Guide to the property market of the lower Corbieres and the Fenouilledes
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This somewhat forgotten corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon, where the Corbieres hills meet the Fenouilledes foothills, is well worth exploring for its rich combination of startlingly beautiful countryside, picturesque winemaking villages and real value for money property. Located just north-west of the southern Languedoc-Roussillon city of Perpignan, the area lies on the border of the Aude and Pyrenees-Orientales departments and is best defined as being either side of the Maury and Agly rivers and the D117 road which runs along the rivers. It is a rather small area, but quite unique in its geology and vegetation which gradually changes from mountain forest at its western limit around Caudies-de-Fenouilledes to Mediterranean garrigue (scrubland) around Espira-de-l’Agly in the east.
The Maury and Agly river valleys are quite wide here and to the north the southern ridge of the Corbieres dominates with its imposing cluster of Cathar heritage sites such as the chateaux of Peyrepertuse, Queribus and Aguilar. This is also home to the village of Tautavel and the the European Prehistoric Centre – home to Tautavel Man, the oldest man discovered on French soil, exceptional archaeological collections and the Caune of Arago cave complex, one of the largest prehistoric excavation sites of the world. To the south of the rivers rise the Fenouilledes hills which then give way to a lower valley with clusters of picturesque winemaking villages, such as Belesta, Planezes, Lansac and Ansignan – where an impressively well-preserved Roman aqueduct is sited.
The pace of life here is generally calm and very much linked to the local wine making industry and enjoying the marvellous countryside: this is a walker’s paradise, with many well sign-posted walks to enjoy, and interesting outposts to explore such as the hermitage of the Força Real – a tiny chapel built on a rocky outcrop with magnificent views of the region. In our explorations we have also seen a number of artists studios here – particularly ceramics – and the larger towns have local festivals and events throughout the year.
There is a good mix of small towns, large villages and tiny hamlets ensuring that you can find somewhere with the right level of local amenities for you. The town of Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet has many useful amenities, particularly a supermarket which is in the process of being expanded and one of best bakeries I have ever been to! There are small nursery and primary schools in many of the villages, whilst the secondary colleges are sited at Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet, Estagel and Rivesaltes and the main lycées are at Perpignan, Rivesaltes, Prades and Ceret.
Much of the local economy here is derived from the wine industry. The large village of Maury and the town of Rivesaltes are the centres for the AOC Maury and the AOC Rivesaltes & Muscat de Rivesaltes labels – exceptional quality fortified sweet wines which have won many awards. Indeed Rivesaltes is the birthplace of this vin doux naturel, a creation of Arnaud de Villeneuve, the eminent 13th Century physician. Other than these sweet wine labels the area is also part of the Cotes du Roussillon and Cotes du Roussillon Villages table wine appellations. There are also a number of fruit farmers here and an important stone quarry and calcium carbonate factory located at the eastern edge of the valley.
Thanks to the improving quality of the D117 road, the area is also becoming a popular commuter zone for those working in and around Perpignan. From its western edge at Caudies-de-Fenouilledes it is about an hour to Perpignan and its airport which is currently served by Air France to Paris Orly, Bmibaby to Manchester, Flybe to Southampton and Ryanair to London Stansted, Birmingham and Brussels Charleroi. Work has also already started to link the TGV from Perpignan to Barcelona, which will mean in future journey times of just 45 minutes between the two cities.
The combination of the quieter pace of life, the wonderful scenery and the good road link to Perpignan means that this area represents an interesting investment opportunity. Still relatively unknown to many, and not nearly as popular as the neighbouring Tet and Tech valleys, property prices in the Maury and Agly valleys are much more reasonable. Much of the housing stock here is still in need of renovation, so if you’re the DIY type this could be your spiritual mecca! It is still possible to find barn or small village houses in need of total renovation for under €100,000 here – though bear in mind that you will need a lot of imagination and a reasonable renovation budget to get your property up to modern standards. Also bear in mind that many houses in the centre of villages or towns have little outside space. For €100,000 – €220,000 you will find 2 or 3 bedroom town/ village houses or villas with a small outside space – perhaps a terrace or courtyard, and at the upper end of this price range most have already been renovated. Between €220,000 and €300,000 opens you up to a range of quite lovely renovated stone built old houses or modern villas, with 3 – 4 bedrooms and some decent sized outside space. From €300,000 – €400,000 you will find the same but with bigger gardens and swimming pools at the upper end of the price range. For a budget of over €400,000 you are likely to find beautiful maisons de maitre and farmhouses, with 4+ bedrooms, larger gardens and swimming pools.
In investment terms, you are likely to see stable property prices here in the years to come. Whilst this is not an area in which to buy if you are looking for a quick money making scheme, if you are attracted by the delights of the city of Perpignan and its nearby Mediterranean beaches and want to have an amazing view from your bedroom window, this area is an excellent choice for relocation or for a well placed holiday home – slightly off the beaten track but not too isolated.
Greca Sandford, 2008.
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images kindly provided by Agly Walking Tours Holidays – independant walking holiday operators.