Country houses for sale

Second homes in France


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Despite rumours to the contrary, the British buyer has never really left France, says Roderik Aris of Winkworth. ‘UK buyers on the Côte d’Azur may be few and far between, but with vendors elsewhere prepared to accept price reductions of 20% or more, the non-Euro purchaser is now definitely back in the fray,’ says Mr Aris, whose firm recently sold four French properties to British buyers, ranging from a relatively modest house in the Loire valley to a luxurious villa in the hills above Saint-Tropez.

British and Russian buyers may be conspicuous by their absence in the Alpes-Maritimes, but they are still a force in the Var, insists Grimaud-based Hugo Skillington, Knight Frank’s long term associate in the region, who has already sold two multi-million-pound properties to British buyers this year. As are British vendors, one of whom is selling the charming Domaine de la Sarrazine at La Garde-Freinet (the ‘Valbonne of the Var’) which he, in turn, bought from another British owner in 1994.

For sale at a guide price of €4.5 million through Hugo Skillington Immobilier and Knight Frank (020–7629 8171), the prettily restored, stone-built Provençal house sits in 12 acres of well-wooded grounds with fabulous southerly views over vineyards and olive groves to the bay of Saint-Tropez. The house has four reception rooms, a master suite, four en-suite bedrooms and two staff cottages.

Unlike the trophy home hunters of recent years, today’s British buyer is more likely to be a traditional lover of les vieilles pierres authentic French houses with character and history in a tranquil setting. It was the same 20 years ago, when architect Giles Newby-Vincent, who specialises in the restoration of ancient buildings, discovered La Tuilière, a crumbling, 16th-century former priory and silk farm in the hills near Gordes in the Lubéron. Once the heart of a 1,000-acre estate owned by the Abbé de Sade, the historic house had its heyday in the 18th century when it was substantially enlarged, but by the time Mr Newby-Vincent came on the scene, it was in a state of semi-dereliction.

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Commuting from his office in Piccadilly to the hills of Provence, the architect has spent the years since then restoring the magnificent main house, its ancillary buildings, ruins, follies and 40 acres of grounds, using original materials sourced from all over France. His passion for detail is evident in every golden stone, down to the layout of the gardens and the siting of the 82ft infinity pool overlooking the valley below.

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Highlights of the house, which has four main reception rooms, six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a studio and an orangery, include the 17th-century dining hall, the south-facing summer drawing room, and the first-floor main drawing room with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and huge open fireplace. La Tuilière is for sale through Knight Frank (020–7629 8171) at a guide price of €8.5m, but the vendor hopes that the reaction of prospective purchasers will be ‘how did you find it?’ rather than ‘what a lot of money you’ve spent’.

‘No matter what’s happening in the global economy, people still cling to dreams’, says Irish-born Karl O’Hanlon, founder and director of Domaine & Demeure (00 33 6 09 14 36 13) in the Languedoc, where he has been developing period properties for more than 20 years, and where he now lives with his wife and children. Mr O’Hanlon put his own dreams on the line in the depths of the recession last October, when he decided to buy Les Carrasses at Capestang, near Carcassonne, a former vineyard with an 18th-century château and original wine estate buildings overlooking the Canal du Midi, the surrounding vineyards and the Pyrenees.

The restored château and its 18th-century outbuildings are being converted to 28 houses and apartments designed by well-known French architect François Thoulouze. The vineyards and winery, abandoned for more than 20 years, will be brought back to life by wine expert David Alcaraz, who will oversee both the restoration and the wine production, with home-owners on the estate each receiving a proportion of the yield. Prices at Les Carrasses range from €210,000 to €650,000, with delivery scheduled for summer 2011. With 18 of the 28 properties already sold in the past seven weeks, many to British buyers, it looks as if Mr Hanlon’s romantic vision of recreating a classic French wine estate in the heart of ‘the real France’ will soon be a commercial reality.

Rumours that British owners can’t afford to continue living in France as a result of the weak pound are simply not supported by the facts, at least not in rural south-west France, says British chartered surveyor Charles Smallwood, whose agency, Agence l’Union in Tarn-et-Garonne, is associated with Savills International. According to Mr Smallwood, ‘it’s comparatively rare for full-time British residents in France to wish to return to the UK. If they have a problem, they would rather sell the large house which they bought some years ago, and downsize to a property which is easier and cheaper to run’.

‘Best buy’ British-owned properties for sale through Agence l’Union (00 33 5 63 30 50 24) and Savills (020–7016 3740) include a restored country house set in 2½ acres of grounds, with three reception rooms, four bedrooms, two bath/shower rooms, a barn and an ‘excellent’ kitchen garden, at €485,000. Another restored, four-bedroom country house with a separate guest house, a heating swimming pool and an acre of garden, is on offer at €525,000.

Across the border in the Dordogne, Bruno de Saint-Exupéry of Emile Garcin Périgord (00 33 6 63 49 82 46) quotes a guide price of €2.2m for the exquisite, 17th-century Château Montferrier, near Périgueux, 50 minutes from Bergerac airport. Built in the early 1600s, the castle was owned by two powerful Périgordine families, Delphy and Lacombe, but was in steep decline when it was bought some 12 years ago by its present English owners, who have restored it with impeccable taste, but are now downsizing to return to the UK.

Set among the wooded hillsides of the Périgord Noir, romantic Château Montferrier has a magnificent entrance hall with a fine 17th-century staircase, two elegant salons, a large formal dining room, an informal dining area and a 645sq ft ballroom, plus four large bedrooms and three bathrooms on the first floor, and five more bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor. Period outbuildings include two Louis XIII lodges, other Louis XIII-style estate buildings and an old farmhouse in need of restoration.

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