IF getting away from it all is what you are looking for then Auvergne, in the centre of France, is the place to head for.
It is one of the least populated areas in Europe, with around 50 people per square kilometre, but enjoys stunning scenery, extinct volcanoes and rolling hills.
In the west of Auvergne lies the Massif Central famous for its national parks and the Puy de Dôme; it’s a landscape of deep gorges, extinct volcanic craters and thick forests – it has a touch of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
This part of Auvergne has established itself as a centre for outdoor sports, with cross-county cycling and hiking popular, plus skiing during the winter months.
Away from the mountains, especially in the north in the département of Allier, the landscape is less rugged and agriculture dominates, with a very slow way of life the norm.
I spent six months in this area and found people welcoming and always willing to help when more than one pair of hands were needed for a job.
Auvergne’s biggest problem is that its population is slowly falling, after years of migration the number of births is lower than the number of deaths and few people have taken up the many properties left empty and abandoned.
Property prices in Auvergne are the lowest in France, and yearly increases are also quite slow, for example between 2003 and 2004 average prices rose by 8.2 per cent, whilst the French average was 12.5 per cent.
The biggest city is Clermont Ferrand and is home to tyre manufacturer Michelin this has ensured allied industries have prospered, but much of this wealth has failed to seep out into the surrounding countryside.
Road and rail links in the region are good, with autoroutes running north to south, and east to west; unfortunately air links to the UK are not good with St Étienne and Lyon the closest.
Auvergne is unlikely to appeal to the property speculator, but for those people who enjoy the great outdoors and adventure sports there could be much that appeals.
Départements: Allier (03), Cantal (15), Haute-Loire (43), Puy de Dôme (63).
Green Guide to Auvergne