If you’re torn between choosing a home in France that’s somewhere by the beach or up in the mountains – with the Pyrénées-Orientales you can have both. This sunny department is in southern France, adjacent to the northern Spanish frontier (Catalonia) and the Mediterranean. It’s slowly starting to be discovered by British buyers, although the French have long appreciated its diverse appeal.
The Pyrénées-Orientales area is easy to reach and offers a tempting blend of French/Spanish border cultures. There are beautiful beaches, ski resorts and hilltop villages. Donna Tulloch from Wales now lives in the Pyrénées-Orientales department where she works as an agent for Leggett Estate Agents. She tells us what it’s like to live there and shares her expertise on property in the area (property guide below).
Living in Pyrénées-Orientales
We’re based in a small village near Vinça and we’ve renovated and sold several houses since we arrived here, but our current house is a large stone village house. The house needed complete renovation, but this didn’t faze us, despite having to live in it with 3 young children during the renovation. We even found a bomb in the attic from WWII, which caused a lot of discussion from our neighbours!
We love it here because we have spectacular views, are situated between the Mediterranean for the beach, the mountains with winter ski slopes and access to both is simple and easy. The Spanish border is not far, and a day trip is easy
Although the Pyrenees-Orientales is situated in the larger Occitanie region the people consider that they are Catalan and have their own very distinct culture and traditions. Some of these include the Correfocs, which is a group of people dressed like devils who parade through the streets with fireworks, inviting people to come and dance with them.
We also have the Castellars who make human towers with the youngest children who climb to the top of the tower. When we have visitors the UNESCO village of Villefranche de conflent is a must along with the large Tuesday market in Prades, Eus reputedly the sunniest village in France and of course Collioure. Wintertime a drive up to Les angles for some skiing
Ski and bask on the beach on the same day in France
There aren’t many places in the world where you can ski in the morning and enjoy a glass of wine in the sunshine on the Mediterranean coast in the afternoon. But the Pyrénées-Orientales can offer you this and so much more. In spring the peach,, cherry and almond fields are in blossom against the blue sky and with the mountain backdrop that still has snow on the peaks. Summer is hot, particularly down on the coast but it is a dry heat that is pleasant, and you can always escape to the mountains if you are looking for lower temperatures. Autumn is generally still very warm and it’s an enjoyable time to go to the beach, once the summer crowds have left. Winter has clear sunny days, with blue skies and are perfect for getting out and enjoying the stunning scenery with snowcapped mountains
For dedicated skiers there are eight ski stations that are generally more affordable and less crowded than the French Alps. The two largest are Font-Romeu and Les Angles where it is possible to buy a 1 bedroom apartment at a great price. Here you can mix skiing with biking or other activities and take advantage of the dual seasonality of the region, which is great for those looking to maximise rental income.
Easy access and lots to do
Access to this area is easy, with flights to Perpignan, Béziers, Carcassonne and Girona airport all within a 2-hour drive. There is also a TGV service to Perpignan train station. And, the A9 motorway links to the Spanish border.
The area offers such a contrast in scenery within a short distance. From the huge expanse of sandy beaches that transform into rocky coves and the plains that are full of cherry, peach and apricot trees, right up to the mountains with their spectacular scenery. Mount Canigou is the highlight of this area. Not the highest mountain at 2,784m but the most visible from as far as Barcelona and Marseille.
Even with the beaches you can choose between sandy bays such as at Toreilles, Canet-Plage and Spanish border. And there are chic little towns like Collioure. Port Vendres and Argelès near Perpignan. The rocky coves are great for snorkelling and diving around Cerbère near the Spanish border.
Expert Property guide toPyrénées-Orientales
Expat buyers are generally keen on areas along the coastline, like Prades and Vinça. They are popular for their accessibility to Perpignan and for good transport links but the town of Ceret and its surrounds is also very popular. Most property seekers are looking for a village with a café close by and easy access to larger towns.
Villages tend to be built with the houses in close proximity of each other and the houses rarely have an attached garden but often with an allotment nearby. Many people seek traditional stone village house and stone farmhouses, the latter are becoming more difficult to find and so carry a premium. Villas are a very popular choice for buyers as well, particularly closer to the coast. There are many of the older villas that offer excellent value as they need some refreshing, but no major renovation works.
Many retired people, both French and foreign, choose to live in this area due to its dry climate but it’s also popular for second homeowners as properties can easily be rented out over the whole year. With year-round activities, many cyclists and walkers prefer it when the temperatures drop a little.
Transport to the UK in this area is excellent. There is an airport in Perpignan with regular flights to the UK and the train station with TGV links to Paris and Barcelona. There are also several other airports within 1h30mins drive, including Carcassonne and Girona over the border in Spain, both of which offer several flights to different areas in the UK.
Where to buy in Pyrénées-Orientales
For buyers who would love to be close to the beach, the busy little market town of Prades is a popular choice, with its Pablo Casals chamber music festival every August. From here you have access to spa towns, ski resorts and Andorra. Or there’s Vinça, with its own swimming lake just off the main road between the coast and Andorra. Prices get cheaper as you go further up into the mountains. You can find a house with a garden and a swimming pool at a price that is great value. Perfect for those who want to rent out when not using it.
Other highlights include the beaux villages of Eus, Ville-franche-de-Conflent and Vernet-les-Bains, where Rudyard Kipling took the waters over a century ago. The evident elements of Catalan culture are also appealing, from the ‘firework runs’ or correfocs to the human tower-building of the castellers.
My advice to anyone looking to find a home in this department is do your homework and take the time to discover the area. The countryside changes quite drastically within very short distances, from flat coastline and 3 distinctive valleys, the Agly valley where they there is a large wine growing area and many large wine cooperatives such as Dom Brial and lots of smaller independent wine producers.
This tempting blend of French/Spanish border cultures makes for a life rich in culture and things to do…
See Donna’s portfolio of properties in Pyrenees-Orientales
See Leggett Immobilier’s selection of properties for sale in Pyrenees-Orientales