Guide to property in the Capcir and Cerdagne, eastern Pyrenees
If you’re looking for property close to skiing and winter sports facilities, but with summer potential too, then you should focus your search in the Capcir and Cerdagne plateaux of the eastern Pyrenees mountain area of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Located in the Pyrenees Orientales department – the most southerly of the departments in the Languedoc Roussillon bordering Spain and Andorra – the Capcir and Cerdagne are an outdoor pursuits paradise: there are ten winter resorts to choose from – with facilities ranging from snowboarding, alpine and cross-country skiing to husky rides, snow kite-surfing and thermal spas in season, and in the summer the area is magically transformed into wonderful nature reserves strewn with rivers and lakes and the opportunity to enjoy numerous pursuits such as mountain-climbing, mountain biking, rafting, canyoning, horse riding and more.
Here you are also in the hinterland of the Pays Catalan – the part of the Languedoc-Roussillon that was once part of Catalonia and which now is seeing a proud resurgence in its Catalan culture. Evidence of the Catalan link is easily seen in the mysterious place names you will come across such as Palau-de-Cerdagne, Réal, Ur and Eyne; in the Catalan street names that often accompany French names and in the occasional traditional red and gold striped Catalan flag flying from windows and posts. But whilst there is still an air of the traditional way of life being lived here, particularly in the ancient centres of the villages and towns, the main resort towns are resolutely modern and many are home to modern property developments offering you all the comforts you expect from contemporary resorts along with the all important easy-access to the slopes. Property hunters here will be pleased to see that the apres-ski facilities at most of the resorts match anything you could enjoy in other European ski resort areas: a good choice of restaurants, bars, clubs and entertainment is on offer.
The Capcir plateau to the north is the larger of the the two plateaux, and at 1500 metres above sea level and with hundreds of lakes and streams intersecting lush forested parcels, the Capcir provides a stunning location for some of the best skiing in the French Pyrenees. Property hunters looking here will certainly want to consider the resort town of Les Angles which caters for both winter and summer holidays: snow is guaranteed every winter and in the summer the nearby Lac de Matemale offers a plethora of water sports and family friendly activities. Other popular resort towns to consider here are Formigueres, which has retained much of its historic character and has an excellent 110 km of cross-country ski tracks, and Puyvalador, which is also a major cross-country skiing destination and has quirky local attractions such as the Grotte de Fontrabiouse – a network of more than 12 km of caves with spectacular rock formations and underground lake.
The Cerdagne plateau to the south is the more mountainous of the two plateaux, with its vast tracts of pine forests home to some of the regions most beautiful flora and fauna, as well as the wonderful thermal spa villages of St Thomas, Llo and Dorres where natural springs have now been channelled into excellent spa facilities, offering a range of complementary therapy treatments. Property hunters looking here will no doubt want to visit Font-Romeu, the largest ski resort in the area, with excellent facilities including Olympic swimming pool and skating rink, an indoor sports complex with tennis, squash and badminton courts, covered golf training and an equestrian centre.
The Capcir and Cerdagne plateaux are reached via the N116 national road west of the Pyrenees-Orientales capital city Perpignan, where the nearest airport is; the area can also be accessed by the iconic Yellow train line which runs from Villefranche-de-Conflent west of Perpignan through to Mont-Louis at the eastern edge of the Capcir and Cerdagne plateaux. Property hunters may also want to consider that between Perpignan and the plateaux is the popular market town of Prades and its surrounding villages which offer the possibility of being equidistant between both the ski slopes and Mediterranean beaches.
Over the past five years there has been increased interest in this corner of the Pyrenees, particularly since many of the ski resorts have spent millions of euros upgrading their facilities whilst remaining very competitive compared to resorts in the Alps – indeed the recently launched Neige Catalans ski pass means you can have unfettered access to 9 ski stations in the eastern Pyrenees all season long from as little as €446 per adult. This interest has resulted in an increased number of new build residential developments in the area, as well as steady increases in property prices – with the price per m2 almost doubling since 2004. However, even taking this into account, prices are still considerably cheaper than similar properties in the most popular Alpine resorts. Improved road links from Perpignan and new low-cost airline routes from Brussels Charleroi, Paris Orly, Birmingham, London Stanstead, Manchester, Southampton and Bristol (from July 2009) add to the already impressive investment potential of this simply stunning area of natural beauty.
The majority of the housing stock here is purpose built property developments, apartment residences and traditional style chalets; in the centres of the resorts and outlying villages there are traditional maisons de villages and larger farmhouses. Currently on the market you will find well presented studio apartments, usually with a balcony, in the centres of the larger resorts for around €60,000 – €80,000. Between €80,000 and €150,000 you can expect to find 1 or 2 bed apartments in modern residences or semi-detached chalets with good sized terraces. From €150,000 to €250,000 you will get closer proximity to the ski slopes, with 2 bed apartments or detached chalets with terraces or small gardens and great mountain views towards the lower end of this price bracket, and 3-4 bed detached chalets or renovated maisons de villages with outside space. With a budget of over €250,000 buyers will be looking for very large 3-4 bed apartments or chalets with closest proximity to the slopes with terraces and/or gardens, whilst a budget of over €400,000 will easily get you a high-end newly built 4+ bed apartment or chalet literally next to the slopes, with panoramic mountain views from terraces and gardens, or a traditional farmhouse with potential to develop into guest house accommodation. Needless to say, with the increased interest in this area, renting our your property during season is perfectly feasible although, as with all areas in the region, you should research the location and local competition thoroughly if you intend to earn income from your property this way.
All in all, the Capcir and Cerdagne plateaux will most appeal to those buyers who truly fall in love with the area and who are looking to enjoy the great outdoor pursuits available in a mountain location whilst optimising their budget. Winter sports here are by far cheaper than the Alps and in the summer you will have access to a wonderland of extraordinary natural beauty.
Greca Sandford, 2009
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