WHAT MAKES AUVERGNE A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE?
This is known as La France profonde, deepest France, and the name does sum up the region, where traditional farming methods are the rule rather than the exception. It’s very unspoilt with clear air and rich wildlife including deer, wild boar, buzzards, songbirds, eagles and salamanders – which only live in unpolluted areas.
Auvergne isn’t too commercial, blessed with fabulous natural heritage and wide open views, where the pace of life is slow and the surroundings are largely untainted by modern developments. Unlike in some regions, here you do have a strong sense of being in a different country.
The people here have a genuine community, with village life centred on the mairie, and a social hierarchy that is far more clearly defined than you might expect – for example, you can’t invite your workers for apéritifs at the same time as the doctor or the notaire.
There are countless châteaux and historic buildings, and hardly any ugly architecture; it’s a truly beautiful place.
The climate is wonderful and you experience definite seasons: it’s brilliantly hot in summer, dry and cold in winter with a frost that glitters on the trees. needed a generous property and wanted to be within four hours’ drive of Paris, where Claudia lived. This established their initial search criteria, but of course choice often complicates matters.
“The price difference between our property and France meant we could afford châteaux and incredible historic properties. Many of the largest places were extremely cheap, because of the cost of restoring and maintaining them. We had to remind ourselves to be reasonable!”
After viewing Gothic properties, Loire châteaux and fairy-tale ruins, the Bears wondered if they would ever find their dream home. Then, at the end of one house-hunting trip, the agent reluctantly pulled out the details of an 18th-century manor, whose owner was something of a ‘rogue’, trying to sell directly to avoid agent fees.
“We were supposed to be heading home, but the owner agreed to show us around after 4pm so we decided to stay on and visit. It was a February afternoon, getting dark, and we followed him through room after room, all high ceilings and original features. The agent had advised us not to look too keen, but it was all I could do not to blurt out ‘we’ll take it!’ while Peter looked suitably non-committal. Finally, we climbed a stone spiral staircase and emerged in an enormous attic where the owner threw open the shutters; I looked out over this incredible view, the snow drifted in and I was sold.”
Carolyn and Peter collected the keys to their new home in September 2000, and spent a happy couple of weeks camping out in rustic style, enjoying the tail-end of summer. When they left in October, they arranged for a roofer to start the following week.
“We soon learned that the only way to make things happen on a renovation project is to be on-site,” admits Carolyn with a somewhat rueful smile. “So, in November, I moved into this sparsely furnished, very beautiful home,