Buying a second home in France has a deep-seated place in the psyche of many British people – we dream of sunflowers, a slower pace of life, and long lazy lunches under the linden tree, the table laden with an abundance of wonderful produce, bought at the local market from characters straight out of ‘Jean de Florette’.
There is no doubt that these experiences are all to be had, but there are others too worthy of consideration. A second home is just that, and the specification of it is very different from that of a permanent one – it is essential that you can just lock it up and leave it, for a year or more if necessary, without it turning into an annexe of the local ‘piscine’ or a refuge for various forms of wildlife. Unfortunately, the sort of property that meets these criteria is often devoid of linden trees and some way from sunflowers, even though it may be close to the market.
If you do find your ideal house, give some thought to practical considerations such as security while you are away, maintenance of the garden or land, and whether the age of the house lends itself to long periods without occupation – many lovely country houses thrive on being lived in and loved, but rapidly become musty, damp and unwelcoming if they are left for long periods.
Of course, letting is always an option – again, though, it is never as straightforward as it seems. Our house in Poitou-Charentes has had a number of tenants over the years, with whom we seem to have been particularly unlucky! There was the family who were moving in for ‘five months’, then left after two, having decided that life in France was not for them after all, and returned to England to try to buy back the house they had just sold. After them came the couple who were overseeing the renovation of their nearby house, and left their dog tied up outside most of the time, blithely in ignorance of the annoyance its constant barking caused the neighbours. Following them were a family who were moving in for ‘six months’, but left after four days as ‘there was not much of a garden’ – a fact which had been highlighted to them from the beginning! The next occupants were a couple, again relocating to France, who also subsequently returned to the UK, owing us rent, after a spectacular break-up of their marriage which involved the police being called on more than one occasion. The final tenants were a couple who, miss-matched in age and temperament, made their presence felt quite strongly in the local community. In comparison to all of these, we have had a number of holiday lets which have been blissfully devoid of incident!
Despite all of the above, the house remains a joy – its late 18th century character, the odd-shaped notches and hooks in the old beams which lead you to wonder what their original purposes were, the massive stone fireplace (lovely once we had scraped off the crepi with which it had been so thoughtfully covered!), its location in a small village with a café in an area of outstanding natural beauty by the river Charente and the fact that it is within a day’s easy drive of the channel ports, and less than an hour from Poitiers airport. There is no linden tree in our garden, but we do have a hazelnut tree – though completely devoid of nuts, thanks to the local red squirrels! There are, however, sunflowers within a stone’s throw. We have nonetheless spent many a long lazy day (and evening) outside the house, watching the world drive, walk or cycle past – quite spectacular when the tour de Charente cycle race is on, or the accordion festival in the local salle de fetes, but otherwise it tends to be the odd tractor, dog or mobylette. No houses around have swimming pools, tennis courts or anglophile coffee mornings; it is about as close to a slice of ‘real France’ as you are likely to find.
However, it really does need to be lived in more often that it currently is and we are, therefore, reluctantly selling it. For sale: one lovely home in need of an owner who doesn’t need green fingers but must have a love for simple, laid-back rural French life.