Interactive Maps and Rental Property in France
Interactive Maps and Rental Property in France
Online Interactive Maps now come in many guises. If you want to find your way from A to B, where A or B is or what A or B has to offer, there's a map out there just for you. There are even historically-based maps to show where A or B was.
The daddy of these web mapping applications is, of course, Google Maps. An interactive map can be a wonderfully useful tool allowing the exact location of a property to be identified. These maps appear on many property rental websites but less often on French immobilier sites as the agents themselves prefer to accompany clients on site visits.
The maps can also be used to show the location of multi-properties. On our site, for example, we have a geosearch allowing clients to enter a distance in kms from a particular town or postal code and the results are displayed on the map. Clicking on a property pin on the map brings up details for that property. Using this facility ensures that all the properties available in the requested area are displayed. By contrast, a regional or departmental search would obviously show properties only within that region or department. Any property just over the 'border' would be missed. Indeed some properties can even straddle a border but exist officially only in one single department - after all a property cannot be in two places at the same time. Using such a geosearch gets round this problem.
The maps can also provide the distance between two points. If you are going to base yourself somewhere for several months it can be handy finding out beforehand the distance to the nearest airport, town etc and the route itself can be viewed. The map display can also be changed from the standard map format to satellite or hybrid mode. The satellite display is particularly useful as it allows you to see the nature of the surrounding area - whether it is forested, hilly, farmed, urban etc. The hybrid display shows a satellite image overlaid with map details such as place names and roads. Finally, the map can be moved to show different areas and zoom level adjusted.
A related service is Google Earth. This is a virtual world overlaid with satellite and aerial images. This can be handy for researching different areas of France. This tool allows you to 'fly to' a location such as a city. The map can then be layered to show certain features and photos viewed for any points of interest. Occasional messages appear that give food for thought such as "If everyone in the world lived and consumed at the same rate as a French person, we would require three planets to satisfy the needs of each individual." Happily, Google also offers a mapping service for Google Moon and Google Mars.
Perhaps a more relevant mapping service for navigating in France is one of the online route finders such as Via Michelin or Mappy. They can be wonderful tools for planning a journey even if you have an in-car GPS navigation system. Simply enter your departure and arrival points and hit enter. It's possible to obtain estimated fuel costs, motorway toll costs, total distance of journey, estimated travel time, local weather etc. For longer journeys, links to overnight accommodation can be followed allowing you to reserve a room.
After having taken advantage of the various mapping services and arrived safely, on time and on budget at your ideal pre-researched place in France, what next? There is yet another mapping service that could come in useful. If you have purchased a property, for example with some separate land, and are trying to identify or confirm where a particular section of land is located then you may need to refer to a cadastral plan. Copies of these are normally available at the Mairie’s office but they can also be found freely online. I used one of these services myself when attempting to locate some lost sections of woodland for a friend.
Cadastral plans can be viewed and hard copies ordered on http://www.cadastre.gouv.fr More functionality, however, is available on http://www.geoportail.fr. Here, aerial images can be overlaid with cadastral plans (parcelles cadastrales). It is possible to zoom in and identify the actual x,y coordinates for the section of land. These coordinates can then be entered into a hand held GPS system allowing you to locate the exact position on the ground. That's the theory anyway. In my case trying to get a satellite reading for the GPS in thick woodland was less than successful. We are surrounded by dense woodland and it is primarily known only to local hunters, very little is actually marked. Many of the owners have died, moved away or perhaps even forgotten what they own. Hence the reason I was stumbling around with my GPS.
It can be worthwhile visiting some of these websites just for fun. Napoleonic succession law has certainly contributed to the volume of small sections of land lying around. What can appear as one large field or one large wood can in reality be divided up and owned by many different people. This is abundantly clear when looking at a cadastral plan. A complete wooded hill is segmented like a cake. Wooded valleys are sliced into slim sections, sometimes only metres wide and hundreds of metres long.
Whether you know exactly where you want to rent or have absolutely no idea, an interactive map can prove a useful guide. And even when you have found your place in France some of these maps can still prove invaluable and entertaining. You need never be lost again, at least if you keep out of the woods.
(Published March/April 2011)