View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.

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Ski property in the Pyrenees; the best of all worlds

It is that time of year when I suddenly start getting lots of enquiries about ski property. The moment it turns cold and photos start appearing of snow in the mountains and ski resorts, thoughts turn to skiing, winter sports, log fires, vin chaud and the idea of a ski chalet or apartment near the slopes combined with après-ski glamour, whether that be buzzing bars, cosy restaurants or luxurious spa facilities.

While the Alps have become overpriced both for property and for skiing, here in the Pyrenees, excellent value ski properties can still be found for buyers seeking bolt-holes they can use winter and summer, rent out easily and hopefully reap some eventual capital gain.

The last decade has seen massive investment in the resorts here in the Pyrenees, resulting in better access and faster lifts, many more snow-making machines and better infrastructure. Surprisingly, however, property prices have not risen at the same rate as these improvements so that ski property in the Pyrenees is currently looking like a very good buy.

In addition, skiing and holidaying in the Pyrenees is still relatively affordable, most notably, when it comes to ski passes, food and accommodation thanks to the fact that, in the mountain villages of the Pyrenees, the restaurants and shops are mostly small family run enterprises whose primary aim is simply to make a living. This is not an area of commercial savvy and most small businesses have been here for generations. They also tend to operate year-round as part of the local community, as they have for centuries, as opposed to fleecing the tourists as much as possible during the few short months of the winter season. It is the same story with lift passes which are around half the price of those in the Alps.

So not only is the dream of a ski property achievable here in the Pyrenees, you will also save money when you come on holiday and there is also an excellent year-round rental market.

For more information and advice, please do get in touch:

Le Chemin de la Liberté; the freedom route from France to Spain over the Pyrenees during the Second World War

There has been a recent television series in the UK (Channel 4) covering the escape routes from Nazi territories during the Second World War. There were a number of escape routes through France, one of the most successful of these being the Pat O’Leary Line via Toulouse and then our local town, Saint Girons.

This route was known as the Chemin De Liberté and I have written before about this freedom trail across the Pyrenees but it is always worth a revisit to ensure that we remember what so many people went through during the occupation. It seems especially pertinent to remember right now when we seem to be in the process of trying to destroy the peace and unity we have enjoyed since the creation of Europe.

This high mountain route from the Ariège into Spain was carefully chosen as it avoided all official checkpoints. Between 1940 & 1944, there were 33,000 successful escapes along the entire length of the Pyrenean chain and 782 escaped over the mountain peaks of the Ariège, including many allied soldiers and Jewish escapees.

One of the most famous English escapees was the World War resistance fighter Nancy Wake who worked for the Special Operations Executive and was forced to flee from the Gestapo in 1943 along Le Chemin de la Liberté. Many who undertook the journey had no food, completely unsuitable clothing and had to survive terrible weather conditions and heavy snow along the route. Most would never have survived without the help and bravery of the local Ariègeois who provided them with shelter and food and guided them over the mountains to safety.

By the beginning of 1943 German surveillance had increased often due to the betrayal by Frenchmen who worked for the feared Vichy-run paramilitary force “La Milice” and there were many ambushes along the trails. Despite this increased surveillance, the St Girons-Esterri escape route via Mont Valier remained operational until the end of the war.

There is an excellent museum in Saint Girons that commemorates the trail and each year, a guide leads a group along the trail to remember those who made it and those who did not. For more information:

A 5-point-plan for buying a house in France in the current property market

Sunrise (in the French economy)

France appears to have turned the corner economically in 2017 and, if Macron succeeds in getting through his changes to the current restrictive labour laws, the future for the French economy is looking very bright indeed. Certainly, for the French property market, things are moving, transactions are up (according to the latest Notaires’ French property market report), particularly in the lower and higher property price brackets. Agents are reporting a large increase in both enquiries and buyers and Notaires are drowning in paperwork (but then that’s nothing new!)

Currently it seems that there is a steady, if slow, movement of properties and there are both new sellers and new buyers in the market.

Bearing this in mind, here is a 5-point plan for anyone looking to buy in the current market:

  1. Don’t expect or keep waiting for prices to drop further; they are on the level and beginning to increase in the most popular areas.
  2. Mortgage rates are at a historic low and the Euro is low compared to many currencies so if you have been waiting for the perfect time to invest, I would suggest that this might be it.
  3. Look for quality and be prepared to pay a premium for it – it is always worth it long term.
  4. Do not hesitate to make an offer – sellers are far more prepared to negotiate than they were a few years ago and there are plenty of urgent sales out there (divorce, relocation, death etc).
  5. Location is still key whatever the market is doing.

Any questions, please feel free to get in touch and I will do my very best to answer them.


The latest from Brexit Negotiations

News from the latest round of Brexit negotiations is that “some concrete progress” has been made and that negotiators had “engaged in detail” on the core matters of citizens’ and healthcare rights and on economic rights.

One of the most important agreements is on the right to healthcare; David Davis confirmed this week that negotiators have agreed to maintain reciprocal healthcare for British and EU retirees affected by Brexit. British pensioners who have retired to other EU countries will continue to have their healthcare paid for by the NHS post-Brexit: “Both sides have agreed to protect the rights of frontier workers, to cover future social security contributions, to protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for EU27 citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU – the Ehic arrangements. This is good news for British pensioners in the EU who can have their healthcare arrangements protected where they live and have an Ehic when they travel to other member states.

Also agreed in principle was that professional qualifications will be recognized across the bloc after Brexit, allowing lawyers, doctors, accountants, seafarers, train drivers and others who have moved to or from the UK to another EU country to work under their existing credentials.

There is however still disagreement on “further movement rights”. The EU says that Britons in the EU should only retain the right to live and work in the country where they are living on exit day; the UK says any Britons living in EU27 countries on exit day should maintain all the same rights if they later move to another EU country; the UK also says the same should apply if they want to undertake any ‘cross-border activity’ (such as living in France and working in Italy) after exit day.

Discussions are inevitably proving to be long and complex but both sides seem to be in agreement that citizens’ rights (Britons in Europe and Europeans in Britain) are a priority and hopefully there will be further progress soon.