Monthly Archives: May 2018

France House-sit – Vanxains, near Riberac (Part 1)

When we originally organised this house-sit, we thought it would offer an ideal base for house-hunting, but with that now ticked off, we would have little to do but relax and, hopefully, enjoy weeks of pleasant sunshine.  We now hoped to spend quality time at the nearby Grand Etang La Jemaye and called in on our way up from Saurzac.  It had an excellent set-up, with dedicated motorhome parking and a beachfront restaurant, but weirdly the entire lake edge was lined with “baignore interdit” signs.  We asked and were told to ignore them if we wanted to swim, it would simply be at our own risk, so all good.  We soon arrived at Vanxains, met up with Eric again, and had a lovely dinner with him and his partner Lorraine.  We were introduced to their friendly French neighbours Pierre & Judith, charged with being our local assistance should we have any issues during our stay.  It would be a very pleasant spot for us to spend our next six weeks.

Vanxains - (rear garden)

We had two cats to look after, Rosie & Sweep, but they seemed to be no trouble at all, just coming and going as they pleased.  Eric’s house was up for sale, and in our first two days we had three separate house viewings – the first two led by agents and one unexpected later in which we led the viewers, a couple from Leicester, around the property selling it to them as if it was our own.  We had a flying visit from Monica and Ken, from our previous house-sit in Cazeneuve, for lunch and a chatty catch-up.  They had ridden up to visit us on their motorcycles, enjoying the winding country roads and dry, sunny weather.  On our third day here we had to drive north into Limousin, to the village of Piégut-Pluviers to visit the notaire and sign the compromis de vente for our new house.  We met the sellers, fellow Brits Julia and Paddy, beforehand in the small market square and we all arrived together, to run through all the details of the sale contract.

Vanxains - (Visit from Monica and Ken)

Vanxains - (relaxing out back)

After a busy few days, it was time to properly relax, at least how we like to.  We cycled 10km on small, empty roads and cut-up muddy tracks to reach La Jemaye, and even on this lovely sunny day there were only five cars on site, their huge parking areas mostly empty.  We cycled a full loop of the lake first, around 7km, then on our second lap we found a quiet spot on the bank to stash our bikes, quickly changed and enjoyed a wonderfully welcome lake swim.  The water was much warmer than we were expecting, a real bonus this early in the season, and we were so excited about having this facility as a local venue.  We had a few short, exploratory runs into the local village of Vanxains, and discovered a lovely, if hilly, 8km route around the local roads.  This became a staple for us; we walked and ran it many times in both directions, with occasional variations.  Being static for six weeks definitely has its advantages.

Vanxains - (Lake Jermaye cycle)

Vanxains - (ready to swim)

It was Nicky’s birthday during our first week in the house, and as part of our celebrations she chose to return to the lake, this time driving down to continue our training for our upcoming Swim-Run event in June.  We found there were lots of well-kitted fishermen setting up for the day, like there was a competition on, so it was complicated to find a spot to enter the water without disturbing others.  We ran around the edge of the lake from the motorhome parking to a quiet bank at a smaller lake, swam around 200m in reed-lined tranquillity, then climbed out the opposite bank and ran on. A few kilometres later we found another suitable place to swim, completed a shorter 150m swim, then got back to running.  It was for us a chance to get used to the transition, and to swimming with trainers on and then running in wet gear.  It felt good, much more comfortable than expected and we loved the easy switch of emphasis from using legs to using arms.

Vanxains - (apero with neighbours)

One evening our intensive post-exercise sun-bathing was interrupted by an unexpected knock on the door.  Our British neighbours Liz and Graham had called to offer us an invitation to apéro at theirs, pre-dinner drinks, and we soon tidied ourselves up and obliged.  We were given a short tour of their beautifully converted barn holiday-home, complete with spectacular views from the covered first floor terrace, then we sat in their garden in the evening sun, answering questions all about our travels as we got slowly toasted.  It was wonderful to meet them.  Other days, between long countryside walks, runs and cycles, we pottered around in Eric’s garden, grass cutting, clearing out the garden sheds to make then more usable and manageable and generally keeping everything tidy.  It was such a peaceful location, set at the end of a long lane, not overlooked, and we loved to chill with a glass, admiring the garden and the view.

Vanxains - (country walks)

Vanxains - (relaxing on terrace)

The first Friday of our stay we ventured into Ribérac, as this was when the celebrated regional market was held.  We parked on the outskirts in a Lidl car-park and walked the last few hundred metres to the centre, to find a huge arrangement of stalls, and a loud, buzzing atmosphere of noise and colour.  We wandered liberally, ultimately buying only a few vegetables but marvelling at the wide choice of items available; tomatoes to tambourines, wardrobes to watermelons.  Sunning ourselves on our terrace later we sat much too long in the sun and I received my first sunburn of the year – such a basic, schoolboy error for one used to living with such pale, useless skin.  We vowed to be more careful, as we still had so many places to see and grand plans for other day trips to come, and the sun would play a large part in all of these adventures.   (Part 2 to follow…)

A&N x

France – Lalinde, Bergerac and Sourzac

So, it was quite the busy run of days for us. Viewings completed; house now under offer.  WorkAway completed; new friends made.  Making our way north and west to our latest house-sit was the next thing on our agenda, but we had a few days spare to rediscover a more gentle pace.  After leaving Dordogne Studios, we first stopped off in the nearby town of Lalinde.  It was a rather pretty, and surprisingly busy, town set right on the banks of the Dordogne.  The buds of summer had arrived and the ancient, sprawling river-frontage buildings were resplendent with flowering wisteria and other free-flowing decorative plants.  Walking back across the bridge lent us perspective, letting us take in the whole village in one wide, colourful vista.  Even in early morning, it was obvious the day would be a scorcher, and we embraced it as a welcome change, denoting summer was finally arriving.

Lalinde (river frontage)

Lalinde (crossing bridge)

We moved on, parking at the well-provisioned aire 3km north out of town on the Rue du Coulobre, near some pretty parkland trail walks in the Parc de Pombonne.  We creamed up in advance of the solar onslaught and walked from here into Bergerac.  It was hot, a properly sunny day, and our pace dropped as we slowly meandered into the centre, wilting a little in the unfamiliar heat and searching out shade where we could.  Crossing a busy railway line we soon arrived in the heart of the town, near to the dominant Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac.  With no particular plan, we wandered in whatever direction interested us, soaking up the sights lit up beautifully in the bright sunshine.  We passed through wonderfully shaded squares lined with stone and timber medieval buildings, eventually reaching the Dordogne river frontage.

Bergerac (central road)

Bergerac (church)

We crossed the bridge and admired the frontage from the opposite bank, reflected in the calm waters.  We found and wandered along many tiny streets, some leafy parks and a few busy roads, all filled with the bustle of daily life.  We paused to examine the Eglise de la Madeleine then returned across the bridge to walk the frontage we had just observed.  We passed a restored example of a timber courau boat, displayed at the corner of the harbour.  A once common sight on the busy river, this style of workboat plied their heavy goods trade in the late 19th century.  We climbed up café-lined streets that rose up to another small church, Eglise Saint Jacques, that hosted a small, leafy square where a statue of Cyrano de Bergerac stood.  Everywhere was bright with flowers and new growth; leafy, rich and pungent, a sensual delight to walk through.

Bergerac (river reflection)

Bergerac (central streets)

We returned to the aire to overnight, surprised to still be one of only two vans parked in the six free spaces outside the paid barrier, although many other vans were parked inside.  It was a bargain for those planning to stay in the area longer – the cost was €12 for three nights, including electricity.  We passed a peaceful, quiet night around the aire, enjoying the bird calls with our beer.  The next morning, before the sun was too hot, we undertook a slow, looping 5km run around the park and lakes adjacent to the aire, before doodling off in Benny through wonderful countryside, heading north.  We passed Mussidan, noting it was twinned with Woodbridge in Suffolk, a place we know well.  We were close enough to our house-sit to stop early in the day, so we cut east, deciding to overnight at the small aire in Sourzac.  Our spot was a glorious sun-trap that overlooked the river Isle, complete with its own picnic table and optional shade.  We had a lazy lunch with a view before deciding to do some further, gentle exploring of the village.

Sourzac (lunch with a view)

Sourzac (riverside walk)

Sourzac (church and aire)

After lunch we climbed a steep, narrow chemin behind the nearby buildings to gain an overview of the area, before looping around through the quiet farm roads and returning the same path.  We had a quick look around the church buildings, although they were all locked up. Instead we crossed the steel trussed bridge then dropped off the grassy side to reach the opposite banks of the river Isle.  We went for a short riverside walk, admiring the rustic beauty of the countryside and enjoying looking back at our overnight spot, still feeling that quiet satisfaction of how wonderful, how privileged, it is for us to be able to experience such freedom and tranquillity.  The afternoon turned into evening as we sat watching the river slowly pass us by, fully enjoying our last night in Benny for a while as our upcoming house-sit was to begin the following morning.

A&N x

France – Périgueux, St Yrieix & our house search

France – St Yrieix, Périgueux & our house search

NOTE: This blog is slightly out of chronological order as we wished to see what conspired from our house viewings before writing anything specific about them.  We posted our latest Workaway synopsis first, as we awaited news.

Before leaving the UK back in early April, we had arranged several house viewings in our chosen region of Limousin.  We had looked at thousands of properties on-line, spending many hours discussing our budget, accommodation needs and wishes, rural vs village, trying to nail down precisely what we wanted.  We ran circles in our minds from simple, tiny 2-bed cottages to large barn conversions with gîtes, pools and hectares of land, covering every other possible option in between.  All various types had specific advantages and disadvantages; financial, spatial, practical, aspirational.  It took us a long time to finally settle on the type of property that would suit us, and then try to find it.

We saw two houses in quick succession, the first deeply disappointing and over-priced, the second intriguing as it was large (a four bed main house with attached two bed gîte and two acres) but the arrangement of rooms really didn’t work for us and it needed  lot of work to bring it back to a liveable state.  They were both discounted.  A third viewing brought a different house, a perfectly presented two-bed cottage with immaculate views and an exceptional garden. It was owned by a lovely British couple who were heading back to the UK in the hope of spending more time with grandchildren, a common story we’d heard on our visits.  This house remained our favourite for a while as we definitely contemplated converting the floored loft space to a third master suite, creating internal accommodation that worked for us.

We later viewed a small gîte complex high in the hills, near Villac, with no near neighbours and far from anywhere. It was a very rural site, accessed by a tiny single-track road, set in utter peacefulness.  There were three stone-built one-bed cottages set around a pool, with a large garage, outbuildings and potager, and offered the most spectacular views either of us could remember seeing in a long time.  We thought long and hard about how we could make the quirky accommodation work for us, mainly so we could retain that view, but we just couldn’t find a way to justify it; it was all just too immutable without major renovations, and a tad too far from civilisation, even for us.  Our previous favourite, small and perfectly formed, remained with its nose ahead, but it was our final organised viewing of the week that brought us to the one property that, on entry, immediately captured both our imaginations and hearts.

Rouffiac swim lake - nicky at beach

En route we stopped off to have a look at the full set-up at the base de loisirs de Rouffiac, a swim and activity lake we were passing.  We were curious how well they were provisioned, and it didn’t disappoint – It looked fantastic, despite the weather, with dedicated motorhome parking, a beach-side café and plenty of woodland walks.  Limousin is known as the region of 1000 lakes, and we planned to be utilising these as often as possible.  We then visited the market town of Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, to wander around and take in the sights, but it was rainy and our minds were full of recently viewed houses.  The town was founded in the 6th century and forms a part of the Route Richard Coeur de Lion.  The streets were beautiful and historic, replete with medieval buildings, and even in the dreary rain it had a powerful presence that appealed to us.  It would definitely be somewhere we would return to, hopefully under sunnier skies.

St Yrieix - (square and castle)

Our viewing didn’t start auspiciously.  We had a sneaky drive-by the day before our scheduled viewing, under grey skies and bucketloads of rain, and everything looked damp, sodden and sad.  We were again prepared to be disappointed the next day, with moody dark skies overhead, but once we were on the grounds and then inside the house that feeling evaporated into one of quiet excitement and a joint, massively positive vibe.  This was exactly what we wanted in terms of accommodation; flow, openness, lightness and character, along with a distinct separation between a two-bed and a one-bed portion of the house.  It had a vegetable garden, a well, an in-ground pool and a half-acre adjoining paddock, and although the pool is a welcome addition, with us having no intention of keeping horses or chickens, we had no clue what we’d do with the latter. We’re now considering a wild flower meadow, but time will tell.

Pageas house - (gardens)

We returned to nearby Châlus to park up and reflect.  Our minds were full of details about the house – is it the right one?  Does it provide all that we need?  Is it in the correct location?  Yes, we think so, but don’t be so hasty.  But several others are viewing today and more viewings are planned later in the week.  After so much searching on-line, so many viewings, so many previous disappointments, to find a house that suits us and to potentially lose it to another offer (asking price offers must be accepted in France) we were desperately eager to move quickly, but also trying to be wary and controlled, tempered, sensible.  We organised a second viewing for the following day, to check out a long list of things we came up with overnight, and to ask a lot more more questions.  We had a good chat, a walk around the boundaries of the property and a closer look at the pool and out-buildings, galvanising our initial opinions into solid, reasonable surety – yes, this was right for us, and we should be confident enough to move quickly.

Perigueux - (river approach)

Perigueux - (bridge to centre)

Later that afternoon, after a bit of figure juggling, we nervously made an offer, our first on a French property.  We left it with the agent, and with wide smiles and nervous knots in our stomachs, we departed Limousin and headed south into Dordogne.  We had a short city visit to Périgueux on our way south to our previously mentioned Workaway, stopping in one of the free spaces outside the barrier of the neat and spacious paid aire as we were only staying for an hour or so.  It was bright and sunny as we wandered the short distance to the centre, in the deep shade of the tree-lined banks of the river Isle.  We crossed over the Pont des Barris which offered immediate views of the domineering and unmissable Cathédrale Saint-Front, the most prominent visual aspect of the city’s skyline.

Perigueux - (view from park)

Perigueux - (selfie in streets)

We sat in a small park, in the shadow of the domed cathedral, surrounded by pollarded plane trees and ate snacks, looking out over the sun-lit valley below.  The light was ever-changing from a dull uniform grey to a bright white, the latter throwing the stone buildings into deep contrast of shadows and light.  We walked up the main street and visited the cathedral, before winding through the smaller backstreets, twisting and turning as we spotted each hidden square, each beautifully neat and speckled with happy, lunching locals. It was here, on a small side-street, that we received a call informing us our offer had been accepted, the house secured and all future viewings cancelled as it was now removed from the market.  We continued walking the shaded back streets of Périgueux, but now with huge smiles and not a small amount of trepidation on our faces.  What had we done?!  It was all so quick, but still, it felt right.

A&N x

WorkAway in the Dordogne (with Kate & Dave)

During three days of house-viewings (more on this later), where we mostly over-nighted in the surprisingly quiet aire in Châlus next to a popular lorry park, we were contacted by Kate and Dave, registered WorkAway hosts.  They were a well-travelled British couple who now run a large gîte complex in the Dordogne, offering high end lettings.  We had had no specific intention of undertaking WorkAway projects at this time due to being busy with our house search, but as they had been let down at short notice by other WorkAwayers who unfortunately had to cancel due to a family emergency, they proactively contacted us via the WorkAway website to ask if we could possibly step in and help.  We were not too far from where they were, only a couple of hours’ drive, so after discussion we decided that we could.

Workaway Dordogne (our cottage)

Workaway Dordogne (pool cleaning)

We finalised arrangements with Kate and the next morning we were off, heading south to find them in the wilds of the Dordogne, near to Bourniquel. We were greeted with grateful smiles and first given a tour of the extensive properties and grounds.  We were offered the opportunity to enjoy staying in one of their luxury couples studios, a nice break from Benny, and to enjoy their home cooking in exchange for our help.  The site was set on the edge of rolling countryside, overlooking Dordogne meadows with beautiful Limousin cows and their very young calves roaming nearby.  It was a very peaceful, tranquil place.  We enjoyed exchanging stories with our fellow Brits, learning from their experiences of living in France, before settling into our spacious studio to rest up before the work began.

Workaway Dordogne (tub planting)

On this Workaway we would be tasked with mostly gardening and maintenance tasks around the two hectare site. For our first project, we started with the group activity of planting up 160 separate geraniums into many, many pots.  On a large sheet of tarpaulin, we mixed batches of the old, exhausted soil with bags of new compost and re-potted the multitude of containers and hanging baskets.  Varied mixtures of different coloured geraniums were added to each container for maximum effect then all were repositioned under the covered verandah ready for setting out round the complex.  Nicky then redressed and positioned several scarecrows (or more accurately in this context, scaredeers), utilising her innate fashion sense and artistic skills to make them look as scary and as French as possible.

Workaway Dordogne (scare deers)

Workaway Dordogne (sunset scarecrow)

Over the course of the week we learnt more about our amiable hosts.  Kate and Dave had both been involved in high end sports, sports training and teaching sports ethics for most of their lives, Kate a gymnast, Dave a Judo champion. They had travelled all over Eastern Europe and beyond with their training camps, and had lived in Zimbabwe, building a centre of excellence and helping setting up the international sports structures there.  We enjoyed the wild and colourful stories of their trials and tribulations during their varied working lives.  After the constant rains of our first day, the weather backed off and we were lucky enough to enjoy some hot and sunny weather for the next few days.  We had a hot run one night in the evening heat, finding a loop of around 6km through the local woodland.

Workaway Dordogne (shutter sanding)

Workaway Dordogne (shutter painting)

Over the coming days I rescreened two gates with mesh, constructed some makeshift anti-deer fencing to protect young trees and organised and re-covered the woodshed piles.  I cut and collected grass as Nicky weeded borders and planted out additional lavender plants.  I helped construct a sun shelter on the end of the cottage and stained an area of decking, readying it to receive an outdoor hot-tub.  Nicky & I sanded, filled and painted (twice) the external timber window shutters to the exposed façade of the main house.  We scraped, cleaned, filled & painted a curved garden wall, before cleaning and repainting the adjacent decking, creating a neat, peaceful corner to watch the sunset.  We strung solar lights between the creeping plants on an arched structure defining a well-worn garden path.

Workaway Dordogne (deck staining)

Workaway Dordogne (n painting)

But it certainly wasn’t all work.  One evening we visited Couze-et-Saint-Front, a local village, to see an old mill and ancient caves, before enjoying apéro in a local, friendly tabac with a wonderful view of the slowly meandering river.  We briefly met the owners as we swapped stories.  Another, we had an early evening visit to the nearby beau village of Limeuil, set beautifully above a slow, curved bank of the Dordogne river where the Vezère joins. We sat on a terrace outside and enjoyed waiter service drinks as we watched kids play in the river shallows.  The hot day had tempered to a delightfully comfortable temperature and we stretched out and relaxed, chatting and sipping as we soaked up the stunning view.  It was exactly moments such as these that prompted our decision to move to France.

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil view)

Workaway Dordogne (Limeuil drinks)

One bright morning we were driven to Issigeac Sunday market, one of the largest in the entire Dordogne region.  We walked the streets soaking up the quintessential Frenchness of the morning, snails included, even if there were more than a few English accents scattered throughout the busy streets – it is Dordogneshire after all.  The white stone of the circular bastide town was thrown into contrast by the colourful stalls stacked high with produce and colour.  The buzzing streets were filled with a happy liveliness, with the many wares of local artisans proving to be a very popular draw.  We stepped away from the crowds and into narrow backstreets, learning a little of the town’s history and of prominent local characters from informative plaques positioned on select medieval buildings; a wonderful morning’s distraction.

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac market)

Workaway Dordogne (Issigeac square)

We completed a few outstanding jobs then spent our last afternoon relaxing in one of their two swimming pools, in welcome sunshine.  We slid back the pool cover to allow views of the surrounding countryside and bring the outside light pouring in as we splashed around and cooled off. It was a fitting, relaxing way to end our days in such a tranquil spot.  A family of hoopoes were nesting in the grounds and we could occasionally hear their distinctive calls, but unfortunately never managed to photograph their colourful crowns, an ornithological challenge given to us by a friend at home.

Workaway Dordogne (us in pool)

We packed up the following morning, said our sad goodbyes to Dave & Kate, before heading off back up north to sort out more than a few things about a property we had recently viewed.  Before arriving at the Workaway we had had an offer on a house accepted; times they were, as Dylan would say, about to be a-changing.  (more to follow)

A&N x