside without getting roasted. We had to close all the shutters at midday, or slowly cook behind our double glazing. We wondered what on earth we had done. Fortunately we were renting a villa in Languedoc, and we quickly figured out that weather conditions could change in less than an hour or two’s drive, so we adjusted our house hunting accordingly. Now we live near the sea, where coastal breezes cool everything down and a refreshing dip in the Med is only minutes (rather than hours) away. We avoided buying a south facing villa in Languedoc (there’s a limit to how much sunlight I want in my life) and viewed our prospective purchase in August, when it was hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement (inside, all was reassuringly cool). Of course, it still rains occasionally – particularly in September, when flash floods can take you by surprise - but we’re not talking Noah’s Ark.
The key point to remember is that the weather forecast for a large region like the Languedoc can be pretty variable, and what this means for villa buyers is simple. Firstly, take into account both the summer and winter weather of your chosen area. If you want to check the stats, make sure you’re looking at local rather than regional figures. Check out the average amount of sunshine by all means, but don’t forget about rain and wind (the gusting Tramontane of the Languedoc is infamous). The orientation of your new home is key: for morning or afternoon sun, you need to ensure that balconies, terraces and gardens are facing the right direction, so remember to take your compass along on viewing trips.
A second point about the Languedoc is that it’s not the cheapest part of France to buy a villa. Hell, it’s one of the hottest and sunniest spots, so don’t come looking homes at (say) Normandy prices - you’ll be paying a premium for all that fine weather, and you can add several thousand euros to the purchase price if coastal proximity is a must. To find more bricks for less bucks, turn your search inland (head right up into the Lozère, France’s most sparsely populated department, if you want to go the whole hog). And if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen - or at least stay north of the river Loire, which more or less marks a boundary between the cooler north and more clement south.
Weather conditions will have an effect on the repairs and maintenance of your villa in Languedoc. If you’re buying in an exposed location, it will be important to keep your roof in good shape. Purchase near water and you may find it’s expensive to insure against flooding. Want to keep your head above water? If in doubt, ask around. If there has been flooding, the locals will be happy to regale you with their tales, and you’ll soon get the picture, but don’t rely on word of mouth alone. Read the detail in the final sales contract before you sign. It is now obligatory for a certificat d’urbanisme to be included, and this will tell you if the villa is located within a flooding zone. Ask specifically if it has ever been inondé (flooded); the owner is legally obliged to reveal any defects that he knows of. You can also ask the mairie (town hall) for full details of an area’s flood zones (zones inondables). Conversely, in areas with little rainfall there may be frequent droughts, higher water bills and water restrictions (France has recently experienced its worst drought in nearly 30 years). Then there’s the resale potential of your Languedoc villa to take into account; you may be happy to put up with (say) the full blown force of the Tramontane wind, but others may be less keen.
So how does the poor villa hunter know where to turn? As ever, the internet is an excellent starting point. The French Met office has maps and historical weather data, while the French Ministry of Ecology provides detailed, region-specific facts and figures on flood risks and maps of flooding zones, plus all the latest info on drought conditions and their consequences. Sites run by ex-pats can be informative too, with local weather updates and photographs of extreme conditions (in the Gard département, the medieval village of Sommières lies on the Vidourle river, which regularly breaks its banks, while amateur photographers take eyebrow-raising snaps). Oh, and of course, there’s all the fabulous gen on the Crème de Languedoc weather pages. In short, there’s no shortage of data, and by doing some thorough research, you can make an informed decision about where to buy that perfect villa in Languedoc Roussillon. The important thing is to make your choice based on hard fact, rather than word of mouth and gross generalisation.
TEN TIPS FOR WEATHER-WISE VILLA HUNTING
- Think micro, not macro – look at local rather than regional weather data.
- Don’t forget your compass – handy for checking the aspect of your future home.
- It never rains but it pours… so pore over annual precipitation figures before purchasing.
- North of France = south of England (in weather terms, at least).
- Don’t believe the hype – even the Med can have heavy rainstorms and biting winds.
- Weather conditions can vary dramatically within a relatively small area; house hunt by department rather than region.
- Sunny spots will command a price premium; head inland for a cooler climate and lower prices.
- A villa exposed to Languedoc's elements can cost more in repairs and maintenance.
- Tempted to buy on the waterfront? Check the price of insurance quotes for your Langudoc villa – flooding can cost you dear.
- Extreme climate conditions can affect your Languedoc villa resale potential – so think before you sign on the dotted line.