One-time UK residents Paula Moore and her partner Anton Wouters decided to leave the bright lights of London for the tranquility of the Languedoc; they now live in a converted stable near the foothills of the Pyrenees, where they offer accommodation, activity and sports training holidays (www.lepath.com). They swapped London's urban bustle for views of snow-capped mountains, and have not regretted their decision. As Paula says, "the département of the Pyrénées Orientales is stunningly beautiful. It's known for having the best walking in Europe, and its rocky terrain, sunshine and pure mountain air make it ideal for athletes and cyclists. It's a booming area with lots of traditional, stone-built, well-priced property which can represent a sound investment, and very good value for money. Being down near the Mediterranean means it's pretty sunny - according to official statistics, the nearby village of Eus is the sunniest spot in the whole of France - but we also have microclimate areas where the weather can change very quickly, and in winter the Pyreneen ski resorts usually have heavy snow fall."
Paula and her partner live in a conservation area at the foot of the famous Mount Canigou, in a beautiful Romanesque setting. The community is both Catalan and French, and extremely welcoming. They bought their French home several years ago and visited in the holidays, but moved to the Languedoc permanently at the beginning of 2005 so they could set up their business and experience a different way of life. They fell in love with their village, Corneilla de Conflent, on sight, but researched the market carefully nevertheless before making their decision. Access was important, so they looked into travel options and were reassured to find that getting to the area from the UK is easy, thanks to direct, low-cost flights from London into Perpignan or Girona.
Asked to describe the area where she lives, Paula replies: "It's a very diverse landscape. There are sun-baked limestone gorges, snowy peaks and green, mountain-side meadows. There are lakes too, and the coastline is a short drive away. Village life is very much focused on local culture and time-honoured traditions, celebrated in fetes and fiestas. Catalan cuisine has a distinctive flavour; local produce includes cherries, peaches and almonds, with olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and fish featuring heavily, complemented by the strong, fruity wines produced locally from Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan grapes.
For us, the main attraction of the area is the Great Outdoors. Whether you're living here day to day, relaxing on holiday, or doing some serious fitness training, the climate and landscape really improve your quality of life. Mount Canigou is undoubtedly the area's the best-known landmark - and at 2,784 metres, it's pretty hard to miss!"
Settling into the area was comparatively easy: "We made a big effort to learn French and integrate, so nothing was really a problem. Perhaps we're lucky; our village seems particularly welcoming, but I think we are viewed positively because Brits relocating here have helped bring about an economic boom, injecting some fresh blood into rural communities with dwindling, ageing populations. There are lots of British people coming to this area, as well as Danes, Germans and other north Europeans. There are now four flights a day into Perpignan alone, and the growth in terms of the tourist industry is quite evident."
The property market in this part of the Languedoc region is flying - according to Paula, prices have doubled in the space of a handful of years in some spots. Says Anton: "We're glad we bought when we did. We'd struggle to be able to afford our home now, but having said that, there are still lots of great opportunities if you compare house prices with those in the UK. We bought our property, which was structurally sound but in need of modernization, almost five years ago, and paid 38,000 euro. Starting prices these days are around 60,000 euro for a small village house; for a three- or four-bedroom home you'll be looking at 80,000 euro upwards."
Louise has lived in France, in the city of Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon for the past 5 years. Louise writes for a number of French life magazines and was asked to write a number of articles on life and experiences in France by French real estate agents Maison Med, based in the Roman city of Nimes.
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Former city-dwellers Paula Moore and Anton Wouters talk about what prompted them to relocate to the Languedoc region. One-time UK residents Paula Moore and her partner Anton...