The Basque Country and beyond
With direct, low-cost flights into Biarritz and Pau (plus Bilbao, across the Spanish border), the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département is easily reached from the UK. Most visitors are familiar with bourgeois Biarritz and its chic, art deco architecture, but beyond the cosmopolitan town is a less-populated landscape of palm-fringed coast, rolling green countryside, white-water rivers, forests and mountain peaks, where the thermometer rarely dips below six degrees Celsius.
To the north of the county, the landes area encompasses pine forests and vast, deserted beaches; one of France's least-populated areas, it is perfect for property hunters craving unspoiled scenery. "Property for sale on the coast will always command high prices, but head half an hour inland and there are vast areas with land starting from EUR550,000," says Julia Troccaz of Beyond Biarritz. "Basque farmsteads traditionally housed both family and livestock, so this kind of property comes with huge depths of living space; villages like Sare, Ascain and Espelette are attractive, well-kept, and still reliably near the Atlantic."
Farms to be renovated cost from EUR300,000 (£ 240,000), but remember to factor in the work needed to render the property habitable; materials and labor are expensive here, according to Troccaz, who suggests that the best buys to be had in Landes are directly inland from the popular resorts of Capbreton and Hossegor: "Prices of property for sale in landes are lower than around Biarritz, because there's more available land, yet the access is still incredibly good; you can be 15 minutes inland but only 20 minutes from Biarritz airport, five minutes from the motorway, and 25 minutes from Saint-Jean-de-Luz. "
Budget upwards of EUR500,000 (£ 397,000) for a renovated Landaise farm with around 6,000 square meters of land.
Lozere – the road less Traveled
Down on the Mediterranean coast, the region of Languedoc-Roussillon is made up of five administrative departments, of which only one – Lozère – lacks a coastline. This hilly, land-locked area of long, winding roads has low visitor numbers and an even lower profile, particularly when it comes to British property buyers (figures released last year classified Lozère as the French département with the lowest number of overseas-property owners , qualifying the presence of Johnny Foreigner as "insignificant.")
This authentically French spot is also very quiet: French News magazine L'Express and its 2007 "Best Places to Live in France" survey voted Lozère the ideal retirement destination, by dint of its unspoilt landscapes, quiet roads, and low pollution and crime rates . It has a small population (around 73,500, which works out as 14 locations per square meter), and arguably not much in the way of cultural infrastructure (the area is ranked 94th out of 96 on this particular point), but Lozère is undeniably well qualified to those in search of a quiet, safe base, and property for sale in Lozère comes cheap.
The L'Express survey ranks Lozère as the seventh least-expensive area to buy property in.
Alex Charles of Crème de Languedoc comments: "You will not find much opportunity for capital growth or rental potential, but Lozère's property market offers great value, and its large, stone-built properties are perfect for self-sufficient types with the necessary know -how. Your money will go further here than in the Languedoc's busier southern areas of Gard and Hérault. A budget of EUR242,000 (£ 192,000) buys a two-bedroom stone property set in 1.5 acres [over half a hectare] of land in the Cévennes national park, which would be ideal for nature lovers; or, for twice the price we're selling a vast, five-bedroom, renovated farmhouse with outbuildings, with an acre [just under half a hectare] of ground near the village of Florac. "
Cognac – Tipped to rise
The Charente area sets amid the undulating countryside and forests of western France's Poitou-Charentes region, and has been in the spotlight recently for two reasons.
Firstly, some of the world's most famous brandy is produced in the Charente town of Cognac, and sales of this precious tipple reached a new all-time high in 2007. With business booming, the cherry on the cake for locals was the opening, in spring this year, of the new Angoulême-Cognac airport, with direct flights to London Stansted.
"It's bound to have a positive effect on the property market in and around Cognac and Jarnac," says Graham Downie, a property search agent who tips this part of western France to soar. "There are several reasons that make the Cognac area worth a look: it has a very convenient location, within striking distance of four airports, and only five and a half hours by train from London; the cognac industry makes it an affluent area popular with tourists, who come to visit Rémy Martin, Hennessy, Martell and Courvoisier, which means it's lively year-round; and the thriving local economy spells good news for property owners and investors alike. "
Figures released in June 2008 show that of the nine areas that make up Poitou-Charentes, property for sale in Charente has the most accessally priced dwellings, and its traditional stone properties will appeal to property buyers with a penchant for character property. According to Downie, a two-bedroom townhouse within five minutes' walk of Cognac's main square can be picked up for around EUR120,000 (£ 95,000), while EUR200,000 (£ 159,000) village, with a small garden and easy access to shops and restaurants. For an imposing four- to six-bedroom property with pool, walled garden and vineyard views (the kind coveted by many UK property buyers), allow EUR300,000 to EUR450,000 (£ 240,000 to £ 355,000); in the lively market town of Jarnac (home to the house of Courvoisier), a three-bedroom property in immaculate condition, with pool and garden, is selling for just under EUR400,000 (£ 318,000).