Asking for the moon: finding our house in France, part 3

During our property-hunting visit to southwest France, it was rapidly becoming apparent that what looked perfect on paper was invariably flawed in reality. In part 2 (see also part 1), we spent the first of two days with an English estate agent. Nothing we saw that day appealed: far from it, in some cases. On day 2, we had a further list of properties to view but we wondered if any of them would fit the bill.

[The image above has little to do with house-hunting but this area is known for its many different types of orchid,  which were flowering when we visited in 1997.]

Des res Adams Family style

We had specified a farmhouse but the estate agent wanted to show us a maison bourgeoise in the style of a Basque chalet, quite out of keeping with the local architecture. It was on the way to other properties and he thought we would find it ‘interesting’. We had already christened it the ‘Adams Family house’ since its brooding gables gave it a sinister air. Although we approached it in bright sunshine, we could imagine the rain lashing down and the lightning flickering above the overhanging trees.

We rang the bell and waited. Footsteps echoed down the hall. Hinges creaking, the dungeon-like front door swung open to reveal Uncle Fester himself. He was completely bald: the spitting image of the TV character. Avoiding each other’s eyes, we followed Uncle Fester around the house. We expected to come upon Mortitia or Thing at any moment. The house was elegant and well-maintained but not what we were looking for.

Going outside, Uncle Fester announced proudly, ‘I’ve got 20 hectares’ and set off down the field at a spanking pace.

‘He’s not going to show us over all 20, is he?’ I asked the agent.

He simply shrugged. His clients’ behaviour remained a mystery to him.

We were spared a tour of the entire estate but had to climb over a gate and cross a field of cows to get to the derelict barns.

‘I’m 77, you know,’ Uncle Fester declared as he scaled the gate. We laboured after him, trying to avoid the cowpats strategically placed on the other side.

Having looked at the barns, we started back across the field. It was then that we noticed a hefty bull not far away, eyeing us balefully. He started bellowing and pawing the ground and the dust rose in clouds around him.

‘You’d better come quickly,’ Uncle Fester said. ‘It’s not a good sign when he does that.’

We didn’t need further encouragement and vaulted the gate, oblivious to the cowpats this time.

Itching to move on

That day we also saw a house that was infested with fleas. Set in a tiny hamlet on top of a hill, also in the back of beyond, the house was a mess. There was a warren of rooms connected by dark corridors or haphazard staircases and, in one case, a trap door. The owners were cat lovers and in every room there were litter trays that had plainly not been emptied for some time. The smell was indescribable.

The cats were the origin of the fleas, which we discovered only later from the bites around our ankles and a few hopping dots on our hands. We told the estate agent that we had left a few in his car as well. He was not amused. The owners of that house were desperate to sell and the woman dragged me off down the garden to look at the view. It was lovely but could not compensate for the house, which needed to be redone from scratch internally.

Also that day: a pretty house with a separate gîte, swimming pool and a tiny chapel in the garden. Alas, there were two overriding drawbacks there:

  • The house was in a deep valley and probably got little sun except in summer.
  • The only access to one of the two upstairs bedrooms was from the other bedroom. Moreover, you had to squeeze through the loo, ingeniously installed between the two rooms. 

That one got the thumbs down, too. Back to the drawing board. Further adventures in the final instalment, part 4

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


  1. Your flea house story reminded me of a home we viewed in the Eastern Dordogne last year.
    A large, beautiful old stone house with a large terrace right in the centre of a pretty village on the river.
    The agent explained that an elderly couple had owned it, but both had passed away several year ago and their family in Paris hadnt been back since so the house had been sitting vacant.
    The house itself was lovely, a bit dated and in need of serious redecoration, though it was also full of the previous owners belongings, clothes, family photographs, even toiletries.
    If it wasn’t for the dust and spider webs on everything, you would be forgiven for thinking that they had just stepped out to the market.
    It was the spider webs that caught our attention though, as they were something out of Stephen King novel, as it became apparent that the house was home to a truly astronomical number of largish spiders.
    Hundreds of them covered all the windows, doors, stairwells, everything.
    Personally being fairly arachnophobic, I couldn’t get out of the place soon enough.
    (We did buy a pretty town house in a nearby village a week later though)


    • I’m pleased to hear that you found a spider-less house and subsequently bought it. I am not too bothered by spiders, although I keep the house pretty clear of them. You wouldn’t like our cave à vin, which is full of them. The worst, though, are those that fetch up in the bathtub. They are enormous – like tarantulas. How do they get there? What are they doing? I fish them out with a piece of cardboard and a wide glass over the top and deposit them on the lawn. I have a cousin who gets hysterical as soon as she sees one.


      • I really wish you hadnt told me about the tarantulas that come out of the bath-tub drain…I shall have nightmare now…shudder!


  2. The journey to your dream home sounds such fun – though I’m sure the flea bites were no laughing matter. Yuck! Love Uncle Fester. You do get some eccentric people in some places.


    • It was fun, if a bit disconcerting at times! Uncle Fester really did look just like the TV character. The fleas only became itchily evident after the event – you’d think the owners themselves would be plagued by them, but maybe they had got used to it.


  3. A pyramidal orchid, yes?
    Really enjoying these posts, Vanessa. I remember seeing a house at the foot of a deep cliff. It was dark and damp, with a cave bathroom, and the garden was high above. I suppose the best you can say is that they were built for people who would have been out in the fields all day and would relish a break from the brightness!


    • Correct. The range of orchid species here is astonishing, but I am no expert.
      Some of the places we saw during our house-hunting journey really beggar belief. We have to remember that these ancient houses were lived in quite differently from today. Our own house has 3 floors but only the middle one was inhabited at that time. The ground floor was caves while the upper floor was the grenier where they stored things they wanted to keep dry. Goodness knows how many people occupied the house at that time. Now, they would be astonished to know that only two of us rattle around in it.


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