We spend a Thursday afternoon at La Cuisine Paris learning how to make delicious chocolate, vanilla, and coffee eclairs! It was a rainy day in Paris and escaping from the rain into the kitchen at La Cuisine was fantastic. 12 students and one chef, very intimate and fun way to learn. We couldn’t have imagined that so much work went into baking eclairs! This was one of the most fun activities that we’ve enjoyed in a long time.
Today was real estate tour Friday again. We had some super yummy pastries for breakfast and then drove to meet Tony, our Aussie realtor. We saw 4 great properties today.
Real estate is funny here in France. There are no exclusive listings, so a house may be listed with numerous different agents and listed at different prices. The first house on our list was listed with another agent, so she joined us for the tour, but first we had to sign an agreement that we would not go around her and go direct to the owners of the estate ( as if we could find them to begin with… And then talk business…. In French) , but whatever. We signed the document and we were on our way. According to Tony, many people will try to cut out the agent and go direct to the seller to cut costs. ,approximately 50% of all home sales in France are made directly by the owner without an agent. Hence the paranoia from the other agent! we arrived at the property and looked at the exterior buildings while the realtor sat in her car on the phone for around 15 minutes. When she finally got off the phone, she realized that she had left her keys at the office, so we walked the property and went into the 3 exterior properties/barns while she went to get the key to the house. The property sat on 2 hectares, which is approximately 4,5 acres, in the French countryside. It was very secluded with beautiful views. There’s was a parking barn and two really large brick barns that could be converted into awesome entertaining spaces. There were wild rose bushes growing all over that smelled wonderful. The house itself was enormous. It looked more like an old Abbey than a house; it had a tower and everything.
It was built in the 1700′s. When the other realtor returned with the key we went inside. The house, listed at 230,000 euros, would require a lot of work to restore, maybe another $250,000 euros, but it had potential in every way imaginable. The were 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and a gigantic attic. And that was just the main house. The exterior buildings/barns could easily accommodate an additional 6 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms, with a full renovation. Like with last week’s real estate four, we envisioned one entire barn being converted into a wine cellar, movie theater, and home bar for entertaining guests. Just the thought of it makes me excited. I am beginning to think that bats and spiders are to be expected in every abandoned French estate. This house was no except. The bats had made a few rooms their home, and darted past me unexpectedly a few times. They caught me off guard. I screamed, slipped ( which looked more like a Michael Jackson dance move than a slip) and cursed… Again. The realtors thought that this was hilarious. Actually, I did as well. I was your typical girlie girl at that moment which is so uncharacteristic for me. This house, like many other abandoned estates in France is in is run down state because the owner died and the three cousins that now own the , just want to be rid of it. This happens often. An estate is inherited by multiple family members, they do not have the capital to renovate the house, so they sell….. If they can agree on a price, but that is a whole other story. I find it curious to see the items that people leave I. Their home when they abandon it or clear it out to list it for sale. In This house, I saw old family pictures, some beautiful old pieces of very solid wood furniture, not like the stuff that is made these days. There were also the random pieces of clothing laying in odd places, a cross, some tea cups in the sink, a few candle holders, two nice chandeliers, books, and an old baby carriage. So many memories just left behind.
The second property on our list was a fully renovated small house listed at 265,000 euros. The house was on a small lot in a tiny village overlooking a field and a beautiful little church. It had a kitchen, dining room, 1 bathroom ( as is pretty typical in many old homes) 2 bedrooms and a very small study. The yard as a decent size and had a beautiful rose garden. The garage/barn was clean on the first level, but you couldn’t walk on the second level because the flooring was not stable. Although the house was acute little quaint home, it was not for us. It was too small and we would prefer something with more space and more land. We also think that the renovation of e property, although it will double the cost, will be a really fun project to undertake.
The third house that we saw today was completely different from the first two. It was another large home, but it had a completely enclosed exterior courtyard, similar to the old colonial homes that we saw in Antigua or Granada. It had a unique charm to it that we liked right away. Listed at 289,000 euros, it was similarly priced ( a little higher) to the other two that we had seen today, but like the first one, this would require at least another 200,000 euros to make a home out of it. This house sat on 1 hectare of orchard land at the edge of a sleepy village.
This one was on the market due to a divorce and all of the belongings were left in the house, as if they went to work and would return that evening. Even the ironing board coffee pot and mugs were left out. There was even a wall of colorful horse racing awards displayed. The kitchen was as if they left in the middle of a meal. There were half empty wine bottles, open spice jars, and dishes still in the sink. In the US, I am used to the realtor giving you a LONG list of all of the cleaning, enhancements , and staging that you need to make to the home in order to get it listing ready. Here, that is not the case . People seem to leave the homes in whatever condition it is in , slap a price on it, and leave hoping that it sells. It is no wonder many of the beautiful homes here remain on the market for years in some cases. Many people need to see a house in perfect condition to be able to picture themselves making it a home.
If you are one of them, old French restoration projects may not be tour cup of tea. Sometimes it can be difficult to see through a strangers clutter, and envision yourself making a house a home. This house had a living room, dining room, kitchen, basement, huge attic, 2 very small bathrooms, and 5 bedrooms. It also had 2 large connected barns that could be converted into livable space. When we were in the attic, I had a bat fly directly at my head as I was crouching down to look into a dark space. I nearly fell over. After the bat attack, I explored a little more and again was intrigued by the things that you see in someone’s home. In their attic, they had old wine barrels, a bike, an antique baby carriage, and a full size horse buggy, like something from an old black and white film. I had to look twice when I first saw it in the dimly lit attic. Out on the patio you could see the mountains in the distance. I was enjoying the scenic view when a few doves flew out of their hiding in the ceiling and startled me. Asses, the perks of old abandoned homes. Bats, birds , spiders, oh my.
After this house, we took an ice cream break to discuss our thoughts with Tony and decide on our next property to see. We decided that we only want to see restoration projects, and not remodeled homes. We think you get more for your money, can build value, and that the project will be an interesting experience. We also decided we want to be closer to the outskirts of a larger city vs in the rural country, but that we still wanted the land and the privacy of a country home, and a stellar view. Although we made the search more specific, as to not waste time, we definitely eliminated many options. There was one option that Tony mentioned that still has me intrigued, but he does not want to show us because he said that nothing will hold up after seeing this estate.
Apparently it is Vogue magazine worthy, like something old of a storybook. It is an old , completely restored water mill, that is absolutely divine. The landscaping, the architecture, the interior design, the works. it is currently listed at 550,000 euros and is the cream of the crop. The couple that owns it and restored it, is from Paris and just want to sell it and look for another project. I am intrigued, but we passed and stuck to our plans to only view restoration projects and not fully renovate homes, even if they are divine.
Our final house of the day was by far the best one. It was listed at 265,000 euros and would require another 250,000 euros to restore, but it had a caveat. Part of the house was habitable, so we could immediately make a few renovations just to live for now, while we work on the overall project. The house sat on 3 hectares of land overlooking the mountains, the valley and even a wine vineyard from the upper portion of the property.
On the flip side, although it was secluded, it was near a larger city. This house was also like an old colonial home. It had a grand entrance door that looked as if you were entering a castle.
The outside of the house had wild rose bushes growing up the side of the wall and hydrangeas everywhere. There was even an old out house. I laughed so hard when i saw it, all surrounded by beautiful flower bushes. Once you walked through the grand entrance door, the house had a completely enclosed beautiful courtyard, where we envisioned putting a pool and an outdoor haven. One side of the home was occupied by an old lady that passed away 3 years ago. Now the home belongs to her heirs. This is the more habitable portion of the home. It consists of a living room, kitchen, bedroom , bathroom, and a rather large attic , and a basement where we could create our wine cellar.
It even had a new roof. In this portion of the house there remains a beautiful old armoire, kitchen table and bench, an old vanity, washer, dryer, and a few odd end items. The other side of the estate has a completely separate entrance and would be a complete renovation. There were bats flying out of the walls, unsteady flooring, the roof needs to be replaced, but with the most beautiful views off the mountains. This side of the house contained 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a large basement, and an attic. This side of the estate, although in complete disarray, was left fully furnished, all the way down to the bedding remaining on the old beds. There were a few scattered toys, old collectors’ items of Japanese comic figurines and random figurines still left in the original packaging, dozens of old books, pictures on the walls, and candlesticks on the old mantle of the fire place, where bats were flying in and out of the house. outside there were two rather large stone barns, one still contained a car and an old tractor, along with a few bicycles. The main barn opened up to the back side of the property that wound up a hill to overlook two separate wine vineyards on either side. One side with the vineyard and the mountains in the distance. Now this was the money view. There was no structure up on this portion of the property, just empty land. It would have been perfect if the home sat on this piece of the property or if only the house faced South to capitalize on the house being in the warmth of the sun throughout the majority of the day, this would have been a perfect home.
Today we continued to learn a great deal about not only the old French style architecture, but also the pros and cons that come along with the style. I am excited to see what we have on the list for our explorations for next Friday!
This morning we got up with the sunrise, had a quick breakfast and drove approximately one hour to the mountains for our first French real estate tour. We started the morning in a small village nestled in the mountain out in the country. The first house we saw we were unimpressed with and a little turned off because the images from the web that led us to choose this house to visit were misleading . The house was super close to a main road, right next to a hydro-electric plant, and no where near as cute as it appeared in the pictures. To make matters worse, the bank had recently foreclosed on the property, so the key we had was no longer of use for us to get into the house to view it. That was ok by us though, because as soon as we pulled up, we knew that we were not interested in the house, bur since we were there, we were going to view it anyway. Priced at 150,000 Euros this house appeared to be astral in the pictures, but was a dud in reality.
The next house on the list was not one that we had selected. The realtor thought that we may like it, so he suggested that we see I. We were glad we did. It was in a super small hamlet on the top of the mountain overlooking other mountains and a valley . The hamlet was completely picturesque , like something from a postcard. For those of you that don’t know what a hamlet is ( don’t worry, we were clueless as well ); it is a village that is so small that there is not even a single shop in it. Not a bakery, or a gas station, or even a corner market. Nothing! But it was such a pretty and quaint little village that you just want to visit it. The man that gave us the keys to view the home , said that there are 6 houses with a burning fire in the winter, that is how they measure how many people live in the hamlet. Otherwise, it is more of a mountain Summer vacation spot where French tourists come to rent a Maison in the French countryside, hike and relax.
The home was for sale by three brothers who really would just like to get the property off of their hands, so at $157,000 euros, it was a steal. The property was huge. It was a true old character home, from 1812. Although the main level was habitable, the house would require quite a bit of work to make it something that we would want to live in, but the possibilities with this place were endless. On the main level there were 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a laundry room. Each bedroom offering a better view than the one before it. They each had a view of the mountains, the valley, or the picturesque hamlet. Up in the attic there was so much space, with super high ceilings and charming exposed brick, that you could create an excellent loft to entertain guests in, relax, or simply use as an additional bedroom or two.
The basement of the house, where the animals were kept in the old days, was completely uninhabitable, but it had so much potential. The space was massive. We envisioned building a wine cellar, a movie theater, an entertainment area, and a home bar in the basement area. Maybe even an additional bedroom or two. There was so much space to utilize underneath the house . It was actually two separate houses in the basement. I think that there was actually more square footage under the house than there was on the main floor. The land that the property sat on was not that big, but the canvas we would have to ok with would allow us to create a masterpiece. We would need to invest at least an additional 150,000+ Euros in the home to make it what we would want, but it would be a fun project.
The final house we visited today was an old stone farm house from the 1600s, that was now maintained by a convent . The view was spectacular. The farm was secluded from the hamlet, yet so close at the same time. It had its own private drive and was not connected to the village water system, but we could get our water from a well. The old farm house sat down in the valley completely surrounded by the mountains. The view was beautiful. This house, however would be a completely different kind of project. One that requires both a lot of time, patience , and money. The farm house was priced at 190,000 euros but would easily require at least another 200,000 Euros to make something livable out of it. As of now the place is completely uninhabitable. But again, the potential and the opportunity is definitely there. However, this would be far more than a renovation, this would require a complete gutting of the entire place, tearing out all of the walls, the floors, the works. Only leaving the old characteristic stone shell. Although the farm sat on a decent amount of land , we would not be able to expand the property because there is a clause in place that protects the land as farm land. As soon as reopened the old, almost chamber like, entrance door to the place we saw a little bat hanging from the ceiling staring at us.
The realtor said “I hope you don’t mind bats because you are likely to see a few in here”. A few was an understatement. There was bat poo everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The main floor was small, but had a really cute, quaint feel to it. As we cautiously headed up the stairs, afraid that they may cave in at any given moment, 4 bats flew out of one of the rooms at the top of the stairs and they flew directly at me. I screamed, swore a little, and then I was fine, although the realtor was probably thinking , that this was not a good sign the bats were coming out of the walls, literally. The middle floor had two small rooms, also filled with bat droppings. Next we headed up to the attic. Admittedly, I was a little scared of what we would see. The attic was actually really cool. It was huge, spacious, and all stone, and I didn’t see a single bat. As we left the house, the same little bat was still hanging at the front door, staring at us, completely un-phased by our presence. As I mentioned, this farm house would need to be completely gutted to start fresh with a clean slate. Although it would be a fun project, I think this one would be biting off more than we could chew.
To end our real estate tour, the gentleman who let us into the house in the hamlet invited us in to have an espresso and to take a look at his recently renovated home. it was beautiful. He went with a completely modern interior with the beautiful characteristic old French stone exterior. He even had the actual side of the mountain protruding into the architecture of his home. It was awesome. As a side note, if we were to buy the village home, it is a good thing that this gentleman was very nice and that we liked him, because he had us surrounded. He owned the house directly across from the village home, and right next to it as well
Today was a great learning day for us. We saw a restoration project, a complete redo project and an fully renovated home. It was great to be able to envision what we would like to accomplish and see what others have done. We also learned that going forward, we only want to look at renovation projects and not complete redos. Although they would be fun, and we could really build value, it would be a lot for this marketing girl and this finance guy to take on. Especially since we have zero experience in homebuilding and renovations!
What fascinated us about this corner of Europe were all the options this region seemed to offer: wine country, culinary delights, pyrenees mountains, the pays basque beaches and the proximity to Spain. Wow. All that within 1 hour of a drive from Salies de Bearn. That is why we chose Salies de Bearn to be our base in south west France. Last weekend we went out to prove to ourselves that we can enjoy all of this diversity in 48 hours, not planned but it just happened that way.
On Friday we started off with a drive to a picturesque village in Valley d’Aspe to look at a few renovation or restoration real estate opportunities. The views of the pyrenees were dramatic and after 1 hour of a drive we felt we were in a different world. It was an early September morning and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. 25 Celsius or thereabout.
Saturday after a late start to the day we drove 40 minutes west to the cosmopolitan beach resort town of Biarritz were British royalty famously vacationed and sea bathing became popular. We enjoyed a couple salads for lunch with a glass of local rose at the casino overlooking La Grande Plage before we took a stroll down the beach.
After our walk on the beach in Biarritz we jumped in the car and drove across the border to San Sebastian, Spain. We walked the narrow medieval streets of old town and port before we set down at one of the many tapas restaurants in town. A little sangria and a few tapas later we were pretty content. We enjoyed the sunset over the bay of San Sebastian and drove home to Salies de Bearn. When we typed in the GPS information we were surprised to find out that we only had a 1 hour and 10 minute drive back home. As you can imagine we were spent after a busy Saturday but we were ready to enjoy Salies de Bearn next day.
Fete du Sel (or Salt Fest) was in full swing. Traditional basque music with lots and lots of wine, a parade, lots of singing and berets, berets, and more berets everywhere. We just relaxed taking in all the sights while enjoying a culinary delight at one of the local restaurants that included brazed lamb, shrimp over a bed of minced citrus and mint and a raspberry sorbet over meringue.
What a finish to a weekend. We wanted to see if you could do it all in one weekend and yes, in south west France you can. We’re fans of this region and aren’t surprised why more and more expats make it their home.
Our driving tour of the Madiran wine region in south west France. We were practically alone on the roads on a beautiful Sunday in September. The grapes were almost ready for harvesting and the wine tasting at Aydie family winery free! We’re used to having to pay up in the United States so we enjoyed the freebies. The bottles of wine were also fairly priced starting from 5 Euros up…