Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Property Reconnaissance, a Drivers Guide

A guest blog by David Griffiths (

The task of purchasing a property abroad is as exciting as it can be onerous but with some decent planning, a sensible and organised agent to help with the acquisition and a spirit of adventure it needn’t be quite so imposing.

South West France has long been an attractive proposition for us Brits. It’s near enough to allow visits back home or to have friends and family over for a long weekend and just far enough away to guarantee long sunny days and a convivial, relaxed atmosphere. The South Western areas of France stretching from Poitou-Charentes to the north, through The Dordogne and Lot Valleys and into the rural depths of Gascony provide some of the most desirable places to live. Great weather, astounding scenery, amazing food and even, so rumour has it, a decent supply of wine. It’s of little wonder that it remains such a popular destination for those of us looking for an idyllic escape.

So, how do we get there? How do we get started? How should we approach the whole and oft dreaded saga of buying a new home abroad? Well fear not, it’s not so bad with a little footwork and some decent contacts the steps to owning your dream home need not be quite so daunting. Via your agent arrange some properties to view (never be tempted to rely on online photographs alone) and jump in the car to go and see them. You may fly and hire a car perhaps but here we are going to offer a light but practical guide to travelling to and around you chosen region(s) and how to make the most of your time in some of France’s most glorious areas.

Planning the Journey

Obviously France has several key ferry ports that you can choose from depending on your location in the UK. From Roscoff and St Malo to the west of the Cherbourg Peninsula, the central ports of Ouistreham (Caen), Le Havre and Dieppe and the more easterly Boulougne, Calais and Dunkirk. Cherbourg is also available but does involve a slightly unnecessary additional time in the car but if you are a poor sailor and heading out from Portsmouth it is an option.

Once you have decided on your port think about the time you have available for your visit and what kind of journey you’d prefer. There are usually two distinct types of travellers; the “head down, bash on” types who hammer down the autoroutes in one fell swoop and the more relaxed “ambling brigade” who enjoy a few stops along the way to sample the sights, sounds and let’s face it, cuisine of what’s on offer. You’ll know which one you are and how much time you have so plan any stopovers accordingly. If you’ve already had a lengthy drive to the English Channel then you may well prefer to have a quick pit stop in the Pas de Calais or inland Normandy before heading further south for example.

For the property viewings locate a sensible place to use as base camp during your time there, or if a little more widespread, two or three different towns might be a good idea. Speak with your agent for any local expertise and suggestions if you are unsure.

The Route to the South West

French roads are generally great, free moving (away from the main Cities anyway), well maintained and well signposted. The key autoroutes for travelling down are the A28 and the A10. The A28 runs from North East France to Tours (situated just to the north of Poitou-Charentes) and from there you pick up the A10 which takes you down towards Bordeaux and Gascony.

For those who may arrive in Roscoff and St Malo you will want to head onto the E3 towards Rennes before taking the A83 which links to the A10.

Now clearly there are many other routes available but there is not scope to cover them all here. However as a starting point these routes can help form a useful skeleton upon which you can flesh out your plans once you have the details of your exact itinerary.

Driving Tips

Remember that there several statutory requirements that you need to comply with when driving in France.

  • Headlight Converters
  • Hi-Viz Vest (One for each person in the car)
  • GB car sticker (or GB Number Plate)
  • Warning Triangle
  • Spare Bulbs
  • Breathalysers*

All of these items can be purchased via this articles author, see below for details. *Breathalysers are still on the official list of required items but there is no fine levied for non-compliance, which there is with the others.

Spectacle wearers should note that is also a legal requirement in France to carry a spare pair with you when driving.

Once you arrive it’s up to you how much pleasure you can mix into your business schedule but it would be a shame not enjoy a glass of wine in La Rochelle, a fish lunch and a visit to one of the many Chateaux of the River Dordogne, a hearty rural Gascon supper or a stroll through one of the many picturesque villages that you will routinely stumble upon during your visit. It’s a great chance to get a feel for the region that you have chosen to be your new home or home away from home. Make the most of it and make the whole experience an enjoyable one rather than just a gutless slog along the autoroutes and country lanes.

Taking time to sample at first hand exactly what an area is all about should help you immeasurably in your quest for a new house. After all, the property itself may be the cornerstone of your new lifestyle but overall it’s the people, the towns, villages, countryside and all its attractions that will complete the new life that you are looking forward to. The more you embrace it the more it will embrace you, so get stuck in and sample all the delights on offer. Your experience will be far richer and rewarding if you do.

The Author

David Griffiths is the owner of several motoring related websites including the well-respected and which both specialise in driving in France related products and advice if you need further information on French driving rules.
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