Find the real south of France!
Discover the unspoilt region of the Haut Languedoc where you will find the “real France” that for many typifies what France was always meant to be about. These days, if you cruise the Languedoc-Roussillon coastline you will certainly find vineyards, beautiful beaches, some character villages and towns. But you will also have to pass the new build housing estates, industrial estates, large road systems, traffic that comes with the Languedoc’s expanding population and changing economic situation. But head inland for just half an hour to the Haut Languedoc National Park and you will escape all this and find yourself in a landscape of stunning beauty, vineyards and sleepy, unspoilt medieval villages basking in the Mediterranean sunshine. It’s a land of gorges, rivers, hills, valleys and lakes. The villages celebrate their traditions and fetes as they have done for centuries, and the community life is warm and welcoming.
The region has natural wonders such as the rock formations at Moureze, the stunning River Orb which wends its way past the southern edge of the Haut Languedoc area, lakes – both man-made and natural, former mining towns such as Lodeve and Be$édarieux, pretty spa resorts like Lamalou-les-Bains and many stunning villages such as Olargues and Lunas set in hillsides and valleys. The Haut Languedoc is also famous for its up and coming wine making, with appellations such as St Chinian and Faugeres.
It’s a haven for people interested in fishing, canoeing, kayaking, walking, or sailing. The pace of life there is slow and relaxed, and the people there are friendly. It’s not an area where you’ll find the fast city life and amenities, and cultural events of places like Montpellier or Nimes. But it’s close enough to Béziers and Narbonne and its former mining towns have good amenities and are well preserved, and not subject to as much expansion planning as that taking place in the coastal plains.
Location, Weather and Geography:
The Haut Languedoc is so diverse an area that it offers a range of microclimates. Roquebrun for example has perhaps the warmest microclimate for the region. Here one finds the famous Mediterranean garden. There it can be in the 20s in winter at midday and below zero in the night, but 40°C during the height of summer. A good time for house buyers to visit is in early spring when they can see the differences between areas by the blossom on the trees. One area can be an entire month behind another. If you don’t like the heat then you need to locate further up in the Haut Languedoc, closer to the Caroux mountains, where the extra height reduces the temperature. Once you pass over the Caroux Mountains you are outside the Mediterranean climate. If you pass from Roquebrun to Lunas further north, then the temperature will usually be 2 – 3°C lower. The region does not get the Mistral at all, shielded as it is by the mountains behind it. But it does get the Marine wind, which is a foggy and humid wind that comes in off the sea in winter and autumn.
From the Haut Languedoc, depending on exactly where you are, it can take anything from an hour maximum to 40 minutes to get to the beautiful beaches of the Herault south of Montpellier. From Bédarieux, which is fairly central in the Haut Languedoc, it takes about 70 minutes. Equally, one can reach the Pyrenees for skiing in few hours, which makes it perfect for weekend trips.
The nearest international airports are Beziers-Cap d’Agde (70 minutes from Bédarieux) which has recently introduced new routes to the UK with Ryanair, and Montpellier (also about 70 minutes from Bédarieux). Other Ryanair routes go into to Carcassonne – both around 2 hours from Bédarieux, and the TGV high sped train runs into Montpellier.
In the longer term the property market is expected to continue to grow and rise, even if prices are relatively static at the moment. The Haut Languedoc remains amongst the few areas in the Languedoc-Roussillon where you can still buy property at this relatively low price. For investors looking for buy to lets or leasebacks, this area won’t offer you much. But capital growth on desirable property is likely to be good over the long term.
If you are looking for a genuine French village house in a Mediterranean climate, within a stunningly beautiful national park at reasonable prices, this is your area. What is more, this area is not going to change. There are tight controls in place here which mean that old villages are protected from outlandish “improvements” by the Batiment de France regulations. The Batiment de France regulations are designed to ensure that the village will be as well preserved in 100 years from now as it is today. Hence it can be difficult to obtain permission for that roof terrace unless you can guarantee it won’t cause damp to your building at any point in the next 100 years!
Things to Watch out for:
As always it is recommended that buyers check carefully who has done a renovation on a property. Many houses are advertised as “renovated”, but can sometimes be of a poor standard, done by the former owner on a low budget. There are now several conformity checks – such as testing that the electricity supply is properly earthed- that must legally be carried out before you sign the preliminary contract: if in doubt about any aspect of the property you are buying raise those concerns with your agent and notaire. Secondly, it is always useful to check whether there is any new building work going on in the town or village. If there is none, then this may indicate that the town is not growing, and may feel a little dead in the winter. If there are new building works in the town then it’s a good sign that there is life there and that facilities will develop over time, even if they aren’t there at the moment. It also means, of course, that your unrestricted view might become someone’s back yard, so you have to check with the Mairie or choose properties where there is no further scope for building within your lovely view!
Updated, based on a previous FrenchEntrée article written by Lars Holdt