Lot et Garonne: France's property hotspot!Posted on: 25 January 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring
The green and serene Aquitaine region of France boasts traditional charms and negotiable prices, Laura Henderson reports.
Shoed-in between Toulouse to the south and the Aquitaine capital Bordeaux, Lot et Garonne is provincial south west France at its best. Land-locked and timeless with more medieval towns than any other department in France, the landscape is predominantly a series of interlocking broad valleys and evergreen hillsides. The “original market garden of France”, agriculture is the region’s principal earner with the majority of land given over to arable farming and fruit growing, the fertile banks of the Garonne river, which meanders through the centre, producing highly quaffable AOC and vin de pays.
Divided south-east to north-west into two distinct geographic areas, the east cote - the Tuscany of France, is dominated by high altitude forested areas and renowned for its many chateaux and bastides, places like Monflanquin, Monpazier and Domme, which were frontline during the 100 Years War, now hosting a healthy repertoire of year-round cultural events. To the west - the rich rolling landscape with its profusion of fruit farms is one of the driest spots in the country.
Few are familiar with departmental capital Agen, a modest county town, its Musee des Beaux Arts housing one of Europe’s most impressive municipal art collections including a Goya treasure trove. Head south to Mezin and the area is largely undiscovered - a vista of heavy - seeded sunflowers, maize and melons that bring a golden glow to the landscape.
What is there to do?
An inexhaustive review of must-sees would include Agen’s art museum housed in four sumptuous Renaissance residences, Henri IV’s Nerac Castle, and the fairytale chateaux of Bonaguil, as well as Biron and Beynac.
There’s great trout and carp fishing on the River Lot, Baise and Garonne, with permits available from local angling shops.
The countryside offers unlimited scope for walkers and cyclists, with a quality sprinkling of golf courses including the 18-hole delights of Casteljaloux and Barbaste.
Come winter it’s as a doable base for skiing - the commutable Pyrenees resorts of Saint Lary, Cauterets and Bareges providing downhill and cross-country action.
Walibi Aquitaine just outside Agen is a water park filled with pleasure, swinging Pirate Ships and sheer-drop rapids watched over by a genuine 18th century castle-treetop adventure playground
The gourmet bounty is world class-duck, geese, game, Agen prunes, ripe Buzet and Duras wines and lots of leafy restaurant terraces to sample the local fare.
How to get to Aquitaine
Numerous UK airports fly direct to Bergerac (40 minute drive), with Bordeaux and Toulouse airports within a 90-minute drive of the department. Travelling by car takes approximately 10 hours from Calais and 7 hours from Caen, while the TGV from Paris and Lille runs to Agen, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
Warm dry summers generally run from April to October, perfect for golfing and fishing, with temperatures reaching 25c. Winters can be nippy, sometimes reaching freezing point in December and January, but with one of the lowest rainfalls in France.
South west France
Snapping at the neighbouring Dordogne’s heels, Lot and Garonne is now the second most popular Aquitaine department with UK buyers; a predominantly rural setting and lack of heavy industry proving big draws for second-homers, along with affordable prices, up by an average of just 4 per cent in the last 18 months.
“The department benefits from easy access to Bordeaux and the Dordogne,” explains Samantha Lear of Papillon Properties, “and the west coast beaches are also close enough for daytrips.” Pricier Quercy stone farmhouses are still highly covetted, although previously overlooked village townhouses are now being taken on by younger buyers as small renovation projects are still available for £60,000, or nearer £80,000 in characterful bastide towns, with larger semi-renovated stone village houses with period features and gardens fetching nearer £100,000.
“The average buyer spend is currently in the £135,000-£235,000 bracket,” adds Lear, “many clients are cash buyers and in a position to negotiate on price.” Or, “you can commission one of the many new-build firms to construct your dream home for around £650 per sqm,” confirms Anthony Bryan of Guyenne Immobilier.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS: WHERE TO BUY NOW
A departmental capital that changed hands many times during the 100 Years War, this 13th century bastide town is low in the pecking order of keynote towns in the southwest, a plus point, which together with good motorway connections and a high-speed rail link from Paris (just 4 hours) has proven advantageous for property buyers.
“Agen is well-located at a crossroads between Toulouse and Bordeaux,” says Sarah Francis of Sifex. “It’s full of life particularly in the summer months with several good restaurants and a couple of large weekly markets which gather the community together.” Cottages and gites are big business in the area and profitable little earners in the tourist season.
Real estate options run the gamut from Quercy manoirs to traditional longeres. Satellite villages such as Prayssas, St Robert, Laroque-Timbaut and the bastide of Beauville with its 18-hole golf course make ideal second-home bases, all within easy driving distance of the county town. Buyers can expect to pay in the region of £200,000 for a restored farmhouse and upwards of £400,000 for a traditional manoir.
Villeneuve sur Lot
Founded by Alphonse du Poitiers, this 11th century town is an established favourite with Francophiles, including chateau owning 80s pop star David Essex. The delightful run of river fronted houses are commanding a premium in the fully serviced town, with several hypermarches on the outskirts, an old quarter sporting attractive arched arcades, numerous artisan boutiques and a coterie of high-quality restaurants and cafes en terrace.
“The property market is well established here because of the quality of local amenities,” says a spokesperson for Villeneuve Immobilier. “There’s riding, canoeing and tennis, with Villeneuve Golf and Country Club and fishing lakes in the valley.” On the market with the agency for £105,000 in the centre of town is an attractive two-storey townhouse to renovate with garage, cellar and small courtyard. The property has seven rooms with the option of converting the residence into apartments.
Located just 25 minutes from Bergerac, Duras’ easy access is a key selling point with UK buyers. One of France’s most renowned wine growing regions, with undulating hillside vineyards, all the necessary commercial and leisure amenities are also on hand.
“Villages such as Loubes Bernac to the north of town have superb views,” says Rosalind Monk of Immorama Aquitaine, “plus you’re within easy reach of lively neighbouring departmental towns such as Eymet, St Foy La Grande and Monsegur.”
Guyenne Immobilier has a beautifully renovated farmhouse with pool for £250,000. Set back in a quiet country lane close to Duras, a gravelled drive leads up to the 19th century three-bed property, which boasts many period features including exposed beams, French doors and terracotta flooring.
Similar in style but a lot less touristy than Monpazier, Monflanquin’s original layout has remained intact with a central square and groups of half-timbered stone houses on a grid of small lanes. Attracting over 30,000 visitors per year, its geographic location is ideal for exploring the local chateaux hot spots of Biron, Bonaguil and Duras, as well as Bergerac and Cahors. Voted one of the top ten prettiest villages by Daily Telegraph travel writers, the town’s cosmopolitan mix of residents has kick started new-build development targeted at the second-home and sort-term rentals market. Renovated terraced cottages with Roman tiled roofs can be picked up for £90,000, three-bed turnkey townhouses from £150,000.
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