May 30, 2024
Property

French Property Location Guide: Provence


Provence conjures up images of rolling landscapes, hilltop villages and a laidback lifestyle-thankfully, as Annaliza Davis explains, it’s also a great location for property hunting…

The southeastern region that we call Provence is part of the administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, shortened to PACA. It’s vast and diverse, bordered by the Rhône river to the west, and following the Mediterranean Sea right up to Italy. While Provence encompasses parts of the Alpes-de-Haute- Provence, Haute-Alpes and Alpes-Maritimes departments, it’s mainly focused within Vaucluse, Var and Bouches-du- Rhône. In househunting terms, it means that this one area holds everything from remote villages and Alpine landscapes through to dazzling coastlines and vibrant towns. Official figures place Provence at 4.88 million residents, most densely populated in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. There’s no doubt that the glitz and glamour of the PACA region are concentrated along the Mediterranean seaside, including Nice, Cannes and St-Tropez. The natural beauty of the breathtaking coastlines is maybe overwhelmed by intense tourism, and perhaps overpriced, but if you invest in any of these hotspots you can also expect high returns.

Aix-en-Provence, Photo: Shutterstock

In complete contrast, the inland area more typically considered Provence is more tranquil and relaxed, particularly within the Luberon regional park, with its compact mountains and verdant, rural landscapes made famous by Cézanne, Van Gogh and Peter Mayle’s book A Year in Provence. This is a place where you can retreat to a quiet property surrounded by vineyards, luscious fruit and expansive skies.

Finally, you have the Camargue, which is different again. Located between Marseille and Montpellier, this coastal area contains one of Europe’s largest river deltas and offers a unique environment featuring salt marshes, pony-trekking, bird reserves and another of France’s regional parks. If you fancy a French coastal-cowboy life, this is for you!

Given its diversity, it’s easy to see why so many people fall for Provence: whether you’re looking for lively town life, majestic mountains, remote rural retreats or the opulence of a Mediterranean resort, you’ll find your piece of paradise if you look carefully.

Marseille, Photo: Shutterstock

MATCH THE PLACE TO YOUR POCKET

Over the past 12 months, France’s property prices rose to an average of €3,302/m² and in PACA it’s €4,244/m². Unsurprisingly, the coastal towns of St-Tropez, St-Raphaël and Ste-Maxime consistently rank among the most pricey for homebuyers in Provence, but you can negotiate far better value if you head a little way out of these hotspots, where you can still find renovated stone barns framed by olive trees and vineyards, or modest village houses.

In terms of investment, properties near the coast will require a higher initial outlay, but will give you higher returns. A well-maintained rental villa with a pool will be in demand from Easter through to October, and if you look carefully inland you’ll find quaint towns that are popular with tourists but still lack enough accommodation to meet demand.

Provence is, of course, known for its pretty hilltop villages, with 14 listed Plus Beaux Villages within Vaucluse, Var and Bouches- du-Rhône alone, including picture-postcard Gordes (average house price €6,788/ m²), Lourmarin (€5,259/m²) and Les Baux-de-Provence.

Buying in Provence-Arles Amphitheatre, Photo: Mike catalonian/Flickr

Any fan of history or architecture must visit Arles, nicknamed ‘little Rome’ by the Romans themselves. It is renowned for its incredible amphitheatre, which is one of the 15 largest in the world and classed as a Unesco World Heritage monument. The city itself also inspired the paintings of Van Gogh and is home to countless other heritage sites including a cryptoporticus and a Roman theatre dating from 1BC.

(€6,400/m²). Properties don’t come up for sale in these villages too often and naturally they command a premium (although generally less than on the coast).

LOCATION: WHERE TO FIND WHAT YOU WANT

Briancon, Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re after bustling metropolitan life, Marseille is France’s second-largest city with 873,000 inhabitants and all types of property to match. The average price for property here is €3,858/m² and location is important if you’re investing, but do your research carefully: a €45,000 investment will buy a 20m² studio in the heart of the city, which will bring in €400 per month in rental, however the same budget in Marseille’s 15th arrondissement will buy a two-bedroom 56m² apartment currently renting out at €750 per month. Also bound to attract rental interest is any location in the mountains, and they are not always priced out of reach. While property in Hautes- Alpes averages €6,212/m², try France’s highest city, Briançon, (1,326m altitude), where you’ll find charming apartments with balconies and mountain views for around €150,000.

If a town full of history, culture and Provençal colour ticks your boxes, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Provence. In Avignon, with its famous bridge and monumental Pope’s palace, the average house price is €2,513/m² and you could buy a one-bedroom apartment within an elegant 17th-century building in the centre of the town for €320,000. Alternatively, the Roman towns of Orange (average €2,389/m²) and Arles (€2,978/m²) have much to offer. Other sought-after towns include St-Rémy-de- Provence (€5,312/m²), Vence (€4,893/m²), L’Isle-sur-la- Sorgue (€3,556/m²), Lorgues (€3,530/m²), Gigondas (€3,482/ m²), Draguignon (€2,738/m²), Brignoles (€2,676/m²) and Carpentras (€2,280/m²).

The rural retreats so beautifully evoked by Peter Mayle are still available in locations such as Vergons, where you can hide away in 17 acres of land, with a move-in- ready home of 76m² for just €140,000; or a magnificent two-storey property with 15 bedrooms set in 21 acres and only 45 minutes inland from Ste-Maxime, for €780,000.

For renovation projects under €60,000, you’ll need to head further inland to the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes- de-Haute-Provence, where you’ll find a stone barn in Ribeyret (between Avignon and Grenoble) that would offer 50m² over two floors or a village house with mountain views in Prads-Haute-Bléone. Such projects require careful calculations, but they show that even small budgets can get you a foothold in Provence.

If you have a €50,000 budget for building land, you could choose a plot of around 250m² with mountain views in the Hautes-Alpes, while closer to the coast in the Var, in Tavernes, your budget will buy a peaceful 350m² plot.

Finally, if nothing but the Mediterranean coast will do, you might need a millionaire’s budget, particularly around St-Tropez, where a 50m² studio can cost €850,000. Alternatively, the terribly chic harbourside town of Cogolin is on the edge of the mountains with views across St-Tropez bay. Although you’ll need more than €300,000 for an apartment here, the gorgeous setting and potential returns are well worth the price.

 

The famous bridge at Avignon crosses the River Rhône Photo: Shutterstock

The area has a choice of international airports including at Marseille, Nice, Avignon and Toulon-Hyères – and if you arrive in Marseille, you can grab a shuttle bus to Aix, Arles, Toulon or St-Tropez.

The region is also extremely well-connected by rail, with three TGV stations and trains from Paris, London, Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam. From Paris, you can catch trains to Aix-en-Provence (2hr50), Marseille (3hr) and Avignon (2hr30), which has the added advantage of trains from London St-Pancras during the summer.

If you’re driving, Marseille is 480 miles from Paris, around eight hours in the car. Road access to Provence is rarely a problem, but at certain times of year, the number of visitors is what will slow you down!

EMPLOYMENT AND THE ECONOMY

Outside of France’s capital, PACA is one of the favourite areas for international companies to set up a base, particularly in Aix-en- Provence and Marseille. Nicknamed ‘Aix-Marseille’, this dynamic zone is the country’s third-highest urban concentration, and over 51% of the population are under the age of 40. In addition to these headquarters for global industry, PACA can boast a strong network of SMEs, supported by the multi- lingual organisation ‘Invest in Provence’, which offers great support to anyone considering a new business venture there. Although vast parts of Provence are rural and laidback, this part of France is a safe bet for tourism and has a strong economy that is supported by more than one type of industry.

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Every issue of French Property News delivers in-depth regional buying guides, sound and trusted advice from leading experts, inspirational real life stories, renovation tales and lots of lovely properties to browse.

Lead photo credit : Luberon valley and Gordes, Photo: Shutterstock

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