30 June 2009


At the autojumble, Le Grand Pressigny

29 June 2009


Sherwood Chapter showing off again.
A charity ride with a difference.

28 June 2009


A doorway at Fontevraud Abbey

Click on the picture to see it enlarged.

27 June 2009


The view from the château at Langeais towards the bridge.
Click on the picture to see it enlarged.

26 June 2009


  • Sitting on our little terrace in the evening, listening to the birds singing and the church bells chiming.

  • Walking back from the boulangerie with a fresh warm "ficelle" and possibly a couple of croissants for breakfast.

  • Riding our Harleys on virtually deserted roads.

  • Shopping for and cooking with local produce.

  • Catching up on my reading and knitting while Nick goes fishing.

  • Putting the washing on the line and finding it dry a couple of hours later.

  • Having another look at some favourite châteaux.

  • Just being in our little place in France.

25 June 2009


( Click on the picture to see it enlarged.)
When we returned home in late August 2007 we were thrilled that we had achieved one of our dreams. We had bought a holiday home in the Loire Valley.
My mum always used to say that pride comes before a fall and our absolute joy was short lived.

Dusty when we first got her.

Her grandfather was a Crufts Grand Champion called Tommy Gun

When I collected our beloved standard poodle, Dusty, from the kennels, it was obvious that all was not well. She was in poor shape and was walking awkwardly. The kennels just handed her over without comment and I was upset and annoyed that they had not noticed there was something wrong with her.

She was a very gentle and affectionate dog

Dusty was our third rescued standard poodle. We got her from a couple in Norfolk via the Standard Poodle Club , an excellent organisation that finds new homes for dogs that are given up for adoption. If you want a rescued poodle, your name goes on a list and when it comes to the top you are offered the dog who has also come to the top of a list. Usually you will meet and collect your dog from the owner.

She was nervous of all men and Nick had to work very hard to gain her trust.

When we were offered Dusty in 2002 we went to see her and it was clear that she had been abused. She was three years old and she was not wagging her tail, which seemed to be paralyzed. The lady of the house blamed it on a grooming accident but we didn't believe a word. From the way Dusty reacted to the man of the house it was obvious he had hit her, probably fairly recently and with his walking stick

She was good at making friends.

We went back to fetch her from Norfolk and by then her tail was wagging normally and she was a beautiful and delightful dog to own. Over the years she would occasionally have a droopy tail and would seem under the weather. We now know it was due to back trouble caused by a hefty blow.

Dusty with friends in our petit jardin in Le Grand Pressigny

A day or two after we collected her from the kennels in August 2007, the vet x-rayed her and confirmed damage to her spine, possibly flaring up due to two weeks of relative inactivity. She never lifted or wagged her tail again and would frequently collapse as her back and legs gave way. We bought a ramp to enable her to get into the car as she could no longer jump. She had always loved running and jumping just for the sheer joy of it - there's nothing so uplifting as the sight of a standard poodle in full flight.

Dusty at the château

In May 2008 we took her to Le Grand Pressigny for a holiday. She was quite a celebrity as there are very few standard poodles in France - only zillions of the little ones. We have only ever seen one in the south of France and the vet in Preuilly said he had never seen one before.

She travelled really well and we had a lovely time with her. Sadly, her condition took a turn for the worse not long after we came home and two weeks later we had to have her put to sleep. Her bowels had stopped working due to the nerve damage in her spine.

Enjoying one of her favourite treats

She was only nine years old and it was heartbreaking to see the early demise of an otherwise perfectly healthy and beautiful dog just because someone had ill-treated her when she was young. Such is the story of many a rescued dog, I suppose. She had enriched our lives for 6 wonderful years.

We decided we could not cope with another rescue and so last September we got a puppy.

Lulu started her life in a gloomy stable. I think she's the one on the far right !

Just look at the size of those feet!

There will be another intermission. Normal service will be resumed in a couple of weeks.

There will be a few photos to keep you going until we come back.

23 June 2009


There has been some talk about not wasting food and this has prompted me to write about what we had to eat recently. It was all from what we had in the house and didn't require a special trip to the supermarket.

Yesterday I made a sort of fish pie, vaguely following the guidelines of a recipe passed on to me by a friend a few years ago, for "French style roast cod".

I par-boiled a few cubed new potatoes and roasted them with a few cherry tomatoes, whole garlic cloves, olive oil and sprigs of rosemary. After about 15 minues I perched some frozen cod fillets on top - from a pack of emergency fish portions lurking at the back of the freezer. I added a drop more olive oil and seasoning, roasted for about another 15 minutes. Then added a good slurp of white wine, recently purchased from Montlouis near Tours and cooked for another 5 minutes or so.

It was very tasty and was served with a "vegetable medley" - all the bits of vegetables not used at the weekend.

At the weekend we were invited to a barbecue with some friends so I volunteered to take the pudding. It was "warm chocolate torte", a very rich and grown up cake from a recipe in a Linda Collister book called "Heavenly Chocolate". It is definitely to be served as a dessert, not for afternoon tea. There is lots of dark chocolate in it and no flour but ground almonds. This makes it very moist and it usually sinks in the middle a bit. I followed the recipe to the letter for this.

However, I have not so far managed to serve it warm, being never that well organised. But it's just as good served cold with cream or anything else that you fancy.

22 June 2009


On the Wednesday we had our offer accepted verbally by the vendor, via Antony the Agent. He then had to act pretty swiftly to get things organised before we went back home the following Tuesday.

On Thursday we had the key all to ourselves and spent a couple of happy hours in the house, measuring, planning and dreaming of our future holidays there.

On Friday we handed the key back so that he could get on with the surveys, namely a lead survey and an energy survey.

Our stay in the gite was due to end on Saturday 28th August but M. Duport said that we could stay an extra 3 nights, until the Tuesday morning. The imobilier's office was normally closed on Mondays but Antony arranged to open "exceptionellement" in the afternoon so we could meet and sign the important documents before we left France.
The old town of Descartes

The compromis de vente is the document that seals the deal when buying your house. It contains details of the building and the land plus anything else included in the sale. Once signed a 10% deposit has to be paid. At this point the vendor cannot back out or change the price. The buyer can put conditions into the document allowing for him or her to back out of the deal.

In Pete & Cyn's case it was that planning permission would be granted for their balcony on the top floor. In our case it was that we would be able to raise the funds (the most usual condition if a mortgage has to be obtained) and that the repairs for the roof would not cost more than 10,000 euros (about £7,000 at the time). A copy of the document is then sent to the buyer's home address and once it plops through the letterbox, you have 7 days to change your mind. After that you are committed to the sale and would lose the deposit if you backed out.

The autojumble at Le Grand Pressigny

Antony was brilliant and got everything organised. Obviously he was keen to make the sale and only had two working days to do it. Estate agents' fees are very high in France and are paid buy the buyer. Hence all the cloak and dagger stuff about properties for sale - many agents will get you to sign a document to say you have seen the house with them so that they get the fees, not one of the other agents who also have it on their books.

We wandered past the cottage on Friday and there was a car parked outside. (The neighbour doesn't have a car.) Over the course of the weekend various cars came and went. These turned out to belong to the surveyors and then, to Mme Beranger herself. Our neighbour offered to introduce us but we declined. We didn't want to get into any discussion about buying her furniture, largely as our French was not good enough for such a conversation. She was there for the weekend and for the meeting on the Monday.

Seeing her car in the courtyard and the windows open I felt strangely miffed, as if the house already belonged to us and she had no right to be there.

Over the weekend we entertained ourselves by doing some sightseeing. On Saturday we went to Chinon and treated ourselves to a nice lunch in one of the many smart restaurants there. I think we both needed to see the town once more before we committed ourselves to buying the cottage in Le Grand Pressigny - Chinon was after all our first choice for location but we had abandoned it for this other corner of the Loire.

On Sunday we went to the vide -grenier at Chaumussay. This was a big event and in a very pretty village. We had a great time weighing up all the stuff that was for sale - there was an awful lot of junk but as always there were some really nice things and, now that we had somewhere to put it, we were very tempted. Somehow we managed to be sensible and resist. The ink wasn't on the paper yet.

The village of Chaumussay

By Monday morning Nick was almost a nervous wreck. So many people had told us tales of how complicated the buying of a house in France could be and so many things to be careful of - how easy it was to get trapped and conned in some way. I thought it couldn't be that difficult or dangerous otherwise nobody would do it. And we already knew personally several people who had done it and lived to tell the tale. He was not easily reassured so to take our minds off it a bit, we went to Loches in the morning, had a look around the chateau and a good lunch to put us in the right mood.

Loches from the chateau

We arrived at the office to find Antony, his boss Phillipe, a man who was a local restauranteur who spoke good English and had been asked to come and interpret and last but not least, Mme Beranger. They were all looking very serious and I thought for a fleeting moment that Nick might make a run for it. But no, we sat down and got straight on with the business.


The bridge at Descartes

All the details were explained to us by Phillipe in French and then the restauranteur in excellent English. I could see that Nick was slightly uncomfortable about this - what if this man was there to help con us in exchange for a case of wine or............. I decided just to go with the flow. Every page of the huge document, the compromis de vente, had to be signed and annotated by both of us with the words "prix compris" - price understood. Then Mme Beranger had to do the same. This took quite a while and then - it was over. There was lots of hand shaking and then we were out on the pavement in the sunshine. We said goodbye to Antony, congratulated him on doing a fantastic job and headed back to the gite to pack.

So that was it.

Leaving Portsmouth as we set off on this adventure two weeks before, I never thought it would actually happen. Not so soon anyway. We had bought a holiday home in France.


Grande Rue at Le Grand Pressigny

We had discovered a corner of the Loire region that we had never noticed before.

We had enjoyed staying in a fabulous gite.

We had glimpsed peoples' lives as we were shown around their homes.

And we had bought a little house of our own and made some new friends.

20 June 2009


On Wednesday 22nd August Antony the Agent, our Angel Number One, phoned us in the afternoon with the news that Mme Beranger, the vendor, would accept 1,000 euros more than the last person had offered. This meant the house could be ours. We were filled with so many different emotions; euphoria, fear, excitement, panic.................

We dashed into Descartes to see him in his office to confirm our offer and talk about the next step. I asked if we could possibly trouble him with a third visit to check a few things out. We came away with the key !!!

We had arranged to meet Barrie and Lucie in the bar to tell them how we had got on. To their absolute amazement, we dangled the key under their noses and off we all sped up the hill to the little cottage to have an unchaperoned look around. It was chucking it down with rain and almost dark but the little house welcomed us in. It was full of horrendous huge old French furniture, junk and "brocante" but it felt wonderful to be there within what would soon be our own four walls.

We skipped back down to the bar and celebrated with a few glasses of the PreHisto's best Vouvray. The restless spirit in the gite didn't bother us that night and we slept extremely well.

The next morning, as soon as it was polite to do so, we went back to the house to have a proper look round, armed with tape measure, notebook and camera. The sun was shining again. The one room downstairs had no windows, only three doors; the front door with an ugly shutter on it, the french doors to the terrace and the glazed door to the little kitchen extension on the side of the house. (Plus the intrnal door to the bathroom.) There had been a large window in the room which was still there on the outside but was blocked up and plastered over inside. Several people have suggested that this would have been to save money on window tax. (Can anybodly remember when that was?) The only other original window in the house is to the shower room, which is actually a tiny space stolen from the one room, and we suspect that was probably a door when it was built. They saved a lot of tax, then - there were no windows.

They agent had told us that Mme Beranger wanted to know if we would like to buy any of her furniture. He then told us not to offer anything for it as she would probably leave it all anyway - she lived in a very small flat in Paris and had no room for it. We sincerely hoped she would NOT just leave it all. We certainly didn't relish the idea of spending our first few holidays sorting out and disposing of it. No doubt some of the furniture and ornaments were quite desirable and even valuable but it would take a long time to go throught it all and we would probably end up keeping stuff that we really didn't want.

There was only one item in the whole house that I would have liked: a white china cake stand, shaped like a daisy. When I had mentioned this to Antony, he said "take it, you have bought it with the house". I was horrified - to me that would simply have been stealing. Daft, I know, but it's the way I was brought up - you don't take anything without asking first.

As we came away from the house, the neighbour asked us in to take a "petit thé ou café" with her. It was an interesting half hour as she doesn't speak a single word of English (why should she?) and our French was not that good either. We managed to tell her that we would be buying the house and hoped to make it look a lot tidier as soon as we could. Living next to two sad and neglected properties must be depressing and annoying. She was able to tell us quite a bit about Mme Beranger, who had lost her husband about 5 years ago.

The next day, Friday, we handed the key back so that various surveys could be done. This is where things things really started to get serious. The process of buying a house in France is slightly different from in the UK and in many ways better, we thought. Once the deal is struck it is difficult for either party to back out. Therefore, there is little chance of a vendor finding that the buyer has thought of an excuse to drop the price by a few thousand at the last minute, nor can the vendor back out and take the property off the market. Both things can make moving house sheer hell in the UK.

In the next blog:
The tricky bit - the paperwork.

15 June 2009


Down by the river at Abilly

Tuesday 21st August 2007 dawned bright and sunny but there were ominous grey clouds around. Armed with our new umbrella we went to Descartes to meet Antony the agent, our Angel Number One.

He had organised three out of four viewings of the houses he wanted to show us that day, as he was unable to get hold of a key for the fourth.

First stop was at La Guerche. This is a charming little village not far from Le Grand Pressigny, with a medieval château but little in the way of commerces. As you go over the bridge into the village from Le G P, the house is on the left. You can't miss it. The bridge was built after the house and the road comes half way up the windows.

House number one at La Guerche

We had been past this row of houses a few times already and never noticed the strange configuation of the door and windows. Obviously the door had been moved up so that you were not obliged to limbo-dance into the house, but the windows had been left just as they were but with mini shutters fitted. Once inside you could see the whole impact of the new road as the ground floor was effectively below ground.

Watch your step as you go over the threshold

The house itself had nothing to commend it as a holiday home. All the interesting stuff was across the road. There were umpteen outbuildings, a cottage, a stable or two and a vast amount of land. If you had gazillions of euros to spare it could be made into a fabulous gite complex with room for several swimming pools.

Not for us, that one then. Nearly two years later I believe it is still for sale.

The next house was at Abilly (pronounce "Abee-yee"). This is another attractive little village with the river running alongside the road and a few commerces. We already liked Abilly.

The house was right at the top of our budget and was lovely. It was in excellent condition with a very nice staircase that the vendor had made himself as he was a "charpentier" until he retired. As we had found with so many of the houses we had seen, there was lots of finishing off to do but it was comfortable, bright and airy inside. There was a reasonable sized garden with a potager, rabbit hutches at the end of the garden (dinner!) and a spectacular view of some distant château. In the cellar, apart from the eau-de-vie still, there were neat rows of bottled fruit, preserves and wine on the shelves.

The store cupboard in the cellar at house number two

Outside, it was business as usual. There were not one, or even two, but three cottages that came in with the house. All for "doing up". Antony hinted that there had been some discussion recently that the vendor might separate the sale of the main house from the dépendances but that might take some negotiation. For negotiation read aggravation, time and frustration, I thought.

The three spare cottages that came with house number two.
Note the external access to the bedrooms - a ladder!

Not for us that one, either.

I can't remember where the third house was. I just remember that it was unattractive, with a huge garden and orchard, a hangar with a small forge in it, lots of cats, lampshades made of newspaper and hardly any furniture. The owner was obviously not very well off and showed us round hopefully. We got the impression he had been steadily doing it up in order to try to sell it. I thought he was going to burst into tears when we said the garden was too big and the house required too much doing up for us. I felt sorry for him and quite guilty that we didn't like it.

House number three. There were cats asleep on every windowsill.

We then said to Antony that we would like to go back to Le Grand Pressigny for a second look at the little cottage there. I was trembling with excitement as we drove back to the village. We had seen nothing else that was anywhere near as good and I couldn't wait to see it again.

As soon as Antony unlocked the door and we stepped inside I felt absolutely sure this was the one. The rain clouds had drifted off and sunshine filled the one room downstairs. Standing on the little terrace, with the château just peeping over the top of the house and the view from the garden over the village rooftops I felt completely at home.

The view from the back of the house.

We announced to Antony that we would like to make an offer on the house, could he try to find out what the vendor might accept, as we could not afford the advertised price. Tomorrow was Wednesday and he promised to contact the vendor, who lived in Paris and get back to us as soon as possible. We had until the following Monday to sort this out as then we would be going home.

As we walked away from the cottage the neighbour was pottering about in the courtyard. Antony exchanged a few pleasantries with her and I grinned at her and said, "we are going to buy this house". I thought she looked very pleased.

13 June 2009


The story so far:

Nick and Jean have spent many years exploring France and finally decided they want to buy a holiday home there. They have looked at several houses and have found one they like in a village called Le Grand Pressigny in the Loire area.

It is Sunday and the Immobilier is closed until Tuesday.


Staying in the beautiful gite just outside the village was useful for us in many ways. It had obviously been an old farm with "dépendances" and it had been restored to an exceptionally high standard. This gave us a good idea of what could be acheived with an old property and something to aim for. We also appreciated that the gite owners must have spent a lot of time and money making the place so fabulous.

However, as the days went by we started to find it rather spooky. During the day it was fine, and it was usually filled with sunshine. The decoration was bright and colourful and there were roses and strawberries growing in the little garden at the back.

At night it changed character and we both felt uncomfortable moving about the house. Maybe the darkness around the house, which was in a hamlet with no street lights, contributed to our unease, or perhaps the intense silence. There were other houses very close by but it was very quiet after dark, apart from the noise of (presumably) small animals scurrying here and there, plus the occasional bark from the neighbour's dog and the hoot of an owl. After a few uneasy nights we got into the habit of closing off half of the house, which was in fairness way too big for just the two of us, by shutting the door to the downstairs corridor and the bigger bedroom upstairs. We ate and listened to music in the kitchen and stayed out of the salon, which was actually down some steps into what would have been an adjoining cottage.

The house would also occasionally have an unpleasant smell. Definitely a smelly-drain sort of pong but we could never work out why it would be there some times and not at others. There seemed to be no pattern.

By contrast, from the moment we first entered the little cottage "au pied du chateau" it felt like a sunny and happy place. It didn't need a huge amount of "doing up" either. Many of the houses we had looked at needed such a lot of work that it was not easy to envisage how they could look when "done up" and some of them also felt distinctly spooky. The gite experience convince us that having somewhere in the village and not even vaguely isolated was the right thing for us.

We could move no further until Tuesday when the immobier reopened. It was Sunday and there was a change in the weather. We decided to amuse ouselves by doing a bit more exploring. We headed south and came across a very pretty little place called Angles sur Anglin, the Anglin being the river flowing through the village.

Being a Sunday in August it was predictably extremely busy, crammed full of tourists of many nationalities. There were lots of antique and secondhand shops selling incredibly overpriced stuff that no-one in their right mind would buy. Also a couple of artists studios and craft shops. In spite of its very touristy feel, it is a lovely spot and we have since been back on a weekday and enjoyed a stroll around the village and a coffee in the square watching the world go by.

By Monday the weather had changed and it was cool and raining. Our 10-day forecast obtained before we set off on holiday the week before had by now expired and we were not prepared us for this so we spent the day shopping for a jumper, a rainjacket and an umbrella. We went to Chatellerault and were pleased to find that although it is a sizeable town, there is plenty of free parking available for a visit to the shops. In Monoprix we found just what we wanted and then we had a good lunch in one of the street cafes.

The next day, we had our appointment with Antony of Lochois Immobilier and I decided that I would say to him, "Today we will buy a house from you". If he showed us nothing better, we would buy the little cottage au pied du chateau.