Before we moved to France in 2014 neither of us had that much experience of la France profonde or deepest rural France. My partner had lived in the med near St Tropez for many years in the 1990’s and early 2000’s whereas my experience of France was visits to the med, a school trip to Normandy and a short trip to Paris.
Having looked at houses for sale online with Greenacres etc and explored Dordogne, Vienne, part of Haute Vienne and Charente we took the plunge and bought in north Charente in 2014. There are some pretty villages in that part of Charente (Verteuil/Nanteuil) and with the soft climate and copious sunshine the shabby white limestone buildings and hamlets wear their patina of age and French shabbiness rather well.
Short story…we didn’t settle in Charente and moved over to the Massif Central area in 2017 (eastern Limousin - Millevaches area). We came here primarily for the cooler climate and green, hilly and mountainous landscape. We still haven’t bought here but intend to if we can find the right property.
I have to say that before we came here (Massif Central) I was expecting all of it to be cutesy hill villages with granite houses and beaucoup charm. Having explored and travelled widely in the Millevaches region, south eastern Creuse, north Correze and eastern Haute Vienne, I must say that I am pretty underwhelmed with the shabby, run down nature of most of the rural hamlets and villages here. Yes there are a few pretty, mainly granite villages and towns (Eymoutiers, Meymac, Aubusson, Vallieres etc) but a great deal are extremely run down and underwhelming with a real horrible mish mash of architectural styles.
Take Treignac for example in Correze: this large village is a so called “petite citie of character” yet to my eyes it is plagued by breezeblock extensions, dodgy 1970’s era houses and not reaching it’s potential in any way befitting a known tourist village. Yes it has some lovely, really old and historic buildings but there are so many empty, decripit, crumbling properties that the city of character designation seems like charity? This pattern is repeated across much of the Millevaches Parc Naturel Regional, with places like Bugeat, Peyrat Le Chateau, Felletin etc having a really neglected vibe and harbouring some archtectural monstrosities (burnt out hotel -Bugeat; collapsed building in the middle of the town - Peyrat). I wonder if any form of planning control has ever been excercised in these sort of places? Why for example are there grey breezeblocks on display next to historic buildings? Is planning control only a recent thing here in France?
Maybe I don’t get the whole shabby French thing but to my eyes many of these places are all shabby and not chic. Is it just a cultural difference? Are other parts of France much more picturesque when it comes to the built environment? The landscape here (Milleavaches) is lovely, but I can’t help thinking that the hamlets and villages are really not doing much to promote the area? I certainly remember places in the Dordogne such as St Jean De Cole/Brantome being picture postcard beautiful. Is it just the “diagonal du vide” that suffers from a run down rural environment due to mass emigration?
What is it like in your part of France?
I remember many parts of Charente, Deux Sevres and Vienne being pretty run down too. Is Dordogne a special case?
For balance we all know that huge parts of the UK are run down, deprived and neglected, but equally there are some beautiful and stunning historic towns and villages (Cotswolds; Dorset; New Forest; Lake District). Is it just a case of the remote Limousin area being economically deprived or is rural France in general dying? For what it is worth, nearly all of these tatty, crumbling places are spotlessly clean when it comes to litter, which is not the case in deprived places in the UK.
What are people’s thought on this?