Aquitaine in France is the country's largest region, stretching from Poitou-Charentes down to the Spanish border. It encompasses some of France's greatest treasures.
They include the vineyards of Bordeaux, the dramatic scenery of the Dordogne, and the coastal resort of Biarritz. It comprises five departments: Dordogne (24); Gironde (33); Landes (40); Lot-et-Garonne (47) and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64).
Geographically, the region varies between the fairly flat coastal strip, characterised by sandy beaches backed by pine forests; rolling vineyard covered hills between Bordeaux and Bergerac; the densely forested Perigord, punctuated by rivers, ravines and prehistoric caves; and a mountainous section in the Pyrenees which even includes a few ski resorts. Like the Mediterranean coast, it is sunny for much of the year, but a little cooler with average temperatures ranging from around 10°C in January to 25°C in August.
Aquitaine's economy is primarily agricultural. It produces wines and foods to set gastronomic juices flowing: truffles, foie gras, confit de canard, oysters, the world's most famous wines and Cognac, to name a few.
For the British, this region has a particular resonance: for 300 years, between 1154 and 1453, Aquitaine belonged to England, reverting to France at the end of the Hundred Years War. Nowadays, the area that has been the chief drawer for British property buyers is around the Dordogne river, where the estimated 10,000-20,000 strong colony of permanent residents has spawned cricket teams, branches of the WI, and expats sitting on local councils. Outside the Dordogne, Aquitaine offers a much more authentic slice of France, where incomers should expect to make more strenuous efforts to integrate with locals, and their culture.
Price-wise, Aquitaine ranks 10th out of 22 regions in France in terms of the average property prices compiled by the national estate agents' association FNAIM. And while prices across the region are generally lower than in Provence, chateaux and manor houses in the best parts of Bordeaux command dizzying sums, while a converted farmhouse with a gite complex in the best parts of the Dordogne is considerably more expensive than in many other regions of France. So the best value is to be found in the lesser known areas of this region: including Landes, Pyrenees-Atlantiques and parts of Lot-et-Garonne.
Some widely quoted research by Montesquieu University in Bordeaux in 2007 found that British ex-pats in Dordogne were largely retired or early retired had been largely drawn to the area through a nostalgic desire to return to an idealised vision of how Britain used to be. Aquitaine and Poitou-Charentes were the two most popular regions for Britons to move to, the study found.
One reason is accessibility: as well as the increasing number of cheap flights to towns such as Bordeaux, Bergerac, and even little-known Pau, you can drive from the Channel port of St Malo to Bordeaux in just five hours, courtesy of the A83 motorway. That's the quickest route to anywhere that has a Mediterranean-style climate.
The author, Alexander Garrett, is a freelance property writer who contributes regularly to The Observer and British Airways' Business Life.
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