Bargains in Brittany

Bargains in Brittany

Brittany boasts the longest and arguably the most stunning coastline in France, and includes some of the country’s most spectacular inland scenery as well. Oddly enough, another of the region’s advantages is its surprisingly reasonable real estate.

The region of Bretagne occupies the far western extremity of the French hexagon, where the wild and furious Atlantic Ocean and the calmer English Channel have shaped its rocky shores, resulting in a coastline quite unlike any other.

Comprised of four départements—Côtes d’Armor, Morbihan, Finistère and Ille-et-Vilaine—the region offers more than 1,056 miles of variegated coastline from the dramatic Côte de Granit Rose in the north to the rugged beaches of the west coast and the secluded Golfe du Morbihan in the south.

The inland vistas are just as seductive, as rolling hills give way to abundant forests and quaint Breton villages in a countryside known in the Celtic language as Argoat, the land of woods—as opposed to the coastal areas of Armor, land of the sea. Add to this wonderful mix the innate friendliness of the Bretons, and a mellow climate with mild winters and it’s hard to resist.

But it gets better still. Property prices offer great value for money, ranging from around €100,000 for une belle maison in central Brittany to some €200,000 for a very comfortable family home with land.

“For these prices you’d have to go about three kilometers (nearly two miles) inland from the coast, but here €100,000 would buy you a belle maison, which historically the English have loved to buy as a second home,” explained Guy Marqué of the AIPG real estate agency in Gouarec, in central Finistère. He added that prices were fairly standard throughout all four departments of the region, with the cost increasing gradually as you near the coast.

According to Patrick Siberil of Alioth Properties, “You can easily find a traditional Breton house with two bedrooms for less than €100,000, but on the Côte d’Armor for example, a house on the beach would cost up to 40 percent more. But even if they are more expensive, those are the kind of houses French buyers are after.”

A one-bedroom apartment overlooking the popular Trestaou beach, in the town of Perros Guirec on the Côte de Granit Rose, is currently on the market for $256,000.

By far the least expensive option for potential homeowners, says Guy Marqué, is to buy land and build their own. And some communities in central Brittany are so eager to attract new buyers—especially young couples—that they are selling off constructible land at less than $7 per square meter (nearly 11 square feet).

“These are exceptional prices, but I have seen land near here in Gouarec where communes are selling building plots for €3 per square meter That’s to attract the young. Normally you can expect to pay between €30-40 per square meter, which is still pretty reasonable.”

So if property guidelines are the same the length and breadth of the region, all house hunters need do is study the makeup of the departments to see which best fits their requirements. That’s exactly what Emma Paulo and her family did when they decided to move from London to Brittany two years ago. “We didn’t really know the area very well at all. We came here for a couple of long weekends to look around, and fell in love with the Morbihan. It’s so peaceful and the countryside is stunning, but we are only half an hour’s drive from Carnac Grand Plage, which is one of France’s Top 10 beaches,” says Paulo, who runs a gîte business, renting rural cottages and farmhouses, in Kertaud, near Plumelin.

“The move has been a great success for me, and for my husband and our two girls. The local people are very, very friendly. They have made us feel incredibly welcome, and the girls were treated as celebrities when they first started school. That’s still the case to a certain degree.

“The area also has great transport links with nearby airports and ferry ports, and you can buy a lot more for your money here property-wise than you can in the UK.”

Morbihan, which means little sea in Breton, is the only department in Brittany to have a southern coast that is lined with hundreds of picturesque creeks, harbors and ports with access to dozens of small outlying islands. The capital of Morbihan is Vannes, a beautiful walled city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

To the north of Morbihan is the Côtes d’Armor, which includes a large part of Brittany’s northern coastline. Among the most popular seaside resorts are Dinan and Tréguier, which are both seeped in colorful Celtic history. Just to the west of Dinan is the Côte d’Emeraud, the Emerald Coast, a spectacular area that has inspired many artists, not least Picasso, who sketched a famous picture of a woman playing with a ball after a walk along the coast.

The famous Côte de Granit Rose, the Pink Granite Coast with its huge rose-tinted boulders, and the Ile de Bréhat, a completely car-free island, are also part of the Cotes d’Armor.

Property has historically been the most inexpensive in Finistère, or Land’s End, on Brittany’s western tip, where parts of the region are fairly wild and remote. It is also where the Breton culture—and language—are the most fervently guarded, with residents retaining many of their old Celtic traditions. One such stronghold of Breton culture can be found in Quimper, near the southern coast of Finistère, whose roots reach back to the Roman era. It was once the capital of the old kingdom of Cornouaille, and today its historic center is still filled with half-timbered medieval houses surrounding its huge Gothic cathedral. Quimper is famous for its crêpes, its cider and its traditional hand-painted faïence.

The fourth department, Ille-et-Vilaine, has less coastline than its neighbors, and some believe its largely land-locked position has resulted in it seeming less Celtic than the rest of Brittany. With endless rolling hills, thick forests and numerous lakes, it has a rural quality unlike its neighbors, with a number of fortress towns like the handsome Fougères dotting the undulating countryside. But it also boasts two of Brittany’s major cities: Rennes, a large university town and the capital of the region; and, on the northern coast, the impressive port of Saint-Malo, with its medieval walls still intact.

According to Guy Marqué, never has there been a better time for foreigners with ready money to snap up bargains in Brittany. Traditionally it’s been a popular choice for British buyers looking for a second home with excellent transport links and clement weather, but the weak pound sterling has forced many families to sell, and that is bringing prices down for quick sales.

“This means that there are bargains to be had,” he says. “The market is difficult over €300,000, but under that there are bargains around. Suddenly there are lots of houses for sale and demand is low, so lesser offers are being taken seriously.”

Originally published in the July/August 2009 issue of France Today

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