A French home and hole in one - Buying French Golf Property
Here's a question: what's the difference between a ‘horizontal' and a ‘vertical' wine tasting? Don't laugh – it isn't what you think. Under the watchful eye of Golf du Médoc patron, Henry Martinet, I discovered that the first is a comparison of different châteaux, in my case Margaux, all from the same year, while the second is an evaluation of one particular châteaux's best offerings from several consecutive years.
If you're the sort of golfer who likes the sound of any wine tasting after a day's golf, then there's a fair chance you like playing in France as much as in Spain and Portugal.
With well over 400 courses, and a growing number of enthusiastic club members, golf in France is on a roll. While the number of players in the UK has declined over the past 10 years, in France it has actually increased from277,000 to 410,000. There is even talk of the 2018 Ryder Cup possibly going to Le Golf National near Paris. Many of us love playing over there, although few are as obsessed as Francophile P.G.Wodehouse, who was famously arrested by the advancing Germans on the Le Touquet links, seemingly oblivious to the fall of Dunkirk.
In addition to the 36 holes of spectacular golf, Golf du Medoc boasts a luxurious hotel & spa, making this the ideal base to explore the delights of Bordeaux.
Primelocation.com estimate half a million Brits have homes in France, and the idea of a holiday or even retirement home, like Bertie Wooster's creator's, next to a French course certainly appeals. The courses in Normandy and Brittany are well placed for long weekends, but with the weather not much better than in Kent or Sussex, those looking for more permanent bases usually head further south. Three favourite destinations are the Dordogne in the central southwest, the Cote d'Azure on the Mediterranean coast, and the Pays de la Loire around Orleans.
House values in the three areas differ substantially. According to Immoprix, the average home price in the Dordogne last year was €134,1000; in the Var around St Tropez, €392,800; and on the banks of the Loire, €167,200.
DORDOGNE AND AQUITAINE
For many buyers, the great appeal of France over Spain and Portugal is the food and wine, so where better to start than the region famous for Bordeaux, Perigord truffles and foie gras.
Hampshire-based IT executive Brett Smith and his wife Angie first stayed at Château des Vigiers near Bergerac on a birthday break. They liked the set-up so much, they exchanged their gîte in Brittany for a small cottage on a courtyard between the main hotel and the 27 very tasty Donald Steel-designed holes.
“I'm a keen golfer, and there's always a group of British lads here to play with, plus the other courses nearby,” says Brett. Flybe whisks them from Southampton to Bergerac, four hours door to door.
Vigiers, near Bergerac,
Thirty-odd properties have been built around the stunning 16th-century château. A two-bedroom cottage is currently for sale at £265,000, and a timber-built lakeside house for £495,000. “We visit about six times a year,” says Brett, “and, in between trips, the hotel rents it out for us.” The clubhouse has a swimming pool and a good restaurant, with even finer dining in the hotel, plus a vineyard, all within range of a good five-iron.
“Prices in the Dordogne have fallen during the recession,” says Joanna Leverett of Savills. “So the perception is that now is a good time to buy.”
Over towards the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux is at the heart of a region selling itself as the quintessential ‘Golf and Wine' destination.With 12 clubs in and amongst villages like St Emillon, Pauillac and Margaux, it's difficult to argue. In fact, the course at Margaux falls well short of the local grands crus, but Golf du Médoc is stunning.
The 6,917-yard Châteaux course, which hosted the 1999 French Open, won by Retief Goosen, has a linksy feel, while the Vignes 18-holer is aimed more at mid and high handicappers. Both are serviced by the luxurious and very golf-friendly 79-roomhotel and spa, which is an excellent base from which to explore the locale – and enjoy a horizontal tasting or three.
None of these Bordeaux courses have property attached to them, but you can pick up a local three-bedroom village house for £150,000, while something bigger, older and with a pool need cost no more than £200,000 through a specialist local agent like Sextantproperties.com.
CÔTE D'AZUR AND PROVENCE
For those who like playing on the beach as well as in the bunkers, a property on one of the Côte d'Azur's 18 courses is a hole-in-one. According to Joanna Leverett: ‘The French Riviera has been firmly established for decades as one of the most prestigious places for second-home property worldwide. There's no oversupply, so prices have remained strong.'
Unlike the Portuguese and the Spanish, the French have built very few integrated golf, hotel and housing resorts, but there are a couple of good ones overlooking or within a short drive of the Mediterranean.
The pink pastel shades of hillside villas at Gassin, above St Tropez.
Just above St Tropez, Golf de Gassin is très chic – rather like the locals. Not that long at just 6,611 yards, there's practically no rough because the 18 immaculately conditioned holes wind through a protected nature reserve.
Impeccably designed small townhouses with views over vineyards and the bay of St Tropez start at €693,000. Three tennis courts, a 38-suite hotel and excellent clubhouse restaurant make this an ideal destination for heavy hitters.
Thirty-five minutes from Marseilles, the Seve designed Pont Royal course is part of a golf and country club near Mallemort that has been maturing over the past 20 years.With a David Leadbetter Academy, the 6,835-yard course is just one of 16 in the region made famous by Peter Mayle's bestselling A Year in Provence.
Four developers have created separate ‘villages' in and around the course, but with construction substantially complete, now is a good time to take a look. Sextant Properties are offering apartments from €160,000 and town houses from €260,000. A detached villa with a pool costs from €495,000, with potential rental returns in the region of £1,500 a week in high season.
PAYS DE LA LOIRE
For British buyers who think they know the French property market, this may be a new département to consider. The Loire Valley, starting at Orleans just 90miles south of Paris, represents history, fine wine and, of course, dreamy riverside Châteaux. Mick Jagger likes it so much, he has his own, La Fourchette, near Tours. The new part of the equation for les rosbifs is golf.
Golf de Sologne is a 450-acre forested estate with four lakes, a delightful 19th-century château and an 18-hole course at its heart. Acquired by French developers five years ago, a hotel with 99 apartments, spa, 91 terraced cottages, and 168 villas are to be built in traditional half-timbered style.
One- and two-bedroomed cottages start at £140,000 at Golf de Sologne, occupying a 450-acre estate in the Loire Valley.
One- and two-bedroom cottages start at £140,000, with the larger detached villas going for £235,000 upwards. They can all be bought through the French ‘sale and leaseback' scheme, which avoids the 19.6% VAT that would otherwise be payable on top of these prices. In exchange, you get so many weeks usage a year plus a guaranteed ‘leaseback' income, so it's ideal if you can only afford to spend a month a year down there. For outright ownership, you just pay the extra VAT.
“It particularly appeals to families,” says Robert Green of Cluttons Resorts, the selling agents. “The weather is mild and there's plenty to do – an equestrian centre, swimming pool, eight golf courses within 30miles, cycling and fishing, plus Michelin-starred restaurants and the Loire châteaux, all within an hour by train from Paris.” One of those nearby clubs is Les Bordes with its peerless Robert von Hagge course, the Château d'Yquemof French golf. Club membership, costing a cool €1million, entitles you to buy a lodge for €1.35million and up. It is, as they say, a very big ask, but the region has identified golf as a way of attracting new interest, and who are we to argue.
Heavy hitters are encouraged to check out the Robert von Hagge course at Les Bordes, a design regularly voted as one of the finest courses in Europe.
So, Portugal and Spain have more courses, so
more choice, but for a certain kind of British
buyer, France still has that je ne sais quoi, which
is, at the right price, quite irresistible.