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.