Sunday, 16 October 2011

How did we get to this point ?

Having been back in England for 5 days, I'm still pinching myself, wondering how we have actually reached the point of having set up a new home in France. So this second attempt at blogging is really just a retrospective look at how it all came about...just for the record.

Glorious summer holidays with the kids, in the Dordogne, in Gascony and then in an amazing spot in Provence, called Bargemon, have always included wine enhanced conversations about living somewhere in France. The last couple of French vacations have been spent searching for a financially realistic alternative to Bargemon. (We realised it was out of our price bracket when the Beckhams bought a summer place  half a mile up the road from the house we had rented so regularly!)

Last year led us to the Carcassonne area, and we started to get serious about it all. Some internet research led to contact with an agent in France who seemed to offer a kind of " A Place in the Sun, Kirstie and Phil " service of arranging property visits, and in May this year, Mark and I embarked on a week's trip, with house viewings arranged with 5 different agents in 5 different areas, all within reasonable driving distance of Carcassonne.

In 5 days, we saw 26 houses.....some amazing and some which would have become lifetime restoration projects. All the houses we saw acquired nick names so we could remember them..... "Rising damp", "Yellow Shutters", "Rock Chick", "Scary forest " " Playmobil house" etc. etc.

We had based ourselves in one of the Minervois towns, staying in a house owned by one of Mark's work colleagues. It was a lovely village, with a 12th century abbey, just below the Black Mountains. Sitting in the bar in the evening of our first day of viewing, we thought that actually this was exactly the kind of village we wanted, boulangerie, boucherie, tabac, bar, a couple of other eating places, in fact the setting was a bit Bargemon like. Looking at our schedule of viewings we saw that we were meeting one of the agents in the village, but not until the Friday, the last day of our trip.

The outcome is obvious I suppose. We met with Paola, the agent for "Allure France" in the bar in Caunes,( see above ) early on the Friday morning. The 20 houses we had seen up until then were carefully ranked in our minds, and we were fairly sure we would be putting in an offer on a "the pink house" in a small village called La Vallette. It was near the golf course ( plus point), had a stunning garden and large pool ( double plus point)....but the village itself had few bar for a start ( serious negative ), but weighing it all up, it seemed to offer the best combination of what we wanted.

Paola and her little dog, Bruno, spent some time with us in the bar, talking about what we wanted, and before long she had determined that we needed " views".... so she would take us to see some houses with views. This had not been our main criteria, we had talked about village amenities, number of bedrooms, size of land, pool...... but Paola decided it was "the view" from the property that really mattered.... and we soon discovered that Paola knew best. 

We followed her, driving up a quite steep road , out of the village, but stopped at a house just on the edge of Caunes. Before we had looked inside, before we knew about the pool size, number of bathrooms/bedrooms, or even price..... we pretty much knew that this was the one. The view over the village was stunning, the olive and fig trees, the wild irises, the little vineyard, and the beautiful south facing terrace won us over as soon as we saw them.

Paola and her dog led us around the house, warning us that we had to look beyond the dated decor, beyond the "shit brown" colours of the wood and the furniture, she even referred to the kitchen sink as "urine coloured".

Everywhere she showed us she talked about how we could change this or that, and how "the views" made up for the shortcomings of the house, currently owned by an eighty year old couple who wanted to downsize.

Mark and I saw no shit brown, no decor to be replaced.... and I even thought the kitchen sink was quite nice. We adored it at first sight.

As the nickname the house acquired for our record keeping as "Bargemon", there was probably little point in looking at the other houses Paola had selected for us. It was perfect, and within a couple of days, our offer was accepted and our relationship with the wonderful Paola was confirmed. In a remarkably short and stress free time, Paola led us through the buying process, providing answers, translations and her always hilarious commentary on the French legal system....and a few more opinions about decor and design.

So... that was it, we bought the house with the view.... and the shit brown decor...... which looked a lot less so when the previous owners' brown sofas and dark furniture was removed.

Janice And Mark in Caunes Slideshow: Janice’s trip from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom to Caunes-Minervois, France was created by TripAdvisor. See another Caunes-Minervois slideshow. Create a free slideshow with music from your travel photos.


  1. It looks gorgeous and I do so envy you that feeling of knowing you'd found 'it' - I'm still waiting for that and I guess I've seen a few more than 26 houses...I think the French are definitely better at building the sort of houses I like. The Spanish are, quite frankly, crap - despite having Gaudi in their list of famous architects.
    Looking forward to more. Axx

  2. Hi Janice,
    Just found your blog and am really enjoying reading it. Great slide show but may I ask, what is that music you're using as the soundtrack? It is truly lovely ...