Alison Hughes

An early copy of Liv­ing France in­spired Nick and Na­dia Wall to move to Vi­enne where they now run a tea room. Alison Hughes tells their story

Living France - - Editor's Letter - Tel: 00 33 5 49 91 01 25

For­mer deputy ed­i­tor of our sis­ter ti­tle FRANCE Mag­a­zine, Alison’s love af­fair with France goes back some 40 years. This month she meets a Bri­tish cou­ple who set up a tea room in Vi­enne

Some 25 years ago, Nick and Na­dia Wall were house-hunt­ing some­what un­suc­cess­fully in the UK when Na­dia’s mum, a keen Fran­cophile, handed them a copy of Liv­ing France and said, “Why don’t you have a look in France?” The sug­ges­tion turned out to be a life-chang­ing one, as the cou­ple’s sights were turned to­wards France – a de­ci­sion they have never re­gret­ted.

Armed with the prop­erty pages of the mag­a­zine, the cou­ple had spot­ted a small derelict house in Néons-surCreuse, north-east of Poitiers, which seemed to fit the bill. “We wanted some­thing that was a com­fort­able drive from where we lived [just out­side Blackburn] and we chose south of the Loire for the sun,” Na­dia tells me.

Nick was a joiner by trade and not afraid of hard work and, with the house pur­chased, their plan was to re­turn in the sum­mer to start ren­o­va­tions, which they duly did. They aimed to spend just the sum­mer in France and then re­turn to the UK, but a chance knock on the door by a Bri­tish ar­chi­tect who was look­ing for English-speak­ing work­men changed their plans and saw the cou­ple do­ing a se­ries of jobs help­ing to ren­o­vate other peo­ple’s prop­er­ties, as well as their own.

As so of­ten hap­pens, word of mouth meant that Nick was never short of work, ei­ther in­stalling swim­ming pools or do­ing gen­eral build­ing work and he soon teamed up with an elec­tri­cian and a stone­ma­son and even helped an ex­pat with a build­ing project near Albi.

By the time they had fin­ished ren­o­vat­ing their first house, they had ac­cu­mu­lated enough money to buy their sec­ond, en­abling them to rent out the first one while they started work on the next, sit­u­ated a few kilo­me­tres away in Vicq-sur-Gartempe. De­spite the house be­ing far from perfect – Na­dia had to climb a lad­der to the bed­room while preg­nant with their son Jack – the cou­ple weren’t fazed by the im­prac­ti­cal­i­ties that prop­erty ren­o­vat­ing pre­sented. Their prac­ti­cal way of see­ing the world has helped them to make the right choices since they have been in France ( see the cou­ple’s ‘top tips’ panel to the right), and en­abled them to go from project to project with­out any ma­jor has­sle along the way. “It would be easy to get car­ried away by the ro­man­tic no­tion of a char­ac­ter­ful prop­erty with acres of land, but it is im­por­tant to stop and think whether you re­ally want to spend all your time mow­ing the grass or driv­ing 20 kilo­me­tres to do your shop­ping,” says Na­dia with

a smile.

SET­TLING DOWN

How­ever, it was the beau­ti­ful set­ting of the prop­erty they now call home that re­ally won the cou­ple’s hearts. Three years ago Nick and Na­dia bought No.15, a beau­ti­ful stone house in the heart of the pretty vil­lage of An­gles-sur-l’Anglin, which they ren­o­vated and de­cided to turn into a tea room. “We drove through this vil­lage on our very first visit and loved it, but there was noth­ing on the market at the time.”

They knew the pre­vi­ous owner, known lo­cally as ‘the cat woman’ as she be­friended and housed stray cats. The house was in need of some ten­der care when they took it on, but they could see the po­ten­tial. With Na­dia’s back­ground in de­sign, the cou­ple were able to trans­form the old stone prop­erty into a stylishly dec­o­rated home and tea room.

Sit­u­ated just near the bridge in the lower part of the vil­lage, the house has bour­geois pro­por­tions with large win­dows giv­ing it a light and airy feel. It sits op­po­site an an­cient abbey which was lit­er­ally chopped in half in 1835 to make way for a new road. As is of­ten the case when re­li­gious build­ings are de­mol­ished, many of the old abbey stones were used as build­ing ma­te­rial for the sur­round­ing houses, in­clud­ing No.15. You can eas­ily spot them when you look across the small ter­race at the back of the tea room.

From ev­ery win­dow in the house there are views – look one way to the abbey and the other to the river and the mill, with the cas­tle sil­hou­et­ted above against the sky.

VIL­LAGE VIBE

It is not dif­fi­cult to see why An­gles-surl’Anglin be­longs to the As­so­ci­a­tion des Plus Beaux Vil­lages de France and why it was also voted France’s 11th favourite vil­lage on French TV pro­gramme, Le vil­lage préferé des Français. En­try qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the as­so­ci­a­tion are quite strict ( see fact box on fac­ing page), but An­gles-surl’Anglin eas­ily meets them. The vil­lage’s set­ting is dra­matic and the his­tory and le­gends sur­round­ing the me­dieval cas­tle are fas­ci­nat­ing. Even ear­lier ev­i­dence of a set­tle­ment here can be seen in the pre­his­toric sculpted frieze on the edge of the vil­lage which dates from the same pe­riod as the Las­caux cave paint­ings.

An­gles is also fa­mous for ‘les Jours d’An­gles’. Unique to this area, this is a tech­nique of em­bel­lish­ing ma­te­rial with pat­terns sim­i­lar to fine lace­work and re­quires ex­treme pa­tience and skill. Stéphanie Michaud who holds work­shops in An­gles has won the cov­eted ‘Meilleurs Ou­vri­ers de France’ (France’s best work­ers) award for her work.

When set­ting up a hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness in France it is im­por­tant to con­sider whether there are enough at­trac­tions in the area to bring in vis­i­tors (apart from cake!). An­gles-sur-l’Anglin cer­tainly ticks that box but it has to be said that Na­dia’s cakes are a big draw too.

When they bought No.15, Nick and Na­dia al­ready had the idea of cre­at­ing an English tea room. “I had baked cakes for school fêtes and mine were al­ways the first to sell, so I knew that lo­cals liked them as well as English peo­ple,” says Na­dia. “Scones and brown­ies are their favourites. They were a lit­tle sus­pi­cious of carrot cake un­til they tasted it!”

The cou­ple needed to cre­ate a ter­race, which re­quired build­ing work, but they are lucky to have a gar­den as well that is used for all sorts of events, both French and

Lo­cal French peo­ple come for a ‘taste of Eng­land’ and ex­pats and vis­i­tors stop for light lunches and home-made cake

English, such as the ar­rival of Beau­jo­lais Nou­veau and cel­e­bra­tions for the Queen’s 90th birth­day. The dual na­tion­al­ity as­pect of the events is a true re­flec­tion of their clien­tele. Lo­cal French peo­ple come for a ‘taste of Eng­land’ or just for a morn­ing cof­fee and a gos­sip, and ex­pats and vis­i­tors stop for light lunches and home-made cake. “I think we have been ac­cepted now, as when we bought No.15 some­one said that they were pleased it had been bought by lo­cal peo­ple!”

Ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon a sax­o­phon­ist (one of Nick’s first clients in the ren­o­va­tion busi­ness) plays at the tea room and the whole year is punc­tu­ated by sea­sonal and mu­si­cal events, such as ‘ mé­choui’ (lamb roasts), curry and karaoke evenings, and con­certs of all sorts from reg­gae to jazz.

There is no doubt that Nick and Na­dia are here for the long-term and have no re­grets about their move. “It’s peo­ple that you miss more than places, and now my par­ents are liv­ing out here and both my brother and sis­ter have houses in the area. The only things I miss from time to time is a good English pub and a take­away,” says Nick.

It’s clear this en­ter­pris­ing cou­ple are not rest­ing on their lau­rels – they have re­cently re­fur­bished the three bed­rooms above the tea room with a view to of­fer­ing B&B and there is a dis­tinct im­pres­sion that this is not go­ing to be the fi­nal prop­erty the am­bi­tious cou­ple are go­ing to de­velop. But for the mo­ment, they are happy where they are, with son Jack at the lo­cal school, but who knows what the future will bring? If an­other op­por­tu­nity arises Nick and Na­dia will no doubt rise to the chal­lenge and take it in their stride as they have all their pre­vi­ous projects.

Main photo: Nick and Na­dia in their tea room, No.15, in An­gles-sur-l’Anglin Be­low left: The cou­ple fell in love with the tra­di­tional stone vil­lage house

These pages, clock­wise from top left: The house at Vicq-sur-Gartempe is let out as a gîte by Nick and Na­dia; view of An­gles-sur-l’Anglin; the out­door ter­race at No.15; the vil­lage cas­tle; out­side the tea room; a wa­ter­mill in the vil­lage

An­gles-sur-l’Anglin is a des­ig­nated plus beau vil­lage

The vil­lage is renowned for ‘Jours d’An­gles’, an open­work em­broi­dery tech­nique

The in­te­rior of the tea room has been dec­o­rated in a pretty French style

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