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If there is one building which is an icon of rural French architecture it is the pigeonnier (pronounced pi-j'on-ee-ay). Sought after as a component of a grand country estate or even as a property in its own right a pigeonnier will always create extra interest when included as part of a property for sale, regardless of the condition it is in. But why were they built and why was so much importance attached to them in the first place?

Formal pigeonniers were built to house pigeons (unsurprisingly) from the early middle ages onwards. The birds nested and bred inside them in little compartments, or pigeon holes, which lined the walls and there were pigeon sized entrances to allow them to fly in and out of the building high up, away from predators. The birds themselves provided meat, but another bonus was the guano, or pigeon droppings which was highly valuable as ferlilizer. The right to construct a distinctive, detached pigeonnier, usually standing some distance from an important manoir or chateau, was granted as a mark of status and was usually the indication that the property was the home of a nobleman or influential land owner. Because of this role as a status symbol they tended to become more and more fanciful, reflecting the wealth and influence of the owner. The ordinary tenant farmer or paysan would not be allowed to construct a pigeonnier of this style but would make do with a few holes high in the walls of their barn, or in the side of a pig sty.


                  The well known polygon shaped pigeonnier at Chateau de Vigiers, in the Dordogne.                             

The 'standard' pigeonnier has a square footprint and rises two or three storeys with a door and windows to each of the four walls. The top floor has smaller windows and above or around them are the tiny entrances allowing the birds to fly in and out. The roof usually rose to a point from the four sides and was constructed from beautiful oak beams with clay tiles on top. This construction translates well into a small house or holiday cottage (gite) and from time to time you find lovely examples of them on the market or available to let for your holidays. They do present a challenge to the developer as there is normally only room for one room on each floor so you will get, say, a living room/kitchen on the ground floor and stairs to a bedroom/bathroom which has stairs from that to a second bedroom and maybe bathroom on the top floor. An alternative it to build one or two wings onto the original structure which gives you more space.

A beautiful conversion

But to get back to the original design - throughout France you will see wonderfully elaborate designs, indicating both the status of the owner and the range of local materials and building skills available. Sometimes they were built on stone legs, reminiscent of the British staddle stones and fulfilling the same function - deterring vermin.

An example of legs and columbage


In areas with plentiful limestone they would be built of that characteristic pale stone. In highly wooded areas you might get columbage, or timber framing with wattle and daub infill and where the property (or the landowner) was particularly grand you could get something very fanciful indeed....


We have recently put together a new white paper, or set of guidance notes, outlining French Properties Direct's five top tips when it comes to selling a property. Here is an except  from top tip number 1 - Preparation.



Does the property need work to make it saleable?

I am often asked what a vendor should do before they put their house on the market and my general view is that they should do as little as possible. If you make expensive changes or undertake spur of the moment renovations you will probably be wasting your money – as you will not do what your potential buyers would have done themselves and probably will not recoup the money you have spent on the work. I have frequently encountered buyers who complain that they are not prepared to pay for work which has recently been done and which they will want to undo.

Unless you are selling a renovation project it is important that a property is well maintained and that what should work does work – so the roof should not leak and there should not be curtain rails hanging off the walls or peeling paint on the window frames. Your house should look loved and cared for. The best idea is to spend a little bit of money on a lick of paint –usually a neutral white which will not offend anyone – and, outside, a nicely gravelled drive or parking area. If there is a repair that you have been meaning to get around to for ages, then do it but what you must NEVER do is camouflage a defect. If, for example, you have a structural fault such as a crack which could indicate subsidence you must not hide it. If, after the sale, it comes to light that you have done so your buyer can come back to you for reparations or even nullify the sale. This particular sin is known as a ‘vice cache ‘ and your buyer is protected by law from your actions – for many years after the sale has taken place.


If there were two key points to remember for outside they are:

  1. Cut the grass regularly and throughout the growing season – if you do no other gardening at all.
  2. A load of gravel (in a local stone) carefully spread out can lift a property immensely.


And for inside:

  1. A neutral paint throughout will lift a tired property at once.
  2. Attend to routine maintenance.




Here are two examples - the first has a beautifully presented approach to the property. First impressions count. You can see the difference a weed free, gravel driveway and parking area makes:



This second property was 'dressed' to sell - and it did:




Eurostar have announced that it could soon be possible to travel from London to Bordeaux in just over 4 hours. The new high speed line from Tours to Bordeaux is due to open next summer and this opens up the possibility of direct high speed travel to London to Bordeaux. Currently rail travellers wanting to make the journey have to change trains, but direct trains to destinations such as Marseilles have already proved popular and Bordeaux could be next. As Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar’s chief executive, told Bloomberg: “Bordeaux has really turned itself around. It’s a dynamic city.” As someone who visits Bordeaux as often as I can, I have to agree.

The announcement has great implications for owners of properties in Aquitaine as the region is, in effect, being brought even closer to the UK's capital and to a vast pool of potential property buyers and holiday makers. This can only increase the desirability of properties in the area around Bordeaux. Once your high speed train arrives in the centre of Bordeaux the city itself is easy to navigate via the recently installed tram network. From the city's Gare St Jean there is a network of regional  train lines which will take you to various destinations in the Gironde department as well as along the Dordogne valley to Bergerac and further afield or down the Garonne valley to the gorgeous villages and towns of Lot et Garonne.


Our currency exchange partner Smart has sent us the following update on sterling and euro movements over the last week plus an indication of what to look for in the next few days. 


Sterling fell at the last hurdle last week – how will this week fare?


Sterling struggled on Friday, giving away the recent gains seen against the US dollar despite weaker-than-expected US non-farm payrolls data.

We expect this week to be quiet, with investor focus trained on the US where we will be hearing from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen later in the week when she reports to the Senate banking Committee on Wednesday/Thursday. The main point of interest in the UK will be the latest trade balance figure released on Tuesday. Following this, manufacturing production throughout January is likely to have the highest impact, with sterling likely to gain support should this figure beat expectations.


Euro ends a good week on a low


The euro ended an impressive week in a muted fashion as it remained almost exactly unchanged against sterling but lower against the US dollar, falling back from the recent three month highs. The small movement against the US dollar was mostly down to positive US jobs data, while disappointing economic reports from the had a negative impact on the single currency. From the Eurozone, data earlier on Friday showed that German factory orders fell by 0.7% in December, compared to expectations of 0.5%, after a 1.5% increase the previous month.

The main release for this week will be Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures from Germany this Friday which are forecast to remain at 0.3%.


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If you are thinking of buying a property in France in 2016, it is important to plan your finances carefully in the last weeks of 2015, particularly any currency transfers to and from France.

Anyone sending money to or from France is at the mercy of fluctuating euro-sterling or euro-US dollar exchange rates. With important economic and political events still expected by the end of 2015 and in the pipeline for 2016, the strength of the euro may change quickly, affecting the exchange rate you receive. Unless you plan ahead, this can make it impossible to know how much you will get for your money and to budget effectively, particularly for larger transfers to pay a deposit, for final property purchase, or any regular maintenance payments for your French home.


We have seen the remarkable effects of economic events on exchange rates over the years, and the start of 2015 was a particularly eventful example. Just one week of January 2015 had passed before sterling fell to a 17-month low against the US dollar, but hitting a six-year high against the euro at the same time!


December is usually a busy month for economic data, setting the tone for the year ahead. These announcements can have a dramatic effect across all currency markets. We have seen notable currency market movement already in December, with significant movements for sterling, the euro and the US dollar as a result of the European Central Bank’s (ECB) decision to extend Quantitative Easing for another six months. Markets are now waiting for news of the US interest rate decision, which is also likely to have a considerable effect on exchange rates.


With a number of similar economic events on the horizon for 2016, we are likely to see more rapid exchange rate movements, so it is all the more important to make sure you have a strategy for any large currency exchanges you need to make during the remainder of 2015, and plan ahead for those you will need in 2016. By keeping one eye looking forward and budgeting effectively, you can really get the most for your money.

The experienced traders at Smart Currency Exchange are constantly monitoring the currency markets and can keep you updated about market changes could affect you and your money. One way they can help you to avoid losing money from exchange rate movements is a Forward Contract, a specialist currency product that lets you lock in the exchange rate at a favourable time, so you know exactly how many euros you will receive for your sterling and vice versa, providing valuable peace of mind at this hectic time.

For a quote request from Smart, please click on the link below:

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