In our relationship, I am the excitable one. My husband is the measured one. So when he called - not emailed - 10 minutes after I sent the link, I naturally assumed it was for another reason. When I picked up the phone, his first words were: “You HAVE to go see this!!!”
With my husband’s exclamation point endorsement, I sent a blind email query to the realtor marketing the property. I was fortunate the realtor I reached out to (turns out there were 3 realtors working on the property) was a British woman who had been living in France for the last 20 years. Without any language barrier, I was able to get a lot of our questions answered over email. I soon learned she is also a published writer which explained why I connected to her description of the house as much as I did the photos.
We arranged for me to visit “Le Couloume” (it has it’s own name!) two weeks later. That was in early June. My son Quinn, who had accompanied me on the Spain expedition, happened to be back in London for the summer and agreed to go with me.
It seemed highly probable I was going to like the house. The looming question not easily answerable by a visit was still whether a house so far from the USA made any long term sense for us. Quinn was highly doubtful, rewinding many of the same conversations we had already had in Spain.
This time my on-site visit felt very different. It was rainy and ugly outside so the views were obstructed. The house was amazing. Better than the photos. But it wasn’t just the wood beams and stone walls that drew me in, it was a feeling I had being at the property. The “yes now” whisper. I felt it in my bones. Like Le Couloume was somehow meant to fit into our story. The more striking thing was Quinn felt it too.
After a couple of hours at the house, connecting with both Karen the realtor/writer and Annie the French/American owner whose background as an interior designer and chef shown through the meticulous renovation, we all seemed to have a sense that this turn of the page might be the start of a new chapter. The reality however was that someone else had seen the house the day before with another realtor and an offer was very likely the next morning.
We talked to Brett by phone that night. Quinn sent him videos he painstakingly took of every room. I told him about the whisper. Karen laid out the facts. Highly unusual for a holiday house in a rural part of France, she said that if we wanted this house we had to make an offer the next morning. We decided to sleep on it.
In our relationship, neither of us are risk takers. Buying a house in a country you don’t live in would certainly qualify as a risk. But after 26 years of marriage, my husband has learned to listen through my excitability knowing that sometimes I’m on to something before he has done his due diligence. He was willing - even with a big price tag attached - to forgo his normal approach to big decisions and trust me.
So when he called the next morning, I was not entirely surprised when he said: “Let’s do it.” We made an offer that morning. It was the first offer. It was accepted. Brett saw the house the following week (after we had committed to it) and came away with all the feelings.
“Yes nows” may come with nudges that get amplified and then confirmed by another person but they are not immune to roadblocks. In fact “now” is a complete misnomer for the protracted and herculean process that is buying a holiday house as a non-resident foreigner. Friends: whatever Google tells you, if you are getting a loan in a country that is not your own and in a country that takes the month of August off, it’s harder and way more paperwork than that.
There have been roadblocks, headaches and sleepless nights but every gut check has come back with the same refrain. For both of us. There have been other things that have amazingly fallen into place. Like finding the right bank contact through my running group friend Meredith. Or finding the perfect car from my friend Jannine who recently moved from Luxembourg to London and was looking to sell theirs. Or having our families get behind us without hesitation.
We are on the home stretch now. We finalised the sale and I am here in France today, October 5, to pick up the keys to Le Couloume. (Brett would have been here too except he is heading to Switzerland to run a full marathon this weekend. He hasn’t run one for over 12 years and he’s been training months for it. Timing isn’t always perfect.) If I’m honest, anxiety had its way with me in the last 48 hours due to some important details that only finalised at the 11th hour. It took Brett and prayer to crawl out of the hole and remember again.
The bottom line of this whole process is that we don’t consider this simply buying a holiday house. It feels like we are making an investment in a project.
This project isn’t about restoring an old farmhouse in France. That was Annie’s story. We get to pick up the story after that. Our project is about finding a way to share a lovingly restored farmhouse in France with people who never thought about France as an option. It’s about paying forward the gift that travel has been to our family. And it’s about passing on our favourite kind of travel — a destination that won’t make the Top 10 Travel List or most popular Instagram feeds.
The house is out in the country in a region called Gascony sandwiched between Bordeaux (2 hours north) and Toulouse (1.5 hours south.) There is a high speed train from Paris to Agen that takes just over 3 hours and the house is then a 45 minute drive from there. It’s far enough South that the Pyrenees are only 100 kms away, San Sebastian a 3 hour drive and Barcelona 5 hours. You won’t find many user reviews of Gascony but you are sure to find rest and inspiration.
In a 2017 New York Times article “Is Gascony the Most Delicious Corner of France?”, the writer describes the region: “Gascony is not merely distinct from Provence and the Côte d’Azur. It is, in my estimation, better. Gascony is more open, more soulful, more deeply French, and, in its un-self-conscious devotion to tradition, more pleasurably frozen in time.”
The project will only be a success if it’s used. We will go as much as we can while we are still living in London. But there will be a lot of dates in the calendar to fill. We don’t have any plans to rent it out.
We simply want to give back in some small way the unmerited generosity we’ve received. So ATTENTION writers, teachers, retirees, families, artists, people on sabbatical, digital nomads. This is not an invitation to the world wide web. This is an invitation to people who know us. Come and use it. Please.
It’s a place that has lots of room. It sits on 12 acres and has 5 bedrooms with 5 in suite bathrooms making it ideal for large families or groups. The kitchen is the hub of the house. It has a pool. The cycling in the area is amazing.