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
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