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Spotlight on….Latour de France

Village of Latour

Latour de France is a charming historic village situated on what was once the border between France and Catalunya. It is dominated by an 11th century castle perched on the hill overlooking 3 wine producing valleys in the Fenouillèdes, hence its previous name of “La Tor de Trinhac” which means “three view tower” in Occitane.

Latour is ideally situated between the Med and the mountains – 25km to the north west of Perpignan. The beach is 30 minutes away in the car and it takes an hour and a half to reach the ski resorts at Font Romeu and Pyrénées 2000

What is it like?

Latour is a quaint unspoilt village which is quintessential, rural France. With around 1000 inhabitants, the centre of the village is well-kept with a maze of charming French streets dotted with pots of flowers and hidden squares. A walk in Latour is like going back in time and there are picture postcard views from the village across the vineyards and mountains.

What amenities are there?

  • Important wine cooperative with AOC and several independent producers.
  • Campsite, library, notaire, market (Monday and Friday), pharmacie, epicerie, boulangerie, restaurant, 2 doctors, local tradesmen – plumber, builder, electrician, mechanic
  • Children’s playground
  • Haven for local painters and photographers.
  • Several  local sports and cultural clubs for grown-ups and children including tennis, theatre, rambling and cycling
  • Town hall, post office, church, gendarmerie
  • Terrains de pétanque
  • Communal barbecue site and family meeting place on the river Agly
  • Fertile river side allotments and coarse fishing

Are there Schools?

Young families are well served with an infant school (maternelle) and primary (primaire). For collège, children will have to travel further afield to Estagel or Ille sur Têt and the nearest lycées are in Perpignan.

Ideas for days out (among other things)

  • Tautavel
  • Château de Peyrepertuse
  • Château de Quéribus
  • Red Train – Rivesaltes to Axat
  • Route des Vins
  • Beach resorts
  • Ski resorts
  • Canigou
  • Perpignan
  • Château de Salses
  • Gorges de Galamus
  • Reservoir lake at Caramany

What else do I need to know?

  • Truffle Festival in January and Village Feast in August
  • Small English speaking community, made to feel extremely welcome
  • Larger town of Estagel (5 minutes) and the full range of shops and services in Perpignan or Claira commercial centre (30 minutes)

Spotlight on….Vernet-les-bains

“Here you have sunshine, and sunshine, and more sunshine, and then the rains on the 25th august or the 1st of September, and after that sunshine again.”
From the short story “Why Snow Falls at Vernet” by Rudyard Kipling

vernet les bains in spring with canigou behind

Rudyard Kipling spent a lot of time in the sunny and tranquil town of Vernet-les-Bain with his arthritic wife who sought to benefit from the healing qualities of the water.  With its enviable location and abundant sunshine, we can see why he fell in love with the place. It probably hasn’t changed all that much since he was there!

Where is it ?

map showing Vernet-les-Bains

Vernet-les-bains is nestled at the foot of the mighty mountain of the Catalans, Mount Canigou, described by Kipling as “a magician among mountains”. The town is located around 40 minutes’ drive to the west of Perpignan in the valley of the River Conflent. This is an ideal location if you are torn between the beach and the mountains as it is almost equidistant to the Mediterranean coast and the Pyreneen ski resorts of Font Romeu and Les Angles.

What is it like ?

Vernet is a pretty and compact little town which tumbles down a mountainside, topped by the old church of Saint Saturnin. Sheltered by Canigou but not in its shadow, it has a mild climate, both in winter and summer. Vernet is at an altitude of about 650m so it does get cold in winter but not nearly as cold as at the summit of Canigou with much less snow, although it does fall on occasion. In summer Vernet enjoys a really pleasant climate with temperatures a couple of degrees lower than the very high heat of the coast. You can spend your days on the beach and retreat to cooler climes when you’ve had enough!

For some photos of the town, check out our Vernet-les-bains Pinterest page.

What amenities are in the town ?

Vernet is pretty self contained with everything you need on a daily basis within walking distance of the centre of town. You could potentially live here without a car as there is a reasonable sized Intermarché supermarket at the entrance to the village, a pharmacy, post office, hairdresser, grocery shop, cafés and restaurants as well as the market which takes over the Place de la République three times a week.

Are there schools ?

Children aged 3-6 can attend the village maternelle (ages 3-6) and move on to primaire from age 6 to 12. Older children go to collège in Prades, about 10 minutes’ drive away. Transport is provided by the Mairie. Most French children go to their local village schools although some parents opt for the private Catholic school in Prades (http://ecolecollegesaintjoseph.org/). You don’t have to be a Catholic to go, the religious teaching is minimal and the fees are far more affordable than UK private schools.

What is there to do ?

The town has indoor and outdoor swimming pools which are ideal for children with slides, a paddling pool and a children’s pool. Adults might like to have a flutter at the town’s casino.

With such amazing surrounding countryside, Vernet is a haven for walkers, cyclists and enthusiasts of most outdoor sports. Nearby there are opportunities for water sports such as white water rafting and canyoning as well as horse riding, mountain biking, fishing and birdwatching.

If you’re into history and culture there is also loads to explore including the abbeys of Saint Martin de Canigou and Saint Michel de Cuxa and Serrabone Priory, and food lovers will enjoy browsing in the local markets and sampling the restaurants in the region.

Some ideas for days out include:

Canigou – Vernet is a great set off point for an ascent to the top of the magnificent Mount Canigou but it’s a long trek from the village. Most people take a 4×4 to one of the hostels closer to the summit and walk from there. You can either take the gentle(r) route from Hostalet del Cortal or tackle the infamous cheminée – one of the scariest experiences of my life but each to their own! Whichever way you go, don’t underestimate the terrain, it’s a challenging climb and weather conditions can change quickly so if you’re inexperienced, a guide might be a good idea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVillefranche de Conflent/Fort Liberia – classed as one of “Les plus beaux villages de France” the beautifully preserved fortified medieval village of Villefranche is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Great for a wander and lunch. If you’re feeling energetic you can walk up to the Romanesque fort standing guard over the village – there is an entry fee. You can also visit the limestone caves nearby.

Le Petit Train Jaune – for now the region’s famous little yellow train is still running from Villefranche up into the Pyrenees serving the ski resorts. It’s a stunning train ride you won’t forget on the highest rail track in France but the future of the train is in doubt because of funding issues.

Casteil animal park  –  a slightly ramshackle place, not without charm, and a good day out for children. They have a surprising range of animals to see including lions, bears, monkeys, llamas, wallabies and my personal favourite, the lynx. Visitors follow a circuit which is uphill for some of the way so take your walking shoes and buggies for littlies.

For further information on any of these or other ideas, Vernet has a tourist office.

What else do I need to know ?

vernet spa posterVernet-les-Bains became famous for its spa in the 19th century when the rich and famous flocked here for its healing properties. Visitors still come to the spa – often with the French state picking up the tab for doctor-prescribed cures for respiratory and rheumatic disorders. You can visit without a prescription though!

If you’re thinking of buying a small holiday home here, you could consider marketing it as accommodation for spa visitors to earn some extra money, larger properties with pools will be in demand from holidaymakers during high season.

By the Mairie you can find France’s only monument to the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain. The town also has an English church – Saint George’s – which is currently being renovated.

Properties for sale in Vernet-les-Bains

Selling property in France – why use an agent ?

My husband, Mark, runs estate agency Med and Mountain, based in Perpignan and selling property in the surrounding area. Having seen a few estate-agent bashing articles recently on local forums, he thought he’d put the case for selling your property through an estate agent! *ducks for cover*

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Here at Med and Mountain, we love buying and selling property – it’s a great job which is both people-centric and extremely varied. We take pride in the service which we provide to our clients, most of whom we’d like to think would recommend us!

However one aspect of the job which is not so welcome is the disdain with which we estate agents are treated by so many people. I have always struggled to understand why we are quite so universally reviled. Sure there are the rip-off merchants in the industry, but the same can be said of many industries and you don’t see people writing off all builders or lawyers or shop keepers in the same way as they do estate agents.

Perpignan 1 bed apartment 95,000 euros

Perpignan 1 bed apartment 95,000 euros

I think the answer is hinted at in a comment I read on a local English-speaking forum recently: “Why pay an agency 5-8% for putting it on the net if you can do it yourself?”. This statement makes the common assumption that all an estate agent does is advertise properties on the internet for the vendor, find a buyer and pocket a hefty chunk of commission for a few hours’ work. In fact, the job is so much more involved than this, as many have found out when they sell their properties themselves.

If you are thinking of selling your house yourself, these are the issues to consider before going it alone:

1. Can you afford to market your house effectively?

The property market in France is not exactly thriving. According to the FNAIM, the total number of sales in France last year fell by 5.1% with sales predicted to fall further in 2014. It is possible that you could advertise your property on a private sales site and find a buyer straight away but the odds are against you. The majority of homebuyers in France – 68% according to this article on the L’Express website – still buy through an estate agent.

The best agents will be marketing on numerous sites, both locally and internationally, to give your property the maximum exposure possible. If you were to pay for private ads on as many sites it would cost you handsomely. When choosing an agent, ask them about their marketing policy. You will soon be able to work out the level of exposure they are offering. If you think you can do better, fair enough, don’t give them a mandate.

It would be lovely if it was as simple as someone falling in love with your property from the online photos, coming to view it and making an offer however, after 11 years working in real estate I can tell you that very few people end up buying the house they initially enquired about.

An estate agency works like a shop – the website is the shop window which draws them in to browse and as they do so, they more often than not find different properties that interest them and end up buying one of those. Vendors benefit from the cumulative effect of lots of attractive properties on one site drawing potential purchasers  in.

In addition, don’t forget that agents also have databases of potential clients on their books looking for property. They may have buyers waiting for properties like yours to come on the market and systems in place to very quickly let them know about new additions to their portfolio.

2. Do you have time to dedicate to selling your house?

Don’t underestimate how time consuming it can be selling your house at the viewing stage. If you don’t live near the property or you work full-time you will need someone who can be available for viewings. Buyers who don’t live in the area will frequently have a very limited time in which to look at properties. If your property isn’t available to view, they will simply continue their search elsewhere. If you’re not using an agent, you will need someone dependable, available at short notice and who will present your property in a good light.

You should also consider whether they are equipped to answer all the questions thrown at them. Such questions will often not just be based around the property, but will also revolve around the intricacies of the buying process, timescales, the work of the notaire and where the potential buyer stands legally when making an offer especially if there are particular conditions of the sale to consider. If the potential buyer doesn’t get clear explanations and reassurances regarding the process, he may consider the risks of proceeding to be too high.

An agent is a professional skilled at dealing with potential buyers. They will establish whether house hunters are serious and whether they can actually afford to buy your house, weeding out unsuitable ones and saving everyone time and effort. They will also have the answers to buyers’ questions at their fingertips to give them the confidence to proceed.

3. Do you have good negotiation skills?

Negotiation is a skill that surprisingly few people are good at, although most people think they are! Many people are extremely emotive about their own property and find it difficult to accept that another person may not see it the same way. For this reason, vendors benefit from having a third party acting on their behalf in negotiating the sale price. An agent acts as a buffer between vendor and buyer as they bat offers and clauses back and forth.

No French property sale is straightforward – there are always finer points to discuss and resolve whether they concern boundaries, fixtures and fittings, septic tanks, termites or what furniture is included in the sale – the list is endless. Having a professional on board to deal with issues that crop up at the negotiation stage is reassuring for both vendor and buyer and could be the difference between clinching a sale and losing it.

4. Is your French good enough?

If French is not your native tongue, is it going to be adequate to get you through the selling process? Being able to point out the chaudière and the cuisine américaine is one thing, but how will you fare once you have an offer on the table and a potential buyer is asking detailed questions about the minor electrical faults or the presence of asbestos outlined in the reports which a seller legally has to provide to purchasers?

And once a price is agreed, the process doesn’t stop there. You will need to sign a compromis de vente – will you understand what you are signing? Our agency policy is to talk both buyer and seller through both the initial contract and the final acte de vente clause by clause to make sure they are 100% clear about what they are signing. Of course the notaire will be involved by this time but there are surprisingly few who speak good enough English to explain legal jargon in a comprehensive way, if they can even be bothered.

5. Do you have the knowledge of the house-buying process?

A good estate agent will regularly check with the notaire and buyer that everything is running smoothly during a sale. He or she will tell you, and the buyer, when formalities need to be completed and keep in constant contact with the notaire.

Experience has also taught us that notaires need constant badgering and, as in the case of a recent sale where major errors were found in the acte de vente when we checked it through, are not infallible when it comes to the drafting of these important documents. Are you capable of chasing up the notaire if he is dragging his heels and checking that draft documentation is correct?

If you have answered yes to all the above questions, then by all means give it a go selling your house yourself. If you answered no to any, I’d suggest that having a professional estate agent who you trust is a good idea. Rather than resenting then for the commission they will be earning, why not think of the positives that they will bring to the process and appreciate the fact that they will save you a lot of time and stress as well as providing expertise and support throughout the process.

If you would like a valuation of your property in the Pyrénées-Orientales, or have questions relating to the sales process, I would be happy to chat to you. Please feel free to contact me by phone or email.

 

Trains, planes and automobiles – travel in the Pyrénées-Orientales

Air links
Perpignan Airport
The P-O has one airport – Perpignan Rivesaltes – which offers daily flights to and from Paris year round. Sadly the Ryanair connections to Stansted and Birmingham currently only operate in the summer months. You can also fly to other destinations from Perpignan, depending on the time of year. This summer (2014) there will be direct flights to Southampton, Corsica (high season only), Nantes and Dublin. More information on routes and timetables is available in English on the airport’s website.

In winter, those wishing to fly to the UK and Ireland direct will need to travel a bit further afield although not too far as we are lucky to have plenty of choice with regard to accessible airports. When looking for flights, I always check Barcelona, Girona, Carcassonne and Béziers and choose whichever times and prices suit best. All those airports are within an hour and three quarters’ drive. Within two hours’ drive you can add Toulouse and Montpellier to the list. See below for details of car sharing schemes to get to airports if you don’t drive.

Train

The train service in France is often held up as an example of something the country has got right, although it is not particularly cheap to travel by train. From Perpignan you can get trains direct to many destinations including Paris, where you can change to the Eurostar to get to the UK, although this is usually more expensive than flying.

In December 2013 the long-awaited TGV direct to Barcelona in 1 hour 20 minutes finally started running, making day trips to the Catalan capital a possibility.

Travelling by train within the region is something that many expats don’t think of but it can be a handy way of getting around. I recently took some visiting friends down to Collioure from Perpignan on the train for a day out. It meant I could enjoy a glass or two of wine over my meal whilst at the same time avoiding the parking nightmare that a visit to Collioure usually involves.

Bus

Bus travel is practical, as well as planet and wallet-friendly. The Conseil Général heavily subsidises the bus network in the Pyrénées-Orientales to the extent that a bus anywhere in the region will cost you the princely sum of 1 euro. Yes, you read it right, 1 euro. You can get from Perpignan to Collioure, Céret and even up to the ski resorts in Font Romeu for this ridiculously cheap price.

For information about buses and timetables, have a look at the CTPM website.

BikeBIP bikes
Perpignan runs a bike rental scheme, called BIP, just like those operating in London and Paris, although apparently cheaper. This is an excellent and inexpensive way to get around the city and holidaymakers staying in apartments in the city, as well as Erasmus students living here, often use the distinctive red bikes to explore with great success. There are various pick up and drop off points around town.

You can either sign up for a yearly abonnement which costs 24 euros plus 30 cents for each 30 minutes of use, or use the 7 day Formule Liberté option which is 1 euro to register and then 50 cents for each 30 minutes of use . For both options you need to go online to register and provide credit card details as a security deposit. The site is only in French and Catalan but it is fairly straightforward.

Car

If you are in the area without a car and don’t want to hire one, car sharing is becoming an increasingly popular option for getting around. In fact, a new website, www.takeme.fr,  has just been launched, in English, promoting car shares in department 66 for airport runs to Perpignan, Girona, Beziers, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Toulouse and Barcelona.

The lovely Cristina, who did work work experience with us last year, also travelled extensively throughout France and Spain using the French website www.covoiturage.com. Drivers post information about their journeys online and you can contact them to arrange to travel with them. Petrol and toll costs are shared and everything is worked out up front so you know exactly what you will be paying.

Driver, passenger and the planet all benefit from these car sharing schemes, but do be careful if you are getting into a car with a stranger.

Meet the expats – part 1

Many people contemplating a move to France are interested to know about how expats who have already made the move earn a living. So we thought it might be interesting to introduce you to some entrepreneurs who have set up businesses in the Pyrénées-Orientales.

First off, meet Tanya Jerrard, mum of four girls, who has lived in Perpignan for 10 years. Tanya has managed to combine her love of vintage with running Pomme de Jour, an online business selling “Funky Vintage From France”.
       Pomme de Jour cushionsPomme de jour hangars
The funky stuff includes fabrics, wallpapers, kitchenalia and all manner of bits and bobs, all sourced from local flea markets and vide greniers. Tanya also uses the fabrics and wallpapers, and her sewing and crafting skills to create gorgeous homewares like these beautiful, vibrant cushions and hangers.
The Pomme de Jour shop can be found on the Etsy website. It attracts clients from all over the world from the US to Japan and Tanya’s products have been featured on many vintage websites as well as in Jane Foster’s book, Fun With Fabric. Go on, have a browse.
You can meet Tanya and buy some gorgeous vintage Christmas presents at Perpignan’s first ever vintage Fair which takes place on the 14th and 15th December at the Palais des Congrès.
If you are an expat and would like your local business to feature on the blog and in the newsletter, please do contact Louise at info@france-sos.com.

The costs involved in selling a property in France

I frequently get asked by clients about the costs involved in selling a property in France so here is a brief lowdown.

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House for sale with Med and Mountain Properties

The good news is that there are no notaire’s fees to pay – these are paid by the buyer. You only need to take these into account if you are selling to purchase another property in France.

If you are selling privately then there are no agency fees to pay, however, most foreign vendors do use an agent. Fees will vary and many agents work to a sliding scale depending on the sale price of the property. Med and Mountain Properties, our sister company, charges a flat rate of 6%, regardless of the value of the property.

By law, vendors of all properties must carry out various reports which are made available to the buyer. Collectively these are known as the Dossier de Diagnostic Technique (DDT). The dossier, which seems to be ever increasing, much to the delight of the companies which carry out the reports, includes reports regarding lead, asbestos, termites, electrical wiring, gas installations, energy efficiency, septic tanks and natural or industrial risks. Med and Mountain can arrange for the reports to be carried out on behalf of vendors. Prices vary depending on the size of the property, but are usually between 700 and 1000 euros. The energy efficiency ratings must be displayed on all publicity so this report must be carried out before a buyer is found. It usually makes sense for the others to be done at the same time.

If the property you are selling is not your principal residence, there may be capital gains tax (impôt sur les plus values) to pay on the difference between the price you paid for the property and the price for which you sell it (there are some exemptions – ask your notaire if these might apply to you). You can offset some work which you might have done on the property so dig out those receipts to give to your notaire. This is one reason why you should ensure that you use registered workmen who provide proper invoices.

The CGT rules in France are constantly changing and have just done so again so do check the current rates with your notaire and take a look at the information provided (in English) on the Notaires de France website.

For properties above 150,000 euros, vendors who live abroad are obliged to appoint a fiscal representative to guarantee the payment of their capital gains tax. There are specialist companies who do this, at a price of about 1% of the sale price. This is payable even if there is no capital gains tax to pay.

If you are selling an apartment, or any property which forms part of a co-propriété (whereby various properties share common parts) which is managed by a professional agent, the notaire will ask the agent for paperwork to confirm that the vendor has paid everything owing to the co-propriété. The agent has the right to charge for this paperwork, which can be as much as 400 euros.

Relocating to France – a success story !

Who doesn’t like to read about a relocation success story ? Gerry Adams and Justin Harris are proof that with hard work and determination, you can make a business work in France, even if you start off with almost zero French. If you’re thinking of making the move to France, be inspired by the journey of this dogged couple.

      creatif impression shop  Justin shop interior

Gerry and Justin moved to the market town of Thuir, 15 minutes to the west of Perpignan, in October 2009 with their two small children, Rosa and James. Their French at the time was pretty much non-existent yet they were determined to forge a new life in France for their family and that meant they needed to earn a living.

Prior to moving, Justin worked as a Sales Director and Gerry was a Trustee and Estate Manager but when they sold up in the UK they used some of the proceeds of the sale of their property to buy a giant all-singing, all-dancing printer with the plan to print and sell photos on canvas. Créatif Impression was born.

Justin spent the first couple of years selling at local markets. That meant getting up at ridiculous o’clock in the mornings and fighting with others to be allocated a slot at the different markets around the region, setting up the stall and chatting to potential clients. All in French. Baptism of fire pretty much sums it up.

That's me with the bear!

That’s me with the bear!

It was a daunting process of trial and error but eventually Justin built up a good business with some loyal clients. Justin’s USP was his ability to take old photos, Photoshop them (in my case he magically erased a random Mrs Thatcher looky likey lurking at the back of an old family wedding shot) and give them a new lease of life on canvas.

While Justin was gaining momentum, Gerry was busy honing her photography skills. She joined the Thuir photography club and in spite of understanding almost nothing at her initial meetings, persevered until she became a valued member of the club contributing to their annual exhibition.

The business has gone from strength to strength and earlier this year, Gerry and Justin took the big leap of taking on a shop in the centre of Thuir. In addition to the canvases, they sell greetings cards and quirky artwork, Justin offers a framing service and Gerry is getting her portrait business off the ground. So far the shop has been a great success so the future is looking rosy for this determined pair. Bon courage Gerry and Justin.

New Bodega restaurant, Perpignan

Perpignan is just a few kilometres from the Spanish border, and the locals here consider themselves to be first and foremost Catalan, rather than French. Road signs in the region are displayed in both languages and the gold and red stripes of the Catalan flag can be seen everywhere. The Catalan/Spanish influence can also be felt on the city’s foodie scene with a scattering of tapas restaurants in town.

Tapas done well is a very fine and sociable way to eat. The problem is that in so many places tapas are poorly executed with an excess of deep fried bits and bobs which leave you unpleasantly stuffed and reaching for the Rennies, rather than satisfyingly replete.

This is, however, not the case at New Bodega, where they serve what I consider to be the best tapas in town. The restaurant has some outdoor seating in the narrow pedestrianised and buzzy rue Voltaire, a bar at the front, leading through to tables as well as a more casual seating area with sofas to the rear. The kitchen is behind glass in full view of the restaurant so you can watch the chefs preparing your food. The ambience is laidback with a nod to relaxed Spanish style dining rather than the more formal traditional French style.
New Bodega
You will be hard pushed to narrow down your choices from the extensive menu. We plumped for a selection which included beautifully cooked griddled squid – so tender I even enjoyed the tentacles (not normally my bag), Spanish manchego cheese with exquisite bellota ham, melt-in-the-mouth chicken croquettes, chick peas delicately seasoned with cumin, the ubiquitous pan con tomate and patatas bravas for our carb hit, and my favourite tapa of them all – pimientos de padrón. If you’re not familiar with these babies, you should definitely give them a whirl. They look like miniature green peppers and are simply fried and served with a sprinkling of salt. Eating them is a culinary Russian roulette – most are mild but the occasional one has a super-fiery kick to it.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and booking is highly recommended, especially at weekends when you are unlikely to find a table if you just tip up. Sadly the opening hours are French rather than Spanish so we got politely evicted at midnight although we could have happily stayed quaffing the very drinkable house wine well into the night !

Aux Bonnes Olives newYou will find New Bodega nestled in the warren of cobbled streets in Perpignan’s historic city centre. If you are there in the day time, take time to wander down the wonderful rue Paratilla, which is directly opposite the restaurant. This tiny street is a foodies paradise and home to a collection of quirky little shops selling condiments, spices, salt cod, strings of chillies, olives and jams as well as two fishmongers and several small traditional bars offering wine with oysters or plates of freshly sliced serrano ham. A wonderfully quaint Mamie can also usually be found perched on the corner of the street selling a smattering of fresh produce from her garden.

New Bodega
3bis rue Voltaire
66000 Perpignan
04.68.35.21.87
Open Monday to Saturday 12-2.30pm and 7-11pm

Bespoke shoes for 83 euros anyone?

Earlier this year I paid a visit to Cap Espardenya, a small business based in Canet which makes espadrilles of all shapes and sizes to write about it for P-O Life magazine. Here’s the article I wrote:

Ok, hands up who would like a custom-made pair of shoes with your own choice of style, colour and fabric ? But that would be ridiculously expensive wouldn’t it ? Well, not at Cap Espardenya where they will custom make a pair of espadrilles for you for the not-so-princely sum of just 83 euros. Yes really. And if you think an espadrille is not your thing, think again because these are not just your bog standard espadrille, these are espadrilles for the 21st century !

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I visited Cap Espardenya in June and was bowled over by what this fledgling company, established in December 2011, produces from their workshop in Canet. The company is small with just three partners. Henri-Philippe Baptiste is the charming front man who showed me round the workshop where I saw his associates, Marguerite Lompech and designer Françoise Chaumat, in full production mode. Françoise has impressive design credentials, having worked for major fashion houses in Paris including Lanvin, Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier. She has had the pleasure of shodding many an illustrious celebrity foot, including those of Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio !

The espadrille has a long history, dating back as far as the 14th century and both Catalonia and the Basque country lay claim to being the home of the shoe. The Catalans call an espadrille an espardenya, which in turn comes from another Catalan word, esparto. This is the name of a kind of grass traditionally used to make the rope which is the defining feature of an espadrille in the form of the jute rope sole.

The company’s adoption of the Catalan word reflects Marguerite’s desire to take an iconic product from her native region, maintain all its best features – hand stitching, natural products and suppleness – and modernise it, transforming the espadrille from a casual shoe into something more chic and elegant.

Cap Espardenya buy in their rope soles (semelles) from the Spanish Basque country but the rest of the shoe is made on site in Canet, much of it by hand, making this a labour intensive process. The rope sole is vulcanised with rubber – rubber balls are heated to 400°C turning them to liquid which is then pressed on to the rope and resolidifies.

The most labour-intensive part of the process is the hand-stitching of the upper to the sole. Cap Espardenya is unique in using a cross stitch to do this which is makes for a sturdier shoe. I watched Marguerite sewing a pair and can tell you that this is tough sewing which requires great precision. A basic pair of shoes takes around an hour to make but the more intricate styles can take up to 4 hours. An oft-seen hazard of espadrille wearing is the slipping off of the backs which results in the wearer treading it down. This unseemly look doesn’t happen with Cap Espardenya espadrilles which feature a border sewn round the top to avoid slippage.

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Cap Espardenya produce a traditional fabric espadrille which can be bought off the shelf in a range of colours priced at 30 euros – I came away with a beautiful bright orange pair perfect for a casual summery look. However what sets this operation apart is the range of different styles available. For women, they produce a ballet pump style in the softest Spanish leather, suede or patent leather in fabulous colours. These cost 55 euros off the shelf. They differ from the traditional espadrille shape with the front of the shoe slightly rounded which is more comfortable on the foot. Having been given a beautiful pale yellow pair (very this year !) which I have worn a lot, I can confirm that they are classy, smart and comfortable and I’ve received many a compliment when sporting them. Other styles for women include a gladiator style and a wedge heel for a more formal look.

Men can choose from the traditional fabric style, leather or suede moccasins (to be worn without socks guys, please don’t subject us to the fashion faux pas of espadrilles and socks !), the bestselling unisex two-tone golf shoe or the Pablo lace-up version, named after possibly the world’s most famous espadrille wearer, Pablo Picasso.

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During my tour, a whole range of shoes had been collected together to send as samples to China of all places. Henri-Philippe explained that among the monied Chinese there is a huge demand for quality hand-made products and they are hoping to set up deals exporting in bulk to China. Who would have thought it ?

To get your hands on a bespoke pair of shoes, or indeed the off-the-shelf styles, you need to hotfoot it down to the Cap Espardenya workshop. Once you have chosen your style, colour and fabric, the team will get to work and produce your shoes within three days. They are really accommodating and can produce whatever you want. When I was there they were working on a pair of traditional espadrilles in two colours with the fronts and backs reversed for the left and right shoe. I think a pair of Cap Espardenya espadrilles make a lovely gift, particularly if you want to give a regional product which is not wine or food !

Just a final word on prices – the prices quoted in this article are only valid if you buy directly from the workshop. The shoes can be bought online but prices are higher.

ATELIER CAP ESPARDENYA
53 Boulevard Las Bigues
66140 Canet en Roussillon
www.cap-espardenya.com
contact@cap-espardenya.com
Tel: 04 34 12 44 15

Opening hours :
From 15th April to 15th September : Monday to Saturday from 9am to 7pm 15th
From 16th September to 14th April : Monday to Saturday from 9am to 12 and 2pm to 7pm

Le 17 Restaurant, Perpignan

Rue de la Révolution Française is a quintessentially French pedestrianised street in the heart of Perpignan’s historic centre lined with shuttered houses and a treasure trove of small, family-run restaurants. The best of these, in my opinion, is at the bottom of the road, overlooking the pretty Place de la Révolution Française and is called Le 17.

Le 17 exterior

Since 2009, the restaurant has been run by brother and sister team Frédéric and Corinne Marchand who have built up a loyal following of locals, especially at lunchtime. They have coined the term “bistronomique” to describe the combination of a relaxed, convivial bistro ambience with a passion for cooking which produces dishes a cut above the norm for the city, both in terms of quality and presentation. Corinne is responsible for the friendly front-of-house vibe while Frédéric conjures up the magic in the kitchen using the finest fresh ingredients.

Fish, beautifully cooked, is the real star of the show at Le 17 and features daily in the lunchtime menu. The menu offers three courses for 19 euros, starter and main for 13 euros or main and dessert for 16 euros. The menu is different every day but today’s tempting offering is fresh goat’s cheese in pastry, swordfish steak with cuttlefish ink risotto and tomato coulis finished off with roasted peaches on a shortbread biscuit with vanilla cream. Mouth watering yet?  If you really can’t eat fish then Frédéric can substitute a magret de canard for the main course, but it’s a shame to miss out on fish so well cooked unless it’s going to kill you!

In the evening the restaurant offers an à la carte menu (you can also order from a limited à la carte menu at lunchtime). This changes with the seasons and includes fabulously creative meat and fish dishes originally presented. Take for example the rolled squid Thai style – how good does it look?

Le 17
17 rue de la Révolution Française
66000 Perpignan
Tel: 04 68 38 56 82