Var: French Department Guide

Var: French Department Guide

The Var, on the French Riviera, offers the best of southern glamour, from the Alps all the way to the Med, as Annaliza Davis explains.

It’s easy to see why the Var is a househunting hotspot: packed with the irresistible glamour of the French Riviera and offering a choice of terrain from the Alps to the Mediterranean coast, it’s a location that’s hard to beat!

Encompassing much of the iconic Côte d’Azur, the Var nestles between Marseille to the west and Cannes to the east, the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Its nature reserves, heritage sites and rural retreats, all too often overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of resorts such as St-Tropez, add to the quality of life. Prices can be high, but the rewards can be even greater, not least the 2,807 glorious hours of annual sunshine – that’s 35% higher than the national average.

Clearly a tourism hotspot, the Var is also home to several universities, with high employment in education and public administration, as well as industry, agriculture and the cultivation of plants and cut flowers. There’s more to this area than turquoise seas and suncream!

On average, a property in France fetches €2,420/m2but this is no average part of France: in Var, you’ll pay around €3,860/m2 whether it’s a flat or a house. However, the disparity between neighbourhoods is vast, from €1,364/m2 in Esparron up to a jaw-dropping €16,793/m2in St-Tropez!

If you were to look at a heat-map of prices in the Var, those glowing red would be along the Mediterranean coast, especially around St-Tropez, Ste-Maxime and Fréjus, with additional hotspots west of Hyères and west of Toulon. Generally, the zones just behind the coast are slightly less pricey, then as you move inland the price cools even further, but proximity to major employment areas, key transport links or sites of particular tourist interest can affect prices even to the north of the Var. For househunters who have decided to live in the Var, there is still a great deal of scope for finding good value, particularly as some districts can literally cost you 10 times more per square metre than their near neighbours. Take time to reflect on your buying criteria and budget before you choose your preferred spot.

Toulon is the biggest city in the Var, home to 179,000 residents, a large naval base, and various university sites. Toulon boasts a fairly even spread across all age ranges, and only 11% are retired, although many of these retirees live alone. There’s a distinct preference for marriage (37%) rather than cohabiting (14%) here, but 30% of adults are single, making Toulon an excellent place to invest in smaller flats.

Expect to pay upwards of €50,000 for a tiny 19m2 studio or €120,000 if you’re looking for 60m2 with a separate bedroom, but these would yield around €320 or €570 rental income per month respectively.

As for an historic town, you can’t beat Fréjus and its 2,000-year history, complete with a Roman amphitheatre and stunning, Renaissance-inspired architecture such as La Villa Aurélienne. Fréjus has around 54,000 residents, of whom 55% are aged 45 and over and 35% are retired, so much of its dynamism comes from the additional 100,000 tourists that boost the population at any given time in summer. For a 55m2 apartment or house, expect to pay around €200,000 in Fréjus, knowing that very few rentals are under €650 a month.

As for coastal living, it depends on your budget! The more affordable resorts of Hyères (€3,883/m2) or La Seyne-sur-Mer (€3,192/m2) still cost double the national average, but it’s possible to buy a one-bed, 32m2 flat here for under €80,000. At the other end of the scale, Ramatuelle and St-Tropez can fetch up to €17,000/m2, so an equivalent 30m2 one-bed flat here starts from €350,000… and there are hardly ever any available to rent.

Despite the sky-high seaside prices, you can still find renovation projects in the Var, such as a 90m2 village home in La Verdière for €45,000 or a 52m2 stone-built townhouse in Ampus for €50,000. Start your search in the rural area around Aups or Salernes, where you’ll also find several countryside properties with land for as little as €100,000.

If you’re considering a self-build there are plots available, but check the description: terrain de loisirs usually means you cannot erect any permanent structures as these are for leisure purposes only; terrain is unclear; terrain constructible is classified as a building plot and if it is also viablisé, this means that water and electric are connected or nearby. The best value building plots are inland, where €20,000 can buy around 1,500m2 of building land.

One final word of caution to anyone not familiar with the French housing market: watch out for the word viager, as these properties come with a sitting tenant. It explains their much lower price, and in the Var you’ll find plenty of apartments with a sitting tenant, so check that you’re not getting more than you bargained for!

It’s little surprise that, as a tourist destination, the Var is second only to Paris; tourism accounts for around 8% of its annual economy, employing around 28,000 people. Other sectors – including construction, the sciences and technology – are strong within the local economy, as are teaching and administration.

Only 7% of the population is retired, but a total of 27% are ‘inactive’, of which 10% are registered as unemployed. Since 2017, however, there has been a steady and impressive rise in the creation of new businesses, from 12,000 per year to over 20,000 of which 75% are sole traders, demonstrating an economic dynamism in this area.

Porquerolles island, Shutterstock

Ask the locals and they’ll tell you the Var is famous for its chestnuts and figs, but the region also produces up to 30% of France’s olive oil thanks to its Mediterranean climate – the fresh olive tapenade is a wonderful treat in the sunshine! Long-time resident Paul Griffiths also recommends visiting the region’s smallholders, where you’ll find excellent breads, seasonal fruit and cheese, often sold through stalls attached to their homes.

Visitors, however, are more likely to reminisce about rosé wine from nearby vineyards, truffles, or indeed the local honey – a key ingredient in the delectable nougat that is sure to tempt you in the bustling markets and shop windows.

It’s best to choose your airport depending on where you’re heading to in the Var. There are three main airports – Toulon-Hyères, Nice, or Marseille Provence, and the latter two also offer convenient shuttles to nearby towns. By train, the TGV connects Paris to Toulon (4hr20) as well as St-Raphaël and Les Arcs-sur-Argens, with 20 further local train stations in other areas, and the Varlib bus network is impressive, offering 80 lines throughout the area for just €3.

If you’re driving, road connections are excellent although they include tolls and traffic. In theory, you could drive the 131km from St-Cyr-sur-Mer in the west all along the coast road to Fréjus in the east in around two hours 20 minutes, but in summer it could take you two hours to travel 30km, so be sure to plan for heavy traffic during holiday season.

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Annaliza works for herself as Agent British, writing, translating and doing voiceovers, specialising in tourism and marketing. Most of her projects are magazine articles and websites, and she also does professional training and workshops.

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  •  Jeanette
    2023-02-07 06:14:48
    I'm curious why you included a photo of Abbaye de Senaque, located in Provence near Gordes, in an article on real estate in the Var? Photo did not have a caption.