A gentle place of rolling hills, the Tarn is an area of south-west France steeped in history, illustrated by the charming bastide towns scattering the landscape. On a clear day, the Pyrenées shimmer in the distance across miles of vineyards and farmland. The département is foodie heaven-you can get a delicious plat du jour for less than €12 in one of the sleepy villages where everyone still stops for two hours for lunch, and local produce includes wonderful cheeses and game, foie gras and charcuterie.
Equestrians are drawn here for its miles of off-road trekking, and many walkers also return year after year to explore the region on foot. But the Côte d’Azur this is not: as with many rural and farming communities, life is lived quietly and locals turn in early, so people who buy property here tend to be older or retired couples.
As a second-home destination, the Tarn only opened up to Britons relatively recently. Previously, it was quite difficult to get to, but now, flights from the UK land in Carcassonne, Toulouse and Rodez in Aveyron, all of which are less than an hour and a half from the heart of the region. British expatriates are already buying properties, but their numbers are relatively small.
Some buyers start out in the Dordogne, but find they want somewhere less crowded. Heading south, they end up in the Tarn, where it’s local policy to encourage them the mayor himself goes out of his way to make it clear he welcomes British buyers-and they find the size of property they can afford is a great deal larger than they expected.
David King from Winkworth France (020-8576 5582) says the Tarn has a strong appeal for a certain kind of buyer: ‘It’s a very rural area-it’s La France profonde. Not everybody knows the Tarn we point people towards it when they can’t find what they’re looking for elsewhere and, for the most part, they’re delighted. People like it because it’s accessible, but not as trendy as Gers or the Dordogne, and you can get an awful lot more for your money.’ A pretty two-bedroom house in one of the charming villages costs as little as €200,000 and lovely, very large renovated country houses with land and a pool can easily be found for less than €1 million.
One of the reasons the Tarn has stayed so very charming is that property development, as we know it, doesn’t really exist. The first real project of this nature is a sympathetic restoration combined with a small number of new-builds at Château de la Durantié, a classic château dating back to medieval times, which is being converted into five flats over three floors.
There will also be two courtyard flats and six properties in a converted barn on the land. In addition, 50 new-build properties are planned in the grounds, each with their own garden and swimming pool. All owners will have access to the restaurant, the spa, the delicatessen and the riding stables, situated on the 35-acre site.
Developer Hugh de Meyer has years of experience selling châteaux to the well-heeled, and says buyers often can’t stomach the thought of the responsibilities associated with owning outright. According to Mr de Meyer, owners here will enjoy the pleasures of a historic property and a pretty location without the corresponding headaches of buying their own stand-alone period house.
For those who do want their own historic property in the area, there’s a good range for sale throughout the region and ever-increasing demand for viewings. As Andrew Hawkins from Chesterton Humberts (020-3040 8210) explains: ‘We’ve been seeing much more interest in the Tarn over the past 12 months-particularly because your money goes a lot further there than anywhere else.’