Douce France, a land loved by so many

First in class among tourist destinations, France has kept its number one position in spite of the downturn caused by the economic crisis. “Lazing around” in France is so nice that lots of foreign visitors are opting to extend their holidays and buy a second home in France.

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The chirping of cicadas, the fragrance of aromatic herbs, a glass of rosé in your hand, the dull clunk of pétanque balls as they bump delicately into one another beneath the plane trees is a French summer pleasure enjoyed by many tourists every year. 74 million people chose France as their holiday destination in 2009. In spite of a slight fall of 6% caused by the economic crisis, France is still the world’s top tourist destination. Tourism indeed represents 6.4% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). France does of course have objective reasons for this success.

Its central location in Europe first of all, and then it has a highly efficient transport system providing rapid links with several countries. Another of its assets is that, with its relatively moderate population density, it still has protected natural areas which also offer a panoply of landscapes and experiences (mountains, coastline, countryside and towns redolent with history). And finally the French tourist industry is not new to the game and knows from long experience how to make its visitors feel welcome.

An expanding sector

But what really draws tourists has more to do with emotional attachment. The French may be legendary for their propensity to moan and to go on strike at the drop of a hat, but visitors easily forgive these little faults as long as France generously shares with them that art of living that is the root of its charm. Good wines, delicious food, attention to detail and above all taking the time to savour those things that are so special about life in France. Europeans, being neighbours, are the first across the border. First and foremost the British, who hop across the Channel for holidays on the continent, followed by Germans, nationals of the Benelux countries and Italians. Americans are the main non-European tourists, followed by the Japanese although we are now seeing, and this is a steady trend, strong growth in the numbers of Chinese visitors.

Russians too are increasingly attracted by France, with a 24% growth in their numbers. The fall in the value of the euro this year is likely to further boost the sector during the 2010 season. People are flocking to the campsites especially because they offer increasingly elaborate services, with the emphasis on comfort and protecting the environment. Seasonal rentals are also doing well, with foreign visitors wishing to spend their summer holidays in a French house.

Investing in France

There are some who develop such a taste for it that they take the plunge and opt to buy a second home here. According to a survey by the Observatoire BNP Paribas-International buyers in 2009, 77% of non-resident house buyers first bought in France because of “their interest in the language, culture and way of life”. Those surveyed sing the praises of its art of living, gastronomy and pace of life and the quality of human contact. 67% of them were already in the habit of coming here for leisure or professional reasons. 57% of buyers also cite the fact that property prices here are not very high.

Celebrities are not to be outdone in following this trend which is akin to a tradition, begun long ago by the likes of Josephine Baker, Picasso and many others. Johnny Depp, whose partner is French, has invested in the South of France. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have rented a wine estate for three years in the countryside inland of St Tropez, where Giorgio Armani also owns a house. The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is the primary region in which purchases by non-residents are concentrated, followed by Languedoc-Roussillon and Paris.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair for instance adores Ariège, and the writer William Boyd owns a vineyard in Dordogne. As for the capital, it has caught many lovers of the French spirit in its nets. The novelist Nancy Huston lives in Paris, as does tennis player Serena Williams and film director Sophia Coppola. Others choose to settle in Normandy or Brittany, such as the actor Hugh Grant and Princess Helene of Yugoslavia, lovers of these regions.

Long-term investment

For 90% of foreign house buyers, buying a French property represents a good long-term investment. Indeed, only 28% of them state that the crisis might undermine their plans. Even more surprising is the fact that so many are led to buy by their heart. 69% didn’t even consider investing in countries other than France. Even the bureaucracy and administrative complexity that might hamper their plans and which are experienced by 37% of them have not curbed their enthusiasm or undermined their determination.

By investing in property in France foreign buyers are seeking to gradually take for themselves a place that gives them the impression that time passes more slowly, where wine comes from the producer next door, where they can hear from their terrace the buzzing of the bees that make the honey that they were able to buy in the market that very morning.

Between Amélie Poulain and Marcel Pagnol, foreign investors have clearly understood that far from being folklore, life in Douce France can have lots of different flavours, and has the advantage of being a safe and profitable investment.

Pascale Bernard

publie le 30/08/2010

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