A warm welcome
Lots of sunshine and friendly locals made Aveyron the perfect choice for this couple
In November 2005, Nina and David Oakman flew to Nice and hired a car, ready to embark on their hunt for a property in the French countryside. After two weeks and 3,000 miles they reached the pretty 13th-century bastide town of Najac in Aveyron and relished the sense of peace and the beautiful scenery. They were strongly reminded of the Scottish border country that they love and decided that this was the place for them.
“Although the countryside is lush and green like Scotland,” observes Nina. “The climate is much warmer, with lots of sunshine, summer temperatures of around 33°C and good weather for at least nine months of the year, so that was a strong influence on our decision.”
Build the dream
After some searching they found Pont Jalbert, an old farmhouse just 5km from the nearby village of La Fouillade. It was the main building in a tiny hamlet, also known as Pont-jalbert. Built in 1840 as a mixed farm, it was now offered as a house, two barns and three acres of land including the stretch of river. “I’ve been a consultant in property development all my life,” explains David, “and I’d always wanted to build my own house. Pont Jalbert was perfect because we could move into the farmhouse, develop one of the barns as a beautiful new home for ourselves, then renovate the farmhouse as a high quality holiday let to provide us with supplementary income and some return on our investment.”
After about two years, the couple had created a spacious holiday home in the farmhouse and a four-bedroom family home that combines the old barn conversion with a new building. The properties are full of traditional character, with cathedral ceilings, exposed original oak beams and stone walls and lintels.
The couple furnished and equipped the farmhouse as a luxury self-catering home. It has a cosy sitting room with huge sofas that seat up to 12 people, a wood-burning stove, central heating, a large fully equipped kitchen/diner, four generous double bedrooms and three bathrooms, two of which are en suites. Outside is a sun terrace, swimming pool and landscaped garden.
Home from home
“We’re very proud of the high quality and comfort of the two houses,” says David. “The houses and a partially converted barn form a U-shape on the site, which means that both we and our guests enjoy as much privacy as we may need.”
Along with work on the houses, the Oakmans installed not only the outdoor swimming pool but also an indoor gym. “I used to be a fitness teacher,” explains Nina, “and I thought a gym would be an excellent extra facility for our guests. Now, even I am amazed how much they use and enjoy it. Some are firsttimers while others come to train for events, like the triathlon athlete who combined gym work with cycling the area and swimming the local rivers.”
Looking lively The Oakmans love the rural life in Aveyron. They have found their surrounding community very welcoming, and now socialise with a number of local residents in the area. Both they and their visitors appreciate the friendly nature and good facilities of La Fouillade village with its modern supermarket, library, cafés, banks and doctors.
“We and our guests like all the nearby pretty villages and towns. The bastide towns of Najac, Cordes-sur-ciel, Belcastel and Villefranche-deRouergue are a 10-30-minute drive away and each has its château, church, spectacular views and restaurants. Cahors is 50 minutes away and so is the cathedral city of Albi on the river Tarn, with its Toulouse-lautrec museum and golf course. The Pyrénées are within easy striking distance for those who fancy a weekend of skiing or hill walking.
“There are two Michelin-starred restaurants within a 30-minute drive. If we want a big night out, most of them also offer rooms so you can have an excellent, leisurely dinner with wine and then stay over. And there are some very fine vineyards in the local area, notably Gaillac and Cahors, both within easy reach. A visit makes an excellent day’s outing.”
Yet, despite all the local attractions, guests who take a holiday at Pont Jalbert often don’t feel the need to go out much, being very happy to stay put, to spend their days around the pool and in the comfortable farmhouse, and to enjoy eating outside in the warm evening air under a sky full of stars.
Access to Pont Jalbert is quite easy and the Oakmans find that driving in France is a pleasure compared to the congestion in UK. Some guests make the nine-hour drive from Calais, usually with an overnight break, while others fly-drive. Rodez airport is an hour’s drive from the property and the large hub airport at Toulouse is about an hour and three quarters away.
Nina and David have found everything they were hoping for at Pont Jalbert, but have now put the property on the market as they plan to return to the UK to be close to their four grandchildren and ageing parents.
“We are selling the farmhouse as a going concern and successful holiday let. It will include all the furniture, linen and equipment, and the family house is ready to move into. We don’t plan to do any more development here now, which means that there is plenty of potential for somebody new to complete an extra apartment and convert a beautiful barn.
“We are happy to give a buyer any help they need to smoothly continue the letting business and to have them take over our websites. There are bookings for the 2017 season, many of them from guests who have been before and are enthusiastic repeat visitors. We really like the idea of new people enjoying the lifestyle and business success that we have relished here in Aveyron.”
Pont Jalbert is on the market for private sale with an asking price of €695,000.
The properties are full of traditional character, with cathedral ceilings, exposed original oak beams and stone walls