In France at last, and raring to start on our mission…
From Dieppe, all main roads south go through Rouen. Having negotiated the town centre successfully we opted to take the A13 west, towards Caen, and then follow the newly opened A28 to our destination.
Some six hours later we arrived at the gîte which was as good as its description. Perfectly situated on the edge of the town and a few minutes’ walk from shops it offered a perfect base for our house-hunting forays. We had a few days on our own before being joined by our son and girlfriend, our daughter, and my brother and his wife, so we set to the task immediately. Top of the list was location, then accommodation adequate for family gatherings, some outside space but nothing too maintenance heavy, and that indefinable je ne sais quoi – charm, character, lifestyle – that would tip the balance.
We approached estate agents in the town and viewed various houses which on paper fulfilled our requirements. But the wow factor wasn’t there. They passed the ‘baguette test’ (my husband’s term for being within walking or cycling distance of a boulangerie) but either there was not enough open living space, or the bedrooms were poky, or there was too much for us to do. We were realistic about our DIY skills so anything requiring immediate structural work would probably be too much of a challenge. Feeling somewhat deflated we turned to plan 2.
Before leaving home I had contacted an English company specialising in selling French properties to English people. They had an office just north of Tours so we arranged to spend the day with one of their agents. Back up the motorway, we went for a 10 am appointment.
The agent was extremely efficient and, using our wish list, had compiled a pile of details of properties for us to view. We looked through them and selected about ten. We were still reluctant to relinquish hopes of finding somewhere near the gîte we were renting as we loved the rolling countryside and the walks beside the river Creuse and were sceptical about the attractions of the northern Loire. Gradually, however, as we drove from property to property we began to warm to the gently undulating hills, the wooded valleys, the vineyards and orchards, and the pretty towns and villages all in much closer proximity to one another than those we had explored in the last few days. One of the properties in La Chartre sur le Loir appealed to us: it was right behind the town hall, so got a big tick for the baguette test; it had four bedrooms, a lounge-diner and a separate fitted kitchen; and we could envisage living there with a punt on the river Loir at the bottom of the garden. Nevertheless, prudence prevailed, so we left the agent with the promise to return with the family, whose opinions were crucial. Already we started to imagine parties and celebrations with them.
Eyes wide open
How perspectives change when approached with cool heads and sharp eyes! The house was judged on the small side, the river level was studied suspiciously, the mesh grills on the windows were pointed out as a sure sign of mosquitoes, and to cap it all, our son’s girlfriend realised that the front door opened onto the main one – way system through the town…… On our first viewing, we had arrived at about midday via the car park, which probably explained why there hadn’t been much traffic.
Chastened but not deterred we told the agent to keep us informed of any property that he thought would interest us, as we had no more days left this time, and returned to the gîte to pack our cases.
On the journey back to Dieppe we assessed our progress. Certainly, there was no dream cottage in the offing, and we felt we had had a lucky escape. From the negative experience of half falling for an unsuitable house we had gained a lot of practical tips: view a property at different times of day; take note of any extra equipment such as fly swats on the wall or mosquito netting; look at the land around the property and see if there are signs of redevelopment; get someone else whom you trust to give an honest opinion; don’t jump at the first possible property. In addition, and perhaps most importantly of all, we knew that we had found the ideal corner of France for us.