Well, it can happen to anyone – from Van Gogh, Cézanne and Camus to celebrities and royals. Who can’t fail to lose their heart to the sensual lure of Provence, with its perfumed vistas, luscious light and gentle pace of life? If you dream of a home in the idyllic Provençal countryside, here are two focal points to consider, both near a national park and each with its own distinct personality…
Peter Mayle wrote about the Luberon in his bestselling memoir, A Year in Provence, which combined entertaining insights about France and its people with an account of the challenges he faced renovating an 18th-century farmhouse.
There are two main swaths, the Petit Luberon, with its gently rounded hills, situated around the ‘golden triangle’ of Gordes-Ménerbes-Bonnieux, which runs up to the red and ochre mountains of the Grand Luberon to the east. This landscape, with its sometimes precariously-perched villages, vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields, is bathed in Provençal light and possesses an almost mystical charm.
Isabelle Gerault, a property professional who knows the area really well, says, “The Luberon is a place of tranquillity, escape from the ordinary, and even of exile. For a long time, this treasure was hidden from the bustle of the Côte d’Azur, until it was discovered by people searching for calm and privacy. The old mas farmhouses, with their thick stone walls and shady terraces, the incomparable flavour of local produce, the song of the cicadas, the village life on a human scale – all this takes hold of your heart. It is a place where a person can become reacquainted with their soul.”
Isabelle advises that, before embarking on a property search in the Luberon, you shouldn’t obsess about being within ‘walking distance’ of everything. The reality of everyday life in the area will mean that even if locals walk to the boulangerie for their daily baguette, people use the car to shop, visit a restaurant and to explore the many nearby sites, markets and beautiful villages. You would be narrowing your options unnecessarily and missing out on some of the best opportunities should you make ‘within walking distance’ the basis of your search.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the showcase villages, such as Gordes, are beautiful to visit but have fallen victim to their touristic appeal, at the expense of the authentic heartbeat of everyday community life, which can be particularly lacking ‘out of season’.
In terms of landscape and charm, the Alpilles, named after a low mountain range and just across from the ‘Sunshine Highway’, namely the A7 Autoroute to Marseille, is right out of a Van Gogh canvas. Alpilles has its own ‘golden triangle’, between Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Maussance-les-Alpilles and Eygalières. The hilltop Baux-de-Provence is one of the most beautiful villages in France and within easy reach of Avignon, Arles and Nimes, not to mention Marseille Provence Airport and the new TGV / Eurostar high-speed rail line.
Nicola Christinger, an experienced local property professional, shared with us her passion for the Alpilles: “I’ve worked all over Provence, all the way to the coast, and the Alpilles is one of the areas that holds its value the most, in terms of property. The thing that’s different about the Alpilles is that it’s lively year-round. Other areas of Provence attract holiday-home owners. However, for people looking for a longer letting season or a permanent home, the Alpilles has more to offer between seasons, and that’s one of the reasons why it holds its value.
“It used to be the case that the Alpilles was reserved for the very, very wealthy, but following the recent – much needed – lowering of prices, and combined with the great borrowing and exchange rates, there’s been a shift in the market and people can afford more for their budget.
“We’re experiencing an increase in interest from Swiss, Americans and English buyers. It’s great to see how they arrive knowing very little about the area and start off looking in one spot, then gradually enlarge their scope and make their own discoveries. They’re amazed at the quality of the properties and the Alpilles’ villages, which are just so achingly beautiful. It’s hard not to fall in love with the Alpilles… and we haven’t even mentioned the fantastic weather yet!”
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From France Today magazine