The chocolate-lovers’ good homes guide


High-end foodie shops are a sure sign of a buoyant property market, says Caroline McGhie

Who would have thought that chocolatiers and cake-bakers could be wealth indicators in an area? But if you think about it, those handmade truffles and macaroons can be bought only where disposable incomes are high. Even in these economically challenged times, though spending has been cut back on holidays it has increased on cupcakes. To seek out the most buoyant local property markets you could do worse than follow your sweet tooth.

“Just as the price of a cappuccino round the world can tell you something about a country, the high-end shops can tell you where the money is,” says Rupert Sweeting, head of Knight Frank’s country department.

“Londoners moving out want the café society. They want to be able to meet friends and have their little luxuries. In spite of the recession, 2010 was the best ever year for us in Stow-on-the-Wold.”

Nowhere does it better than London’s Mayfair and Belgravia, where some of the most celebrated chocolatiers and patissiers sell their delicacies. You can wander to Rococo Chocolates, where real hens’ eggs filled with praline have been prepared for Easter, or to Peggy Porschen, who makes cupcakes for the stars; or chocolatier William Curley’s weekend workshops on sea-salt caramels and truffles. It is the sort of place where people still take afternoon tea in Edwardian style.

At The Ritz, The Connaught, The Dorchester or Brown’s you can nibble your way through a marathon of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes for around £35.

Mayfair attracts buyers from around the world yet retains a villagey atmosphere.

“House prices showed strong growth in 2009, avoided the second slip in 2010 and returned top growth in 2011,” says Lucian Cook, of Savills.

In Chesterfield Street a grand town house is on at £11.5m, and in Green Street a two-bedroom first floor flat with a balcony and small terrace is priced at £3.15m, both through Savills (020 7578 5103).

Foodie boutiques create a feelgood factor which puts a shine on property prices. Cambridge is so successful as a city, attracting academics, hi-tech and bioscience companies, that it too has shown strong growth. “In the past year prices have gone up by six per cent,” says David Bentley of Bidwells (01223 841842). A three-bedroom Victorian town house in the centre is priced at £550,000, while a four-bedroom new contemporary house in Aberdeen Square is on at £1m, both with Bidwells.

The causes may lie in the wonderful architecture, top schools, commutability and shortage of properties for sale, as well as the sugar coating in the shops. Hotel Chocolat set up its stall years ago. Now there is The Bellina Chocolate House, and Chocolat Chocolat, where French-born Isabelle Chappell stirs her beguiling treats and keeps the tempering machine in the window, as if she had stepped straight from Joanne Harris’s novel.

We often spend our money far away from where we earn it. Yorkshire’s Harrogate is where many choose to live while they commute to work in Leeds or York.

It has evolved from beautiful spa town to housebuyers’ favourite. Quality of life is the key and it often comes with a cup of tea. At Bettys tea-rooms people queue outside for sticky cakes and Swiss chocolates. Top delis can be found at Fodder on the Great Yorkshire Showground, or at Weeton’s, where vegetables come straight from local farms, meat is grazed in nearby fields, and Yorkshire brack and tea loaves are fresh every day.

“Leeds is the major financial centre,” says Tony Wright of Carter Jonas (01423 523423). “But people come into Harrogate from miles around to spend here. The town is pretty resilient and there is a pent-up demand for it. People watch and wait for years to move into the right house.”

He is currently selling a Grade II, three-bedroom Georgian house on the Stray for £575,000, and a four-bedroom house on Wheatlands Road East at £765,000.

The flow of money from the City of London has created wealth corridors into the countryside, one of which leads from Fulham to Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire.

“It has it all — top of the hill, very pretty, traditional wine merchants, saddler, everything you want. It is alpha Cotswolds,” says Rupert Sweeting at Knight Frank.

The star tea shop here is Huffkins, which also sells hampers, cakes and artisan breads. Miette is a storybook chocolate shop, run by four women who use a rare cocoa bean to make chocolates such as mint-and-fennel bars, blood-orange-and-ginger truffles and “manslabs”.

They opened in 2006 in a tiny shop in Sheep Street, and by 2008 had moved to larger premises. “We ran out of space in the kitchen and we have doubled our shop size,” says owner Katherine Abel.

The Dower House nearby at Maugersbury, with seven bedrooms and a paddock (on at £4.4m through Knight Frank, 01865 790077) is scrumptious enough to grace a chocolate box. Only the sweet-toothed need apply.

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