Departmental capital: Le Puy-en-Velay
Main cities / towns: Monistrol-sur-Loire, Yssingeaux, Brioude
When French people talk about the most remote parts of their country, it is never long before Haute-Loire is mentioned.
It is a thinly populated department in the Massif Central, with most parts at an altitude of 800m and above, and sees snow most winters.
Two river valleys, the Loire (which has its source in the department) and the Allier, fork across, the Allier running north-west and the Loire north-east, with a high plateau between them.
There is one main road, the N88, running roughly along the Loire from Saint-Etienne to Le Puy-en-Velay, and a network of smaller roads linking the villages and hamlets which are evenly spread over the department.
TER trains under the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes network connect Le Puy-en-Velay with both Saint-Etienne and Clermont-Ferrand, the nearest big cities.
Before 1950, the department suffered from an exodus of people from the countryside to large towns, but recently the population has been going up by 1% or 2% a year.
Farming remains the main activity, although tourism, especially gîtes and hiking, is also important.
House prices are relatively low – it is possible to buy a large, three-bedroom house in reasonable condition and with a small garden for €39,000 out in the countryside.
People who are prepared to renovate, meanwhile, can find properties under the €20,000 mark, although €35,000 gives you more choice.
On the day of our search, there was an old, stone village house, with three floors and 50m² of living space under offer at €5,900.
It had a new front door but otherwise needed entire renovation.
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