Originally Written June 27th 2022
We arrived in the fortified village in the late afternoon and were greeted by a kind, young girl with short, tightly spun blond curls and piercing green eyes. She had been watching the B and B for the owners who were out of town and would be there for the remainder of our stay. Leading us up the stairs to our room, our hostess made sure to note all of the quirks of the old home and the numerous ways to navigate them, before leaving us the key and heading back down the stairs to chat with some other guests. I placed my backpack on the King Louis style chair and sunk onto the bed next to Andy. “So….. what now?” I think we were both feeling a bit lost, not knowing what exactly our next move should be now that the house we had literally flown across the ocean for was off the table.
During the remainder of our ride to Carcassonne, the agent had returned my email, but only to say there was nothing she could do to accommodate us and, if we were still here in a month, perhaps she could set up a viewing. “I’m not sure. I’m not used to this. American agents are so…. cutthroat. Why does it seem like we have to beg agents over here to show us a property in order to make a sale? It’s like we are begging them to take our money!” It really was beginning to feel as though the agents could care less if they showed a home or not, let alone respond to your request for a visit. Perhaps their earnings weren’t based on commission like in the U.S.? It was something I wanted to look more into at some point, as it could really clear up a lot of the confusion going on.
After washing up and changing our clothes, we decided to go for a walk and explore the walled city, which was only five minutes from our accommodations. I’ve seen photos of the tourist destination, each usually flooded with people packed into crowds, swelling the tiny streets to over capacity. To our surprise, however, a mix of covid and visiting two weeks before school let out in France played into our favor. We had the whole place to ourselves! Every couple of streets we would intersect with some locals who were out for an evening stroll with their dogs, but, for the most part, Andy and I wandered the cobblestoned streets engulfed in medieval architecture and absolute silence. As the sky started to turn purple, we decided to make our way back down the windy hill to the town below and our B and B, ready to tuck in for the night and make a new game plan for the next day.
With a whole free day in the west, I used this opportunity to convince Andy that we should travel up north and explore the town of Cordes Sur Ciel. It wasn’t really a widely known destination, but I had stumbled across the town in a few blog posts detailing the most charming villages in that region. As all of the other towns of interest were just a bit too far out of our driving range, Andy was easily persuaded and we began our journey early in the morning, but not before a wonderful breakfast at the inn of butter, sugar and orange zest crêpes. The drive was a little under two hours, allowing us to explore more of the countryside and get a better feel for that part of the south. During the car ride, we talked about our last two home visits planned for the region and decided that we were going to go into each viewing with a positive attitude and open mind, as we built a list full of incredibly quirky homes that had a lot to offer, even if they weren’t the Watchmaker’s house. We also agreed that we didn’t feel any pressure to come home with a house. “If it happens, it happens,” I said. “The house will pick us,” Andy chimed in, stating our home buying philosophy. “And if it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be,” I ended as we pulled into the car park of Cordes-sur-Ciel. The lot had a large RV parked on one side of it. The family traveling within had set up a little camp for themselves around the space. Lawn chairs, bikes and a portable grill littered the surrounding area, despite there being no sign of its occupants. Two other cars were randomly placed around the other end of the lot. “Wonder where everyone is?” I asked, looking around the quiet, wooded landscape. Andy shrugged, grabbing our water and travel pack. We walked up the road to the base of Cordes, still not 100% sure of what we had come to tour. The decision to visit was so impulsive that it didn’t leave much time for googling the highlights of the area. Standing at the bottom, surrounded by a few park benches and sleepy cafés, we looked up the cobblestone street that wound its way through town. “Let’s go!” Andy said, starting up the hill. Cordes-sur-Ciel was founded in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse. It was renamed from simply Cordes to Cordes-sur-Ciel in 1993 because of the way the town appears to be floating above the mist that settles in that region and gives the illusion of it floating in the sky. We began our ascent, hiking up the small path and past sweetly tucked shops and cafés, all rising unevenly from the cobbles and resting on its neighboring structure like unbalanced dominos, leaning ever so slightly, but still remaining upright. The town was charming and again very quiet because of our impeccable timing. Shopkeepers were setting up their wares outside of their shop doors while deliveries brought in by cart, as cars couldn’t fit up the tiny paths, were gingerly navigating the bumpy and uneven streets, on their way to their destinations.
We made it all the way up to the old clock tower, before finding a weathered green bench on the other side of it to rest. “This place is adorable!” Andy said, taking a drink of water. I looked up at the house who’s entryway front windows sat flush with the bench. “Hey, wait. THIS house is for sale!” I said pointing up to the handwritten sign in the window. Andy turned around, inspecting the character home that shared its wall with the fortified clock tower. “Seriously!?” He questioned. “Yeah! It looks like it is for sale by the owner, see the number listed. I mean, we’re here… want to see if we can take a peek?” “What else are we doing,” he said, pulling out his phone. After a short back and forth with the Spanish owner, who happened to be in Spain on business, it was decided that he would send photos and if we were still interested in a visit, he would be back tomorrow and we could try and work something out. The property, he explained, also had a walled garden behind the home, but he had decided to sell the space separately, meaning if we liked the home and wanted the garden, we’d be making two separate purchases. It all felt truly serendipitous, we decided, as we continued our ascend and waited for photos of the home to be sent via email.
When we finally reached the top of the town, we were greeted with a few shops selling traditional tourist items on one side and a huge terrace that belonged to a café on the other. The terrace was hugged in a small ancient stone wall large enough to section it off, but short enough for anyone to step over. It also had the most beautiful view in town, giving guests a front row seat to the beautiful rolling hills far below. We sat along the wall looking out and catching our breath from the climb. “Do you think you could live here?” I asked Andy. “I’m not sure,” he said. “How do people get appliances and furniture to their homes? Are they putting them on carts and wheeling them up?” “Yeah, I’m not sure. The guy said the place needs some work, but maybe not large appliances? I guess we’ll wait and see!” We wandered the tiny cobble paths that jetted off from the main road until we believed we saw every nook and cranny of the hill top village before starting our descent. Ending back at the clocktower and the weathered, green bench, we sat down and checked our phone again for an email containing photos of the home. The email count ticked up on the Gmail app icon and we opened it to find a message waiting from the owner. The charming, weathered appearance of the front of the home, who’s aged look gave it a rustic French charm, could have never prepared us for the photos we received from the owner. As Andy scrolled through the photos, I placed my hand over my mouth. “Didn’t he say he LIVES here? With his children!?” I said in a concerned tone. “Yes, he said they’re working on the house while living in it,” Andy replied, wide eyed. Every room on every level looked bare and dirty. It looked as if someone had moved out and left the building vacant for a decade. There wasn’t much of anything in the actual home, no furniture, no linens, no photos or painting, absolutely no sign someone had been living there. The few items that were left in the home, a random single chair or broom, were covered in spiderwebs and a thick layer of dust. The kitchen had a few dirty plates left in the sink and an old 1960’s oven built into the counter. A few of the windows randomly had curtains covering them, but they were tattered and dirty. “The photos are so dark, does this mean the place doesn’t have electricity?” I asked. Andy's eyes grew wide and he blew out a long breath, shaking his head, indicating he wasn’t sure. “The location of this house is so cool. I bet it has so much history,” he said, trying to weigh the pros and cons. I chimed in, trying to add some reason to his thought process. “But it literally needs almost everything. And, might I remind you, we said no big renovations. This house is a shell that possibly needs electricity and, by the looks of it, I’m not sure it has a working kitchen. Also, deliveries here would be a nightmare. Even simple grocery shopping would be an incredible chore. What, do we park in the carpark and lug our groceries up the huge cobbled hill twice a week? Sounds exhausting just saying it!” “Yeah, definitely not ideal,” he replied, sounding distracted. He took a step back from the home and took it all in. “Let’s check out the walled garden.” He slowly peeling his eyes from the structure and started to head towards the side of the house. I followed him around the house and to the back. To our surprise, there were a few pièce de résistance hidden at the back of the house. The first thing our eyes immediately hit on was the larger road that wound up behind the home. It seemed to first start at the bottom of the hill we had climbed earlier and worked its way around the outskirts of the town, giving residents an easier way to bring items in. For a house that sits on the edge of town, like this one, it put it in the perfect location for convenience. People with locations deeper and higher into the town, however, still had to lug items into the tiny streets within, to its final destination. “So THIS is how you get things in. That makes things a lot easier,” I said, resting my hand against the stone garage that was built into the home. “And this!” Andy said walking into the open structure, “is amazing. A walk from our garage as opposed to the car park about a mile and a half away all the sudden seems much more doable with heavy items!” We looked across the street to an overgrown walled garden. “Something tells me that is the garden,” Andy said, leaving the garage and crossing over the uneven stone road. The walls were just tall enough so that we couldn’t actually see inside of the garden, but from the street, it looked like a contained wild forest. After walking the perimeter, we were able to find a large boulder to stand on and get a small peek inside. The dense thatches of shrubs were so thick, you couldn’t even see from one end of the small space to the other. “This would take A LOT of work to make into a usable space,” I said, looking back at Andy over my shoulder. “Yeah, but you couldn’t buy the house without also buying this space,” he said, trading places on the boulder and taking a peak. “I can see myself out here in the summers, doing some work or listening to a podcast.” “Yes,” I interjected, “but then who takes care of this space in the fall, winter and spring? This might be too much work for people here only 3 months a year. Besides, this location is only about 25 minutes away from Saint Antonin Noble Val, which we said was too far north for us.” Just then the owner messaged with the price for each property. For about 300,000 euros, we could be the proud owners of an overgrown walled garden and a home that needed about half of that price in order to give it a proper face life and make it functional again in a region we had no desire to be in. We kindly thanked him for providing us with photos and information and told him we’d contact him if we wanted to proceed with scheduling a visit. The price shook us both back to reality and we decided to continue our descent back to the car and head back to the B and B for the evening. We had two house showings tomorrow, our last day in the region, before moving on to Avignon.
**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.