Architecture: Five Reasons the French do it Better

Originally posted on & updated on 12th March, 2024

If you’re looking to buy a property in France chances are its traditional buildings have played a significant part in seducing you. The French are arguably best known for their haute couture and this high standard of design continues in the characteristic buildings throughout the country. Whether in the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, ArtDeco, or other styles, the country’s rich past has led to the creation of iconic properties that visitors and French homeowners love.

Have you been to France? Do you remember what stood out as you were exploring that village, town or city? It would be no surprise if you said you remember the design of the buildings.

If you were blindfolded and dropped off in a town, the first thing that would give away that you were in France would be the architecture, before the language and locals. When it comes to architecture, we believe the French just do it better.

History and Architecture

Mont Saint-Michel is one of Normandy’s gems. Exhibiting the wide range of architecture you can find in the country, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a magical island with a medieval monastery taking pride of place in the middle. When the monastery is illuminated the site has to be seen to be believed. Celtic mythology claims the Mont is a sea tomb where souls of the dead are sent. Though the Mont isn’t on the market, you won’t have to look far to “find your own magical home in Normandy or its neighbour Brittany.

Normandy is blessed with charming farmhouses, some complete with thatched roofs and exposed timber, inspired by Celtic farms. There are some fantastic stone properties at My-French-House. Due to its coastal position and vulnerability to attack, the Brittany region is synonymous with fortified towns and castles. However, there is also an abundance of small chapels, more than 1,000 in fact – each built to serve small communities. The Chapelle de la Madeleine in north-east Brittany’s Penmarch is a fine Gothic example. Brittany has its own thatched-roof houses. And while its seaside towns might have been exposed to pirates in centuries gone by, their location could give you the opportunity to buy the house by the sea you’ve always wanted.

Riviera Modernist Architecture

The 1920s and ‘30s was an exciting period for design and worldwide change, especially on the French Riviera. Writer, Ezra Pound, wrote a book of essays, called ‘Make it new!’ and this is what many creative thinkers yearned for. Artists were inspired by big changes in the western world, such as the growth of cities, and the development of industrial societies. Some were reacting to what they saw as dated religious ideas, architecture and literature and a wave of this energy led to the introduction of striking buildings on the Cote d’Azur.

This Modernist movement has had a lasting impact on the appearance of the French Riviera. Designers built large, white, simple, functional structures with lots of horizontal and vertical lines, following the notion that ‘form follows function’. Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, between Menton and Monaco, is famous for its eye-catching Modernist architecture. E-1027 villa is probably the most iconic Modernist building there. It is the brainchild of Irish furniture designer Eileen Gray after her Romanian lover, architect Jean Badovici, asked her to build them a place to go. It provides a stark contrast to the medieval village that surrounds it.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is described as ‘an architecture theme park’ by The Guardian newspaper. Another highlight from that era is the villa Noailles in Hyères, designed in 1923 by Rob Mallet-Stevens for the well-to-do couple Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, known as patrons of the arts. American writer, James Lord, described the villa as a ‘cubist extravaganza’. He wrote in his book, Picasso and Dora: a memoir, “It had been designed in the late twenties by a fashionable architect named Mallet-Stevens, contained something like fifty rooms and was surrounded by a large garden”.

You can see why the rich and famous would want to spend time in this part of France and you could experience this glamorous, sun-kissed way of life too. We have a number of properties in Provence Cote d’Azur including some stunning luxury villas, possibly inspired by buildings like E-1027 and Villa Noailles.

Protects Historic Buildings

France is very protective when it comes to its historic buildings, which means you’ll be able to enjoy them for many years to come. If you were planning to make changes to a protected building or a building in a conservation area, you will have to contact the notorious Architectes des Bâtiments de France (ABF) to be granted permission. If you live within 500 metres of a protected building you will still have to apply for planning permission from the ABF. Although the ABF are dedicated in their work to protect these fantastic structures, the vast majority of planning applications to them are approved with only 6% being rejected.

World Heritage Sites in France

France is home to no less than 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which gives you an idea of the history behind the country’s buildings. Some 38 of these sites are said to be of cultural importance, such as the Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne, Mont Pilat or Mont Perdu in the Pyrénées. It’s safe to say wherever you are in France, you’re never far from a building or site with a rich past.

Thousands of French Castles

France is home to legions of castles so why not become the king or queen of your own? Carcassonne in Occitanie and its medieval architecture attracts more than four million visitors each year. Pierrefonds castle was built in the 12th century and would not be out of place in a Disney film. If you’ve ever wanted to live in a Chateau or a Mansion, France might provide your best opportunity. And if you are looking for a ‘grand’ project, this rare €10M estate with 400 hectares of land in the Gard has just come to the market, and may be the challenge you have been seeking for.



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