The “Popes’ City” is one of the Top Ten towns with the most visitors in France. During its Festival, one of the great events on the international entertainment agenda, its population is multiplied by five.
Capital of European Culture in the year 2000, Avignon can justly lay claim to its artistic vocation exemplified by its Festival, held every year in July and attracting fans of the theatre, music and art in the broadest sense of the term. It has retained its ancient ramparts, its historic centre with the Popes’ Palace, the Episcopal buildings, Le Rocher des Doms : its famous bridge is listed as part of UNESCO’s World Heritage. On the boundary with the Département of Le Gard and the communes of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Les Angles to the west, Les Bouches-du Rhône and the communes of Barbentane, Rognonas, Châteaurenard and Noves to the south, Avignon is also near Orange, Nîmes, Montpellier, Arles, Salon-de-Provence and Marseille. Its motorways and rail services make it easily accessible, an additional bonus for those who invest in the town.
Who are these buyers who put their trust in old stone and the “Popes’ City” ? They are shared out between those who acquire a pied-à-terre to take advantage of the area in general, and the Festival in particular, and those targetting the market for student accommodation. The vast majority of the first are Parisians, senior executives, company directors, pre-retirees, all with a high level of purchasing power : they will become owners of an apartment in perfect condition, intra-muros, preferably with an outdoor area. “This clientele is just as keen on old stone as the Festival,” comments Lucie Clap-Botton of the Côté Sud Côté Rêve
agency. In the historic neighbourhood, the price per sq. metre is 5,000 €. In the Corsin neighbourhood, an apartment of 100 m2, fully renovated, with an open view, will cost 347,000 €. The investor in the proper sense of the term focuses on studios, small surface areas, that bring a return over 15 months. Recently, a building comprised of 3 studios of about 20 m2 each sold for 180,000 €. The owner then rented them out at 400 € per month, with renewable 3-year leases. Within the city walls, an apartment of 40 m2 in a quiet spot and with a certain charm found a taker for 120,000 €. Rented out for 450 € per month to a student from October to June, it will be proposed at 500-600 € per week throughout the summer. Another example : a building acquired for 476,000 € with 6 units, each rented out at 490 € per month. Foreign buyers are thin on the ground in Avignon. “Looking for small apartments, they are usually north Europeans who appreciate the town’s cultural appeal,” says Luc Boissel of L’Immobilier du Particulier
. “Owning a pied-à-terre solves the problem of finding an hotel and allows them to stay at the very heart of Provence”. Still within the ramparts, main residences are acquired by retirees wanting to benefit from all amenities within a limited area, and locals acquiring their first homes. Prices in 1930’s buildings range from 2,500 to 3,000 €/m2, while 1980’s residences with a certain classiness are pegged from 2,500 to 4,000 €/m2. In this highly-prized area, tastefully rehabilitated old houses and mansions can attain 1 million euros, if they offer a garden and garage.
Extra-muros, the architecture is more modern, lacking the very real charm of old stone and narrow, flowery streets. Some addresses nevertheless exercise a certain appeal. “Avignon has something unique, in that, from one end of a street to the other, the price per sq. metre is not at all the same,” explains Etienne Beaucourt of Guy Hoquet Avignon
. Worth noting, a few pleasant addresses offering houses with gardens : between Le Moulin Notre-Dame and Avenue de l’Arrouzaire, from 200,000 € for a home of 80 m2 to renovate, with a garden of 250 or 300 m2. On Rue de Provence, most of the houses have been restored and sell for about 3,000 €/m2 or more. Then there’s “Les Félibres”, an estate built in the 1980’s, and the neighbourhood stretching from the Chemin Saint-Jean to Avenue de la Folie, where old houses rub shoulders with a few more recent constructions (from 2,000 to 2,500 €/m2, depending on the quality of their appointments).
Future owners of both main and holiday homes who wish to take advantage of a countrified setting at the gateway to Avignon are often prepared to live up to 25 km from the “Popes’ Palace”. But for under 400,000 €, they shouldn’t expect to find a detached house. The starting price for a villa of 160 m2 with a roof terrace and swimming pool in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon is 750,000 €. A “mas” with high-quality appointments and a pool in 5,000 m2 of grounds will bear a price-tag of 1,200,000 €. Overall in Avignon, supply does not match demand, far from it. Intra-muros, properties for sale are rare : when they are well located, attractively appointed and fairly estimated, they find a taker very quickly. The future of the town will no doubt rely, in the coming years, on the east-west connection to the south of Avignon (christened LEO), a 30-km stretch of road that will provide a by-pass for the city, ultimately linking the A7 and A9 south of the metropolitan area. Planned in three phases, this project has so far delivered its first tranche. By 2016, a tramline should also have made its appearance in the town. Prices will perhaps rise in neighbourhoods along its route. A cultural and artistic address at the heart of Provence, Avignon lives the present to the full, while forgetting nothing of its glorious past.