THERE is a small, little-known corner of the north western end of the huge Rhone-Alpes region in France which is waiting, somewhat patiently, for discovery and greater attention, writes Brian Franklin.
This area is called Le Roannais in the département of the Loire.
Yes, of course, many tourists and business travellers from the UK and other parts of Europe visit, or drive through the region down the famous route N7 every year.
This is exactly what they often do – drive straight through or around it without stopping and taking a 'breath' but they are missing a lot.
It is not, however, an isolated part of France, like many areas can be in this huge country.
The Roannais is a delightful region with beautiful countryside, forests, lakes, mountains, with the river la Loire meandering through it.
At the central hub of several more well-known regions, the Roannais is within easy access of some famous cities, towns, and villages.
Roanne is the main township with, for example, France's second city of Lyon just over an hour's drive or train journey away.
Vichy, with its famous spring waters, is also nearby, and Saint Etienne on the edge of the stunning, volcanic region of the Puy-de-Dôme.
Located on the banks of the river la Loire, with the lower slopes of Auvergne, Beaujolais and Bourgogne (Burgundy) forming the backdrop, the Roannais region offers French lifestyle at its very best.
It is renowned for its food, which includes the famous three-star restaurant, Maison Troisgros (a fantastic gastronomic experience if you've got the chance. And the money, of course).
There are also many other local, family-run restaurants which are simply sublime, and for quality, service and surroundings certainly do not break the bank.
Vineyards decorate the surrounding hillsides, with Côte Roannaise wine, made from Gamay grapes, being the local tipple. Also, the popular vineyards and succulent wines of the Beaujolais are just 45 minutes away.
Medieval castles and renaissance country houses abound, Château de la Roche being, probably, the most romantic.
Set on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the Loire, this classic fairytale castle is stunning. Every year in August there is an incredible son et lumiere show including dramatic firework displays celebrating its medieval history.
Roanne is surrounded by the uplands known as the Monts de la Madeleine, Monts du Beaujolais and Monts du Lyonnais.
They provide breathtaking panoramic views of the Roanne Valley, and are easily accessible for hill-walking, mountain-biking, and, of course, skiing and snow-boarding during the winter months.
Due to its location near the Loire, the Roannais area is also popular for river cruising through the Loire gorges. Water sports, such as sailing, canoeing and rowing are also available.
There is plenty to do for families and children all year round. It is certainly a great place for either a holiday home, or more permanent residency.
This is a region which is developing and is becoming much more easily accessible due to new links to France’s ever-growing auto-route network.
Lyon, in particular, continues to expand, and the Roannais is becoming easier to commute between.
Most villages and townships within 25 kilometres of Lyon have seen massive increases in property prices during the last 10 years.
The Roannais is less than 50 kilometres away, and is such a prize of a place for country living but with all amenities such as shops, entertainment, schools and colleges for people wanting to live 'the life' whilst working and earning in the city.
There is even the possibility of a direct TGV link into Roanne in the near future. Even now, access to the TGV to Paris and Marseille, for example, is simple with easy connections to Lyon.
The ski resorts of the Alps are around three hour’s drive away, and the popular southern regions and French Riviera are within easy reach.
There are several convenient airports such as Lyon (St.Exupery), Saint Etienne, Grenoble, Chambery and Geneva.
Property opportunities abound, and with all the rapid, ongoing regional development it seems, therefore, to be a particularly good time to invest.
Such opportunities include remarkable, ancient châteaux, farmhouses, barns, and medieval village town houses either in the mountains, hillsides, or amongst the forests and rich farmland.
Prices are good. There are absolute bargains and renovation opportunities to be had.
You can pick up a large château for less than €550,000, a sizeable farmhouse for less than €150,000, or barn or cottage, ripe for renovation, for less than €50,000.
Prices, of course, like most regions throughout France, vary a lot, and the willingness of the Roannais locals to negotiate is well known.
In the last 10 years property prices have increased throughout the Roannais region, and in the next five years, or so, property prices, despite the current economic malaise, are certainly expected to move upward further. An investment ahead of the game is well worth consideration.
It is, of course, impossible to depict the Roannais in its full glory, and define the myriad of opportunities available in this short article. You must visit, and see for yourself. It’s the only way.
Discovering The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes
Le Cuvage project turns into a grand design
It's a serious business building in the Rhône-Alpes
Topping-off a grand design of a building project
Adding the finishing touches to Le Cuvage
Looking back, and lessons learnt, of Le Cuvage project
Brian and Lucy Franklin run the Pure France Now website which looks to highlight the delights and opportunities of The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes region. They provide business event hosting, holiday rentals, property finding services and enjoy promoting the area to visitors.