Back to work and feeling despondent and doubtful that the agent would keep us posted, we resolved to resume our search in the summer. Then, out of the blue, just a few days later we received an email from the agent with the details of three properties. He felt that they would not be on his books for long so asked us to come back as soon as possible if we were interested. We were! Somehow we managed to arrange work and commitments and that Thursday night we caught the overnight ferry: disembarkation at 4.30 am, Rouen thankfully still at rest, then motorway, arriving in good time for our first appointment at 9.30 am. The first property to be viewed was in the little village of Marçon, right on the church square. As we parked, my husband spotted the busy boulangerie and the café-tabac.
Dreams are made of this
Once through the white gates, the agent ushered us to a pretty two-bedroomed property with French doors and balconied windows. It was clean and bright and felt quite spacious.
The large double garage offered plenty of storage space, and although the kitchen and bathroom were not to our taste they were acceptable. The garden was neat and the decked area outside the French doors was inviting. Positive vibes so far… and then we were led across the drive to a long low building with green shutters and boxes of geraniums on the window sills.
It was as if we were stepping into a French picture book. As we moved from room to room we hardly dared glance at one another: were we doing it again? I tried hard to keep a grip on reality. The lower walls in the hall were covered in tacky plastic panelling and the wood on the architrave was crumbly at the bottom. But the beams, the wood burning fire, the old tiles, the windy stairs which creaked, the long bedroom with exposed A-frames, the study which looked over the garden and into the branches of the oak tree…
The only wallpaper was in the second large bedroom upstairs and it was very yellow and everywhere. There was a washbasin upstairs but no bathroom. Downstairs there was a WC and off the kitchen (painted hospital green) was a sit-up and beg bath and another washbasin. The dining room was across a passage which had a door to the terrace, and from there you crossed the hall to the lounge. Oh, and downstairs, off the lounge, were a further four bedrooms, two with basins. Beneath the dining room, the vaulted cellar contained some well-used wine racks – but no bottles!
Outside, the remains of an old wall covered in Virginia creeper gave privacy from the little house, and at the end there was a well. There were some outbuildings – a covered barbecue area, a workshop, and a log store, and the garden was laid to grass. Both properties were enclosed behind high walls and the driveway which sort of acted as the dividing line had plenty of room for 4 cars.
Mindful of our resolutions, we made lots of encouraging noises but when the agent suggested that there was no point viewing the other properties we protested, so he dutifully showed us another property in Marçon and a terraced house on the outskirts of La Chartre sur le Loir. Then he left us to reflect.
We were staying in the Hôtel de France so after a rest and a bite to eat we drove back to Marçon to explore the village.
What springs to mind when someone says ‘typical French village’ to you? Yep. That sums it up:
down to the boules pitch in front of the church, the restaurant on the corner, the vegetable plots with rows of tomatoes, onions, and beans… and a mere kilometre away, a lake with watersports, picnic areas, and tennis courts.
The property came with one of the aforesaid vegetable patches, but in contrast to the others, it was definitely a wildlife haven rather than an extension of a larder!
After walking around, we returned to La Chartre to eat and sleep and decide what we were going to do. No prizes for guessing what we discussed over dinner in the lovely Relais de Ronsard restaurant of the hotel – and it continued nearly all through the night. By daybreak, we knew that if we weren’t going to pursue this property, we were never going to commit ourselves to buying in France. With great self-restraint, we waited until 10.00 am to ring the agent. He didn’t seem too pleased to hear from us at first – after all, it was Saturday morning – but when he realised that we were in earnest, he rallied, and by 2.00 pm we were back on the square to meet him for a second viewing, and then the vendor at 3.00 pm…
Holding our breath we entered the old house for the second time. Would it still enchant us? Would we see the problems as surmountable? Would any unforeseen snags emerge from our first encounter with the owner?
The green paint did seem more intensely green and the yellow bedroom more yellow, but then most of the walls were whitewashed, and it was obvious that eventually we would want to put our stamp on the place. The little house was reassuring too: nothing urgent to be done but plenty of scope for improvements in our chosen style, and comfortable enough as it was for weekend escapes from Paris for the present owner.
The moment arrived to meet and shake hands! Our “enchantés, Madame” collided in mid-air with her “pleased to meet you”, and we all laughed in relief. And so it went on, a constant stream of French and English, gestures, and smiles. She told us the history of the property, how the two houses came to be owned by her family, and her decision to move to La Chartre. We told her of our quest, that we felt we had found the place we were looking for, and that we were very excited about buying a French property – and, to cut a long story short, that effectively was that. The agent undertook to start the legal matters moving and to send us the papers to sign. We shook hands and promised to keep in touch with the vendor as well as the agent, and reluctantly made our way back to the hotel. We celebrated in the Relais de Ronsard but it all seemed like a dream. Had we really done it? Would she have second thoughts about selling? How would the legal side go? When would we be here again?
As we were leaving for the ferry the next morning, the proprietor delved behind the counter and produced a booklet of… ‘our property!’ Apparently, the vendor had dropped it off earlier so that we could look at it ourselves and show it around the family. What a lovely gesture! It was a collection of photos taken in both houses and shots of the garden at different times of year – just the support we needed if we were to win the approval of our children. I had attempted to take photos but there had been far too much to take in. Giving Marçon and the church a final wave as we made our way to the motorway, Dieppe, and home, we couldn’t imagine what the next few months would hold…