Historic links and proximity make Normandy a popular place for the British to buy a holiday home, although the region is often bypassed by those heading to the sun-drenched south. Yet Normandy has attractions of its own, including charming coastal towns close to the beaches of the D-Day landings, the Bayeux Tapestry and the Unesco world heritage site of Mont Saint-Michel.
There’s also great diversity, from the dramatic white chalk cliffs of Étretat to ancient fishing villages such as Honfleur, to chic seaside towns such as Deauville. There’s also its interior of rolling hills, Norman churches and half-timbered houses. “With most of Normandy within an hour of one of the three major ferry ports — Caen, Le Havre and Cherbourg — it’s extremely convenient for British buyers, while Parisians love it for its proximity to the French capital,” says Lisa Greene, the regional co-ordinator for the Grand Ouest (northwest) region of France for the Leggett estate agency.
Property prices vary greatly between the five departments, spanning Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie), the westerly half of the region, and Upper Normandy (Haute-Normandie), but are fairly static. Calvados (the central coast, including Deauville) has the highest average at €160,000 (£126,000), then Seine-Maritime (eastern coast) at €153,000, Eure (closer to Paris) at €148,000, with Manche and Orne at €125,000, according to figures from Notaires de France.
So where and what do most people buy? Greene says that for British buyers seeking “rural Normandy”, Coutances, Hambye and Villedieu-les-Poêles, in the western Manche, have been popular (all from 15 to 40 minutes inland). Tudor-looking half-timbered houses, known as colombages, are always in demand, as well as longères (rectangular single-storey granite houses) and chaumières (thatched cottages).
The area around the medieval town of Bayeux and the landing beaches is popular. “Most buyers want to be near a place they have heard of, and have €100,000 to spend on a two to three-bedroom cottage within walking distance of a bakery,” says Stephen Buss, the Leggett agent for this area. “For this budget they will need to be at least 20 minutes from the coast, but being close to the major attractions is important for rentals.”
Equestrian buyers with €300,000 to €400,000 look to the national stud of Le Pin where there are many properties with stabling, and plenty of vets and blacksmiths. “It is cheaper to keep horses here than in the UK, and female buyers with two or three horses are a popular profile. The ‘golden triangle’ for equestrian homes is around Saint-Lô.”
Stud farms are also sought by international buyers, according to Ivan Ballini, an associate at Chestertons International. “We have buyers from Belgium, Italy and America, but we have a good number of the UK horse-breeding set who will spend €800,000 to €2 million on a stud farm with good access to motorways,” he says. “Last year we sold a Normandy manor for €1.2 million that is 30 minutes from Deauville and handy for Caen [the regional capital of Lower Normandy, with a castle built by William the Conqueror].”
The mainstay of his clients are Parisians working in finance, law or showbusiness seeking a second home for €200,000 to €400,000. “Parisians will want to be near the sea, but they love Pont l’Évêque [an attractive town of half-timbered houses famed for its soft cheese], easily accessed from Paris by the A13 autoroute. The English like Lisieux, half an hour inland.”
In Bernay, a charming historic town 45 minutes inland from Deauville, you can buy a nine-bedroom traditional manor house with a pool and five acres for €945,000 through Chestertons, while Leggett has a three-bedroom colombage close to the town for €129,600. In Beuvron-en-Auge on the “cider route” of the Calvados region, there is a manor house with a cider press and stabling for €901,000. French buyers love Deauville, a fashionable beach resort often called the 21st arrondissement of Paris for its well-heeled second-home owners. It has been synonymous with the summer horse-racing season since the 1880s and offers casinos, fashion boutiques and restaurants.
For British visitors it’s easily accessed by ferry to Caen or Le Havre, or Ryanair and CityJet into Deauville-Normandie airport. You can buy a studio apartment from €70,000 — Chestertons has a 23 sq m flat, 300m from the beach, for €85,000 or a two-bedroom flat for about €250,000. Sextant French Properties, an estate agency, is also selling one, two and three-bedroom new-build apartments by the marina, with prices from €445,000, or a lovely half-timbered three-bedroom Norman villa for €728,000.
“British owners love to visit the town but will prefer to buy inland, where prices are more reasonable,” says Matthieu Cany, the managing director of Sextant. “The average budget is €150,000 in the Calvados region. Honfleur, east along the coast, is a magnet for international buyers,” Greene says. “You can buy a townhouse in the centre from €180,000, although Barfleur, a quaint fisherman’s village [on the Cherbourg peninsula] is more affordable with the average price at €84,000.”
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