Many people have been interested in how and why we came to buy our cottages in France.
And quite of few of these followed in our footsteps, buying and renovating their own.
You can read this story in detail in our free 92 page printed brochure (or downloadable pdf version here).
See below for a brief overview...
Some years ago, when we first visited France, we made Paris our only port of call...we loved it.
Abounding in cafés, galleries, beautiful boulevards and a stylish ambience uniquely French, Paris seemed like a dream destination.
How limited we were!
It was only on subsequent visits, bristling with Eurail tickets and hire cars, that we discovered the enormous wealth of things to see and do in rural France and how amazingly varied were its regions.
Brittany’s diverse coastlines, the wine villages of Burgundy, the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, the haunting alpine vistas of the Auvergne, the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc and the fairy-tale towns floating in the clouds or nestling in the Massif Central were just a few of the things to enjoy and discover.
But amongst this dazzling diversity, four particular regions captured our hearts and imaginations:
Provence, the Dordogne, the Loire Valley and the Basque Pyrenees
We couldn’t stop thinking about these four beautiful regions of rural France!
Each of these places, totally different to each other, has a dimension that goes beyond anything else in our travel experiences.
Dordogne, like a fairy-tale
The charm of the Dordogne, with its rolling green hills, châteaux towering above the surrounding Chestnut forests, its Medieval Bastide villages, the dramatically beautiful river, and the amazing variety of cultural, historic, artistic and leisure activities available there puts it squarely on our list of essential destinations in Europe.
On the other hand...
How can your French love affair be complete if you have never courted the Valley of the Kings?
The Loire Valley, Land of the Kings
Often styled the Garden of France, land of the great Châteaux, ancient abbeys, rugged fortresses staring imperiously over the wandering waterways and pretty little villages sprinkled along them is the heart of modern France.
Home to poets, artists, philosophers and Kings, this living tapestry is so rich that, like the fine wine grown there, it is hard to ignore! But then mesmerising us in a totally different way we have…
Provence, ineffable beauty
It’s a mystery.
What quality is it that is so compelling and draws us so strongly to Provence?
Is it the rugged beauty, the vestiges of Roman architecture, its Impressionist artistic heritage, the great wine and food, the lively outdoor markets, the friendliness of the people who have retained the art of living, the lavender fields basking in the warm Mediterranean sun?
It's hard to say, but all these and many other influences conspire to exert an irresistible appeal.
The Romans loved it, Cézanne and Van Gogh fell under the spell, and we can’t resist going back, every time… Yes, all these places were wonderful but… yet…there was something not quite right, some missing ingredient in an otherwise perfect experience.
What was it?
It was not too long before we understood!
Hotel stays, though pleasant enough at first, left us with a disturbing feeling of being mere itinerant tourists, without a base, having no real sense of being "at home" in this country we so much enjoyed.
Simple pleasures such as buying fish at the local market, cooking at home and relaxing with a bottle of wine over lunch whilst your French neighbours do the same, were not possible; dining out at restaurants was obligatoire.
Moreover always being on the move prevents you from discovering those secret out-of-the-way places – you’re confined to the typical and over-visited.
So we decided to buy our own cottages where we, our friends, and people like yourselves, could move in, relax, be independent and really feel a part of the daily French life - if only for a week or two...or three.
But where should these cottages be?
The first part was easy - in Provence, Dordogne, the Loire or somewhere in the Basque Pyrenees.
But should they be in the country, a small village, a big town, a well-known place or somewhere out of the way?
Much thought was given to this. There seemed to be so much to consider! Large, industrial towns were definitely to be avoided; but so were the picturesque but remote hamlets without a bakery or café in sight.
We steered the middle ground. The houses should be located in beautiful, lively villages with all the amenities – where you can just walk around the corner to buy a croissant, a newspaper or a cognac - but still be only a few minutes ride or drive from the many fascinating attractions of the French countryside.
Well, not quite...we soon realised there was one more essential factor...
This extra factor is a very subtle one, but really the most important of them all.
The towns chosen must be living towns.
Not towns that had ossified into tourist museums or shopping malls; not the “summer vacation” towns that had already been invaded and totally populated by expatriate foreigners; not towns that though deservedly famous are just too famous, and as a result, overrun by visitors snapping away with their iPhones and digital cameras before jumping back into the coach to head off to the next pitstop.
No, we were seeking something quite exceptional that still managed to be unspoilt.
Of all the villages and towns we visited, many extraordinarily pretty and interesting, only a handful really satisfied all of our stringent stipulations.
It was time to make some crucial choices from this short list.
And it happened that the final choice, which had seemed perplexing and difficult, wasn’t so hard in the end. It just took a bit of time and effort.
As there was no way to really know a destination except by staying in it and getting to know it profoundly, we simply visited all the places on our short list and if we didn’t immediately reject one because of some glaring fault not obvious on the web description, we made sure we stayed several days in it to get to know it thoroughly.
The final decider was that indispensable thing called instinct. A village might satisfy all the logical criteria and pass the test of being lived in for a few days but if it didn’t give us a feeling of ‘yes! this is the one!’ then we rejected it. After all we were about to invest hard cash in our own cottages and why would we buy a house in a village that just didn’t have that extra je ne sais quoi?
Bonjour! It’s me again - Lesley.
You remember me from the GUESTS STORIES don't you?
I just had to interrupt to tell you my disaster story!
We once hired a house on one of those internet sites and it looked fabulous.
It had a breathtaking view of the Bay of Naples and that volcano - Vesuvius, it’s called.
But when we got there is wasn’t quite as good as the reviews, little ticked boxes and rating stars on the site led us to expect. To say the least! Things just didn’t work as they claimed: the internet kept dropping
out, there was only one wine glass and no corksrew (so that solved that one), the motorised gate jammed closed so we were prisoners for a day
till they ‘fixed’ it and the gas hot water boiler kept going out. Nev had to climb out each morning through the bedroom window dripping wet
with nothing but a flimsy towel precariously wrapped around him to try to re-light it. This took about 10 minutes with Nev shouting me instructions
to keep turning the hot tap on and off which finally triggered the very reluctant burner, the neighbours watching the whole time. Often the towel fell off him first! The kitchen was woefully equipped so that in the end we just went to the local bar and pizza joint to eat. It was supposed to save us money renting this house, but in the end Nev says it cost a packet all told. Never again! So we’re back to David and Bryan’s lovely cottages which are like cheese compared to that chalk...