Written by Christopher Nye,
Last Modified: 28th June 2023

A business relationship forged in the tension and excitement of a live TV news studio has taken a more relaxed turn. Friends and colleagues Sian and Sarah bought a flat in Arles together. But buying a new-build apartment off-plan, with the finances reliant on rentals, how can they ensure that their investment in rental property in Arles remains a good news story?

“The view!” says Sian Kevill when asked what made her decide to go ahead with her purchase of this particular flat in Provence. “It’s like having your own Van Gogh hanging outside the window.”

Their new flat is on the west bank of the Rhône, in the city of Arles. It overlooks the river, on the other side of which shimmers the ancient waterfront of ochre-yellow buildings of the attractive La Roquette quarter, with terracotta roofs and sun-faded, provençale blue shutters. It’s a peaceful spot, with no sound other than the whistle of swifts flying overhead and the mistral rustling the plane trees as you relax on the huge balcony and terrace.

Sian and Sarah's rental property in Arles

Rooms with a view: Sian and Sarah’s apartment (and view). (Click on the image to see about renting the flat)

The bustling centre of Arles, with its restaurants, classy shops, Saturday and Wednesday markets and cultural highlights including the Van Gogh Foundation and Luma, is just a five minute walk across the river.

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Awesome Arles

Arles on a summer’s day

“We did consider Nimes and Avignon,” says Sian, “but Arles felt like a place that’s really coming up. It has Luma, the amazing, steel, cultural centre designed by Frank Gehry, it has a very energetic, forward-thinking mayor who is thinking about the development of the city, and it has a world-class photographic exhibition every year that is guaranteed to attract both artistic and business people.”

The medieval centre of Arles is breathtakingly beautiful. Around every corner and alleyway is a photo opportunity, with those tiles, those dreamy Mediterranean colours and a huge Roman amphitheatre and theatre complex at its heart. While Van Gogh’s famous yellow house, where he spent the summer of 1888 with Gaugin as his lodger, and from where he left each day with his easel to paint the local scenery, was destroyed in the war, many of the scenes remain barely changed.

Nature on the doorstep

Then there is the Camargue on the doorstep. At Arles, one of Europe’s great rivers, the Rhône, divides and forms a delta, within which are marshes and salt flats. Wild white horses and flamingos are the picture postcard image of the Camargue Natural Park, and you’ll see them in abundance, as well as savage-looking black bulls, always accompanied by the snowy white cattle egrets that keep them company.

It’s a wildlife wonderland, and if the sight of a small-toed snake eagle doesn’t thrill you, a brace of flamingos flying overhead certainly will.

Pont de Langlois, unchanged since being painted by Van Gogh

There are excellent sandy beaches here too, and you can ride the 40 kilometres through the nice, flat Camargue on bikes to the beach, then get a bus back to Arles (with bike!) for just €1.

Head the other way, inland, and within a couple of miles you’re into the Provence that we all know and love, with the Alpilles Natural Park, including the beautiful St Remy de Provence. Amidst forests and limestone cliffs, between which are vineyards and olive groves – everywhere the chirp of cicadas and aromas of jasmine, mimosa and lavender.

Arles, which has a population of around 50,000, is easy to reach by train from either Montpellier or Marseilles airports – flight time from London under 90 minutes. It is also on a good train line from Paris too, so you can get there easily in a day from London.

Buying as business partners

It’s all a far cry from the stressful environment in which Sian and Sarah met 30 years ago. Sian Kevill was editor of the BBC2 TV news show Newsnight (the first female editor in the show’s history, in its heyday with Jeremy Paxman as acerbic host), and Sarah was a producer. They then created their own TV production company, and it was largely a business decision to buy the property in Arles between them.

Luma, in Arles (MisterStock / Shutterstock.com)

Buying a property with family or friends can be a risk, as opinions differ on what to get, how to manage and decorate it, and about money. Sian says: “Having a businesslike relationship before we started undoubtedly helped us. Sarah has always been the creative driving force and I have worried more about the business side. So with the flat, Sarah has the eye for interior design and I have focused more on the paperwork.”

It helps that Sarah, originally from New Zealand, now lives about 25 miles from Arles with her husband, a film composer. Sian and Sarah set up the partnership as a business: “We sought specialist legal advice and set up a business in France with an EURL (limited company). It was expensive but quite straightforward as we had an English-speaking accountant to help,” says Sian.

Cool and modern

It was also a business decision to choose a new build rather than an older property. In the recent France Property Guides survey, 47% said they favoured an ‘old and beautiful’ property, and just 7% ‘cool and modern’. Why did they choose new?

“We’ve both had older properties in France, and while of course they are lovely, there is always something you’re fighting against – damp, or a new roof, or something. We wanted something where you just open the door and it’s a beautiful and ready to go. And we wanted the view – in Arles the old houses are the view!”

Sarah was able to watch the flat being build from scratch


So they opted to buy off-plan, still relatively rare in France, but growing in popularity.

Sarah had moved out to live in her French holiday home, on the edge of the Camargue, during the Covid period, and was on the look out for a suitable development. They looked at a couple of projects, but were immediately impressed with the plans from a local building firm, with a great reputation.

“We did our research on the company, an old, established Arles builder whose previous projects we could see.” But it was the location that won them over.

Being in at the start of the development had great advantages. “Because they were keen to get it off the ground we had several incentives such as legal fees paid, which probably saved us around €30,000.” They were able to ask the developers to reconfigure the layout, double the size of the balcony and adding two bedrooms with those stunning Rhône views, all for €385,000.

Renting out the property

Buying the property was a labour of love, but also a business decision, and one where buying off plan carries some risk, says Sian: “You do need to want to do this! Unlike buying ready made, you can’t do rentals from day one, you have to pay a mortgage while the property is being finished.”

The bureaucratic processes of getting a licence for a rental property in Arles were reasonably straightforward, says Sian, and they found a host to manage the practicalities such as meeting, greeting and cleaning.

While the property is empty, they will enjoy using it themselves or letting close family and friends use it. Sian and Sarah just hope that won’t often be possible!

You can rent Sian and Sarah’s flat, here.

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