What's in a European Border?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What's in a European Border?

We're spoilt for choice in Europe. It may be the second smallest continent but with over forty countries, most within three hours flight of each other, the delicious fusion of cultures, food, languages and history is endlessly thrilling.

Some owners choose the location of their holiday home specifically to benefit from this variety, aware that a carefully chosen home near a border provides two complimentary cultures for the price of one.

Wake up to a croissant and café au lait in Nice for example and it's an easy drive to explore the historic art and architecture of Italy before feasting on the perfect plate of spaghetti alle vongole.

Here are three prime European options providing easy access to two distinct yet colourful cultures.

France vs Spain - the Atlantic Coast

Bayonne france

The Basque country stretches around 100 miles from Bilbao in Spain to Bayonne in France covering the beautiful Michelin star-soaked gastronomic city of San Sebastián and the wide Atlantic surfing beaches and golf courses around classy Biarritz in France.

"The weather is better on the French side because the Pyrenees keep the cloud away," declares Caroline Laffontan of Laffontan Immobilier."But I love Spain and its people and to be so close is wonderful. From here you can go to Spain for a tapas lunch, feel completely immersed in Spanish culture and then return to France for the evening."

Caroline is based in St Jean-de-Luz, a charmingly low-key French fishing town beloved by Parisian families and ten miles from both Biarritz in one direction and the Spanish border in the other. There is a good rail service to Paris and airports in Biarritz and Bordeaux.

St Jean is the most expensive town on the French side, pricier than Biarritz and Bayonne but still 30 per cent more affordable than San Sebastián says Laffontan.

Edward Betts of Spanish agency Inmorealty acknowledges San Sebastián's price premium but his solution is to drive an additional 90 minutes further west into Spain towards Llanes in Asturias where properties can be up to half the price.

"Asturias has clean and beautiful beaches, mountains with three ski resorts and great gastronomy," he says. "Spain's excellent motorway system means that you are three hours from the border making a day trip perfectly possible. So a 100 square metre two-bedroom apartment in San Sebastián would average around €410,000, or nearer €290,000 in Bilbao and just under €200,000 in Llanes."

Spain vs Portugal - the Iberian Peninsular

Tavira beach in portugal

Most visitors arriving at busy Faro airport on Portugal's ever-popular Algarve coast head west towards buzzy golf and beach resorts such as Vilamoura and Portimao. However head east and within forty minutes the Guadiana River forms a natural border between Spain and Portugal. This eastern Algarve offers a quieter, calmer alternative of red-roofed towns under shaded pines.

"The eastern Algarve has historic towns and is more affordable than the west," says Chris White of Ideal Homes Portugal. "Beaches are less busy yet Tavira, the largest town in the region, has all the shops and facilities you would need. Accessibility to Spain is excellent on the A22 which links to Seville within two hours making a perfect getaway in a different country."

Property is more expensive than in Spain but advantages of buying in Portugal include no inheritance tax and substantially lower buying costs says White: "A good quality two-bedroom apartment in the eastern Algarve would be around €165,000 and a townhouse closer to €190,000."

If you opt to buy in Spain, cross the impressive Guadiana Bridge to the Costa de la Luz, a long windswept coast popular with Spaniards and windsurfers and backed by dense pine forests. Local treats include white prawns, pata negra - Serrano ham - and Condado region wines.

"Costa de la Luz has always been Spain's best kept secret," says Miguel Martinez of Isla Canela. "Yet Faro airport in Portugal is under one hour and Seville in Spain is 80 minutes from where the high speed train takes just over two hours to reach Madrid. This part of Spain still retains the charm of a laidback lifestyle with generations of local families meeting in town squares."

Immediately across the border in Spain, Isla Canela is on a 4,200-acre island with a nature reserve stocked with flamingos and eagles. The resort was established twenty years ago and has sold around 4000 properties to mainly Spanish, British and Scandinavian buyers. It has an 18-hole golf course, marina, hotels and shopping centres with completed apartments priced from €89,000.

"Property is better value in Spain than Portugal where in general similar homes are 20 to 30 per cent more expensive," says Miguel. "Isla Canela's main attraction however is its location, away from mass tourism with uncrowded beaches and just across the river from Portugal. Only a quarter of the island can be developed, the rest is protected."

Italy vs France - the Mediterranean Coast

San Remo in Italy

One of Europe's best known and certainly best loved coastlines, the Côte d'Azur sweeps ever-elegantly from France into Liguria, an Italian region blessed with golden beaches and green hills.

Access is easy through airports at Nice in France and Genoa in Italy. The legendary lifestyles available either side of the border make it a tough call on where to call home.

"In terms of property taxation Italy is cheaper than France," says Matteo Scandolera of LiguriaHomes Casamare. "France has the annual Wealth Tax on properties over €1,300,000 and Capital Gains on a sliding scale over 22 years of up to 34.5 per cent for EU citizens. Italy has no Wealth Tax and Capital Gains is 20 per cent but falls to zero after five years."

In coastal towns San Remo and Bordighera one-bedroom apartments start from €150,000 and two-bedrooms from €250,000. "Go a few miles inland in the lovely countryside of rolling hills and olive groves and prices are even lower," Matteo says.

"A good detached three-bedroom house with private garden and panoramic sea views start from €400,000 in ancient villages and hamlets such as Dolceacqua or Dolcedo. British clients love these authentic villages and stone properties."

The French themselves love to pour over the border into Italy on market days (Friday in Ventigmiglia and Tuesday and Saturday in San Remo) in search of value.

So why chose to buy on the more expensive French side?

"France is still the number one tourist destination in the world and it's not hard to see why when you visit the sun-drenched beaches, cafes and restaurants of the Cote d'Azur," says James Ross of Erna Low. "And buying here doesn't have to break the bank. We have two bedroom apartments at Sunset Villas in the hills overlooking Nice starting from £250,000."

"The beauty of buying in the Cote d'Azur is you are never far from the Italian border with a completely different culture to enjoy. And the French property market still has the added value of being a secure investment with no wild price fluctuations to worry investors in one of the world's premier destinations."

search overseas proeprty

Cathy Hawker


Cathy Hawker