For connoisseurs of France’s oldest and most seductive region, the ‘real’ Provence starts north of the busy A8 motorway linking Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo in the east, to the region’s capital, Marseille, in the west. In effect, the autoroute is the Rubicon that separates the tranquil hinterland of the Var, the Vaucluse and the Bouches-du-Rhône, from the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz of the Cote d’Azur. The road represents a vital safety cordon for discerning Britons who are buying into the real Provence in ever greater numbers; and not only buying, but selling as well.
The medieval fortress town of La Garde-Freinet sits at the centre of the Massif des Maures, 20km inland from St Tropez, but a world away in time. The Saracens built the original fortress in the late 8th century, and used it as a base to ravage Provence for the next 200 years. In the late 1980s, Briton Geoff Clark sold his business in London and moved permanently to La Garde-Freinet, where he had bought a holiday home a few years previously. Now married with four children, Mr Clark (00 33 4 94 43 16 70) sells traditional properties in the area, mainly to British buyers, thanks to a longstanding association with Winkworth in London. He is currently offering the charming Bastide du Vernet, a restored five-bedroom Provençal farmhouse with its own small vineyard near Plan de la Tour, 10km from La Garde-Freinet at a guide price of ?1.5 million.
Once the capital of old Provence, the Roman town of Aix, with its cobbled streets, moss-covered fountains, thriving markets and vibrant cafe life, is one of southern France’s most beautiful towns. It is also a cosmopolitan city of art and culture, with a lively international community of more than 30,000 students. Encircled by hills immortalised by Cézanne and others, Aix is only 30 minutes from Marseille international airport (a new budget airline destination), and two hours 40 minutes from Paris by TGV. Such ease of access will not be lost on potential purchasers of La Bergerie at Nans Les Pins, 20 minutes from Aix, a beautifully converted farmhouse once part of the 18th-century Domaine de Chateauneuf now an elegant hotel and golf complex. The six-bedroom house has spectacular views of the dramatic Sainte Baume mountain and is for sale through Aylesford International (020?7351 2383) at a guide price of ?2.5m.
Vaucluse is the heart of old Provence, a fertile land rich in truffles, lavender, honey and good wine, and surrounded by forests of oak and pine, where 20 centuries of history are part of everyday life. The vibrant market town of Vaison la Romaine, 27km north of Orange in the rocky Haut Vaucluse, is a jewel of Roman Provence, bounded on all sides by the River Ouveze. This is part of the fiefdom of British expatriate Rod Duval who has been running his own agency in the region for many years, fortified by a good working relationship with Knight Frank in London (020?7629 8171). Mr Duval is asking ?1.3m for Le Grand Barsan on the edge of Vaison La Romaine a splendidly authentic, 7/8 bedroom, Provencal mas set in a hectare of land, where family life revolves around the shaded central courtyard.
Since 1999, iconic French designer/developer/style guru Gerard Faivre has combined Provençal authenticity with contemporary chic to create no fewer than 22 bespoke holiday homes for wealthy Parisians, at prices ranging from ?2.5m to ?6m. His latest chef d’oeuvre is the Mas Les Isords at Eygalières, a small village on the slopes of Les Alpilles, an area of great natural beauty that produces some of the best wines of the Baux de Provence appellation. The 200-year-old former farmhouse, which boasts its own unlimited water supply, has been transformed with Gallic flair into a unique garden house with five reception rooms, seven bedroom suites, a media room with seating for 12, with a swimming pool, a tennis court and parking for eight cars. Bective Leslie Marsh in London (020?7589 6677) quote a guide price of ?5.7m.
The area around St-Remy de Provence, in the shadow of Les Alpilles, is one of the region’s best-kept secrets, and the stronghold of Emile Garcin (00 33 4 90 92 01 58), doyen of French country estate agents. French families are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to discussing property matters, and the agency cannot reveal the name of the splendid 19th-century bastide on the edge of Saint-Remy which is for sale, at ?6m, on behalf of a well-known local family. The timeless 11-bedroom mansion, which has its own water supply, stands at the end of a grand avenue of towering plane trees, overlooking its own 25 acres of gardens, fields, woods and parkland. A treasure such as this hardly needs a name.
Unusually, the sale of the historic Château d’Ansouis in the ancient village of Ansouis, 25km north of Aix-en-Provence, is being played out in the full glare of national publicity. Built as a hilltop fortress some time before 961, the château has evolved over the centuries into a grand estate mansion, seat of the Sabran family since the early 11th century. Now, decades of wrangling between the heirs of the Duke and Duchess of Sabran-Pontevès, who died in 1973 and 1988 respectively, has led to a court decision to sell the entire Sabran estate by judicial auction in Paris on October 29 this year, the proceeds to be divided equally among the four Sabran children.
‘The most tragic aspect of the whole sad affair is that the contents of the château are not being sold with it, so Ansouis a listed ancient monument will lose its integrity as a house of national importance,’ says Paris-based agent Philip Hawkes (00 33 1 42 68 11 11), who represents one of the family members and can provide full details of the sale. Ansouis is being sold in 10 lots, which include the village boules court, a village house, five lots of farmland and vines, and the beautifully maintained château itself, with its 16-hectare park, swimming pool and tennis court. The whole estate is expected to fetch between ?7m and ?10m.