Meet a couple who have mastered the art of creating the perfect holiday destination. Deborah Curtis discovers Bastide Avellanne in Var – their latest success story
When Steve and Valentina Dixon pulled up outside Bastide Avellanne, they knew their search was over. The fortified mas, built in creamy Provençal stone and dating back to 1616, was just what they’d been looking for; the perfect setting for the next chapter of their lives in France.
“As soon as we arrived, we wound the windows down and just sat in the car for a moment,” Steve says. “There was no wind, and it smelt of the Mediterranean – pine trees and wild herbs. Within minutes of arriving, Valentina said: ‘This is the place.’ It was just one of those things; they say when you buy a property, you know within 30 seconds if it’s right, and this was the one.”
Their journey to Bastide Avellanne, which nestles in three hectares of grounds, near the village of Besse-surIssole in Var, and which they now run as a luxury maison et table d’hôtes de charme, has been an adventure.
Fifteen years ago, Steve was living in a two-bedroom bungalow in the suburbs of London just inside the M25. He had a thriving, successful graphics business and absolutely no spare time.
“I had a life-changing moment in the year 2000,” he remembers. “I’d organised a sailing holiday with 16 of my friends and at the last minute I couldn’t go. They went without me and I went two weeks later on my own. It was a wake-up call: if I couldn’t have one week’s holiday with my friends, something wasn’t right. On that holiday, I had time to reflect on life, and I had this crazy idea that I was going to sell up in the UK, get a couple of boats and a commercial sailing licence, and do charters around the Greek islands. And that’s what I did.”
He met Valentina, who is Italian, during his first year on the boats and they ran the business together for five years; spending their summers in Greece and their winters in Haute-Savoie where Steve had a chalet. Eventually, a tough economic climate forced them to make a choice and they