17 May 2009


The chateau

Sitting outside the PreHisto bar in the sunshine, watching the Saturday evening "traffic" - of people, not cars, we had a long talk about the events of the day.


We quickly talked ourselves out of the renovated bungalow at Cussay. Beautiful as it was - and Nick REALLY liked the garage - it was too expensive. It would gobble up all of our budget and there would be no cash left over even for furniture, unless we were prepared to start borrowing extra money. 

A rooftop view in Le Grand Pressigny

The pizza van was in the village square and whilst we were enjoying our second apero we were vaguely aware of a couple of about our age who visited the van then sat at the next table to us presumably to wait for their pizza to be cooked. They seemed like locals, exchanging handshakes and "bisous" with other passers-by. I thought I caught a snippet of English in a Yorkshire accent (him) and a Birmingham accent (her). They said "bonjour" to us and ordered their drinks.

The bridge over the river in full bloom

As our discussion continued, I began to panic. Nick was back-pedalling so fast I could not keep up with him. We both liked the little cottage in the village but when we got talking about how we could go about having any building work done, such as the half of a roof it needed and the windows we would like to put in, things got complicated and began to sound expensive. He was worried that we might fall foul of "French builder syndrome" - problems with the language and not getting the job done properly.

This is what happened to several of the people we knew who had bought holiday homes in France.  all had resolved their problems in the end but Nick was at that point thinking worst possible scenario. 

Down by the railway station

As fast as he was sinking in the quagmire of imagined building disasters, I was trying to keep him afloat by pointing out the good points. Nothing needed doing urgently - the house was quite habitable as it was and just needed tidying up. Going on our experience so far, this little cottage was just perfect for us, by far the best we had seen and in reality we were unlikely to find a house that didn't need any work doing at all in our price range.

La Poste vans resting

As we talked, I thought that the other couple might be listening to us - the way occasional looks were exchanged and the odd glance across to our table. I don't know how we actually got talking - something to do with asking the time and Nick's watch behaving strangely. After a few minutes' chatting, the man leaned over and said, "I don't normally do this but I heard a bit of what you said and I think you need my card". It said:

Maitre d' Oeuvre

It took a only few seconds for the meaning of this to sink in. M. Fairhead was an architect and structural engineer from Sheffield who had retired to the village but since started working as an architect and project manager - for people exactly like us.

The war memorial in Place 11 Novembre

Now call it a luck, call it fate or anything else you like. I just think it's an incredible coincidence that Barrie and his wife Lucie turned up just at the moment we needed them. It is something for which I will be forever grateful, if somewhat mystified. Thank heavens for that pizza van.

Chez Grand Ma, the restaurant on Grande Rue

Our worries about organising any work suddenly melted away. Barrie and Lucie went off to their home in the village with their pizza and we went to the local restaurant to celebrate. We had invited them round to our gite for coffee in the morning and we were really looking forward to talking some more.

16 May 2009


A view of Le Grand Pressigny

Some people believe in guardian angels. Some believe in fate. I'm not sure what I believe in but things started to go right and an amazing coincidence happened on Saturday 18th August 2007.


After breakfast we went to Descartes to see what Lochois Immobiliers had to offer. There we were greeted by Antony the Agent - our first angel. Bless him, he was such a sweetiepie and he had a sense of humour and he spoke a little English. I almost feel ashamed to admit we heaved a sigh of relief. Not only were we able to communicate with him, he also understood what we were looking for and was keen to help. Not just keen to flog us a huge dilapidated renovation project just because that's what the English usually buy.

We sat in his office and looked through his folder of properties for sale and he would comment on each one along the lines of "this one is too big for you" or "this one needs too much work" or "that one is overpriced" or "that one floods". After an hour we had picked out 8 possible houses. He told us to go for lunch and come back at 2.00 pm by which time he would have 4 houses for us to look at in the afternoon.

We wandered down the street to the Saladerie with two hours to kill and had a lazy lunch, wondering what the afternoon had in store for us. When we got back to Antony's office he was all ready to go with information sheets printed out for 4 properties that afternoon and 4 more on the following Tuesday (they were closed on Mondays). What an incredible difference from the service we had previously received from other agents.

The first house was in a small village not far from Descartes. It was a tastefully restored old house but more of a family home than a holiday home. Not for us that one.

The elusive cottage "au pied du chateau"

Next we went back to Le Grand Pressigny. We parked up on a steep hill and walked into the small courtyard. As he approached the house I thought "Oh, I never even noticed this one". It was a small cottage tucked away at the end a row of houses. We stepped inside and it was dark and stuffed full of huge French furniture and "brocante". But it had a lovely feel to it; no odour, the rooms were the right size, there were lovely oak beams and a gorgeous fireplace. Once we had opened up the other doors and the shutters, the sunshine flooded in and we could get a true impression of the place.

Lots of brocante but a lovely tuffeau fireplace

We explored the house inside and out. Pretty soon I had the "this is the one" feeling.
It met all our requirements:
  • a small house
  • two bedrooms
  • a proper kitchen
  • a functioning bathroom
  • a small private garden (with a view - of sorts)
  • off-road parking for the motorcycles
  • in the middle of the village
  • dog-walking terrain nearby

As we were walking round the house, we already found ourself making plans for what needed to be done to it. Nick fancied putting "lucarnes" in the bedrooms - dormer windows which would open up the rooms to give more light and a lovely view over the village rooftops. The gite we were staying in had these. Also, in the one room downstairs, there was a window on the outside of the house, complete with lintels and hangers for the shutters, that had been blocked up. We thought how much lighter it would make the inside of the house if we could reinstate it.

We could see that the roof on one side of the house was in good condition but the other side would need replacing at some point. Also the electrics and plumbing would need sorting out a bit and there was obviously some damp in the walls. In spite of all this, it fulfilled one of our major requirements.  It was somewhere we could use comfortably as a holiday home whilst work was in progress - and not a major renovation project.

The restored house at Cussay

Antony was keen that we should also see the other two houses he had organised for us so off we went. The next one was at Cussay and, just as he said, it was beautiful. It was right at the top of even our first budget but we could have moved in straight away and it was spotlessly clean. It was an old bungalow, although not as "ancienne" as the cottage we had just seen. It had been tastefully restored with three bedrooms, a modern fitted kitchen and a large garage that had a second kitchen in it for all the outdoor entertaining ! The garden was large with a lovely little vegetable patch but mostly just lawn so half an hour on a ride-on mower should sort that out - Nick had always fancied one of those.

....with the lovely garden icluding "potager"

Hmmmm.........now we were spoilt. Not one but two possible houses, at opposite ends of the scale in terms of budget and amount of work required.

This house had a lovely view of the watertower, just off the picture to the left

The last house was more like what we had been looking at all week. The house itself was probably early 1900's and was in poor condition inside. Lots of work would have to be done before we could even consider spending our first night there. The outside was phenomenal. Attached to the house was a very pretty little old cottage "to do up", there was also a substantial courtyard and garden, a row of "dependances" (outbuildings) that had been a stable block and through an archway a huge orchard / field. The house itself was uninspiring but we could see that someone could do wonders with the rest. (There was however, the unfortunate matter of the water tower that someone had built rather inconsiderately right outside the salon window of the main house!)

It came with a nice little cottage "to do up"

Not for us, that one.

The view of Le Grand Pressigny from the PreHisto bar

We parted company with Antony and arranged to meet him at his office on Tuesday morning to view the next four houses. We then returned to Le Grand-Pressigny and retired to our customary spot outside the PreHisto bar for an apero and a serious debriefing. Having spent the first part of the week feeling quite depressed at the end of each day, this time we had the luxury of two possible properties to choose from. Both completey different but equally suitable.

We had a lot of thinking to do.

15 May 2009


The lovely fireplace in our gite just outside Le Grand Pressigny

So far we had spent 3 days looking at houses and had viewed 10, none of which came even vaguely close to our specification. The house at Rilly was pretty but would be way above our budget by the time it had been altered to provide a proper kitchen and 2 bedrooms. And, although it was in a lovely spot, it was still a car-ride from any shops or other facilities, which was not what we wanted.

A fireplace in one of the houses we had seen

In the comfort of the beautiful gite we had hired, we talked about it for a long time and came to the conclusion that we were not prepared to compromise on our specification. If we deviated too much we would not be happy and therefore there was no point. So how could we try to get the estate agents to show us properties that we might actually be interested in buying, rather than ones they thought we might fall in love with once we saw them, even though they were nothing like our original spec.

The bright and cheerful bathroom in our gite

We came up with the idea of dropping our budget by 50K euros. If we told the agents we could afford a lot less than before, they would be obliged to show us smaller and cheaper properties. Consequently, if a house needed some "doing up", we would have the funds to be able to do it.

On the other hand, would you fancy taking a bath in this? We didn't

On Friday morning after breakfast we drove into Le Grand Pressigny and went to the butcher, the baker and the Spa shop to buy stuff for our dinner that evening.
Hmmm......what we really wanted was a little house somewhere like this.

Our gite was full of lovely features, like this old fashioned light fitting

We called in at the estate agent's office in the village. There were several smallish, cheap properties in his window, although as usual it was impossible to tell exactly where they were. The boss was out but the young lady took our details and promised to get in touch when he returned. We afterwards heard nothing from him at all.

After lunch we went for a ride round and decided that we stood more of a chance if we shifted our attention from the area around Chinon to the area around Descartes or Loches. Looking in several "immobiliers" windows, we saw lots of houses, in various states of repair, that were small enough and might suit us better. In the late afternoon we found ourselves in Descartes and looking in "Lochois Immobilers" window we saw this :-


I thought "now that narrows it down a lot"........ if it was at the foot of the chateau, then it couldn't be 25 km outside the village ! It was a bit more than our revised budget but probably worth a look. That evening we went for a walk around the chateau. We walked up and down the narrow streets with all the quaint little cottages. There were no "for sale" signs to be seen and we saw nothing that looked even vaguely like this picture. This was not entirely unexpected but we thought that anything around there could be a possibility. The agent also had several other small, cheaper properties advertised in his window so we decided to pay him a visit the next day, Saturday, half-way through our house-hunting fortnight.

One of the narrow streets around the old chateau

From the beginning, I always thought that once we were standing in front of the right house for us, I would know that "this is it."

The next day, it happened.

13 May 2009


A pretty courtyard in Chinon

On the Thursday morning of our first week of house-hunting, we were up bright and early to make the trip to Chinon to meet another (our third) estate agent. The route from the gite took us through the village (Le Grand Pressigny) each time and on this lovely morning the market was in full swing. There were people everywhere with baskets of this and that. The whole scene was very jolly.

We arrived at the agent's office at the appointed hour but the agent was late. He eventually turned up, rummaged through his old briefcase and pulled out the details of the four properties we were to view that day. We climbed into his ancient and battered old Renault and off we went ......... in the opposite direction to what we expected.

After a few miles, the agent noticed that his petrol warning light had come on. He asked us if we knew where there was a petrol station. We exchanged knowing glances and suggested he looked for a supermarket as they usually have petrol stations.

The town of Langeais

Then we stopped at Langeais. Not because we were looking at a property near Langeais but because he'd forgotten to pick up the keys to the first house from the office there. Once fully equipped with petrol and the right keys, we set off back again to find the first house. 

After quite some time we stopped outside a modern bungalow with a hand-written for sale sign on the gate. We thought this was odd as we didn't think we were looking for such a modern house. The English owner came out to see what we wanted and by talking to him in English, obviously, we managed to work out that this wasn't the house we were supposed to be looking at althought it was for sale. The agent was, apparently, lost and had no idea how to find the first house. 

He had no map with him but we did so with a bit of furtive consultation (after all, we weren't supposed to know where we were going), off we set again. We stopped outside a really attractive, renovated house, with painted shutters and pretty planters all around. It was somewhat isolated but we started to get excited - it was so lovely that we might be prepared to compromise on our requirement for the house to be in or near a village. In fact I could hardly believe we could get something so nice for the price being asked. That was because it was the wrong house again. 

The agent made a joke about the fact that he had only been doing the job for one month and as soon as he'd made his first sale he would buy himself a Tom-Tom. We had our doubts that he would last that long!


An attractive fireplace for sure

After another half hour or so of touring the flat and uninteresting countryside, we finally arrived at the "hamlet" we were looking for and the house. The one picture in the information sheet showed a smart tuffeau fireplace, giving the impression of a nicely renovated house. As per normal the reality was completely different. The "salon" was a huge, almost windowless room of enormous proportions and completely unfinished. The fireplace was the only nice bit in the whole house. It was not cheap and the cost of all the work that needed doing would put it way over our budget. It also had a substantial garden but within moments of us arriving, the neighbour appeared and offered to sell us his orchard as well!


At least it had walls

Not for us, that one, then.

The Troglodyte house

We had always fancied seeing inside a Troglodyte house - one where the back is a cave and some kind of dwelling is built on the front of it. This agent has several on his books and we thought it might be fun to own one as a holiday home. When we arrived on the doorstep it looked quite sweet. 

As soon as the agent unlocked the door and we stepped in, the smell of the damp almost knocked us over. Inside, the house was very chilly even thought it was hot outside. And literally every room had a cave at the back of it, even the bedrooms and the kitchen. The downstairs hall/corridor was a cave. There were curious hooks and brackets sticking out of the walls and ceiling in the salon. It was very spooky.

The hallway downstairs

The kitchen had mould all over the walls (so did the bathroom). I really didn't fancy scrubbing that off every few weeks so we decided against that one too.

Plenty of elbow grease needed to tackle this kitchen

Next we went to see a house that the agent was really excited about, near Bourgueil. It was another large, 4 bedroomed house on a busy road, with little garden and the usual spare cottage in the back yard to do up. It was in very poor condition and not cheap.

We thought it rather curious that the cottage "to do up" had a better roof than the house.

But the water supply was not so good.

By now it was late in the afternoon and we had truly had enough. The agent didn't mention the fourth house we were supposed to be looking at and neither did we. When we got back to the comfort and tranquility of our gite in Le Grand-Pressigny we phoned the agent we were supposed to meet the next day and cancelled. 

We needed to do some serious rethinking for surely we were doing something completely wrong here. We were certain that there must be plenty of houses suitable for us out there but we had no idea how to get these agents to understand what we wanted. All they did was show us totally unsuitable properties in poor condition and poor locations. Either that or they were in the middle of a farmyard or miles from nowhere. Maybe that's what the British usually go for. 

 An older couple in our French language class were selling up and hoping to retire to France. They had looked at 50 properties so far and not found one they liked. We thought that was unbelievable at the time but now we could see exactly how it could happen.

12 May 2009


Having spent many years touring and exploring France we had arrived at the conclusion that we would like a holiday home there. We had two weeks to find one and were looking in the area around Chinon in the Loire Valley.  After two days of house-hunting, we were fed up already.

On Wednesday of the first week we had arranged to have the day off. The previous two days had been a frustrating waste of time and this house hunting lark was turning out to be very hard work.

In the morning we drove into Le Grand Pressigny to go to the boulangerie for our bread and croissants and found the place buzzing with activity. There was a sort of auto-jumble taking place down by the station so after breakfast we went to have a look.

It was great fun. Lots of old cars, motorcycles and tractors on display and some for sale (runners and non-runners). There were food stalls and meals being served in the station building. In fact it was carnival time. We recognised our gite owner, M. Duport and he was very friendly and seemed pleased we had made the effort to turn up. We wouldn't have missed it for anything !


There was lots of old junk for sale, but some good stuff too. We didn't buy anything but had a great time looking. Apparently there was some sort of old vehicle society in the village and this is one of the events they do every year.

We then wandered back up to the village and had a proper look around. It suddenly occurred to us that this is the sort of village we would like to live in. It had shops, bars, facilities, events and a market every Thursday. If we could just persuade the estate agents to show us little houses in places like this, we would be quite happy. They only seemed to show us huge renovation projects miles from anywhere.

A different sort of renovation project

In the afternoon we went a little further afield and looked at some other villages nearby, including La Guerche. That seemed like a nice little place too.


The chateau at La Guerche

Later that evening, we sat in the sunshine outside the PreHisto bar, watching the world go by. There were lots of people going about their business, having fun, greeting friends. This was just what we wanted from a village.

The next day, Thursday, we had an early rendezvous with another estate agent in Chinon and on Friday with one in Dange St Romain. We had high hopes of both of those. As we were talking, wondering what the next two days would bring, I said to Nick, "actually, I quite like it here".

8 May 2009


"Habitable" means somewhere there will be a tap. Click on the picture if you want to see how truly ghastly it is.

On the second day of our house-hunting fortnight we were up bright and early to make the one-hour trip to Chinon. We arrived for our rendezvous with the agent, a rather intense young man.

He seemed surprised that we wanted to see the house we had found on the internet. When we got there we could see why. It was dreadful. The internet description was accurate except that it left a lot out. The house was on a steep hill on a busy road. There was a tiny concrete patch at the front that had been described as a courtyard. The garden was a bit of scrappy grass at the side and the house was perched on a sort of ravine with the railway line 10 m below at the back. 

The interior was shabby to say the least and there was a family using it, with mattresses and no other furniture. The agent was keen to scuttle them out of our way but I felt really sorry for the woman.  The young agent had a somewhat smug "I told you so" air about him as we went back to his office to leaf through his folder of properties.

This end looks promising

Next he took us to a house described as "ancienne, renovee" in a hamlet.
We were beginning to get the hang of this. If a house is described as "near Chinon" it could be anything up to 30 km away. A "hameau" could be just two houses and "commerces" could be a shop that opens once a week.

We travelled for miles and miles and the road became a track through farmyards. For the last few hundred metres we were virtually up to our knees in cow muck and this particular house was owned by the "laughing farmer". He giggled furiously all the time the agent was showing us round.

At first glance it looked fairly promising. A closer look was more disappointing. Half of it was a renovated house and a breeze block extension formed the rest. There was no garden, just the courtyard and no view except the surrounding walls. There was however a spare cottage to do up. The laughing farmer was very proud of the fact that he had done the drains to comply with forthcoming changes to the regulations. We were not impressed - while the agent was talking to him in a corner we had a closer look and concluded that his home-made drains probably flowed uphill.

The other end is not so good

Next we viewed another old house that was suffering badly from French DIY. Considering that there are ample DIY stores selling loads of superb products, the standard of DIY we saw everywhere was grim. This one had everything done as cheaply as possible. It had a flimsy, wobbly staircase, cheap thin laminate floors, plastic everywhere and a very strange bedroom arrangement where the two rooms and the bathroom all interjoined, separated from each other by the thinnest possible plasterboard partitions. There was no garden, just a concrete yard squeezed in at the side of the house.

Most houses seemed to come with a spare ruin in the garden to "do up"

Forever hopeful, the agent then took us to a 1960's bungalow in Brehemont. One of those houses that are perched on top of a mound of earth dug out to form the garage or "sou sol". As a family home it would have been fine but it was way too big for us with a huge garden that would have been a real nightmare for a holiday home.

Having spent the whole day being trailed all over the countryside, looking at completely unsuitable houses, we ended the day in low spirits to say the least. The agent was tetchy because we didn't want to buy any of his houses and we were annoyed that he had wasted our precious time as well as his own.

Back in Le Grand- Pressigny, sitting outside the PreHisto bar, in the sunshine, enjoying a badly needed apero, we thought things through. The system of buying and selling houses in France is very strange.

1. Most houses are for sale with at least two and often three or more agents - sometimes at different prices.

2. Consequently there is huge secrecy about the properties. You can't find out where a house is until you are escorted there by the agent. This is presumably so that you can't see it by yourself and therefore can't negotiate with the vendors or another agent who might have it on his books. This means you can't do any research before you do the visit and when it turns out to be completely different from what you expected a lot of everybody's time has been wasted.

3. Many of the houses do not display a for sale sign. This makes them virtually impossible to find by yourself. And there are probably zillions of gorgeous houses for sale but you would never know if you walked past one.

4. The picture in the agent's window will look like nothing you can see when you get there. This is presumably because the best view is given to attract you to the property and disguise the fact that most of it is built out of unrendered breeze block.

5. Habitable means it has a toilet, a room with a tap and part of a roof.

In 2007, you could still get a lot of property for your money. 100k euros would buy a large house that needs doing up with 4 bedrooms, a substantial piece of land and usually a few outbuildings - spare cottages to do up if you felt like it after you had tackled the main house. There will be plenty of room to put your swimming pool.

The next day, we had planned a day off. Oh boy, did we need it.

7 May 2009


Setting off on our great adventure to find and buy a house in France, we enjoyed an evening in Portsmouth before boarding the overnight ferry. I was so excited, I didn't sleep a wink.

Our gite at Le Grand Pressigny

We arrived in Le Grand Pressigny on Sunday 12th August 2007. The gite owner met us by the church and we followed him to the gite which was a short drive outside the village. The gite was absolutely gorgeous. It had been beautifully restored; we guessed it had been an ancient fermette. The attention to detail and the quality of the work was stunning. We had stayed in many gites, houses of all ages, but this was the best ever in terms of tastefully enhancing the character of the house. 

It was actually a large house with a cottage attached which had been converted into the sitting room. Very clever. This room housed the old bread oven and it was made into a feature both inside and out.

The hall with original tomettes

We settled in and looked forward to our first meeting with an estate agent on Monday morning. If we could find something like this, only smaller, it would be wonderful.

The staircase and lovely old beams "poutres de chene"

Monday dawned bright and sunny and we headed for Richelieu to meet the English agent. We were disappointed to find that the property we had seen on the internet and hoped to view had apparently been sold (by another agent) the previous week. Our agent didn't know this until he tried to book us in to see it. We thought this was a bit strange but he leafed through his folders and came up with three others we might like to see.
The first was truly horrible. A very grey, large, 19th century building, right on a busy road, with 4 bedrooms , no garden and a concrete yard.  Not for us, that one!

The master bedroom in our very comfortable gite

The second was more promising. A pretty, well restored cottage but with several disadvantages. It was in what was as described as a hamlet but was actually nestling with a couple of other houses on a farm, a good distance from the village of Rilly. It had a superb view over the valley and a small orchard with mirabelle and fig trees. But the kitchen was tiny, almost non-existent, the bathroom was grotty and the second bedroom was just a bed on the landing - something we would see over and over again. The French seem to go in for very casual sleeping arrangements, we concluded. There was scope for altering the inside of the house to suit our needs but as it was already at the very top of our price range, there would be no cash left for that. And the nearest boulangerie for our breakfast was definitely not in walking distance. Sadly not for us, this one either.

The very smart kitchen in our gite

The agent then took us to see an even more unlikely prospect. A huge partially restored house down a long and very dusty gravel track. The "garden" was virtually a whole field across the road and in the courtyard there was another building, just as big as the house, to "do up". We couldn't see inside the house as he had no keys and the neighbours, who turned up to see what we looked like, did not look very friendly.  Another one that was not for us.


Debriefing at the PreHisto bar in Le G P

Having drawn a blank on day one, we headed back to Le Grand-Pressigny and enjoyed an apéro in the PreHisto bar followed by dinner in the hotel. With the benefit of the day's house-hunting experience we were able to formulate exactly what we were looking for in our holiday home.


The Hotel Savoie-Villars in Le Grand-Pressigny.


1. A small house, not a renovation project, although we didn't object to a little DIY and decorating. It must be reasonably comfortable to live in whilst work was in progress, i.e. must have a toilet, kitchen and proper bedroom. 

 2. A proper kitchen, either separate or open-plan, but with enough room for proper appliances, not just a 2-ring hob perched on top of a microwave next to the sink. We both enjoy cooking and needed enough space to do it properly.

 3. A functioning bathroom. 

 4. Two separate bedrooms. They did not need to be huge but a bed on the landing would not do.

 5. A small, manageable garden, reasonably private for relaxing and entertaining. Not just a patch of yard in front of the house. Not acres of grass either. We didn't want to spend all of our holiday gardening or mowing the lawn. 

 6. Reasonably secure parking for the motorcycles. 

 7. Also if possible, some dog-walking terrain nearby. 

 8. Last but not least, it should be in a village, within walking distance of some shops and some entertainment, eg a bar, perhaps a restaurant. We had already arranged to see a house in Chinon the next day, Tuesday, so we were really looking forward to that. The pictures on the internet had looked very promising.