French leave

It may have nothing at all to do with Mr Blair?s re-election, but I am struck by the number of people?of all ages and from widely differing walks of life?who are selling what appear to be dream country homes in England in order to move to France. Others may be tempted to join them, for despite a 48% rise in average French house prices in the past three years, property values in many deli-ghtful areas of provincial France remain well below those of England?s most popular rural counties.

Simon Hurst, vice-chairman of City brokers Panmure Gordon, has put his Devon country home?the classic, Grade II-listed Old Rectory with 30 acres of parkland at Offwell, near Honiton, Devon ?on the market at £2 million through Knight Frank (01392 423111), as a first step towards a permanent move to his picturesque, 17th-century manoir near Monpazier in the Dordogne. Already ?80% restored?, Castel Merle has six bedrooms and six bathrooms, and needs only a large family swimming pool to make it the perfect year-round retreat.

When 58-year-old psychic healer Geoff Whitnall became seriously ill him-self three years ago, he and his therapist wife, Linda, took the decision to scale down their UK operation and base them-selves permanently at their secluded French holiday home, set in 26 acres of woodland near the village of Montazeau, in the Dordogne.

As a consequence, their historic, Grade II*-listed, 18th-century Manor House at Heather, on the edge of the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, is for sale through Strutt & Parker (01858 433123) at a guide price of £1.1m. Over in France, the Whitnalls have already converted one of the barns at Montazeau into a kitchen/dining room extension to the main house, and plan to adapt other outbuildings as a venue for healing workshops.

Both Monpazier and Montazeau are within easy reach of Bergerac airport, which is now served by the budget airlines Ryanair (from Stansted) and FlyBE (from Birmingham, Bristol and Southa-mpton). Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) have several enchanting properties for sale in the region, among them Le Grand Moulin at Pomport (15 minutes from Bergerac), at ?1.16m. This is a converted water-mill with seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool, a coach house and stabling for four horses, the whole set in 32 acres of gardens, vines, woodland and meadows.

Alternatively, ?1.8m will buy you a beautifully renovated, 17th/18th-century Périgord manor house (Fig 2) with a guest cottage and outbuildings, plus 4.9 acres of land in a pretty hamlet, 25 minutes? drive from Bergerac.

Driven by ?a spirit of adventure?, Richard Adams (59) and his wife Sue (51) trawled the entire west coast of France, from Brittany to Bordeaux, in search of the ideal country retreat, and found it last September in the shape of a small former winery on the borders of the Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne. With building work on the farmhouse and outbuildings now well under way, the Adamses have put Plantation House at Lower Washfield, on the banks of the Exe, near Tiverton, Devon, on the market through Savills (01392 253344) at £725,000, and plan to move to France in November.

They may not be alone, for the scenic Garonne valley at the foot of the Pyrénées is an area increasingly sought after by would-be British émigrés. The international department of Aylesford (020?7351 2383) quotes a guide price of ?3m for the ultimate 16th-century château with 40 hectares of land on the edge of a small village, 45 minutes from the centre of Toulouse. Completely restored in the past five years, it doubles as a family home and conference-cum-

wedding venue. It has a huge formal drawing room, two dining rooms and six bedroom suites, plus a farmhouse and a swimming pool.

Veteran hunting writer Willy Poole has already announced his intention to quit these shores. The Kerrison family from Norfolk? Richard (44), wife, Victoria (43), and daughter, Carrie-Rose (5), plus two horses, assorted dogs and cats, and two vintage Rolls-Royces?will not be far behind him. They have put their family home, Courtyard Barn near Thurning, a four-bedroom converted barn with

stabling and paddocks, on the market at £750,000 through Strutt & Parker (01603 617431) and expect to buy a similar property for a lot less in the Dordogne.

Failing that, they might settle for a charming stone farmhouse which has stabling, barns and 10 acres of land, currently for sale near Bayeux, Normandy (France?s ?Pays du Cheval?) through Domus Abroad (020?7431 4692) at £305,000 plus legal fees.

The nearby Cotentin peninsula, south of Cherbourg, is another largely undiscovered region of France which appeals to discerning British buyers.

The historic, 17th-century La Chevalerie du Fieffe Noble near Ste Mère-Eglise (scene of the Normandy landings in June 1944) had been virtually derelict for almost 50 years when the current English owners bought the house in 2000. Having restored the manor house, outbuildings and grounds to their original splendour?and beyond?they now wish to down-size to something smaller.

Set in 3.7 acres of grounds amid rolling countryside, La Chevalerie has four fine reception rooms and seven bedrooms and is on the market through David King Associates (07020 940020) at a guide price of ?1.25m.

This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, June 30, 2005. To subscribe click here.