Roman arenas and triumphal arches suggest Italy. Bullfights and paella sound remarkably like Spain. But they’re as much a part of France’s sunny south as lavender fields and bouillabaisse. So, too, are village houses for $100,000 to $187,500.
Southern France isn’t only a dream-turned-reality for seriously wealthy buyers. Not if you target lesser-known locations. The problem—if problem is the word—is that there is a tremendous amount of south. Without months to spare, uncovering it all is impossible.
But here’s one solution. Split by the Rhône valley and its marshy delta, southern France divides into Provence and less fashionable Languedoc. Take the “Rhône and Romans” route toward the Mediterranean and you’ll get a taste of its dual flavor.
If you’re considering properties, this borderland is more affordable than much of Provence, especially toward the north and on the Languedoc bank.
In Provence’s Vaucluse département, Mornas isn’t the least expensive medieval village in the Rhône Valley—but it’s attractive enough to make you wonder why there are no bus-loads of tourists.
Of course, if there were, chances are that a fully-restored stone house of 97 square meters (1,044 square feet) on three levels would cost more than $184,000. Under a fortress-topped cliff, Mornas has the kind of gratifyingly nasty history that thrills small boys. During the 16th-century Wars of Religion, the fortress changed hands a few times. It was almost traditional for attacking forces to subject the garrison to a grisly death by chucking the defeated soldiers over the cliff onto upturned pikes.
If that doesn’t ruin the appetite, café-bars on Cours Platane offer hearty set lunches for around $13.75. Or you can splurge at Le Manoir—its three-course menus range from $20 to $62.50. Dishes change seasonally, but if there’s a millefeuille pastry concoction of apricots and nougat on the dessert choice, don’t miss it.
Agents for village properties in this area are mostly in Orange or across the Rhône in Pont-Saint-Esprit. Both are within a 15-minute drive. Surrounded by a countryside of vineyards and smallholdings, Orange goes back to Roman times and has the legacy to prove it.
Separating the old town from its modern quarters, one showpiece is a triumphal arch built in 49 BC to honor the veterans of Caesar’s Gallic wars.
Orange’s 28,000 inhabitants don’t live beside the Rhône, but the river isn’t far away. Refreshingly untouristy, its older quarter comes with shady squares, houses in traditional pale pastel colors, and the magnificently preserved Théâtre Antique—a huge Roman theater with seating for almost 9,000 people. Eerily lit at night, the edifice is so colossal that people actually lived within it during the 1600s. Its intact stage wall gives incredible acoustics; the Chorégies opera and music festival is held here during July.
You can get on the property ladder in Orange for $62,500. That buys a studio apartment of 27 square meters (291 square feet). And plenty of three-bedroom apartments are under $125,000. Small maisons de ville (townhouses) of approximately 60 square meters (645 square feet) start at around $156,000.
In my full article in the current issue of International Living magazine, I tell you more about Southern France’s affordable secret, including rentals, contact details, my favorite towns and villages and more. If you’re not a subscriber, you can become one here and get instance access to this article.
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