Your New Life In Burgundy For As Little As 66,000 Euros
“Lucy, could you look after my friend’s cats, Cricket and Minette, this summer?”
I like cats but was the request to cat-sit enough to break with my tradition of staying in the Languedoc region of southern France every summer? I wasn’t sure. But when I saw the photos of the home where I’d be cat-sitting—a beautifully converted barn in the heart of Burgundy with a pool—suddenly, I liked cats a whole lot more.
Every summer I go to the Languedoc region of southern France for four blissful weeks, and every year that trip reminds me how much I love it there—the peace, the clean air, the markets, the scenery, the outdoor activities, the food and wine, the family and friendships…
This year, scratch all that! This year I went cat-sitting with my family in the Yonne department of Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as it’s written in French, slap-bang in the middle of miles and miles of rolling farmland and vineyards.
My first impression of Burgundy was that, well, it isn’t the Languedoc. I know that sounds obvious, but these two regions are so different. Burgundy is much more intensively farmed, with huge vistas where you see nothing more than a few houses and endless arable fields. I admit it—initially we weren’t feeling too happy with our summer holiday decision.
But first impressions can be dangerous. Burgundy was a good lesson in taking my own advice for wannabe expats—that is, don’t panic onarrival. Dig deeper.
So we dug… and, when we did, we found beautiful rivers, canals, bike paths, horse riding, canoeing through a national park, markets in medieval towns, jaw-droppingly beautiful châteaux, amazing food, and, of course, the wine caves that the region is so well-known for.
Burgundy is about two hours southeast of Paris, in north-central France, and well connected by road and train to all the major cities in France. There’s also a local airport in the region’s capital city of Dijon.
The region’s fame rests firmly with her vineyards, which are a central part of tourism with wine tastings, walks through the vineyards, wine festivals, and architecture that reflects the production of wine. We were on the doorstep of the Épineuil growing area and a stone’s throw from the town of Chablis, which has a fantastic Sunday market bursting with produce.
If like us you enjoy the great outdoors, Burgundy will not disappoint. There are 800 kilometers of easy cycling along the “Tour de Boulogne à vélo” route, passing châteaux, forests, vineyards, and canals; 6,500 kilometers of equestrian trails for riders of all abilities; just over 1,900 kilometers of rivers and canals to explore on boats and barges; and a network of 6,000 kilometers of walking trails that date back to the Middle Ages when pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain crossed the region, passing from Vézelay to Nevers.
Water is everywhere, once you know where to look. At first the countryside seemed devoid to us of waterways, and you can easily pass towns and villages without realizing there’s a river winding through or that one of the great canals is just round the corner. However, once you discover where they run and drive off the main routes, you can explore on a barge, in a canoe, or alongside on the well-kept cycle paths. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, seven canals were built across Burgundy to connect the river basins of three of the country’s greatest rivers, the Seine, the Loire, and the Rhône, including the Burgundy Canal, the Nivernais Canal, and the Canal du Centre. For the best canoeing, head to the Morvan National Park, where we paddled from Saint Père near Vézelay.
I think it’s true to say that Burgundy is a paradise for foodies and wine lovers—more so than the Languedoc. Burgundy has several terroirs. These are places where the environmental conditions support the production of specific, protected products. Burgundy’s terroirs include Bresse, Charolais, Morvan, Auxois, Loire Valley, and Saône, where the famous local products are made, including beef (boeuf Bourguignon), wine, honey, cheese, sweets, mustard, liqueurs, gingerbread, snails, and truffles. We were too early for the Truffle Festival (early November) at the medieval town of Noyers-sur-Serein, but I recommend a visit, even if you don’t like “black diamonds,” because the village is a beautiful example of something the French do very well—namely, keeping ancient properties alive by using and living in them.
I also recommend you take time to see Fontenay Abbey, where monks of the Cistercian Order were possibly the first in the world to develop a hydraulic hammer. Renaissance palaces are aplenty. For me the best in the area are at Ancy-le-Franc, the Château de Tanlay in the Armançon valley, and the Château Bussy-Rabutin in the Auxois. Tanlay has a bar-pizzeria at the side of the Burgundy Canal with a big outdoor eating area. Sitting sipping a glass of Chablis, watching a barge slip by while swallows swoop over the rooftops of a Renaissance palace… life doesn’t get much better than that.
Another unexpected benefit of this part of France is the price of property. I was amazed at how inexpensive it is. I spoke to a couple of agents who said the main reason for the low prices is that there isn’t enough work to keep young people and young families in the area. I found properties, of all types, at around the US$100,000 mark. For example:
- A six-bedroom farmstead close to Ancy-le-Franc with barns, a workshop, and a wine cave, in need of refurbishment, is on the market for 87,000 euros. That’s just under US$100,000. Further details here.
- A three-bedroom apartment in the center of Tonnerre, needing some updating but ready to live in, is listed at 97,700 euros. Further details here.
- In the mediaeval town of Noyer, a pretty, refurbished, two-bedroom village house (with beams, fireplace, barn, wine cave, and garden) is for sale for 87,700 euros. Further details here.
And here’s even cheaper:
A three-bedroom, turn-of-the-century house just outside Tonnerre with some land and a barn is on the market for 66,000 euros. Further details here.
My one word of caution when house-hunting online in this area would be to make sure the property is within walking distance of a village or town with a waterway. If not you could find yourself staring at mile upon mile of arable hills with not a soul in sight.
One final feature of this region, which nudges it slightly higher than the Languedoc for non-French speakers, is the friendliness of the locals. I think they are so used to tourists and very aware of how important tourists are to their livelihood, that friendliness is ingrained. That’s not to say the Languedoc isn’t friendly. It’s just that the locals there haven’t yet learned to go out of their way to be friendly to outsiders.
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