Provence is France’s answer to the classy but bucolic appeal of Italy’s Tuscany, thanks to its attractive hilltop villages and beautiful older properties. Add in a generous sprinkling of lavender fields, chirping cicadas, olive trees and vineyards and it’s easy to see why this holiday home hotspot is the perfect place to experience l’art de vivre: the art of living, French style. The region of which it forms a part – Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur – attracted the highest number (23%) of foreign property transactions of any region in 2016.
The beauty of its landscape has inspired many an artist down the ages, including Van Gogh, Rénoir, Chagall, Cézanne and Picasso. More recently, the huge success of Peter Mayle’s book “A Year in Provence” encouraged many of us to jump on a plane and find our very own bijou cottage here. So where should you focus your property search in this idyllic corner of France?
Marseille’s reputation as the black sheep of the Provençal coastline has been well and truly cast aside in recent times. A year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013 and the high-level investment that goes with it has instilled a renewed sense of optimism and self-belief. Today life in and around France’s second largest city involves swanky new museums, the vibrant Vieux Port (old port) and stylish boutiques in the République quarter.
Paris hasn’t got the monopoly on French romance. Provence has channelled its inner left-bank Parisian chic to offer all the mystique of the capital, with a more laid-back lifestyle and appealing climate. Tree-line boulevards and spacious squares with their moss-covered fountains are flanked by 17th and 18th century mansions. Pavement cafés, chic boutiques, bustling markets and, of course, excellent restaurants are dotted throughout in true Provençal style. A large student population might prick the ears of those looking for a bargain, but its upmarket appeal keeps property prices higher than other Provençal towns.
This former capital of Christendom – Pope Clement V moved his court here to avoid the chaos in Rome in the 14th-century – sits on the leafy banks of the Rhône in the heart of Provence. Although its status as the home of Catholicism was fleeting, its legacy is still evident today. This includes UNESCO World Heritage protected architecture like the fortress/palace known as the Palais des Papes. 21st-century Avignon still retains a small-town medieval feel thanks to these well-preserved ramparts and its pedestrianised centre. The relatively recent London to Avignon Eurostar route means you can get to your pad in Provence in around six hours.
If rural living is more your thing, make time to visit Cotignac on your next viewing trip. Situated in the heart of Provence’s wine region, this village with its fountains, tree-lined avenues and backdrop of troglodyte dwellings perfectly demonstrates the region’s ability to relax the senses. The period homes here are particularly well-preserved and decorated in typical Provençal style. What better place than this to sip rosé under the stars, walk alongside fields of lavender and cast your eye over magnificent views of terraced hills?
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