Asking for the moon: finding our house in France, part 2

Des res...


Before you ask, this isn’t our house.

At the end of Part 1, we were arriving at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val to spend a couple of days visiting properties with an English estate agent. He ran a gîte at his house a few kilometres from the town, in which we stayed for two nights at a nominal off-season rate – much cheaper than a hotel. During the day, he ran us around in his car to view the houses and we lunched at his house on pâtés, charcuterie and salads.

On the first night, we sat outside his gîte as dusk gathered and listened to the sliding song of the nightingales in the thicket by the River Aveyron. When night fell completely, we were entranced by the clear sky, spread with stars and unpolluted by artificial light. A comet that was only a faint smudge in the London night sky showed up clearly as it arched across the heavens. 

Terraced château

On day 1, we spent a couple of hours sifting through particulars and then set off to view what looked like good prospects. One we were particularly interested in – a small château in a village by a river – looked idyllic. The reality, inevitably, was different. It turned out to be a terraced house with a tower. On one side was a restaurant; on the other was a dilapidated house, also for sale.

The ‘château’ had a nice courtyard with a fountain, a lovely garden and well-restored bedrooms in the tower. But the living room had all the charm of a doctor’s waiting room and two people would have constituted a crowd in the kitchen. Buying the next-door house was de rigueur if you wanted any privacy, but it needed restoring from top to bottom. This would have been beyond our budget. We regretfully crossed that one off our list.

Snakes included in the price

On to the next one – a mill house in the Aveyron. Again, it sounded ideal from the description. However, it was in the back of beyond, miles from the nearest village and certainly too far from an airport at that time. Since we were there, we looked at it anyway. Two so-called ‘trout lakes’ turned out to be foetid ponds covered in green scum. An outbuilding with ‘gîte potential’ was a tumbledown shack by the front gate. The house was disappointingly small inside.

Worst of all, however, was the stream that actually ran through the back of one of the downstairs bedrooms. This room had French windows covered with net curtains opening onto a small courtyard. A handwritten notice pinned on the curtains read, ‘Please keep the curtains closed to stop the snakes coming in.’ Not exactly encouraging.

Opening the front door, I came eyeball to eyeball with a huge snake basking on the opposite bank. It was at least a metre long and as thick as my wrist. For a split second, we observed each other and then in a flash it was gone. Fortunately, it was a grass snake, one of those against which the curtains had to be drawn to prevent them drinking from the indoor stream. Still, that settled it. No way was I going to cohabit with a snake.

By the end of day 1 and several more unsuitable houses later, we were starting to wonder if we would ever find what we were looking for. It was with somewhat less optimism that we clambered into the estate agent’s car on the morning of day 2. Find out what happened to us in part 3.

...even worse from the back

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


    • Thanks very much, Catherine. Everything that I recount here is true, even if there is the odd moment of artistic licence. The things that happened to us during a 5 day visit were absolutely amazing and I remember every detail even after 14 years.


  1. Great use of photos and captions to top and tail this post, Vanessa! The prospect of that house really does raise a gargoyle-like grimace…


    • It’s a sad little house, isn’t it? It’s at the bottom of the field behind our house and we have watched it deteriorate over the 14 years we have been here. When we first arrived, it was still saveable. But now the roof has gone, taking with it most of the masonry in the back wall, so I think it won’t be long before it’s a heap of rubble. We didn’t see anything quite as bad as that when we were house-hunting…


  2. Great posts about the ‘journey’ to your house. 🙂 Sounds like you had to take the scenic route to get to what you were looking for. Looking forward to the next bit. The timing of your posts is handy as hubby and I are slowly starting to put feelers out to leave here one day…


  3. I love the ‘don’t let the snakes in’ notice! Isn’t househunting in France interesting?
    I do admire the layout of your post (and the previous one) with the use of subheadings. It looks very organised and makes for easy reading. I shall learn from you here.


    • Just wait till you see some of the other things that happened to us. Never a dull moment.
      Thanks for the comments about the layout. I like using the subheadings – I think it breaks up the text and makes it easier to read. But I’m always open to suggestions for improvement, too.


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