Franqui beach (Aude)

How often do we property finders hear the following requirement from house hunters: “One more thing, nice beaches should be no more than a 30mn drive away from the property” ? When searching for a house in Languedoc or Roussillon they are all talking the same. They want to dwell away from the tourist herds while being able to enjoy easy beach leisures from time to time.

Surely enough, Languedoc and Roussillon are God gifted areas with long sandy beaches, snowy mountains not too far, wonderful food, quite decent wines, night life and old cities with character. The issue we’ll discuss here is how to select a place in this area according to the “Beach factor”.

One thing to consider first is the beach itself. A lot of the sandy areas along the Mediterranean sea have been ruined by the uncontrolled building frenzy of the Seventies. Moreover, from the Camargue region to Béziers beaches are usually located on sand barriers running parallel to the coastline. They are uneasy to access through the few roads connecting them to mainland. The hinterland itself is densely built with cities like Montpellier, Sète, Agde, Béziers. As a result, the 30 mn time limit is very near to the shoreline and usually located in or around one of these towns. North of the A9 motorway (see map), dwellers cannot expect reaching the beaches in less than an hour. And during summer months they should expect at least 30 mn to drive out of the beach parking area, when lucky….

Valras-Plage_aug_2011

There are some pros anyway in choosing eastern Languedoc for road connections to Northern France and the UK are better there than westward. Montpellier is an enjoyable city in all seasons with a lot of cultural events and a night life fueled by the presence of thousands of students. On the coast itelf Agde and Sète are buyoing summer resorts, especially Agde with a population averaging 400,000 people in summer and just 4000 inhabitants in winter.

Therefore a reasonable choice in that area is to search for a town house. For those with not too tight a budget, Montpellier is the place to be while Sète and Agde are locations to be considered by those who like sea, people and sun. Most properties there are bungalows with no distinctive character, therefore the house itself should be among the secondary priorities of any would be buyer.

South-West of Beziers, the coastline turns southward and the scenery becomes quite different. It also offers better accesses to long sandy beaches.

Here, one of the best spots to be considered as calculation basis for the 30mn drive is the Plage des chalets (Chalets beach) in Gruissan-plage (see No 1 on the map). It is a built area with chalets on stilts only, making a nice background to the long beach, wide enough to allow privacy for bathers and dwellers alike.

beach map 2

More to the South, Port-La Nouvelle is not so nice a legacy from the Trente glorieuses (the 30 “glorious” years of the French boom, 1946-1975) when everyone wanted his place in the sun. The result is a kind of rather dull suburb at sea.

Further towards south, the Parc Naturel Régional de la Narbonnaise is a protected nature area with a very nice long beach that is accessible through the Plage de la Franqui (No 2), north of Port Leucate.

The inland between these two remarkable bathing spots is called the Corbières region. Most of it is accessible from the beaches within 30 mn. The Corbières are a preserved area with charming villages where the main activity is the production of nice wines sold at a reasonable prices.

Considering the beach factor, selecting a location in the Corbières is thus a very choice, especially as prices in that area remain at a low level compared to other parts of the French mediterranean region.

Further south and towards the Spanish border begins the Roussillon region, where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean Sea. The region offers some smaller but nice beaches. The plage des Torreilles (3) south of Saint Laurent de la Salanque), the Boromar beach (4) in Collioure and the Paulilles bay (5) south of Port Vendres are charming places that are worth the drive.

Inland area of this part of the coast is not so much sought after by house hunters, probably because of its hilly/mountainous inland where curvy narrow roads make circulating uneasy, distance to the UK and to the main regional airports (Toulouse, Montpellier, Barcelona). Moreover, neighbouring Catalunia (Spain) provide house hunters with a great choice of properties by the sea at relatively cheaper prices. Last but not least, the region has a relatively high level of criminality, especially house break-ins, as often in border areas.

This notwithstanding, with Spain at an hour drive or less the area is a paradise for those who like breathtaking areas with strong rural communities and easy access to first class ski resorts and beautiful beaches.

As a conclusion, the 30 mn drive to the beach line (red bold line on map) shows that north of the area, the A9 motorway cand be considered as the beach factor limit. In the south of the region the Corbières are the places to consider for those house hunters who are not wind averse (see Living with the winds). Nearer to the Pyrenees, the beach factor becomes a mountain factor. Depending on their level of attraction for sloppy terrain and fresh cool air, house hunters should not miss studying that option seriously.