The charming town of Ceret – a Pyrenees Orientales property hotspot
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Ceret is the kind of town one falls in love with at first sight, and that was certainly the case for me when I was extensively touring the Pyrenees Orientales region to decide where to make my new French home. Approaching Ceret from the east towards the three parallel bridges crossing the pretty River Tech, you can really appreciate the stunning backdrop of the Pyreneen foothills and cherry orchards surrounding the town. The town’s attractive centre encapsulates what many foreign buyers think of as the French dream – cobbled streets lined by pastel coloured town houses, a pretty square with al fresco eating for much of the year and plane tree-lined shady streets with plenty of cafés and one off shops – a far cry from your average British high street with its ubiquitous chain stores.
The town’s beauty has been a magnet for artists in the past, the most famous being Picasso, who is reputed to have founded the Cubism movement when he lived here. This artistic heritage is celebrated in the Museum of Modern Art, situated next to the Mairie, which has some permanent works by the master himself and also exhibits other impressive names from the art world, especially considering the small size of the town.
The climate here is a major attraction too – the town sits in the southernmost valley in France, a stone’s throw from the Spanish border and enjoys long summers and short, relatively mild winters. It is rarely cold enough to snow and boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, which means lots of bright blue skies throughout the winter months, even when the temperatures do drop. With both the Mediterranean coast and ski resorts accessible, there is plenty to do all year round.
Officially, of course, Ceret is in France, however, the locals see themselves as Catalan and the Catalan influences in the town are strong. Most surprising to many visitors is the existence of a bullring, which plays host to a 3 day long bullfighting festival, the Ceret de Toros, during Bastille Day celebrations when the town also stages a mini running of the bulls (à la Pamplona) accompanied by live music and much merriment in the evenings.
If you’re visiting the town, a great place to stay is Mas Trilles (open for the summer months only), a wonderful stone building housing a 3 star hotel run by exceptionally hospitable owners. The only downside is that it is located on the outskirts of town but this minor inconvenience is worth it. Make sure you factor a Saturday into your visit so you can sample the weekly market which is a feast for all the senses combining stalls selling everything from clothes and handmade toys, to vats of steaming paella, roasted chickens and delicious local cheeses.
You will not be the first foreigner to be seduced by Ceret’s charms – there is a sizeable expatriate community not only in Ceret itself, but all along the Tech Valley, made up not just of Brits, but also Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians. Although many of our clients say they want to avoid this at all costs, not only is it increasingly hard to do so anywhere in France, but it is easy to underestimate the cultural impact of moving to a foreign country, and the benefits of having like-minded fellow countrymen to chat to.
If you do decide to buy a home here, whether as a permanent resident, or for holidays, be warned – prices are not cheap. This is one of the two property hotspots of the Pyrenees Orientales (the other being the seaside town of Collioure) and prices have rocketed over the last few years, fuelled largely by foreign buyers. That said, the market has levelled off in the last year or so after the folly of previous years. Many vendors are stuck in the past and have unrealistic expectations with regards to price, so there is often quite significant room for negotiation, especially at the higher end of the market. This is also a good location for the buy-to-let market, with good quality rental properties in high demand from locals who can’t afford to get on to the property ladder.
If you want to be in the very centre of town, your choice is largely limited to a typical French townhouse or apartment, with no outside space or, at best, a roof terrace or small courtyard. These are rare on to the market, and change hands quickly, often privately. Prices start at €150,000s. Further out from the centre, larger houses and villas with small gardens can be found from upwards of about €280,000 , and at the luxury end of the market you are looking at anything from €500,000 upwards for villas with a large garden and all mod cons. You need to go further out of town still to find the traditional stone properties which are so coveted by us Brits, and you will pay the price for these as there are relatively few of them.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to Ceret prices, it is worth considering neighbouring towns and villages, such as Maureillas or Amelie-les-Bains, where prices are lower but you still have Ceret’s delights on your doorstep.
© Louise Sayers
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