The latest news from the Languedoc - November 2010

Bienvenue !

Here is our last newsletter for 2010. We have included articles on Christmas and New Year in France and the French health system and offer a synopsis of the love-hate relationship between France and Britain over the decades. We also take a look at 2011 and what that may hold for the housing market.

Please also take a look at our Blog which you can find under ‘Region’ on our website aimed at giving you an insight into life in France.

experience the difference!

The average high temperature during September and October in Montpellier was


with a recorded high of 32°C and nearly 75% days
of sunshine

A new era for Anglo-French relations ?

Over the centuries France and the UK have had a stormy affair of ‘amour-haine’ – at times standing shoulder to shoulder against invading armies, at others bitter enemies themselves.

The Anglo-French relationship began when the UK was still attached to the rest of continental Europe at the end of the Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. Its continuing close proximity, albeit divided by the English Channel (Calais and Folkestone being a mere 30 miles as the crow flies) has made travel between the two countries fairly easy – starting as far back as 2000 years or more ago.

The first major example of Anglo-French cooperation was before either had invaded the country that would later bear their names. The two Celtic tribes, the Franks and the Angles, fought the Romans as a common enemy that resulted in Caesar's invasion of Gaul. Now part of the Roman Empire, there was much interaction between the two regions over the following five hundred years. It then went a bit quiet for the next five hundred years when both were invaded by different Germanic tribes.

The Bayeaux Tapestry – Death of Harold

In 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England after winning the Battle of Hastings but for the next 150 years England was not greatly influenced by France. There had always been a common culture and identity between the English and French but England finally defined its own separate identity as an Anglo-Saxon people under Richard the Lionheart, John and Henry III of England and fully embraced the English language.

During the Hundred Years War from 1337 to 1453 (a series of separate wars between two French royal houses for the French throne) the societies on both sides of the Channel changed drastically. The English were forced out of France and it is this period that is thought to be the root of rivalry between the two countries.

France and Scotland, however, remained close signing several treaties to defend each other against England. Royal marriages were often made between the Scottish and French royal households.

Henry VIII

The English and French took opposite sides in many wars during the next decade and a deep division set in during the Reformation under the Tudors and Henry VIII when Enlgand converted to Protestantism and France remained Roman Catholic. Many French Protestants fled to England and many English Catholics fled to France.

During the 16th and early 17th centuries there was fear that one country would gain power over the rest of Europe and it was during this period that Spain, England and France worked together and against each other at times as the balance of power shifted.

Oliver Cromwell

During the 18th century both countries, first England and then France removed their tyranical monarchy. Oliver Cromwell presided over parliament in England after the execution of Charles I and the French Revolution saw King Louis XVI of France executed. It was a turbulant time with each country at war to gain overseas territories and taking advantage of the other while their country was in chaos.

Emperor Napoleon I

In 1799, Napoleon came to power in France and ended the revolutionary era by creating a dictatorship (crowning himself Emperor in 1804). The British invaded southern France and following the victories at the Battle of Trafalgar and Waterloo, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and go into exile in 1814.

Although this was the last war fought between the two countries, the rivalry continued throughout the nineteenth century. They became strained political allies and frequently made stereotypical jokes about each other.

The two nations worked together during the Crimean War which aimed to check Russia's power and signed a treaty in 1860 reducing tariffs on goods sold between Britain and France. Warm relations between Britain and France continued and increased following the creation of the German Empire, which they perceived as a serious threat.

The first half of the 20th century saw Francophiles in Britain and Anglophiles in France spread a mutual respect and love of the culture of the country on the other side of the English Channel. Societies were developed introducing Britain to French food and wine, and France to English sports like rugby. French and English were the second languages of choice in Britain and France respectively.

Britain and France were allies in the First and Second World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) against Nazi Germany. Following D-Day and the victory over Germany in 1945, relations between the two countries were at a high, as the British were greeted as liberators. Britain and France became close as both feared the Americans would withdraw from Europe leaving them vulnerable to the Soviet Union's expanding communist bloc.

After the Suez Crisis of 1956 Anglo-French relations cooled. France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries formed what would become the European Union and did not allow Britain to join at first for fear that they would attempt to dominate it.

In 1994 the Channel Tunnel opened, creating the first permanent link between the two countries since the ice age.

Over the years, Britain and France have often taken diverging courses within the European Community which came to a head in 2003 with the War in Iraq. Despite this, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained a fairly close relationship during their years in office.

Following his election in 2007 President Nicolas Sarkozy has attempted to forge closer relations. In 2008, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that "there has never been greater cooperation between France and Britain as there is now".

Sarkozy also urged both countries to "overcome our long-standing rivalries and build together a future that will be stronger because we will be together".

In November of this year, David Cameron and Sarkozy signed an ambitious and historic Anglo- French defence treaty boosting military co-operation between their two countries. Defence sources say that, if there is a shared threat, it would ‘make sense’ for troops from both countries to deploy together.

From time immemorial and right up to the present day, we have carried on a complicated love-hate relationship across the Channel. Today hundreds of thousands of Britains live in France and many more dream of it. Where it goes from here, only time will tell.

Looking back over history, it seems that the relationship has been influenced by the leader of the time. Eyes must now turn to Sarkozy and Cameron who seek to forge a strong working relationship to carry us forward into the future.

For the full article, please see our Blog under ‘Region’ on our website

Christmas and New Year in France

In France, Christmas tends to be celebrated 'en famille' while New Year is for your friends – pretty much the same as the UK. In France, Christmas is called Noël. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means 'the good news' and refers to the gospel.

French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Père Noël (Father Christmas) will fill them with gifts (British children hang up stockings) and in the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree. Originally clogs were placed by the fire which is why it is common to see chocolate clogs in many patisseries. Small presents are generally given to children on Christmas eve but main gifts and cards are exchanged on New Years day or le Jour de l'An.

Traditionally, Midnight Mass (la Messe de Minuit) is attended followed by a huge feast called le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or revive). After Réveillon, it is customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by. Oysters are traditionally served with about 50% of the annual oyster production being consumed during the festive period. A traditional logshaped cake called the buche de Noël, which means 'Christmas Log' is also served made of chocolate and chestnuts. This is representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day which, in days of old, part was used to make the wedge for the plough as good luck for the coming harvest.

French Christmas decorations tend to be the sapin de Noël and Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year. Many homes also have a crèche depicting the Nativity scene with figures called santons or 'little saints'.

In France, New Year's Eve on 31st December is called la Saint-Sylvestre and is usually celebrated with a feast, called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre. The feast tends to include special items like champagne and foie gras. At midnight, everyone kisses under the mistletoe and offers their best wishes for the new year sharing their New Year’s resolutions and exchange cards and gifts.

The end of the holiday season is Epiphany or Twelth Night on 6th January and is called la fête des Rois. Traditionally a cake is offered called la galette des rois or the cake of Kings with a fève or charm hidden inside and is supposed to bring good luck and fortune for the year ahead. Who ever receives the portion containing the charm gets to be King or Queen for the rest of the day.

Bon appetit et bonne chance !

What does 2011 hold for the property market in France?

Here in the sunny South of France we have been relatively untouched by the economic crisis and the indications are that many other countries are over the worst of it. AB Real Estate has seen a marked increase in property visits and sales this year, with things really picking up in the second half of 2010.

What sort of properties?

Our properties are in the middle and upper market range, starting at around €400,000 with no upper limit – currently our most expensive property is €7 million. Our clients tend to be middle-aged and are looking for a holiday home, a second residence to spend long periods of time, a permanent home or a future main residence – perhaps somewhere to settle for their retirement.

We really do have a very wide spread of International clients worldwide. More Scandinavian buyers (Swedish and Norwegian) are coming to France now and account for approximately one-third of our clients and the English and Irish continue to be regular buyers as well as those further afield, from countries such as New Zealand, Dubai and South Africa. Since the economic crisis we have had more clients looking for property that will generate an income, for example, through holiday rental, B&B and Gîtes. Our clients tend to want properties that are in a quiet location, tastefully decorated, ready to move into and preferably with a view.

Why buy here?

Prices have remained stable here, dropping on average around 10% to 15% since the crisis began. Compared to Provence and the Cote d’Azur prices are very reasonable yet the climate is the same. It is the most attractively priced area on the Mediterranean coast and with many people wanting to live in the warm and sunny climate, it will always be popular. With the current volatile money markets, investing in bricks and mortar is a safer option and at least you can enjoy your investment at the same time rather than watch its value decline on a bank spreadsheet.

As a location, it has many advantages for travel to and from your home country and indeed around this one. The excellent TGV links are expanding all the time, frequent low cost flights to and from many destinations and excellent motorways all make this area very accessible. Day trips to Spain or short breaks to Italy, Corsica and beyond are easy. It is also a growing tourist area which boosts the local economy.

There is a wide and varied landscape from the long, white sandy beaches running along the Mediterranean coastline, across the stretching plains of vineyards and wild garrigue and into the spectacular mountains. With 300 days of sunshine a year, after Corsica, this region is the sunniest in France.

There is also so much to do and see from frenetic cities with historical and architectural interest to tranquil and unspoilt countryside, from picturesque ports and harbours to classic French villages. There really is something here for everyone of all ages. Steeped in history, art, culture and a wide variety of outdoor pursuits the region offers a myriad of activities. But then, you can always just sit back and relax, enjoying the mild, sunny climate, the local wines and the wonderful French Mediterranean food.

Our clients who buy in this region are often making a lifestyle choice. The pace of life here is much gentler under the sun and many traditional values are still evident. The crime rate is low and the lovely people in your village will extend a helping hand whenever needed and will be patient with you as you learn the language.

Predictions for 2011

Once confidence starts to return, prices here will quickly increase, so now is the right moment to invest. Politically, the two countries are forging closer relationships, with Sarkozy and Cameron signing an ambitious Anglo- French defence treaty this month boosting military co-operation between their two countries. It is difficult to project with any great certainty what will happen to the global economy in the future, but interest rates should remain stable helping the market to become more fluid in the coming months.

At the moment, owners need to be realistic if they want their property to sell in a reasonable period of time. Of course, at the top end of the market, properties do tend to take longer to sell as there are fewer buyers at this level.

Remember, all properties will sell – if the price is right.

The French Health System

France has an excellent health system and whether you have a holiday home or live here permanently, it is important to understand what you need to do should you want to see a Doctor.

Firstly, you can just ‘pay as you go’. You can make an appointment to see any General Practitioner and the consultation will cost in the region of €22. You will be charged the full price for any prescribed medicine at the Pharmacy. This is all fine and dandy if you are generally of good health and for the odd occasion you are in France and feeling under the weather. However, a trip to the hospital could cost thousands.

If you are resident in the UK, one of the various ‘E’ forms (depending on your circumstances) will cover your expenses or an EHIC card will provide the basic cover for three to five years.

As part of the French social security system, approximately 70% of everything you pay gets refunded into your nominated bank account; eventually. This includes dental and eye care. You pay in full at the time, fill in the paperwork where necessary and await your reimbursement. To get your carte vitale (French health card) you need to be working and earning in France and therefore paying your cotisations (like NI payments) or of UK retirement age and receiving a UK pension. Working does not have to be a full-time occupation, indeed you could work the minimum required under the auto-entrepreneur scheme to qualify for a carte vital.

You can take out a mutuelle or insurance policy to cover the remaining 30% and this will cost around €600-700 per annum, or for c€150-200 per annum you can take out a mutuelle to cover hospital costs only.

If you are going to be living permanently in France one of your ‘E’ forms will last long enough while you take the necessary steps to get fully integrated into the French system and getting your carte vitale. If you are not of retirement age and not working, then you will need to take out an insurance policy and this could be around €2000 per annum.

Please note this article is for general information only, costs and percentages are merely a guideline - each case will be assessed on its merits and may cost less or more depending on individual circumstances and level of cover taken.

À Bientôt

Wishing all our clients, old and new, a very merry Christmas and a
prosperous New Year in 2011.

Call us on
+33 (0) 4 67 36 36 80

or by email


With best wishes

Annelise Bosshard
Managing Director
AB Real Estate