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Although our house is thirty minutes from the Mediterranean coast I actually prefer the Atlantic. It might not be as warm but what it lacks in climate it makes up for in views, diversity and the sea pounding against the rocks. There is a tide, so

Although our house is thirty minutes from the Mediterranean coast I actually prefer the Atlantic. It might not be as warm but what it lacks in climate it makes up for in views, diversity and the sea pounding against the rocks. There is a tide, so every day the beaches are uncovered, then renewed. In contrast, the Med can be as dull as a large millpond.

For the British house-hunter there are many advantages. Parts of the Atlantic are reminiscent of England, a bit like Cornwall with good food, pastries rather than pasties. But unlike Cornwall (or indeed Cannes) you are unlikely to sit in a traffic jam for hours trying to get to the beach.

The Atlantic coast has escaped many of the horrors of the Med; the housing estates are limited and actually not even that bad as the quality of products used is higher. They don’t seem to build everything with breeze-blocks like they do down my way. Unlike stretches between Nice and Cannes which have been turned into industrial zones, up north you can still drive for hours through unspoiled countryside. And if it’s the jet-set you’re looking for you can head to the islands off the coast like the Ile de Ré or Noirmoutier.

Property prices are considerably cheaper than the south, with the notable exception of the Ile de Ré and parts of Biarritz. According to the French estate agency association FNAIM the average price per square metre for an apartment in St Malo is €2927 as opposed to €4157 in Cannes. For a house in St Malo expect to pay around €2463 per square metre. The price in St Raphael on the Côte d’Azur is €3985.

David Frere-Smith, Managing Director an agency which has over 9,000 properties for sale all over France ranging in price from £4,000 to £17 million, says the Atlantic coast continues to fetch a premium compared to inland. “Clearly prices haven’t been rising as fast as they have been in recent years,” he says. “But properties are not hanging around. Don’t forget on the Atlantic coast you not only have the Brits buying but the Parisians looking for second homes.”

One huge advantage of the Atlantic coast for the British home buyer is accessibility. You can easily drive to many spots on the Atlantic coast in a day, you can fly and you can even sail there in your Swan yacht. Budget airlines from the UK fly to La Rochelle, Nantes, Bordeaux, Brest, Rennes, Cherbourg and Biarritz. I met a couple who were holidaying on the coast who told me it takes them less time to get to La Rochelle from their home in London than it does to get to their country cottage in Norfolk. The TGV network also serves the coast very well with into many of the major towns and a new line to Sables d’Olonne makes prices likely to rise there. The town itself is ghastly, but there are some nice bits of countryside around it.

Whether you end up in Biarritz or Boulogne there is much to see and do on France’s Atlantic coast. Bear in mind though that between October and May it doesn’t only look like Cornwall, the weather can be just as bad. Which is partly why I chose to live near the Mediterranean. Here is a choice of eleven spots to get you started.

Biarritz and St Jean-de-Luz
Old world charm and exclusive designer shops meet in Biarritz to create a luxurious and cosmopolitan environment which is reflected in the property prices. Apartments in town with a sea view start at €6,000 a square metre. A small modern house without a sea view that needs renovating will cost you at least £250,000. But Biarritz is expensive with good reason. It is a magnificent town, reminiscent of a grander version of Brighton in the nineteenth century with glorious buildings and grand walkways. The Atlantic Ocean crashes onto the beach in the middle of town and you can watch the surfers do battle with the waves from any number of bars along the front. “I get a lot of clients from London,” says Julia Troccaz, a local agent. “They are mainly outdoor types who come here for the surfing, golf and skiing.” If you can’t afford a house within sound of the surf go half an hour inland where property is half the price. Alternatively rent room 702 in the Hotel Windsor and go for the weekend. It is a basic room but the view is one of the best along the French coast.
A few miles down the road is St Jean-de-Luz. With its half-timbered chalet-style houses it looks like a ski resort that’s been washed up on the beach. There is a horseshoe-shaped bay where the water is calmer than in Biarritz so better for children. Much of the centre of town is pedestrianised and the streets are lined with plane trees that provide shade in the summer. Property prices are not much lower than in neighbouring Biarritz.

Ratings out of 10 (note: 1 is bad 10 is good on all ratings)

Weather 7
Accessibility 9
Property Prices 2
Food 8
Scope for value increases 3
Sports 10
Culture 8
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 9
Brit-alert 6

(note on this rating: 1 means there are no Brits, 10 means the place is crawling with people wearing knotted handkerchiefs on their heads.)

Arcachon
If you like sandy beaches this is the place for you. Head for the highest sand dune in Europe the Dune de Pyla. On a windy day as you clamber up to the top you can feel like an extra in Lawrence of Arabia. The view from the peak is breathtaking. Some property in Arcachon is marginally less expensive than it is in Biarritz. Possibly because you don’t have designer shops or the crashing waves of the Atlantic as it is on an oyster-shaped bay. But it has plenty to recommend it. A beach in the middle of town, two piers and plenty of good restaurants. Villas in and around the town start at €450,000 for a 100 square metres of living space with little or practically no garden. For a large house with a sea view you’re going to pay at least €1 million. According to Caroline Berg at CBI Immobilier prices have been rising steadily and will continue to do so. “People are prepared to pay almost anything for the right property,” she says. She says there is increasing interest from Brits in the Atlantic coast of France. “They used to buy old farms inland, but now they’re beginning to be interested in the coast.” Some people will suggest you head for Hossegor, down the coast towards Biarritz for the great outdoors. Don’t. It is an ugly little place with a beach surrounded by housing estates. The surf may be great, but for most people that’s not enough. Although I guess if you spend most of the day with your head under water it’s immaterial what your surroundings look like.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 7
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 7
Food 8
Scope for value increases 6
Sports 9
Culture 5
Scenic beauty 7
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 5

La Rochelle
Brits have been buying in the countryside around La Rochelle for years, but they are just starting to discover the city itself. “The property market in La Rochelle has really taken off since Ryanair started flying there and we are seeing much more interest from Brits than we did a few years ago,” says Langton Highton from the Agence des Iles agency. “Prices went through a dramatic increase but look to be stabilising now. For €150,000 you can buy a two-bedroom apartment in the centre of town, and for between €250,000 and €300,000 a villa with a garden.” Flybe also fly from Bristol as well.
The old port with its medieval twin towers and moored yachts is a heavenly place to stroll around or stop for a coffee. La Rochelle also has the added advantage of being a short drive to the Ile de Ré which is as close to heaven on earth as it is possible to find. Another advantage is that Craig Dennis, masseur to celebrities like Sharon Stone and Jody Foster, has a house in La Rochelle and for a small fee will make you feel like a film star.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 7
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 8
Food 7
Scope for value increases 8
Sports 8
Culture 6
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 6

Noirmutier
Between La Rochelle and the island of Noirmutier in the Vendée region there isn’t much to recommend. The most famous place is les Sables d’Olonne, but sadly this is now just an example of how a coastal town can be wrecked. The main square is rather lovely but the seafront is now so full of modern horrors it’s hard to see beyond them and enjoy the splendid beach. It is twinned with Worthing and I think I’d rather go there.
Luckily for the inhabitants of Noirmoutier there have been stricter building regulations in place here. The island is idyllic; there is no other word for it. There are two styles of classic Noirmoutier house. One is white-washed with a pink tiled roof, reminiscent of properties in Greece. The other is old stone houses built in the 19th or 20th centuries. Land will cost you €150 per square metre and an old stone house anywhere near Le Bois de la Chaize, the chicest spot on the island, start at €1.5 million.
Brits are a rarity. “I’ve rarely seen an English person on the island,” says Alexandra Mas whose family has owned a house on the island for the last 40 years. When her grandparents bought the house you could only get to the island by driving there during low tide. Now there is a bridge. The closest airport is Nantes.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 7
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 7
Food 7
Scope for value increases 8
Sports 8
Culture 5
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 1

Ploumanac’h
This is just what you expect from the pink granite coast in Brittany; wild flowers, wild sea, rocky outposts and dramatic landscape. Ploumanac’h is as good as it gets. Access is easiest by helicopter but failing that you can get the boat from nearby Roscoff to Plymouth. Airports within driving distance include Rennes and Brest. “Prices in Brittany have risen by 30 % over the last three years,” says local agent Chris Slade. “Far fewer people are now expecting to find something for €25,000.” Just as well. In Ploumanac’h there is nothing you could expect to live in for less than €100,000.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 5
Property Prices 8
Food 7
Scope for value increases 8
Sports 8
Culture 6
Scenic beauty 9
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 7

Dinard
Brits have been holidaying in Dinard for more than 100 years. In fact, judging by the amount of old people’s homes in the town, that’s about the average age of the inhabitants. This is everything you expect from a genteel seaside town. The buildings are solid and attractive, the beach clean and picturesque, the beach huts striped and the grass is groomed. Everything in Dinard seems to be under control, even the boats bob the same way. There are four flowers on the Ville Fleurie sign that greets you. Only 161 towns in France have achieved this maximum accolade. Property is expensive. According to John Orset from the estate agency Guy Hoquet a two-bedroom apartment with a sea view will cost you between €350,000 and €450,000. A villa with a sea-view is anywhere from €1 million. “But we don’t have many Brits buying here any more,” he says. “They prefer the south-west and the south where there is plenty of sunshine.”

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 4
Food 7
Scope for value increases 5
Sports 7
Culture 7
Scenic beauty 9
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 6

St Malo
St Malo is one of France’s most popular tourist destination in Brittany but if you own a home here and visit off season you can enjoy everything it is famous for. This includes the walled city which reminds me of a Victorian infirmary but somehow remains charming and endless beaches with sand and rocks for children to climb all over. The light and views are superb. Houses don’t come cheap. The Brits have been buying here for too long. “An apartment within the city walls with a sea view will cost you around €5,000 per square metre,” says Jean-Francois Fontou from the St Malo-based Hery Immobilier. “We sold a property to some Brits in the centre of Saint-Servan, which is a few minutes walk from St Malo, but really the Brits we see are looking for the countryside more than the coast.”
That may be so, but there is evidence of the British presence all around; some signs offer English breakfast, most of the restaurants have menus in English and there is even a decent curry house.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 9
Property Prices 4
Food 7
Scope for value increases 5
Sports 8
Culture 8
Scenic beauty 9
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 8

Cancale
One of the most charming drives in France is the back road that takes you from St Malo to Cancale. There is a view of the sea almost all the way, as well as sweeping green fields, forests and sandy dunes. Cancale is a lively sea-port, famous within France for its oysters. It has been classified a ‘Site Remarquable du Goût’ by the Conseil National des Arts Culinaires. This is a place to come if you like seafood.
The demand for property here is more from the locals so it has an authentic feel to it. Prices are around 20% less than in neighbouring St Malo. “An apartment with a sea-view will cost you around €4,500 per square metre,” says Benoit Jacquet from the Blot Immobilier in Cancales. “A small house in the centre of town without a sea view starts at €200,000. But there is much less interest here from Brits than in St Malo or Dinard.”

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 7
Food 9 (if you like seafood)
Scope for value increases 7
Sports 7
Culture 6
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 4

 

Montmartin-sur-Mer
The Normandy coastline stretches eastwards for 375 miles from Mont Saint Michel to the resort of Le Tréport. The first gem along this stretch of France is Montmartin-sur-Mer, a protected town which has yet to be discovered by the masses, even in summertime. The houses are made from local Normandy stone and prices are reasonable. It’s a lovely spot and totally unspoilt. This is a place for people who appreciate the natural beauty of Normandy and also like somewhere that is very family-oriented. The beaches are very safe. Access to Montmartin is possible via boat, train or plane. Cherbourg is a short drive away as are Coutances and Granville where you can catch a train. The closest large airport is Rennes.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 7
Property Prices 8
Food 7
Scope for value increases 8
Sports 7
Culture 6
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 4

Barfleur
Barfleur is said to be the prettiest village in France. I haven’t been to all of them so can’t confirm this, but it is stunning and certainly up there among the best I’ve seen. This historical fishing village at the end of the Cotentin peninsula with its grey granite houses and slate roofs has an active fishing port that lends it an air of authenticity other seaside resorts lack. It was the favourite port of the nobles after 1066 as they travelled back and forth between the two countries. Properties come up rarely in the main village and when they do normally get snapped up very quickly. Access to Barfleur is extremely easy if you live in Poole or Portsmouth as Cherbourg is half an hour’s drive. From the end of May Flybe will fly to Cherbourg times a week from Southampton.

Ratings out of 10

Weather 6
Accessibility 8
Property Prices 8
Food 7
Scope for value increases 8
Sports 7
Culture 6
Scenic beauty 8
Quality of housing 8
Brit-alert 4