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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.