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

Living France - - Lifestyle -

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

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