WHAT MAKES AU­VERGNE A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE?

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

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.”

REN­O­VA­TION PRO­JECT

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,

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