Regional FactFile Départements: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), Haute-Alpes (05), Alpes-Maritime (06), Bouches de Rhône (13), Var (83) and Vaucluse (84)
Provence encompasses the snow-peaked lower Alps and their foothills, descending in the east almost to the coast, and extending to the west to just before the Rhône. Central Provence features high plateaux and a hinterland of steep, forested hills covered in pines, eucalyptus and wild herbs, while to the west, the marshlands of the Camargue are famous for their wildlife. The Luberon and its vine-covered lower slopes is a well-established country retreat for Europeans and Americans, thanks in part to Peter Mayle’s best-selling tales of life here, and it is the location for many upmarket holiday homes. Perhaps the most desirable stretch of the Mediterranean coast, the Côte d’Azur runs from Hyères in the west to La Napoule in the east, taking in a string of former fishing villages turned pleasure ports such as Le Lavendou, St-Tropez and St-Raphaël. Turquoise seas and sandy beaches, the heady scent of pine and eucalyptus plus the Mediterranean sunshine combine to form a potent cocktail, but in peak holiday season you’ll be faced with traffic jams, crowded streets and sky-high prices.
Although developers have been quick to capitalise on the region’s popularity, there are still small stretches which have resisted their advances and a new law has been enforced to prevent further property developments in the more exclusive coastal areas, along the St Tropez peninsula to Toulon, keeping prices high and the area more desirable. The southern end of the St-Tropez peninsula, the Corniche d’Esterel and parts of the Corniches des Maures will appeal to those who prefer a more traditional style to the showy chic of St-Tropez. The population of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is around 4,500,000 – a figure which rises considerably in the holiday season. Average temperatures range from 12°C (54°F) in February to 28.2°C (83°F) in August, but this is across what is a very large region, and temperatures can and do reach freezing point in Provence. Property in Provence is more expensive than most other parts of rural France, and real bargains are far and few between. The cheapest properties in need of renovation, are no lower than €150,000, but what might appear at first glance to be a charming villa, is in fact a major renovation project needing a total makeover, including new roof and sanitation, so you’ll need to have the necessary funds, vision and energy to pull it off. Houses tend to be slightly cheaper heading north from the coast, and the A8 autoroute running east to west marks the boundaries for this divide. The Var is perhaps the most unspoilt part of the region, with rolling hills, valleys, plantations, pine forests, lakes, waterfalls, vineyards and row upon row of olive trees. As a quieter place it can be happier hunting ground for those wishing to spend a little less. The Côte d’Azur is certainly one of France’s hottest property spots, and in terms of prices, the sky really is the limit; head inland to find more reasonably priced choices. For a bijou residence within easy reach of the coast, the old town centre of Nice has one-bedroom apartments from around €200,000; property prices in and around Nice have doubled in the last five years. There’s a good mixture of older, traditional property and newer, modern villas and purpose-built apartments, so all tastes are catered for. You are paying more for property in the French Riviera, but a well maintained and furnished holiday home in good decorative order should have excellent rental potential, provided it’s within easy reach of the coast, local shops and restaurants. Properties in the Alpes-Maritimes are increasing in popularity, as is away from the crowded coast. Surrounding Nice there is little open countryside, but further north towards the Alps the landscape flourishes with laurel trees, giant cactus plants and olive groves. The Alps are only an hour drive from the coast and really are a haven during the summer with stunning lakes instead of the sea to cool down in. Panoramic mountain walks and both summer and winter sports ensure that there are visitors to the area all year round. Overall, the demand for property in Provence is greater than ever. With so much to offer in one region, its growing popularity and property prices are to be expected especially as Provençal holiday homes in good locations can command very high rents from May through to October and it is a region of France for which many people choose to retire.
Access: Getting here is easy; the region has four airports (Avignon, Marseille, Nice and Toulon) and there are plenty of direct flights available from a variety of UK airports. Train travel is also an option, with services running from Paris – Gare de Lyon and Lille to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille; Eurostar offers a summer service from London Waterloo to Avignon RailEurope and SNCF – French National Railways
Cities and towns: Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Digne, Gap, Gordes, Nice, Marseille, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saint-Tropez, Toulon. Tourism: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Tourist Board Climate: Climate in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Climate in Haute-Alpes Climate in Bouches de Rhône Climate in Var Climate in Vaucluse