On an impulse really, I decided one Friday night to just head south to Troyes, a little town southeast of Paris. I showed up at Gare de l'Est bright and early Saturday morning, bought my ticket (only 34 euro round trip) and was off on a new adventure. As with many cities and towns in France, Troyes has quite a history… especially for a small town (today its population is a little over 60,000). Dating back to the Celtic tribe of the Tricasses sometime in the 2nd century B.C., the story of Troyes involves Dukes and Kings, would-be Dukes and Kings, and skirmishes between a number of foreign invaders, including the British. In 1420, the treaty of Troyes designated Henri V as the legitimate heir to the crown of France… at the expense of the "Dauphin" Charles VII. On July 10, 1429, Joan of Arc and her troops reached the ramparts of Troyes. Joan held up her flag and directed the preparations for the assault under the frightened eyes of citizens. The city opened its gates even before the battle, allowing Joan and Charles to enter Troyes and hear mass at the cathedral. Troyes sits in the heart of the Champagne region of France. At the end of the 13th century the Counts of Champagne, in fact, brought about the commercial expansion of the city which pushed the ramparts of the walls surrounding the city out and into the shape of a Champagne cork. The main part of the city retains its cork shape to this day, topped off by the Seine River.
The town was famous for its bells (more than 120) at least until many were melted down or destroyed during the Revolution. It has, though, guarded eight historic churches and the main Cathedral, which are fine examples of styles from early Gothic through to the Renaissance. The city is full of narrow pedestrian streets, like the well-known rue des Chats (well-known, but hard to find), all lined with countless charming half-timber buildings. Many of them have been or are being restored and maintained in their original state (unlike Rouen, further north, where most of the half-timber homes were destroyed by bombings during the war). Some of them use plaster and such to fill the spaces between the timbers, while others use intricate patterns of thin bricks to fill the spaces. Troyes is also known for a number of elaborately and colorfully tiled rooftops.
Not the least of its attractions are Troyes' five main museums: Maison de l'Outil, the tool museum -- a look through time at various trades and the tools of those trades (believe it or not, very interesting!); Musée d'Art Moderne, museum of modern art; Musée Saint Loup, museum of fine art and archeology and natural history of the area; Musée de Vauluisant, history museum for Troyes and the Champagne region; and the Apothicairerie, museum of pharmacology, housed in the ornate Hôtel Dieu Le Comte. Troyes is also the "capital of commercial tourism" with a total sales area of 81,679 square meters. Designer outlets were set up after the war for the traditional textile industry. In the course of the last 10 years, they have acquired great popularity. Every year, three million visitors from the north and east of France, the Parisian region and from other countries go through their region just to discover great bargains. The fact that leading brands of relatively up-market women's, men's and children's clothing and also accessories, leather goods, cutlery and decorative items are sold at a cut price (30 to 70% lower) has led to the success of the concept. There are two major centres of brand outlets, Marques Avenue (http://www.marquesavenue.com/) in Saint-Julien-les-Villas and McArthur Glen (http://www.mcarthurglen.com/) in Pont-Sainte-Marie. The town center was so fascinating that I stayed another day exploring all the nooks and crannies I could find. And although this was a chance to just relax, I couldn't help but spend time looking in real estate agency windows. Real estate prices are amazingly low in such a well-known little town, with plenty of tourist attractions, so close to Paris.
Not one apartment was more than 90,000 euro, and most were in the 50-75,000 euro range. Most of those were at least one-bedroom flats, charming, in charming buildings. Apartments that looked in need of renovation or less charming were even less expensive. Homes and houses, in and outside the city, with a bit of land, older and newer, were in the 100-150,000 euro range.
A good investment? It could be, depending on what your goals are. Short-term rental would probably provide minimal return. You'd be competing with a number of nice hotels whose rates are less than 100 euro a night. There is better opportunity for mid to long-term rental. Rents are very reasonable compared to Paris -- one and two-bedroom apartments rent for 300 to 600 euro per month. Not a lot, but when you consider the cost of the property here, that could make it a viable investment.
On a property of 75,000 euro the cash needed upfront would amount to approximately 30,000 euro… calculating it at a 30% down for the mortgage and up to 10% for notaire fees and other costs (you may be able to obtain 80% financing, thus reducing the upfront cost). With current interest rates in the 4.5% to 5.25% range, your monthly mortgage is going to be fairly low. Working the numbers with a lender would give you an idea of how much of your mortgage could be offset by renting the apartment out mid or long-term.
If you're looking to buy for your own use and not necessarily concerned about rental value, Troyes may indeed be a place for you to consider. For a town of its size, it has a lot to offer someone wanting to live in France. It is full of history, culture, and unique architecture. It is larger than a quaint French village, but still small enough for you to feel at home in…the kind of town where you will know your neighbors. It is of course not big city life, but Paris is not far away either by car (Auto Route 5) or train, nor is Dijon, should you need to experience a faster pace for a day or two. And a plus - the luxury of champagne every day of the week!
There are many interesting towns and areas in France to explore before you decide where you want to purchase, whether for a home or investment. Troyes is one that should be on your list of considerations.
You can explore more of Troyes online at the following websites:
http://perso.club-internet.fr/herve_ga/t/engindex.htm - A wonderful site full of information and photos, apparently put together by a local who loves his city. http://www.ot-troyes.fr/HomeEN.htm - Website for the "TOURIST OFFICE OF TROYES AND ITS REGION" http://www.ville-troyes.fr/premiere.htm - The city's official website (in French) http://www.aube-champagne.com - The official website for the region.