It can change names as many times as it likes, but the wine-producing Languedoc area of southern France remains one of my favorite places in the world. More and more people are getting to know its wines, but property prices don’t appear to be reflecting the area’s growing appeal.
The Languedoc region is sometimes referred to as “The Other South of France” because it is not neighboring Provence or the Côte d’Azur, but it is geographically the most southern part of France, with Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur to the east, the old Midi-Pyrénées to the west, the Auvergne to the north, and Spain to the south.
Historically Languedoc was a province of France. It’s only in recent times that Roussillon was added, turning the area into a region. The original Languedoc has a fascinating history and even its own language, Occitan, which is similar to Catalán, from just over the border in Spain.
It’s from “Occitan” that the region’s new name is derived.
At the beginning of this year, Languedoc-Roussillon was merged with the neighboring Midi-Pyrénées region, and the area was renamed Occitanie to become one of France’s 13 new super-regions.
That said, I don’t see anyone referring to the Languedoc in any other way, at least for the foreseeable future. Locals actually snorted at me when I asked if they would say they now lived in Occitanie. But it’s worth knowing it exists, as you may see Occitanie on tourism and real estate websites.
The new Occitanie has 13 departments, 5 from Languedoc-Roussillon and the rest from the Midi-Pyrénées. I’m zooming in on the Hérault department of the old Languedoc, which has hundreds of inland and coastal villages and towns, two pretty rivers, lots of vineyards, a beautiful national park, lakes, beaches, and good accessibility.
Two Reasons For Hérault’s Growing Popularity
First, property prices in the South of France push many would-be expats to explore a little farther west. In the neighboring Languedoc, they find a similar Mediterranean climate and property selling for half the price of property in Provence and the Côte d’Azur.
Good news travels fast and expats of many nationalities, but most notably the British, Scandinavians, and Dutch, have moved in. But not too many to spoil things.
The second reason for the growing popularity of this region is its wine.
For decades, the Languedoc produced vast quantities of quaffable vin de table, but nothing very notable. When my parents first moved there in 2005, the region was still turning out barrels of inexpensive wine. However, over the last decade or so, growers have specialized and built on the AOC status (appellation d’origine contrôlée) created in 1982 and are now producing world-ranking red wines from the original Carignan, Cinsaut, and Grenache grapes, with the addition of Syrah and Mourvèdre varieties.
A solid sign of the area’s wine popularity is that Saint-Chinian wines now feature heavily in all U.K. supermarkets… no mean feat in such a competitive environment.
Surprisingly, not all property prices have shot up; those that remain attractive to non-French buyers (i.e. character properties with original, mostly 19th-century features) are still good deals, while new builds of all sizes attract higher prices.
Over the years since I’ve been visiting, I’ve picked out a few favorite villages. Today I’d like to focus on three of them in the Hérault department: Cessenon-sur-Orb, Saint-Chinian, and Roquebrun, all within a 20-minute drive of each other.
Why do I think these three locations make sense in particular for Live and Invest Overseas readers?
They sit in the Hérault’s beautiful Orb and Vernazobres valleys where the scenery is fabulous; each one has local facilities, including bakeries, mini supermarkets, doctors, restaurants, bars, banks, and even beauty salons, all in walking distance of most village properties; they all have plenty of activities to keep you and your rental visitors happy; and they all still have affordable property for sale right now.
To define my local property search, I used the following criteria:
- Refurbished or requiring cosmetic improvements…
- At least two bedrooms, one bathroom, one extra water closet…
- Some outdoor space—at least a terrace or patio…
- Plenty of natural light (some old houses can be dark and a little gloomy in winter)…
- Garage or storage area…
- Maximum spend: 255,000 euros.
Here’s what I’ve found listed with local agents…
In Saint-Chinian, a busy market town on the Vernazobres river with a good weekly market:
- A three-bedroom, 88-square-meter, refurbished townhouse in Saint-Chinian in move-in condition. The property has original red floor tiles, exposed beams, and an open fireplace. There are two non-refurbished attic rooms (18 and 28 square meters), which could be connected to make a large bedroom or study. Listed at 69,000 euros with the option to purchase a large unattached garage for 20,000 euros.
- A 130-square-meter detached four-bedroom villa with a garage on 575 square meters of land listed for 252,000 euros. The property has a fitted kitchen, workshop, covered terrace, and barbecue, fireplace with a woodstove, and oak flooring in the bedrooms, good for the chilly winter days.
In Cessenon-sur-Orb, a pretty village with all amenities within walking distance and easy access to the Orb river for swimming, fishing, and kayaking:
- For just 79,000 euros you could invest in a 77-square-meter two-bedroom pied-à-terre in the center of Cessenon-sur-Orb with a cellar and two storerooms as well as a courtyard and a terrace.
- The 167-square-meter five-bedroom maison de maître (mansion)—pictured below—needs attention, but it’s a great find if you like the bourgeoisie architectural style. It has a south-facing courtyard and a 120-square-meter garage. Listed for 179,000 euros.
- A 110-square-meter three-bedroom, typical Languedocian stone village house for sale for 199,000 euros. It has a pretty, private courtyard and an attractive living area.
In Roquebrun,a small village on the Orb River, where houses are perched up on a cliff overlooking the tributary and cobbled streets weave up to a tower dating to the year 900. The village has a popular river beach, and kayaking outfits use it as a base…
- A pretty, 250-square-meter (2,690-square-foot) house with a small terrace that has been restored and outhouses and storerooms that are not restored. Price 239,000 euros.
- At the entrance to Roquebrun village is a single-story, detached, 70-square-meter (753-square-foot) house for sale with a cellar and beautiful, original floor tiles situated on 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) of land. This property needs a complete internal refit. Listed for 182,000 euros.
Renting An Investment Property
The old Languedoc-Roussillon region was recently voted the fourth most popular tourist region in France (after Paris, Provence-Côte D’Azur, and the Alps), and the area has historically enjoyed a strong holiday rental market, making a property purchase a potentially attractive investment. Visitor attractions and activities include walking, cycling, wine tasting, and visiting historical and cultural sites such as the Canal du Midi and Carcassonne.
Getting To The Languedoc
From North America, you must first fly to Paris or London then take a connecting flight to one of four local airports (travel time from Saint-Chinian referenced in each case): Béziers (30 minutes), Carcassonne (1 hour, 15 minutes), Perpignan (60 minutes), and Montpellier (1 hour, 10 minutes).
Alternatively, catch a high-speed train from Paris to Béziers, in the Hérault, and then taxi to the villages noted above.
Is It Safe To Visit Languedoc, France?
Given that France is still considered to have high terrorism threat levels, you may feel nervous visiting and investing in the country. However, despite attacks, storms, and strikes, France attracted almost 83 million foreign visitors last year, maintaining its ranking as the world’s top tourist destination, according to INSEE, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. The tourism sector’s recovery has continued through 2017. Plus, the Hérault is a rural area and unlikely to attract extremist attention.
I’ve only touched on the very wide range of very affordable property available in Saint-Chinian, Cessenon-sur-Orb, and Roquebrun. The best way to understand what this region has to offer is to come see for yourself.
Also, next time you go wine shopping, have a look for Saint-Chinian AOC wines. Definitely worth a try.