Despite its fabulous landscapes, rural idylls and endless horizons, Limousin is one of the least-expensive and least-populated parts of France. Annaliza Davis explores why this area is a picturesque, property-hunter’s paradise.
Lying inland, the Limousin region sits between Lyon and Poitiers, radiating out from its capital city Limoges and covering part of the Massif-Central mountain range. In 2016, it officially became part of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, and includes the départements of Corrèze, Creuse and Haute-Vienne.
To the French, it’s known as a sparsely populated, agricultural region of valleys and pretty villages. France’s population density averages 105 people per square kilometre, but in Limousin it can be as low as 21 per square kilometre and only 67 per square kilometre in its most populated areas, so it offers lots of space. For overseas buyers, it may feel as if they’re discovering a hidden gem overlooked for decades – one that still offers a great diversity of bargain properties if you know where to look.
In France, property costs an average of €2,749 per square metre, while in Limousin you’ll pay an average of €1,178 per square metre, with some areas costing just €736 per square metre, and there are bargains to be had throughout its three départements. Many of the most expensive places are in Haute-Vienne, particularly on the outskirts of the region’s biggest city, Limoges, which has attracted many overseas buyers. The département of Corrèze stretches all the way to Dordogne, and its property hotspots are around the town of Brive-la-Gaillarde. As for best value, that would be Creuse, where even the most expensive properties usually cost less than half the national average per square metre.
Where to find what you want
For city-centre properties, buyers should focus on Limoges, which has around 135,000 residents and an urban area of 300,000 inhabitants and offers around half of all employment in the entire region: a good illustration of Limousin’s population profile.
Sitting on the river Vienne, Limoges developed a reputation for fine porcelain in the 1800s and much of the city’s architecture dates from this period, although there are several half-timbered houses and a large historic quarter. The University of Limoges has over 16,000 students, creating a lively atmosphere and a strong rental market: a one-bedroom, 50m2 apartment here rents for around €575 per month and you can buy one from €34,000, while two-bedroom houses start at €125,000.
For a historic town, try Brive-la-Gaillarde, the southernmost town in Limousin, with just under 50,000 residents and great transport links both north to south and east to west. Brive is a popular destination, famous for its sumptuous food market, culture, architecture and for being the first town in occupied France to liberate itself. Its honey-coloured stone reminiscent of the Cotswolds gives it tourist appeal, as do the nearby lakes. Studio apartments here start at €40,000 and family houses at €100,000, while non-furnished rentals cost upwards of €400 per month.
Limoges and Brive were both voted in the top 100 of France’s ‘Best Places to Live 2021’ and are the region’s only communes with over 20,000 inhabitants. Limousin’s other market towns and villages offer authentic French living on a smaller, more rural scale. Guéret, Saint-Junien, Panazol and Ussel have populations of between 10,000 and 15,000 and are all worth checking out.
There’s no coast in Limousin, but there are several lakes including the man-made Lac de Vassivière in a setting that feels reminiscent of Canada, Lac Saint-Fortunat and the picturesque Lac de Feyt, all offering watersports and lakeside ‘beaches’.
Given all the space here, there’s no end of countryside retreats, and if you don’t need to be near a town or city for work, it’s hard to beat the Creuse Valley, ideal for walking, hiking, cycling, canoeing, fishing and photography. This pretty, pastoral area inspired Monet and countless other Impressionist artists, which has in turn made it a focal point for galleries and rural creativity. As for renovation projects, Limousin offers a wonderful choice starting at an incredible €15,000, but if you have upwards of €30,000, you really will have a hard time choosing. If you’re looking for a vacant property to renovate, Creuse is your best bet, with 15 per cent of properties uninhabited (the national average is eight per cent), followed by Corrèze then Haute-Vienne.
Alternatively, a 1,000m² building plot costs from €12,000 whether in Creuse, Corrèze or Haute-Vienne, but do check it’s constructible and not just for leisure use (terrain de loisirs), as leisure plots cannot be used for permanent structures or year-round living.
As always, remember that properties listed as viager have to be treated with caution as they come with a sitting tenant! While they often seem to represent an incredible bargain and could be an option for you, it does mean that you’re investing without being able to use the property yourself.
Employment and economy
Across France, 74 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 are employed, and despite Limousin’s reputation as a rural desert, its employment rates are between 72 per cent and 74.3 per cent, with a typical salary at around €20,000 a year. The region’s farming activity sits just above the national average of 4.5 per cent – except for the famously agricultural Creuse (12.7 per cent), while the construction industry (10 per cent) is at the national average.
New businesses and sole traders are on the rise, particularly women, and particularly in Brive-la-Gaillarde, thanks to its transport links and higher rates of tourism. Interestingly, around a third of new businesses in Limousin are created by people who have moved into the area.
As Limoges is on a key north-south route, this city has always had great transport links: you can catch a train and be in Paris or Toulouse in just over three hours, plus it has its own international airport.
If you’re looking at the more rural spots, driving is a practical choice; the A20 autoroute leads north and south, while the A89 offers east-west access to Lyon and Bordeaux, with Brive-la-Gaillarde being at the crossroads of these two routes.
Wendy and Phillip Mitchell moved to France in 2001, with the dream of mortgage-free living. They already knew Brittany and Roussillon, but finally decided on Limousin.
“We’re originally from the southeast of England, and had spent holidays in France, but were looking to make a permanent move and buy with no mortgage. This was one of the main factors in choosing Limousin, because you really could get a lot of property for your money. It’s like the parts of England where I could never afford to live, without the traffic!
“I did a lot of research on the internet and then made appointments with any agents who had anything that appealed to me. The property we finally chose wasn’t really the house I imagined, but it was beautiful with lots of character, surrounded by lovely countryside.
“Limousin is wonderful if you want a peaceful, rural life – especially after all the stress of living and working in England, but I’ll admit that after a time, you begin to want a little bit more life and a few more facilities, so that’s worth bearing in mind when choosing your location.
“As for the French, I always found them friendly and welcoming, but my level of spoken French is good and that certainly helps. The locals are not necessarily going to change things to accommodate people from other countries and why should they? The people who move here are the ones who should make the effort.
“Limousin is a very French part of France, so unless you want to live the way they do, it could be a bit of a struggle – although there is quite an active expat community in many towns. If you’re happy to adapt and join French-speaking groups and clubs so you can get to know people in your town or village, it can be a wonderful place to live.”
Ask the agents
Estate agent Helen Dawson works for Beaux Villages Immobilier and has experience of selling property in Limousin.
What draws buyers to this area?
Overseas and French buyers alike are drawn to its stunning unspoiled countryside with rolling hills and forests, rivers and lakes. It’s tranquil with lots of space, but you are never too far from a little town. Transport links back to the UK are good with Limoges and Brive airports (operating budget flights to the UK all year round), Limoges station (with direct trains to Paris) and the A20 autoroute passing through Limoges. As it is an area less well known than its neighbour Dordogne, you find some wonderful bargains.
Is there a particular type of property that buyers tend to look for?
A lot of overseas buyers and French city dwellers look for traditional stone houses with exposed stone walls and beams, but modern kitchens and bathrooms. With its abundance of waterways, it’s a popular area for people seeking a property with lake or river access. Many British people are looking for a restoration project and with lots of old stone houses and barns in the area, they will find bargains.
Where is the priciest place to buy?
Haute-Vienne is the most expensive of the three départements in Limousin with Limoges, Brive and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne being the most expensive towns and cities.
Where can bargains be found?
There are bargains to be found all over Limousin, but Creuse is probably the least well known of the départements, so it’s a great area for bargain hunters.
Has the Limousin property market seen any changes over recent years?
Prices in Limousin have been increasing over the past 10 years or so – probably because the area is coming to the attention of British and Dutch buyers. The transport infrastructure has been hugely improved over that period as well and particularly with Limoges airport offering budget flights to the UK. Brexit and then the pandemic have pushed prices up, with more and more people wanting to live in the countryside with space and fresh air around them. People are also realising they can work from home, so why not do it from their own place in France?
Anything else you’d like to share?
Limousin has seven of the Plus Beaux Villages (six of them in Corrèze). It’s very unspoilt and perfect for walking, riding and all sorts of water activities, as well as having a rich artistic and architectural heritage. Visit Arnac-Pompadour, a small town dominated by its château, and which also houses the national stud. Opposite the château is a racetrack with horse racing during the summer.
Dreaming of Buying Property in Limousin?
If you’re looking to buy a French property, set up a gîte, or move to France, our Essential Reading guides are designed to talk you through every step (and potential misstep!) of the process. Once you’re ready to get searching for your dream house, you can browse our property for sale or sign up for free to become a FrenchEntrée member and set up customisable property alerts. The market is moving quickly at the moment, so make sure you don’t miss out!
Lead photo credit : French house with garden in the Limousin
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