Right before you begin to enter into the town of Gordes, you will see a small space carved out within the sprawling rock cliffs and tourists pulled off along their protruding edges. Each person has a camera in hand, vying for the best angle to capture the beautiful village that juts out from the rocky hillside just across the valley. From this viewpoint, the town looked as if it was radiating, the bright beams of the sun bouncing off of the white village homes that dotted the lush hillside. I stretched out over a smooth rock face off to the side, enjoying the light breeze and soaking in the rays that saturated the space. Andy shuffled around the overlook, gazing through the lens of his vintage camera with every few steps, checking to see if the light, angle and camera’s lens aligned to create the most perfect shot. We were on our way out of Gordes, a town so famous, we couldn’t find a “best of Provence” list that it wasn’t on, but somehow, we were leaving feeling as though we missed something. The town seemed kind of quiet, which was understandable, since it was about 3 weeks before Europe’s holiday season truly began. We walked around the main streets and even found ourselves wandering down the tiny, cobbled side streets, but, after about two hours of exploring, we were wondering what exactly the allure of the town was. Were we getting jaded with small, idyllic French villages? I didn’t think so. I think, though, for all of the hype from the many, many lists and blogs, I was expecting something different or perhaps more. The town had some restaurants and a few high-end hotels, the typical gift shops sprinkled in here and there, but nothing too out of the ordinary for a typical tourist town. After seeing what we believed was all of it, we headed back to the car in order to stop at the overlook and snap a photo or two before heading to Lioux. Here, at the stop over, seemed to be where most of the tourists were, seeking the perfect spot to get the best photo. Andy sauntered over to me. “You ‘bout ready to go?” “Sure? But did you get all the photos you wanted?” I asked, squinting up at him through the bright rays of sun. “I did,” he started, “but there are only so many photos you can take.” I laughed and started to slide myself down off of the rock. “Tara must be really determined to sell this house!” I said, starting to walk back down the path to the car. “Yeah, offering to meet up a few hours before her wedding is a real commitment!”He agreed, studying his phone, “It says we’re only about fifteen minutes away,” he said, turning his phone to face me so I could study the map.
As we descended the hill from Gordes to the listing, we wove through lush valleys lined with lavender fields and olive groves. It was a desolate journey with not another town in sight from the road, but every few moments a small sign or two would appear, indicating civilization and that a winery could be found at the next dirt road and open for tastings and tours.
We followed the small arrowed sign indicating we were entering into the village of Lioux and were met by Tara, standing alongside the castle, waiting to guide us into an unmarked parking spot. Opening the car doors, we were immediately hit with the fresh smell of lavender since parking in between the castle and its adjacent lavender fields. “Hello! Welcome!” Tara said, walking over to meet us, her flowy sundress trailing softly behind her. “This is incredible,” Andy said, looking over his shoulder at the fragrant purple fields behind him. “It’s a beautiful time of year to be here,” she agreed, breathing in deep. “So, this is the chateau?” I asked, turned in the other direction. “Yes, this is it! It was purchased by a famous French designer and restored, but he just died and so we are wondering who will be its next owner,” she looked up lovingly at the castle as a car pulled up next to ours. A well dressed man got out of the car with a huge grin. “Mon dieu!” Tara started, “you aren’t supposed to see me yet!” she squealed. “This is my fiancé. This is Rachel and Andy.”
We exchanged handshakes and a quick congratulations before being swept off, around to the front of the chateau to see the home. “My fiancé and I live here in Lioux. We love it! It’s so close to everything, but it’s peaceful here and we’re such a tight knit community,” She stopped in front of a blue shuttered stone home that shared an exterior wall with the chateau. “This is it!” she said, looking back at us to gauge our reactions. “It’s very cottagey” Andy said, nodding his head. “It’s currently being used as an air b and b, but the owner wants to get out of that business. Come, let’s have a look,” she said, opening the front door. We entered, walking down the small hallway that spilled us out directly into a cozy living room that had a very lodge-like feel to it. Andy’s eyes immediately rose to the ceiling. “I’m a sucker for exposed beams,” he said, taking in the detail. “Yes, this little stone cottage has a lot of older details I think you’ll like,” she said, leading us into the adjoining kitchen. I passed by an end table that had a guestbook and pencil resting on top and took a mental note to make sure to read it on my way out. Following Tara into the long, “L” shaped kitchen, I looked around the tidy, minimalistic space. “I like the size of it. It’s big enough to move around in and seems to have a lot of counter space and cupboard space,” I ran my hand along the long counter top that divided the living room from the kitchen. The large farmhouse sink sat under a large window that faced the main road. I turned away from the window to further inspect the space. “The only thing is there isn’t enough room for a table. The room is long and spacious, but not wide enough to also fit a table, so where would we eat?” Tara looked around the space, trying to think of a clever solution. I think that there is plenty of room in the living room to add a small table off to the side,” she said, wandering to the entryway and standing between the rooms. “You can have a dining room, living room combo and not feel cramped,” she added. Satisfied with her solution, she turned and paused, then nodded and headed for the stairs that were tucked against the back wall of the kitchen. “Up on the second floor you have two bedrooms and a bathroom.” We followed behind diligently, turning to each other halfway up the stairs, trying to silently read each other's reactions. Andy gave a little shrug, indicating his opinion was still up in the air. I nodded, agreeing. I enjoyed being at the point in our relationship where all we had to do was exchange a single glance and 1,000 words were spoken. When we reached the top of the stairs, Tara walked forward into the bathroom, switching on the light. The windowless room was small, housing a tub and shower combo with a sink resting in the corner. We ducked our head into the doorway to take a peak, not all being able to fit into the space at the same time. “I like the beige color, very neutral,” I said, thinking back to some of the hideous bathrooms we had stumbled across on this journey. While beige and neutral weren’t two adjectives I’d ever think to use to describe Andy or myself, I was starting to almost hope for plain and basic tiles as opposed to the electric blues and greens that stung our eyes on some of the other tours. Tara turned off of the light and shuffled past us, leading us into the first bedroom. It was a small space that lacked any and all personality. Definitely an Air B and B, I thought looking at the basic setup of the room. A small window and a nondescript painting covered the largests wall with a small bed and nightstand filling the rest of the empty space. “Is this the main bedroom or guest?” Andy questioned. “This is the main,” Tara confirmed, pausing for a response. After a brief moment passed with no additional comment, she continued on. “And down the hall is the guest bedroom.” We entered, finding a similar sized room filled with the same paired back amenities, perfect for the traveler passing through for only a few days. “Is there any storage?” I questioned, looking around the room for a closet. “There is not,” Tara started, “but you could easily add a dresser or armoire to hold clothes and linens,” she said, pointing to empty wall space along the back wall. The room fell silent again. Usually we had a lot of things to ask about a home. We’re we running out of steam on this house tour? Or was the house itself such a basic shell that no questions needed to be asked? We walked back onto the landing, huddling around each other to debrief. “I like that all of the floors are wood and, of course, I also love the wooden beams,” I started. Tara nodded. “But, I don’t think I saw an outside space,” I looked at Andy, knowing that was a top three want for him. He seemed a bit more engaged, leaning awaiting Tara’s response. “There is a little space out front to perhaps put a small table and chairs by the door,” she suggested. “The house is very cozy,” Andy added, trying to insert some positives, “and I think it's a great space for a holiday home, not too big, not too cramped.” “I agree,” I said, shaking my head. “It seems like a manageable size.” Another pause. “We have a lot to talk about,” I said, looking at Andy, trying to give him my now “go to” subtle glance. He caught on and nodded back. “Yeah, we should talk over the positives and negatives and discuss what we think.” We started down the stairs, signaling the end of the tour.
Andy paused in the living room admiring more wooden features and I took that time to wander over to the guest book. Opening up the book, I flipped to the halfway point. Blank.
I grabbed another little chunk between my finger and thumb, moving closer to the front, and opened it. Blank. Hmm, I thought. I flipped to the first page. “The house was cozy and had a great location.” Great location? I thought. Perhaps in proximity to other towns?
I flipped to the next page. “Thanks for a wonderful stay!” I flipped to page three, it was blank.
The owner wants to get out of the business, I thought, thinking back to Tara’s reasoning for the sale. What business? Seemed like no one was renting. I placed the book down and turned back around to see what Tara and Andy were up to. “We probably drive to Aix about three times a month, just to look at all of the specialty stores and do some shopping. It’s a nice city to have so close,” she was explaining. I locked eyes with Andy and he nodded, edging closer to the front door.
Stepping outside into the bright Provence sunshine, Tara pulled the door shut, locking it behind her. “Before you leave,” she said, turning back to us, “please, let me walk you through town, so you can get a sense of the surroundings.” “Sure,” I agreed, “but only if you have the time! We are so thankful to you for even showing us the place with your wedding only a few hours away!” She waved me away, “it would be a memorable way to start the marriage, personally being the one to sell to my potential neighbors,” she started up the small road outside of the house.
I remember Tara mentioning in one of our emails that she was American. It seemed like a lot of the people that we had met so far shared similar stories, coming to France for what was supposed to be a small stop in a longer journey and then never leaving, clearly falling under its incurable spell.
The dirt path was narrow, but there were no cars around, allowing us to walk in the road, admiring each village house we passed that lined the road. “This is kind of the best of both worlds,” Tara said, longingly gazing at her surroundings. “You have a lot of well known towns not far away and Aix is just a little over an hour away.”
Andy followed closely alongside her, nodding. “Yeah, I want to stay around this part of Provence. Any higher and I’m not sure I’d feel like I was in the South of France.” Behind them I rolled my eyes, thinking of the home tour we had booked for tomorrow about an hour north from Lioux in Vaison-la-Romaine. One obstacle I kept trying to overcome was Andy’s ability to write off any house without having an open mind. The comment made me think that perhaps his mind was already made up about the home, which was fine, he didn’t have to want to buy it, but I just wanted him to at least go in with a completely open mind. We came to the end of the dirt path, leading you straight into large fields. “Shall we turn around?” Tara asked. “Um, sure,” Andy replied, a bit confused, “but, was that town?”
Tara paused. “Yes, again, Lioux is very small, but has many benefits in being small,” she started walking again in the opposite direction. I made a quick tally in my head as we walked the short distance back to our car. Ok, one chateau, one lavender field, perhaps 25 homes, 2 fountains. So, no restaurant, boulangerie, surely no weekly market, no cafe or pharmacy.
I didn’t mind small, but desolate is where I drew the line. We thought we had visited small villages before, but Lioux really set the bar for a small village. My mind went back to the chic home and it's five minute drive to Uzès, not seeming too inconvenient after all. We’re all of the home tours that were left going to essentially show us how great the chic house was? Or was this us settling? Going for the best home out of the lot, but not the best for us? We stopped next to our car, taking one last look around at our surroundings. “Thank you so much for showing us the home, and on this very special day!” I said, shooting Tara a warm smile. “Please, let me know if you have any questions or are interested in a second visit,” she replied. “We will, but not today. Today you are busy,” Andy said, walking over to the driver side door. I rolled down my window. “Thanks again and congratulations!” I said, sticking a hand out the window to wave. Tara nodded, softly waving back as we slowly began to pull away from the chateau and lavender fields, on our way to L'isle sur la Sorgue.
Pulling up our discarded home list, I saw the listing in Vaison’s link. Clicking it, I scrolled directly to the listing agent's information. Daniel Brewer was linked to an agency based in the U.K., which made it strange that he was listing the house while living in a different country. Thinking there was probably a reasonable explanation for it (what did I know? I had just started my home search abroad) I opened my email and sent him a simple inquiry about the home and our interest in viewing it.
“So,” Andy said, adjusting his mirror, “what are you thinking?” He had been intrigued by my “not necessarily” comment, but I got so caught up in putting my plan in motion, I had forgotten to include him. I refocused back on him, wondering how I could suddenly warm him to the idea of the home visit. The house to him already had two strikes without even seeing it; the location and the style. “Well, if we are in fact actually free, we should go and still see A house,” I put an extra emphasis on the “a”. He nodded. “Sure, I’m down. What do you have in mind?” He looked over at me quizzically. “The house in Vaison that you thought was a little too modern, even if it’s a total bust and we don’t like it, we will still be out exploring a different part of Provence.” He paused for a moment, taking in the new ideas. “Think of it as an adventure either way,” I added, trying to lay on more positives. Without any other plans lined up, he was quicker to agree than I had originally expected.“I mean what else are we doing? We’re here to see houses,” he said, agreeing to the change. A message came into my email box from Daniel. “Hi Rachel, viewing the property should be fine, but before I set up a viewing with my agents in that area,” hmm, I thought. He must be working remotely from England, “can you please take a moment to answer the following questions?” Bullet points of about 20 questions followed ranging from when are you free to visit to where are you staying while you are visiting the area.” He must deal with a lot of Brits who buy abroad, as the questions didn’t seem like questions that would be asked to a local. As I finished my reply, we started to arrive at our destination, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Connected to the hectic and bustling center of Avignon by a short bridge, the town was noticeably more relaxed and less congested, which was a welcome change after the insane cluster of traffic we dodged on the Avignon side to get there. Andy pulled down a narrow alleyway leading to the hotel and found a small pull off to park the car while we checked it. “Let’s get settled in the room and go find some dinner. Then, we have a lot of planning to do for tomorrow. We have a house tour in the afternoon, but will be around some really cool towns. We should definitely sandwich the visit with two really great stops to explore,” I said, clicking off my seat belt. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s check in first!” Andy said, trying to slow me from getting too far ahead.
Walking along the cobbled alleys in search of dinner, it was pretty easy to see why people flocked to this part of France. If the color palette of pale blushes and sands didn’t immediately put you at ease, the soft winds carrying scents like lavender and rosemary most definitely would. I stopped in front of a nondescript building. “I absolutely LOVE this color,” I said to Andy, pointing to the wooden details painted in a dark blueish gray shade, contrasting against the pale colored stone of the building. “One day, I will paint my shutters this color,” I said, pulling out my phone and snapping a photo for reference. He laughed, nodding his head. “So, tomorrow we have a house in a small town called Lioux, but I can’t exactly place the home, the agent had said it’s built into the old chateau walls right next to a lavender field. Can you imagine!” I said, continuing down the street. “That would be really cool,” Andy agreed, “what is it near?” “Well, you have Gordes about 15 minutes away and Lourmarin, Bonnieux or Roussillon not too far either. We will pass by I’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on the way back home too. We almost stayed there,” I said, trying to shoehorn in another great option. “We should totally visit Gordes on the way there and then pick somewhere for the way back,” he said, stopping at an outdoor restaurant menu to catch a glance. “Don’t get me wrong,” I started, he turned away from the menu and back to me, “I love the Chic Home, but the vibe here, don’t you just feel different being here?” Looking back, it sounds ridiculously naive to say, at that point, I had only been there maybe an hour, but something about Provence really did just feel different. Even Andy, who was notoriously anxious and tense, felt at ease since arriving. “I can see us there, me, sitting on the balcony working, you in the kitchen, cooking things we just bought at the market,” he said, allowing himself to daydream. “I know, I love the house, but we have to see what it’s like there during other times of the day, not just in the afternoon. We don’t want to accidentally end up in a ghost town because we didn’t dig enough. Also, aren’t you a little worried that there’s a world renown chateau hotel right behind the house? If we were considering renting, we may not have any guests. Anyone coming, seems to be coming strictly for the chateau and if you’re coming to that area, who wouldn’t want to just stay in Uzès, in the middle of all of the action? Then, on top of all of that, it also makes me wonder if we could sell it easily if we had to.” Andy looked at me surprised, up to that point I had focused on all of the positive aspects of the home. I put my hand up, insinuating for him to stop looking at me that way. “No, no, stop that look. I love, love, love the house and I could easily see us there.I love that we can walk in and just start living, no projects needed, but I want to make sure we make the best choice for us. This is the home that we will potentially retire in, it just has to be the right choice,” I said, trying to reassure him. Up to that point, there was no other home that I could envision us living in, but I was cautious not to jump in head first without considering all aspects of what life could look like, especially if things didn’t go as planned like the current owners.
Andy looked up at the clear blue sky and the sun, still shining. “It’s six o’clock now,” Andy started, “why don’t we head back to the town, walk around, see what it feels like at dusk. Then go have dinner in Uzès? It would let us feel what it would be like to be there around dinner time and then head into Uzès and explore their dinner time crowd,” he suggested. “That is a great idea!” I said. He turned away from the menu and started walking. Following close behind, I looked at Andy, weaving his way through the pedestrians and cars, on the way back to the hotel and felt truly lucky. There aren't too many people in the world that had no intention or interest in buying a home abroad, but had enough sense of adventure and pure wanderlust to take the leap and come along on what may be the greatest adventure of our lives together so far. Of course, he was his overly concerned, questioning everything self, but he let things go just enough to enjoy the experience and embrace the unknown. I’m not sure too many people who hadn’t already discussed the possibility of buying abroad would have taken such a leap. The amount of questions and unknowns, paired with the language barrier was enough to deter any sensible person. I reached out and squeezed his hand, knowing that even if we don’t leave with a house, I had just discovered a different side of him that perhaps not many get to see. Was this a hidden side that was buried deep, waiting for the right person to come along and cox it out? Or had it always been there, only emerging if the timing and circumstances were right? Something told me I’d get that answer the more the trip went on.
On the car ride to the house, we talked about all of the possibilities that could be at play. Running the gamut from, would we be financially ok if we bought the home and couldn’t rent it? Did we need to rent it? We weren’t considering buying it out of guilt for Madame and Monsieur’s situation, were we? Sometimes we let our hearts/emotions get the best of us and we wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case here. Would a five minute ride to Uzès be as quick and simple as the agents had suggested it would be? Would we feel slighted by a boulangerie not open every day? We both agreed it almost felt like you were getting the short end of an authentic French experience without a fully functioning boulangerie within walking distance. But, as an American who was very much coming of age during the time of all of the no bread diets and gluten-free fads, part of me wondered if having a limited boulangerie was that bad of a con? No one needed to eat bread 5 or 6 times a week.
When we arrived, we parked back into the spot we had left just a few hours before. “Is it a bad sign that all of the three parking spots on the street are all still available at dinner time?” Andy questioned. Clearly no one was driving here for dinner with Uzès just a short distance away. Wonder if the restaurant was even open or did it too have limited hours? We got out of our car and were surrounded by complete silence. “Let’s walk around, see if the restaurant is open, walk past the chateau,” I said, intertwining my fingers in Andy’s. As we walked past the “Chic house” we looked up, looking for a sign of life within the stone walls. Even it seemed closed up, locked tightly from the outside world, adding to the unhinged silence. As we walked closer to the Maire’s office and the outdoor terrace for the restaurant, we saw a woman scurry across the street from the restaurant’s entrance with tall glasses of electric orange liquid, sloshing around on her tray. This was the most action we had seen in the town so far since arriving. Excited at the prospect, we followed in the direction of the server, coming to the terrace where about five tables were filled with an eclectic mix of people watching a soccer match on a T.V. that had been rolled out for the occasion. A goal was scored and the crowd burst into cheers, clinking glasses and exchanging hugs. I almost felt like a fly on the wall, sitting just far enough back to not be noticed with all the commotion swirling around us. “This is something,” Andy gestured to the crowd, “but it is not great. It’s dinner time and only a few tables are taken. Where is everyone?” I shrugged, “the chateau?” I questioned. We started to walk in the direction of the chateau, veering to the left on a street that was stacked with parked cars. “We’re getting warmer,” I said in a sing-song tone. Beyond a large, mossy stone wall rose a large, fortress-style castle. Across the street were grand iron gates, sprawled wide open, as if revealing a secret scene. We shuffled over, hoping not to bring too much attention to ourselves.
We kind of felt like intruders… a pair of trespassers who had wandered on someone else's property and were doing all they could to go unnoticed. Stopping in front of the gate, we stepped off to the side so that most of our bodies were covered by the tall shrub wall and peeked inside. The space had a massive manicured yard encompassed with an old stone wall which was then encircled in tall shrubs and trees, making the space feel enclosed and hidden from the outside world. Elegant, white loungers lined a long, pristine pool, while tanned legs stretched out on them. Bottles of rosé encapsulated in ice buckets sat elevated on miniature wooden tables next to them, glistening in the late day sun.
Behind the loungers sat large white umbrellas that covered high-end teak tables where sophisticated people in beautiful swimwear drank spritz and dined on elevated meals.
It looked like a scene stolen from Provence magazine showcasing “the good life” along France’s famous Azur coast. Andy looked at me, “the chic house is chic, but how could we ever compete with this for guests!?” His whisper trailed off as a staff member dressed in khaki pants and a white polo rushed past us carrying a tray of dinner plates. The house was priced low enough for us to not have to rent it, which didn’t make the fact that this luxury chateau sat behind us that big of a deal breaker, but we were two people who wanted a community experience. When we were house hunting in Pittsburgh, we both had the idyllic scenes of neighborhood picnics and community yard sales clouding out expectations. We wanted to be active members of our community and live in a place that valued coming together and just simply being neighborly. What we wanted and what we ended up with were two very different things, uknowlingly buying a home in one of the most transient neighborhoods in the city. We didn’t want to make that same mistake again, but, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the most lively spot in town was only hosting out-of-town guests. Our nextdoor neighbor, who we were literally attached to, would be the church, which didn’t exactly sit well with two non-practicing, non-secular people. The closest we had come to religion was when we would set out the menorah for hanukkah. Usually we’d realize on about day 5 that we had forgotten about it and had only lit the first candle. This year, I actually hid it in the TV stand, hoping Andy would forget about it and we’d actually have a cohesive looking holiday set up with the usual suspects of red, green and white, minus the random blue and gold piece that sat unused, usually in an awkward spot, dripping old candle wax and clashing with its surroundings. It was forgotten about and everything looked picture perfect!
I snapped back into the moment and noticed Andy was on his phone. “Rooms are only for at most 250 euros a night. That is not astronomical,” Andy said, still thinking about our future guests. “Let’s walk back through ‘town’,” I said, placing air quotes around the word town, “and see if things have gotten a little more lively. Besides, I’m hungry,” I said, a little defeated by what we found so far. Andy nodded in agreement. We still had four more homes to see before our house hunting trip came to a close, so there was no reason to put all of our eggs into one, slightly imperfect basket. We wandered through the now, almost desolate town as the street lamps started flickering on, one-by-one, happy to rest after such a busy day and talk about our whirlwind day of house tours.
**Above is our journey from the Spanish boarder through the whole south and all the stops in between. You may notice Vaison is not marked, it was a totally by chance we ended up there!
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! I'm Rachel and this is my story documenting our experience buying a home in France. If you are looking for advice on home buying, feel free to e-mail me or check the bottom of the home page for a link to a basic guide.