Sun, Ski and Sand
Over 300 days of sunshine a year, glorious mountain resorts, welcoming beaches and plenty of rental potential – it’s no wonder we all love this département, says Annaliza Davis
Pyrénées-Orientales enjoys a whopping 300 days of sunshine a year, mountains, beaches and wide open spaces. It’s also perennially popular with French and overseas visitors alike – so it’s clear why the département has an irresistible attraction for British buyers seeking southern charm without Provençal price tags. From its bustling capital city, Perpignan, to pretty villages on the Mediterranean coast and mountain resorts perfect for skiing in the winter months, there is plenty to excite the ardent house-hunter intent on bagging a bargain in this wonderful spot.
WHERE EXACTLY IS THE PYRÉNÉES-ORIENTALES?
This popular département sits in the middle of the very south of France and is named after the Pyrénées Mountains that form the border with Spain. Spanish and Catalonian cultures certainly influence the character of this sunshine strip, where you can genuinely find a balance between mountain life and the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the sunshine and diverse landscapes, there’s oodles of culture and history – an appealing combination.
LOCATION: WHERE TO GET WHAT YOU WANT
The Pyrénées-Orientales has a strong culture of holiday homes and rental opportunities, with official statistics confirming that nearly 30 per cent of all properties are second homes (three times the national average).
As for property prices themselves, they currently average €2,000 per m² across France (according to Notaires de France), with Pyrénées-Orientales coming in at €1,800 per m². However, the most expensive properties here will be in the more populated eastern coastal areas, where you can pay as much as €3,000 per m² for a piece of paradise.
This is an area with fabulously varied landscapes, so you will find swish urban apartments, converted lofts, rural character hideaways, seaside villas and modern houses. For city-centre investors, capital Perpignan is the obvious choice: it’s home to just over 25 per cent of the area’s residents and retains a Catalan atmosphere. A picturesque city of art and history attracting plenty of tourists, it’s only 30km from the Spanish border and accessible via the high-speed TGV from Paris, adding to its desirability.
Beach-home investors should head east to Saint-Cyprien or Argèles-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast. House prices here are the highest in the area, but the rental market is strong. Alternatively, consider ski chalets in resorts such as Les Angles, Font-Romeu, Cambre d’Aze and Porté-Puymorens, all of which rate highly with skiers and can achieve solid rental returns. You might think the Pyrénées is the poor relation of the glamorous French Alps, but with skiing here less expensive, these resorts attract a steady stream of visitors glad to find lift passes that don’t cost a fortune. Property-wise, you’ll get more for your money.
Font-Romeu is France’s sunniest ski resort with around 3,000 sunshine hours a year. It can be accessed by train from Perpignan (and therefore from Paris), so it’s a good option for rental, not just in the winter months. When looking at mountain properties, bear in mind that the more expensive resorts often yield higher rental prices more consistently.
Budget buys can still be found across the Pyrénées-Orientales, but you’ll get more choice away from the coast and skiing hotspots. Search in the less-populated, rural areas or indeed, go for a renovation project if you want a bargain.
FOOD & DRINK -
A TRULY MEDITERRANEAN FLAVOUR
One thing you’ll notice in this region are the Mediterranean and Catalan influences on local specialities: olives, garlic, thyme and pine nuts. The area has been famous for its anchovies since the Middle Ages, and two producers (Roque and Desclaux) still hand salt these tiny fish, perfect for adding an intense flavour to dishes.
Mountain pastures yield great dairy and cheeses, as well as flavoursome lamb, pork and dried mountain ham (el gambajó). Fresh produce abounds in local markets, notably peaches, cherries, nectarines and apples, while biscuit fans will love the Rousquille, a ring-shaped biscuit flavoured with aniseed or lemon and covered in white icing.
And for a toast, the best-known local wine is the Côtes du Roussillon, from vineyards between the sea and the mountains, where grapes have been grown since Gallo-Roman times.
What about the economy?
Immediately after the economic crisis of 2007-2009, this area suffered from high unemployment – particularly in construction – and industrial employment here has often been half the national average. However, in recent years the service industry has expanded and there has been dramatic growth in smaller, self-employed businesses since the introduction of the simpler auto-entrepreneur system in 2008, which has enabled more people to earn a living beyond conventional salaried positions. The latest comprehensive statistics show that the sectors experiencing the greatest employment rates are smaller businesses with fewer than 10 employees (20.8%) and commerce, transport and services (61.7%) – thanks, largely, to its buoyant tourist industry.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN PROPERTY TYPES IN PYRÉNÉES-ORIENTALES?
With the diverse landscapes in this département – from mountainous to coastal and everything in between, there is a huge range of different sorts of property to choose from. Here are some of the main ones:
SKI APARTMENTS AND CHALETS
Naturally, most ski resorts focus on maximising the available space close to the slopes, so apartments literally come in all shapes and sizes.
Detached, traditional-style ski chalets are also available, of course, but these come at a premium, whether older or more contemporary.
STONE MAS PROPERTIES
If you are looking for character stone properties, then the mas style will certainly appeal. This is the local equivalent of a rural farmhouse and typically comes with plenty of land, perhaps including a vineyard. This house type is mainly found in Provence and is becoming rather rare in this region, which is reflected in what you’ll pay: expect starting prices of around €800,000 – up into the millions.
Given the high proportion of retired residents here, it is unsurprising that single-storey homes are popular.
If this is what you’re after, be ready to move quickly if one comes on the market – especially in tourist hotspots and those with good transport links. Such properties tend to be relatively recently built, often in a villa style.
For those who can afford it, the luxury villa is the perfect property type for this region’s climate, particularly if it comes complete with a pool to cool down in, air-conditioning, gardens, balconies and easy access to the beaches or ski resorts.
If you have a budget of more than €550,000, you could snap up a luxurious little piece of paradise for yourself!
VINEYARDS AND VIGNERONNES
Occasionally you’ll see a maison vigneronne for sale. You’d be correct in thinking these have a wine connection, but they are not vineyards, so don’t be disappointed.
Originally built to give winegrowers a home and storage space in the village near their vineyard, they are rarely surrounded by land (and certainly not acres of vines), but they do offer very spacious, airy interiors.
PROPERTIES: AN OVERVIEW
The Pyrénées-Orientales is understandably one of France’s most popular areas, enjoying all the sunshine of the Mediterranean, the warmth and history of Spanish and Catalan cultures, plus the stunning backdrop of dramatic mountains and idyllic pastures. When choosing property here, you first need to decide if you’re looking for beaches, mountains, city streets or rural retreats.
In the beach hotspots of Saint-Cyprien and Argelès-sur-Mer, you can buy a studio apartment for under €60,000 but it’ll be a tiny 15m² flat, while a modest 55m² villa or apartment will cost around €170,000 and a detached villa with pool will set you back about €360,000.
If you’re looking to invest and rent out in the mountains, opt for resorts with plenty of tourist appeal. Ski apartments start at €50,000, with most around €150,000 to €200,000, but you’ll need to research accessibility, popularity and tourist facilities to evaluate possible returns. Certain resorts work hard to attract summer tourism, too, such as Cerdagne with its thermal spa resorts (Dorres, Llo and Saint-Thomas).
As for city living, you’ll almost certainly focus on popular and accessible Perpignan. Here, it’s possible to find studio apartments for under €50,000, but you’ll have more choice with good rental potential at around €120,000 for a central apartment (or €180,000 for a house).
If countryside living appeals to you, look for spots around an hour inland such as Maury, Caramany or Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet. Perpignan is still accessible from these (about 50 minutes on main roads), but not from villages up in the mountains. In these smaller inland spots you’re more likely to find character properties, renovation projects and affordable village homes under €50,000.
While buyers are often drawn to the mountains and beaches, do consider the lakes (such as l’Agly or Lac des Escoumes) and the River Têt, which are popular for everything from tranquil fishing and freshwater bathing to sailing and rafting. You could discover a great source of tourist income – or a wonderful new home – without paying the high prices of more obvious locations.
Fleur Buckley, Property Services Manager at FrenchEntrée, gives and overview of the city of perpignan capital of the Pyrénées-Orientals département and gateway to the Têt Valley, which links the Ski resots of the Pyrénées with the Mediterranean sea.
“Perpignan’s Old Town is the most sought-after among our foreign buyers. This is a picturesque area with cobbled streets leading to a myriad of boutiques, cafés, bars and restaurants. Apartments are available here from €100,000 upwards, depending on how much work needs doing to them, but outside space and parking is in short supply. Be prepared to move quickly as demand is high. “This is also an ideal spot for rental investment, and Perpignan benefits from good TGV links. Low-cost airlines fly from here to the UK, adding to its potential. Palais des Rois and La Lunette areas off er flexible pricing, and both are within walking distance of the centre and train station.
“If you are looking for a courtyard/garden within easy reach of the Old Town, then look around the Palais des Congrès and up to the River Têt. This is a more residential area and, with its access to local schools, will suit families.”
If you would like some assistance discovering this area of France and to find out more about what the property market has to offer please don’t hesitate to give us a call at +44 (0) 1225 463752 or email us at [email protected]
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or don’t have time to search yourself, FrenchEntrée has a dedicated Property Team to assist you in finding your dream property. Let us know what you are looking for and we will do our best to select properties matching your requirements.