Les Vans, a corner of paradise in the Ardèche
This commune with over 2,800 inhabitants lies in the centre of a lively area, near the River Chassezac, at the entrance to the Regional Nature Park of Les Monts de l'Ardèche. With bus services to and from Montélimar, Aubenas and Alès, it is particularly charming in summer. Fans of hiking, pot-holing, horse-riding, climbing and canyoning can indulge their favourite pastimes to their hearts' content...
On the limestone plateau of Les Gras overlooking Les Vans, this stone property of 220 m2 stands in a natural setting of 13,700 m2. The former silkworm factory has been restored with respect for tradition. Some renovation work required on the upper floor. 450.000 €. Orpi Christian Moury (04 75 94 93 79).
This is a region is blessed with beautiful countryside and very peaceful settings which, however, inevitably becomes a tourist attraction during the summer months. Local craftsmen demonstrate their skills every Tuesday evening, and the market is in full swing on Saturday mornings. The little hamlets are well worth the detour : starting with the medieval village of Naves, the beaches of Chassagnes and the Romanesque church of Brahic. Decidedly, picture-postcard scenery is easy to find in the "Pays de Vans".
"The microclimate is definitely the most important asset of this region, set back from the Rhône valley, protected from the Mistral wind, the noise and eye-sores typical of main roads," says Rémy Belhomme of the Agence Teissier. This geographic location is a real privilege, to the extent that, despite being slightly further out, the charming village benefits from on-site shops and facilities meeting everyday needs, including schools up to intermediate level. "Within a radius of 10 km around the main village, there are four changes of scenery, agriculture and architecture," enthuses our estate-agent, describing the various areas composed of granite, limestone, sandstone and shale. Formerly focusing on agriculture, this mid-mountain area contains small, scattered farms, now widely-appreciated commodities. More than half of the buyers are looking for holiday homes. A third come from large towns a 2 hour 30 to 3-hour drive away (Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Clermont-Ferrand, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse), a third from Paris and northern France, and the rest from European countries (Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Holland). Most of them pay from 200,000 to 300,000 € for stone houses of 100 m2 with gardens enjoying an unobstructed view. For 150,000-200,000 €, they can obtain a village house of the same surface area, extended by a terrace or courtyard. The share of year-round housing has recently risen, from 30 % to over 40 % over the past decade, due to the arrival of retirees and employees working here, in Aubenas or even Alès. These residents are often keen to acquire building land. Although Les Vans has some lovely residences, transactions rarely exceed 600,000 €. Thanks to elderly clients wanting to swap their houses on the outskirts for an apartment in town, there is a lot of activity. Apartments, which account for 25 % of the transactions orchestrated by this specialist in property management, start at 1,300 €/m2 and come close to 2,000 €/m2 in a comfortable residence.
"With the arrival of good weather, our clients, already showing an interest since autumn 2010, seem to be stepping up their searches. Some prefer a Mediterranean atmosphere, others love the typical style of the Cévennes and plunging views. They all like rivers and authentic little villages : Les Vans enjoys a slight advantage simply due to the infrastructures it can offer. In fact, a sound property with charm close to amenities sells without delay as long as it is offered at the right price," says Françoise Blayac of the Orpi Christian Moury agencies. Among her recent sales, she mentions an old house of 140 m2 in need of modernization, on about 2.5 acres of land just 5 minutes from Les Vans, acquired for 280,000 € by a French couple who have decided to retire to the Ardèche. Highly sought-after, this type of property is now a very scarce commodity. Local buyers, more inclined to overlook a property's character in favour of practicality, pay 190,000 € for 1-storey villas built in the 1990's, offering three bedrooms and a garden of 1,000 m2. A young couple also recently bought a building plot of 1,600 m2 for 72,000 €, equipped with a budget for "construction and up-grading" of 130,000 €. Finally, first-time buyers can set their sights on village houses on two or three floors. One such client recently paid 102,000 € for living space of 100 m2 opening out to a courtyard. Without an outdoor area, these village houses are harder to sell.