Racehorse trainers have for many years been acquiring French properties as satellite yards and a number of British breeders have recently moved their studs over to France to take advantage of the better living conditions.
George Windsor Clive, from Windsor Clive International claims that the equestrian market is beginning to pick up as the year progresses: “Things are changing in terms of demand and contrary to recent years, people are around who pay the high prices which sellers tend to ask. The Aga Khan recently bought a very impressive stud in France for instance.”
The north of France is inundated with large equestrian studs, the most prestigious being the National Stud at Le Haras du Pin. “It is a small market but there is a lot of choice. At the top end there are some truly fantastic properties for sale if you want to buy in the more popular areas,” says Windsor Clive.
A 19th century stud situated 45 km from Chantilly exemplifies this. The Normand-style farm is set amongst woodland and meadows and has been traditionally restored over the last few years. It features 24 stables, a range of barns, pastureland deemed suitable for breeding thoroughbreds and is on the market at £1,011,164 (www.prestigeproperty.co.uk).
There is no doubt that equestrian facilities are beginning to have more of an impact on the price of a property. Jane Hanslip, who runs tailor-made riding holidays in the Dordogne (http://www.ridedordogne.com) believes her property has increased in value since she has converted the barns into stabling.
Hanslip is about to launch a new programme of hunting weekends, which will be run from her Dordogne estate in the autumn. This is a taste of things to come; with the current ban on fox hunting in Britain, it is predicted that the British hunting fraternity will venture over to France to continue the sport. Stag and wild boar hunting is common in the Dordogne and Charente areas. A British buyer could purchase a 16th century logis with numerous outbuildings and 62 hectares of land in Charente for £769,250 (www.prestigeproperty.co.uk).
George Windsor Clive says: “Strangely enough, Pau and Gascony are more popular with British buyers than the more traditional hunting and horsey areas.”
This may stem from the fact that pretty flower-filled Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, was where British huntsmen established foxhunts in the 19th century. The Pau area is the only part of France where foxhunting is the predominant form of hunting, so it is destined to attract British huntsmen.
Joint Master of the Pau Hunt, Jeffrey Quirk, compares hunting around Pau to hunting in South Ireland or Leicestershire and promises there is plenty of jumping. He can arrange foxhunting for Brits from his hotel Chateau du Sombrun (www.sombrun.com).
He says demand for equestrian property is “immense” with interested parties contacting him on a daily basis. Quirk uses contacts at local estate agents to find suitable properties for British buyers. He believes it is not just hunting that has led equestrian enthusiasts to seek property abroad: “It’s a combination of everything. For those who are fed up with Britain, and hunting is the last straw.”
Over the last two years the English population in his local village has grown from one family to nine families. Ryanair opening flight routes to Toulouse and Pau has also helped spur on British buyers.
“Prices are soaring,” says Quirk, “but if you compare the price of a two bedroom house in the UK or Mallorca to one in rural France you are still getting a lot more for your money”.
Quirk estimates the cost of living is between 10-15% cheaper although he says the cost of keeping horses is much the same.