Thursday, August 28, 2014 started off a day like any other but was unbeknown to me, to become the turning point in our lives. Our lives, of course, means my husband, Stuart and myself. But, Stuart was not even my husband at that point. We had not even made any wedding plans yet. I digress.
It was an average day and I was quietly sitting at my computer at work, in Los Angeles, when an email suddenly popped up from Stuart. It was the thing that changed all. What do you wonder could that email contain that became such a life changing catalyst? Well, I will not keep you in suspense any longer, it was a link to an estate agency website showing a magnificent property for sale in the Dordogne. (for those who do not know, Dordogne is one of the most beautiful regions of France. I will talk more about the area later). It was love at first sight. The house was a gorgeous 18th century farmhouse, with stone walls the color of pale gold, a central tower, a guest house, pool, extensive grounds including forests. The most important room, the kitchen, was perfect, large, airy with a great stove. What more could one wish for? I immediately sent a text back to Stuart and said: “when do we move?” Those words as it would turn out would change our lives forever.
About 10 days later we were on a plane traversing the ocean to go and see our dream property. What would we do if we loved it? Buy it? Would it be a holiday home until we retired? Would we rent it out? We were still a way away from retirement age, so would we take early retirement? Was 50 a good age or maybe 55? Would we sell our house in the US? So many questions, so many decisions. The anticipation and excitement were palpable. We landed in Paris on September 13, rented a Twingo and drove the 6 hours to Sarlat. The house in not in Sarlat but 30 minutes away in the commune of Journiac. But we had decided to make a mini holiday out of our impromptu trip, just in case we did not like the property, we did not want the trip to be wasted. How can a trip to France ever be wasted? Most probably never in my mind, but you never know. Two days later, we woke early and drove to Le Bugue to meet Juanita, the estate agent. I was so excited to finally see the house in real life. Would it measure up to the video and photographs we had seen online? We hopped into Juanita’s car and drove the 7 minutes from Le Bugue to the house. To get to the house, you pass through the hamlet of Journiac, a tiny but very cute village – soon to become our village. Population roughly 400, the hamlet has a church, a school, a few houses and a mairie, (that is French for town hall). I will get back to the village later. You must be eager to know what happened next? Well, we got to a spot in the road with a small, rusty sign indicating “Travers”. The name of the house. There are no street numbers or even names out here in the countryside, just house names. Rather quaint, don’t you think? I am still wondering how the GPS works but believe me it does:) We turned off and followed a tiny dirt road past two other farmhouses, numerous chickens and a lazy cat and under huge hanging trees, past an abandoned hazelnut orchard and then, there before us was a gate and two yellowish stone colored pillars with the name: TRAVERS. The property we had come all the way from Los Angeles to see. The owners, an elderly Swiss German couple were there to meet us and show us around the property.
Well, it was without a doubt love at first, or should I say second, if you count the online pictures, sight. The house was even more beautiful in real life, the color of the stone walls were a gorgeous golden-yellow color, the natural stone from the area and what makes Dordogne so beautiful. It was much bigger than I expected. The property is basically two houses joined in the middle by a tower.
On the right is the main house and on the left the guest house and orangerie. We will be renting that one out so you can all come and visit. There are a few outbuildings including a storage room, a laundry, a cellar, a pool house, car port and my husband’s favourite, the atelier or workshop. In the middle of the houses is the tower which houses an office/library and an attic room all the way at the top. Just like a Rapunzel room. The owners proudly showed us every room and answered all our questions then took us for a walk around the gardens. Words fail me to describe them. I was in awe. 48 acres! The areas closest to the house are beautifully manicured and the areas further away are either fields or forests. Truly magnificent. After spending a good time walking and talking, we bid our goodbyes to what seemed like old friends and no sooner were we in the car, that we told the agent, we wanted to put in an offer. Back at her office, we signed the offer and wandered outside and across the street to Chai Monique, the nicest wine bar with the sweetest, friendliest owner, and proceeded to order 2 glasses of champagne. Barely an hour or two later, my phone rang and we received the happy news that our offer was accepted. We were going to be the owners of a dream property in France! The following morning we all met to sign the paperwork and the owners invited us to the house that afternoon to go over some details.
I had told you that they were the nicest couple and were so pleased that we were buying the house in a similar situation that they had done 25 years previously. It was as if it was meant to be. They too had moved from outside France, Switzerland to be exact, and taken early retirement in their 50s to what turned out to be their dream home. They had completely renovated the house and made it what it is today. You can feel the love they poured into it. We toured the house again, chatted and then the owner brought out a bottle or red wine from his cellar to celebrate the occasion. It was a Chateau Margaux 1986, the year they had bought the property. What a special treat! Full-bodied, dark ruby red, slighly tannic, simply superb. If the deal had not been sealed before then, this might just have done it for us. They invited us back again any time before we left for the USA.