One of the most frequent complaints I hear from Brits living in France is they didn’t move here to hang out with other Brits. It really annoys me. I know we all came to France to enjoy a French lifestyle, but why should this suddenly mean running a hundred yards in the opposite direction should you spot a compatriot?
Three years after my first book about France came out, an updated version is about to hit the bookshops. More, More France Please covering all you need to know to live a bucolic French existence; but it in no way ignores the fact that there are other Brits here. Some 500,000 by the last unofficial estimate either live full-time or own secondary homes in France.
Personally I am happy to admit that most of my friends are English and Irish. I think it’s only natural that you gravitate towards the kinds of people you can easily relate to and understand. And now that the Irish are a great cricketing nation we have even more in common with them.
France is a vast country and the Brits seem to have congregated in what one must honestly admit are the best parts of it; Provence, the Dordogne, the coast around La Rochelle. But there are still gems to be discovered if you can bear to live away from the coast and put up with a proper winter. Some of the regions Brits wouldn’t have considered a few years ago will soon be easily accessible via new high-speed rail links, so get in early before prices start to reflect this.
So for those of you who really don’t ever want to speak English again and just want to lose your selves in a flurry of Frenchness here are some far-away places as yet practically unsullied by any Anglo-Saxon influence and Sky satellite dishes. Until you read about them here of course…..
The region is empty partly due to its inaccessibility and partly due to the climate. The pretty market town of Aurilliac in the Cantal département, for example, has the dubious honour of being the prefecture in France furthest away from a motorway. Consequently a town house there will only cost you around €150,000. The landscape in the Auvergne is varied and stunning; parts of it are almost 2000 metres high and during the winter covered in snow. Once the snow melts you are surrounded by green rolling hills, volcanic peaks, valleys lakes and gorges. The prettiest département is the Allier, which is characterised by small towns along winding rivers and unspoiled views. A farmhouse in the countryside with some land will set you back about €200,000. Unlike the more popular regions of France, there aren’t new builds round every corner and housing estates springing up. There are plenty of old stone houses and lots of space; the two things Brits are predominantly looking for when they move to France. It surely won’t be long before we see car-loads of Brits lining up along the Millau Viaduct in search of their dream homes. The locals will be grateful. The population in the Auvergne has long been diminishing. It is in fact one of the least populated regions in Europe, let alone France.
The name comes from the Latin Campania meaning ‘land of the plains’ but the good thing about these plains is they’re full of champagne. On a rainy day you’re never short of a champagne grower to visit and a bottle to sample. Other than that the region has the advantage of being close to Paris and bordering Belgium should you feel the need to pop over there at any stage (personally I wouldn’t). It also boasts 10 golf courses and 650 kilometres of waterways to cool off in after a harrowing round. It is one of the least densely populated regions in the country with over 60% of the land dedicated to agriculture. It is so low on the list of places Brits buy that a property search on a french property website throws up not a single property for sale. I can’t understand why. It’s warmer than Normandy and Brittany, the countryside is lovely and the villages unspoiled. Prices are cheap; I have seen derelict farmhouses for sale for under €100,000, that’s less than the price of a hectare of champagne-yielding vines. Things get more expensive the closer you get to Paris but even then they’re a bargain compared with the south of France.
As different to the Champagne-Ardenne as you can imagine; sun, sea and the Mediterranean lifestyle. Brits are thin on the ground; my friend Rachel’s father has a house there but he only visits about once every two years so you’re unlikely to bump into him. I spent a week there last summer and didn’t hear another English voice. This is the playground of the French and, as is usually the case with the French, they have chosen extremely well. Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. If it’s sea and sand you like, Corsica is the place for you, it has over 200 beaches. It is extremely beautiful but you need to be a good driver to negotiate the windy roads and lunatic locals who seem to have picked up their driving habits from neighbouring Italians. I expected a tourist-trap when I went but found unspoiled countryside (with a few rusting cars thrown in but where else do you dump them, in the sea?), great bars, lots of abandoned stone farmhouses just crying out for friendly Brits to come along and restore them and not a free-Corsica radical in sight. According to Janet Rankin from a Corsican property website prices for decent properties in Corsica range from €200,000 to €1.2 million depending on where you go. “The advantage is though that you can command a higher holiday rental rate than most other French regions,” she says.
The great French writer Victor Hugo was born in the capital of the Franche-Comte, Besançon. He moved to Paris but that shouldn’t give you the wrong impression of his native town. It is known as the greenest city in France, it has a TGV so access is easy and one of the most stunning historical centres of any major French town. The old town, known as “la Boucle” is enclosed in a large horse-shoe created by the River Doubs. But it is not just the capital that has plenty going for it. The countryside in the region is lovely, there are two ski resorts in the Jura Mountains, it is the producer of one of the finest (and most fattening) cheeses known to man, the Mont-d’Or which you eat with a spoon from its wooden box and as if all that isn’t enough to tempt you, you can skip over the border to Lake Geneva any time you feel like a bit of a change. Having said that there isn’t a region in France that is more like Switzerland than this one; both in terms of stunning scenery and cuisine. Property prices are low. You can find a basic large house with land for around €200,000. If you have more money to spend you could do a lot worse than a house recently advertised in the Jura. It is a recently-restored 18th century stone mill with six bedrooms, three dining rooms, two kitchens, a wine cellar, large outhouses and three guest rooms ready to rent out. It is on the market for €900,000.
Still known by the locals as the Région Parisienne, Île-de-France is the most populated region in France with more residents than either Belgium, Greece, Austria or Sweden. But they are not Brits, at least not once you get outside Paris. The idyllic and ancient village of Maffliers, for example, is 35 minutes on the train due north of Paris, on the edge of the Isle Adam forest. It has just one British resident according to a French friend of mine who lives there. She married him. The Ellery Ludlow Agency (0033 1 34 08 78 13) has a five-bedroom property for sale in the village. The house was originally a coaching inn and used to be owned by a Napoleonic officer. It is on the market for just over €1 million. “It is not sun, sea, cheap wine or housing which attracts the buyers here rather the proximity of Paris together with rolling countryside,” says Françoise Ellery from the Ellery Ludlow Agency. “The prices are in a different bracket to a lot of other regions in France although still much cheaper than southern UK prices.” The agency has another property that is about to come on the market in the village of Nargis, 50 kilometres south of Fontainebleau, just on the border of the Île-de-France and Centre regions. The added advantage of Nargis is that there is an Irish pub there, but still “not a Brit in sight” according to Françoise. The property is a modern farmhouse with swimming pool, three double-bedrooms, large kitchen and annex properties also with two double-bedrooms. It will go on the market for €1 million.
This region used to be written off due to the fact that the north was very industrialised; famous for steelworks, iron and coal mines. This is no longer the case. It’s too expensive to run those sorts of business in France. So the countryside has taken over again and the region is blossoming, if not booming. According to a French friend of mine the Lorraine boasts one of the most beautiful villages in France; Beaulieu-en-Argonne. It is half an hour from Reims and two and a half hours from Paris but only has 30 inhabitants, not one of them a Brit. Properties are cheap; this is not one of France’s most popular regions. For example a 17-bedroom mountain property is for sale for just €440,000 and a fine looking manor house at €536,000 in the Meuse département, the same one as Beaulieu en Argonne. But my advice is to start in the village itself and get a feel for the place.