RUN TO THE SUN

Life in France is prov­ing to be ev­ery­thing Wendy and John Davey hoped it would be. They tell Deborah Cur­tis why Pyrénées-Ori­en­tales is the place for them

Living France - - Destination -

Alife­long dream of mov­ing to France has fi­nally come true for Wendy Davey, who be­gan a new chap­ter in her life just over a year ago with se­cond hus­band John in Pyrénées-Ori­en­tales. “I have al­ways loved France more than any other place,” beams Wendy. “I just feel at home here and I love the French way of life. I had a hol­i­day home in Brit­tany with my first hus­band and as soon as I would get through the Chan­nel tun­nel, my shoul­ders would go down and I’d feel re­ally re­laxed.”

Her long-term plan had al­ways been to make the move once her chil­dren were grown up and set­tled, and luck­ily, when she got to­gether with John, he loved the idea too.

“The only place we didn’t want to live was Brit­tany be­cause of its cooler cli­mate,” Wendy ex­plains. “We wanted some­where warm, so we trav­elled around vis­it­ing lots of places, and ev­ery time we came to Pyrénées- Ori­en­tales the sun was shin­ing and it was al­ways warm and lovely. We just felt it was say­ing to us, ‘This is the place for you.’ ”

Hav­ing pin­pointed where they wanted to live, the hunt for a prop­erty be­gan in earnest. Af­ter lots of on­line re­search, they even­tu­ally spot­ted Casa Sola, a villa and apart­ment built into the moun­tain­side on the edge of the vil­lage of Ar­les-sur-Tech.

“It’s got the most amaz­ing views,” en­thuses Wendy. “When we came to visit, we walked up onto the ter­race, turned round and took it all in. It was one of those mo­ments when you just think, ‘Yes, this is it.’ John asked me, ‘Do you think you’ll ever tire of see­ing that view?’ I still haven’t. Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent.”

They sold up in Mil­ton Keynes and moved to France on 8 De­cem­ber 2014. A few weeks later, they were en­joy­ing Christ­mas din­ner on the ter­race in tem­per­a­tures of 23°C.

“We’ve only been here a year so we don’t know if that’s nor­mal,” Wendy smiles. “How­ever we do get around 300 days of sun­shine a year. You ex­pect to see the sun most days, and we all know how that makes ev­ery­one feel bet­ter.”

With the prop­erty prov­ing to be a suc­cess­ful hol­i­day rental on a small scale, Wendy and John got to work re­fur­bish­ing both the villa and apart­ment be­fore re­launch­ing with a brand new web­site, turn­ing it into a thriv­ing gîte busi­ness. Keen to wel­come their first guests in sum­mer 2015, they set about trans­form­ing the in­te­ri­ors.

“Our first task was dec­o­rat­ing through­out,” says Wendy. “It’s such a big prop­erty but I still wanted it to feel homely. Past guests said there wasn’t enough re­lax­ation space so in re­sponse to that, we turned one of the bed­rooms into a se­cond lounge.”

The villa now sleeps nine across five bed­rooms and John and Wendy live in the ren­o­vated apart­ment when the main house is be­ing rented out. Dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter months, they do the re­verse; let­ting out the apart­ment to ac­tiv­ity-hol­i­day en­thu­si­asts such as skiers, hik­ers, cy­clists, and bird­watch­ers while they stay in the villa.

As the prop­erty boasts two swim­ming pools (one in-ground, the other above ground) the cou­ple have un­ex­pect­edly be­come ex­perts on the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of pool main­te­nance. A 5,000m2 plot of land, which takes 20 min­utes to walk from one end to the other, has also in­spired the pair to get to grips with gar­den­ing in a moun­tain­side lo­ca­tion.

Yet it’s not just the grounds that have so fas­ci­nated the cou­ple. The beauty of their lo­ca­tion was also a huge sell­ing point for the pair and get­ting to know the area has been high on their agenda since they moved.

“We’ve spent so much time ex­plor­ing the place and we know it a lot bet­ter now,” says Wendy. “We’re in the foothills of the Pyrénées and we’re very close to Mount Canigou — it’s a spec­tac­u­lar sight. We’re only 10 miles from Spain so it’s easy to pop over there for a visit and the Mediter­ranean coast is also nearby. The more we see, the more we fall in love with it here.”

Hav­ing been warmly wel­comed by their French neigh­bours, Wendy and John are set­tling well into their Pyrénées-Ori­en­tales par­adise. Al­though they miss their friends and fam­ily back in the UK, they are thor­oughly en­joy­ing their new life in France, rev­el­ling in the spec­tac­u­lar scenery and rich di­ver­sity of this sun-soaked cor­ner of France. The cherry on top of it all is help­ing their guests dis­cover ev­ery­thing that the area has to of­fer, know­ing ev­ery­one who comes to visit will love it as much as they do. casasolav­illa.com

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