France’s Atlantic coastline offers something for everyone, from Brittany’s wild and rugged Finistère to the chic beach towns around La Rochelle, to surfing meccas around Biarritz. Liz Rowlinson asks the experts at Leggett Immobillier to pick five tempting places for you to consider…
Starting in the north, where Brittany juts far out into the Atlantic, the western coast of France offers a diverse choice of seaside towns. Whether the wild coastlines of Brittany and the Vendée, the sandy beaches of the Charente-Maritime, with chic resorts beloved of the Paris set, or the forest and dune-backed beaches of Aquitaine there’s just about everything. At the southern end things change again with the surfing spots of the Basque coast and a Spanish flavour to beach life.
Whether you’re after an apartment in chi-chi Biarritz, or a simple little granite cottage in Brittany, there are homes to suit all budgets.
Prices inevitably go up closer to the coastline, wherever you are, but if you’re prepared to drive 10 minutes inland, you will get more for your money. However, balance this with the convenience of walking to the beach or the seafront restaurants – if you want to rent out your property, these sort of homes will usually be in greater demand.
Enjoy a tour down the Atlantic coast, starting in northern Brittany…
St-Quay-Portrieux, Cotes d’Armor, Brittany
A pretty little town located north of St. Brieuc and south of the beautiful historic port of Paimpol. As the name suggests, St. Quay is all about the sea. It retains all the charm of a Breton fishing port, with a very modern deep-water 24-hour marina that is home to a scallop fleet but also from where cruises can be taken out into the Bay of St. Brieuc, a sheltered stretch of water popular for regattas. There are also lovely beaches, and north of the town, hidden coves around the highest cliffs in Brittany – the Pointe de Plouha. In the town there are tennis courts, shops, hotels, fish restaurants and créperies.
“This area appeals to people who like the best of what Brittany has to offer – the clean beaches, pretty coastline and harbour – and buyers (including Parisians) that have a slightly higher budget and are willing to pay to be near a particularly pretty bit of coast,” says Lisa Greene, head of Leggett’s Brittany network. She says the mainly French buyers tend to buy apartments in the town, rather than houses outside.
Camaret-sur-Mer, Finistere, Brittany
This charming fishing town is the most westerly on the Crozon peninsula. It’s a beautifully rugged coastal area of towering cliffs and rocks with coves and sandy beaches, gently sloping hills, and ancient megalithic sites. It’s a wild and remote piece of Brittany so you really need a car – and the nearest ferry is Roscoff 96km away. But it’s a favourite among French holiday makers as well as visitors from across Europe who come for the water sports – boating, sailing, fishing – but also those in love with the out- doors.
Artists and writers also love the light and colours, and the town has an artists’ quarter with over 20 galleries. In the town there’s a great fishing port, marina, many fish restaurants, crepéries and a sandy beach. So, what do people buy? “There are lots of types of properties for sale in this region from ruins to fancy modern villas, beautiful character properties and everything in between,” says local agent, Clara Bay.
St-Jean-de-Monts Vendée Pays de la Loire
This popular modern seaside resort in the northern Vendée is located at the corner of the ‘Côte de Lumière’ between Notre-Dame-de-Monts and St. Hilaire de Riez. It’s a fantastic stretch of coastline blessed with beautiful beaches and 2,300 hours of annual sun, so little different from the climate of southern France. Split in two by a long plantation of pine trees, stretching from north to south along the coast, the centre-ville lies to the east of the cordon, while the seafront forms a lively centre to the west. The recently restored seafront offers a network of footpaths and cycle tracks.
Whilst the pathways between the sea, sand dunes and forest are great to explore by foot, bicycle, rollerblade, horse or even by sand-yacht, there are traditional nautical activities and a superb golf course 300 metres from a 15km long sandy beach and 700-hectare forest with trails. The laid-back town with such a choice of activities attracts both retirees seeking a full-time base and families seeking a second home. “You will pay far less for a thatched-roof home in the marshes than you will for something close to the sea, or with more prestige,” says Anne-Sophie Gaultier, local agent.
La Rochelle Charente-Maritime Poitou-Charentes
Sitting in the hub of the sun-drenched Bay of Biscay, the historic old port of La Rochelle should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s known as the sunniest town of the south- west of France, and it’s true, thanks to the region’s microclimate.
This buzzy capital of Charente-Maritime is a university town and yachting centre. It is a great place for both relaxing or exploring this fantastic area.
“Choose between having a drink or a meal in the historical old port or the market square, wander the streets admiring the many architectural styles or join in one of the many local festivals,” suggests Elinor Murless, local agent.
For nature fans, a base around La Rochelle is ideal to explore the marshlands of the “green Venice of France” by flat-bottomed boat, the Vendée’s long sandy beaches, or, right on your doorstep, the chic summer playground of Ile de Ré with its traditional little villages. The beaches and many nature reserves are only 15 minutes away. This area attracts Parisians and French buyers from other parts of the north but also golfers – there are two good courses nearby, and also international second-home owners.
Flights to La Rochelle serve several UK regions whilst Poitiers and Bordeaux offer even more flight options. You can still get an apartment in the old harbour at a good but bigger town houses are not cheap. Buyers can get better value looking a little inland, or further down the coast – 20 minutes from La Rochelle, in Yves, and very close to the popular seaside resort of Chatelaillon-Plage, it’s possible to find properties that are cheaper than in La Rochelle.
Biarritz, Pays Basque, Pyrenees Atlantiques
The Basque surfing town of Biarritz oozes glamour, ever since Coco Chanel created her first fashion show there. Located near the Spanish border, Biarritz sits on one of the best stretches of surfing beaches in Europe – but there’s so much more too. The narrow streets of the former spa town are full of pretty shops and superb restaurants, then there’s the famous art-deco casino on the Grande Plage where grand palatial hotels remind us of its illustrious history – it was a favourite haunt of various European royals – but there are also fashionable nightclubs that draw top DJs. If putting is more your thing than partying, there are also ten golf courses within 50km.
But Biarritz is an excellent base for exploring the Pays Basque, from its beautiful beaches to the inland landscape of green and wooded hills and mountains, and with property prices relatively high in the town itself, many buyers may opt to be somewhere accessible, says local agent Mathilde de St. Martin. It’s a highly cosmopolitan resort that is very fashionable with the French but also famous globally. Expect to pay more if you go for a property on the coast; many British buyers prefer to go inland 20 minutes where they find that the prices plunge.