Calvados, Normandy: French Location Guide
Synonymous with cider, brandy, countryside and coastlines, Calvados offers all that’s great about France and, Annaliza Davis explains, it’s also a great choice for househunters
Located in Normandy in the north-west of France, Calvados is historic, bucolic, and a little alcoholic thanks to its renowned brandy. The cider-based calvados is the product of the innumerable apple orchards that dot the landscapes alongside grazing livestock, quaint timbered buildings and elegant seaside resorts along the dramatic coastline.
Not only is Calvados a favourite destination for British visitors, but it tops the list for thousands of French tourists, and it’s practically a second home for many Parisians, who can hop on a train and get here in less than two hours.
Caen-Ouistreham is one of the main entry ports from the UK into France, so the region’s infrastructure is already geared towards accommodating and transporting visitors, especially English-speakers.
The many historical sites of Calvados – such as Château de Falaise and Bayeux, with its grand tapestry – certainly draw a lot of tourists, as do the D-Day beaches, outstanding architecture and cultural heritage of literature and Impressionist art. But the natural beauty of the region is the real star in this part of Normandy, and a major reason for its enduring popularity with locals and visitors from France and abroad.
Calvados is largely seen as a rural area but for anyone looking to buy property here, there is a fantastic and diverse range of options to choose from, from tiny stone huts to handsome manor houses to jaw-dropping châteaux, if your budget will stretch that far. Whether you’re looking for a weekend hideaway or a year-round family home, it’s all too easy to lose your heart to Calvados, as it has real charm and bags of character.
Property in France costs an average (at time of writing) of €2,420/m2 and Calvados is close to this, at an average of €2,480/m2 but the real range is from €600/m2 to €7,000/m2 so this is an area where it really is all about location! Unsurprisingly, the hotspots with premium prices are along the coast, particularly the elegant resorts which are very popular with Parisians, such as Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer.
You’ll get more square metres for your money inland: try looking east of Vire, for example, or around Estry or Vassy, or on the outskirts of the popular towns rather than in their centres.
Caen (107,229 residents) is at the heart of city life in Calvados, followed by the far smaller towns of Hérouville-St-Clair (21,393 residents) and Lisieux (21,132 residents). Caen has a diverse economic profile including call centres, technology and food-processing, while Caen-Normandy University boosts the population by 30,000 students, giving the city a dynamic feel and an additional rental market if you’re looking for a buy-to-let property.
It’s possible to invest in a tiny 20m2 studio for €60,000 in Caen; to get a 50m2 apartment, you’ll need to pay €100,000 but you would get rental income of €550 per month, while 20m2 studios would fetch around €335 per month.
The seaside chic of Deauville comes at an even bigger premium: there’s a starting price of €82,000 for a studio of between 14m2 and 20m2, but there’s always demand and you could expect to rent it out at €450 per month. A Deauville apartment of 50m2 with parking space costs between €220,000 and €490,000 (if you want a seaview or a period property) – which explains why these tend to sell to those with Parisian budgets!
For a turnkey property you can move straight into, €95,000 will buy you a two-bedroom or three-bedroom house with garden in several spots within Calvados, but if you can stretch to €135,000, you will be able to buy a detached property with period features and modern comforts.
Certain historic towns can be quite affordable: Lisieux, with 20,000 residents, boasts timber-framed buildings and famous sacred architecture including a vast basilica church for up to 4,000 people. Here, a 50m2 apartment comes in around €55,000, while a budget of €100,000 will buy you a three-bedroom house in the centre or in a village on the outskirts. It’s a similar picture in Bayeux, which is best known, of course, for its historic tapestry. Apartments here are a little more expensive than in Lisieux, but €100,000 will buy you a fair-sized apartment, a single-storey house with garden, or even a rural renovation project.
Talking of renovation projects, there’s no shortage in Calvados, and for €40,000 you can pick up a rough diamond offering 1,500m2 of land and 120m2 of property. These will typically be former farm buildings in rural locations, or perhaps rundown townhouses that haven’t been lived in for a while. For €70,000 you can also find single-storey villas or vicarage-style stone houses that need overhauling and updating rather than full-scale renovation work.
For bargain properties, start your search to the north or east of Vire, heading towards the département of Manche. You’ll find great value for money in these areas.
For the truly courageous, there are plenty of building plots throughout this region, starting at €20,000 for 1,000m2of building land in Ste-Marguerite-d’Elle, St-Sever-Calvados or La Villette.
A budget of €30,000 opens up a wide choice of plots of around 1,200m2 and €50,000 brings you within reach of bigger towns and amenities. Where possible, look for a plot that is ‘viabilisé’ as this means that it’s readily connected to the necessary utilities.
As always, pay attention when you see the word ‘viager’ on adverts: these properties can be a bargain price but they come with a sitting tenant!
As one of the most visited départements in France, tourism plays a vital role in Calvados’ income, but the economy here is varied and also includes automotive, transport and technology companies, food-processing and several major call centres. Agriculture only represents 6.4% of the economy, and construction is at 10%. Unemployment here is just above the national average of 8.1%, with around 8% of residents being retirees and 32% being aged 15 to 29.
Salaries are usually good here: according to a 2019 Randstad barometer, Normandy ranked third of all French regions for non-management salaries. Start-ups and self-employed businesses are on the increase in Calvados, doubling in the last six years, and more than 70% of companies employ fewer than 10 people.
What’s your favourite? Fresh scallops and oysters, creamy cheese and golden butter, or indulgent Isigny caramels? You’ll find Calvados dishes in most cookbooks, particularly the iconic French apple tart, given that this area is rich with abundant apple orchards. This also leads to full-flavoured cider, and in turn to the alcoholic beverage that is Calvados brandy.
Despite being tucked away far up in the north of the country, Calvados is highly accessible, particularly from the UK. The ferry port of Caen-Ouistreham typically transports 900,000 passengers a year, offering year-round connections to England.
If you prefer airports, you can fly to Caen but routes are limited; you have far more options using trains, with a timetable of 20 trains a day that can whizz you to Paris in 1hr50, and to all other major cities across France.
Road networks are also good here: A13 from Caen to Paris (385km), A84 Caen to Rennes (297km) or the A28 and A88 from Caen to Le Man (273km). And as they say in Calvados, all roads lead to the apple orchards… now that’s worth raising a glass to!
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Lead photo credit : Caen aerial cityscape, Normandy - Shutterstock
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