Escape to Provence while you still can

Lavender field in Provence © iStock
Peter Mayle is gone, but his lifestyle lives on

The author Peter Mayle, who died last week, wrote many books, but he was by far best known for A Year in Provence. An account of the trials, tribulations and rewards of his move from England to France in the late 1980s, the memoir became so popular that hundreds of fans travelled to the author’s home to see if the lifestyle he described lived up to their expectations. In total, it sold more than six million copies, making it one of the most successful travel books of all time.

It’s not hard to see why so many people from the UK have since wanted to emulate Mayle. Provence has better climate, better food, and you can probably buy a bigger house in a nicer area than in the UK (although, of course, it’s a lot more expensive now than when Mayle first moved). You might have to put up with distant family members who happen to get in touch now you live in the French countryside (as Mayle puts it, “there is nothing quite as thick-skinned as the seeker after sunshine and free lodging”), but the attractions are clear.

It’s not too late to move

As for any concerns you may have about Brexit, until the official withdrawal date, UK citizens still have the right to move to another European Union member state. And a joint document published by the UK government and the EU just before Christmas has confirmed that the rights of UK citizens as EU residents will remain protected. So after Brexit, British expats living in EU member states will still be able to receive healthcare rights, pension and other benefits provisions.

How to buy in France

Before you move, research the steps carefully: the process of buying a house in France differs to that in the UK. First, roughly half of all properties are sold privately in France, so as to avoid estate agent’s fees, notes property group A Place in the Sun. Next, signing a contract takes place at a much earlier stage than most buyers in the UK (outside of Scotland) will be used to, although there is a ten-day cooling off period which starts the day after you receive a contract signed by both parties.

Legal fees then add up to 8% to 10% of the purchase price for a second-hand property and 4% to 5% for a new property, according to banking group BNP Paribas. That sounds a lot, but the majority of this fee is the French equivalent of stamp duty. Additional notary’s fees will be charged if you’re using a French mortgage. For a useful list of English-speaking French lawyers see here.

As for what you can get for your money, it’s all about location. The average price in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is €656,416, according to FrenchProperty.com, but you can buy a three-bed house in the neighbouring region of Languedoc-Roussillon for €250,000, for example, says money-transfer service TransferWise.