Elizabeth and her hus­band David spent three years trans­form­ing a ruin in Provence into a trea­sured fam­ily hol­i­day home, and the end re­sult is ev­ery inch the quin­tes­sen­tial French prop­erty dream, as Vicky Leigh dis­cov­ers

Living France - - CONTENTS -

Cover story Find out how a ruin in Provence was trans­formed into a stylish hol­i­day home

With renovation projects on both sides of the Chan­nel under their belts, Elizabeth and David are clearly not afraid of a chal­lenge. The cou­ple have re­cently fin­ished ren­o­vat­ing a prop­erty in Devon, where they live in the UK, and have also tack­led two in France, both of which re­quired con­sid­er­ably more than a bit of DIY and a lick of paint. Their first French prop­erty was a derelict house in a small vil­lage in Lot, which they bought in 1992 after en­joy­ing sev­eral sum­mers there with fam­ily and fall­ing in love with the area.

“We spent a cou­ple of sum­mers in a row in Lot with my brother-in-law’s fam­ily and de­cided to look into buy­ing our own prop­erty as we didn’t want to im­pose on them all the time,” says Elizabeth. “We loved the area and the idea of hav­ing our own house there, so my brother-in-law sug­gested we go and see the no­taire in the vil­lage. As it turned out, he was han­dling the sale of sev­eral prop­er­ties that were owned by a lady who had died with­out leav­ing a will. He took a big key out of a cup­board in his of­fice and of­fered to take us to see them straight away. We were pretty much able to take our pick – we could vir­tu­ally have bought the whole vil­lage for about £20,000!”

Hav­ing set­tled on the one they wanted to buy, Elizabeth and David went on to trans­form the house into a com­fort­able hol­i­day home and en­joyed mak­ing use of it for the next 15 years. At that point

they de­cided the vil­lage was per­haps a bit too quiet, and hav­ing done all they wanted to do to the prop­erty, they made the de­ci­sion to sell it. “We were lucky as some­one wanted to buy it, so we sold it in 2007,” says Elizabeth. “We thought that was the end of it and that we’d move on, but we re­alised we missed hav­ing a house in France so we started look­ing for an­other one to buy.”

This time, Elizabeth turned her at­ten­tion to the south of France and, ac­com­pa­nied by her daugh­ter, spent sev­eral trips scour­ing an area cov­er­ing both Oc­c­i­tanie and Provence, where they came across a pretty lit­tle vil­lage in Luberon.

“It seemed a lot greener than the rest of the south of France and it re­ally felt like a home from home, so we thought we’d rent some­where there for our next hol­i­day and hope­fully find a prop­erty to buy,” re­mem­bers Elizabeth. “We did that and when we went to buy some bread, we found there was an es­tate agency next door to the bak­ery with an ad­vert for ex­actly the sort of house we were look­ing for in the win­dow.”


The rest, as they say, is his­tory, and in 2011 Elizabeth and David bought their cur­rent prop­erty in the Parc Naturel Ré­gional du Luberon, in the depart­ment of Vau­cluse. With the Luberon hills to the north and the hill­top vil­lage of Gram­bois to the south, and with views over vine­yards and rolling coun­try­side, the set­ting was en­vi­ably pic­turesque, yet the house it­self was in rather a sorry state. A for­mer berg­erie dat­ing from the 19th cen­tury, it re­quired com­plete renovation, and after ob­tain­ing the nec­es­sary plan­ning per­mis­sion, the cou­ple spent the next three years over­see­ing its trans­for­ma­tion.

“We wanted to bring it back to life,” says Elizabeth. “It was ba­si­cally a barn and we res­cued it from ruin, which in­volved tak­ing the roof off and tak­ing the walls down to first-floor level, and in­stalling new wiring, plumb­ing and heat­ing. We used a very good lo­cal build­ing firm and they were able to put us in touch with the other trades we needed.”

As the prop­erty is lo­cated in a re­gional park the terms of the plan­ning per­mis­sion stip­u­lated that cer­tain con­di­tions had to be met, and in­cluded strict rules on the ma­te­ri­als and paint colours that could be used ex­ter­nally to en­sure that the ap­pear­ance of the house was in keep­ing with its sur­round­ings. The end re­sult is ev­ery inch the quin­tes­sen­tial French farm­house, with cream-coloured stonework and pale grey-blue shut­ters,

and it’s now listed as a bâ­ti­ment re­mar­quable as a re­sult.

In­side there are four en-suite dou­ble bed­rooms, an open-plan liv­ing/din­ing room and a kitchen with French doors lead­ing out to the ter­race. Tim­ber beams and flag­stone floor­ing add char­ac­ter to the liv­ing spa­ces, cre­at­ing a rus­tic feel that is both charm­ing and cosy. Elizabeth pur­chased some of the fur­ni­ture in the UK and had it shipped over to France, and a friend who cre­ates her own fab­ric de­signs made the cur­tains.

“We found that a lot of French prop­er­ties we saw had be­come very modern and that isn’t what we wanted,” says Elizabeth. “I think you have to try and make your home feel homely.”

Out­side, the area around the house has been land­scaped with gravel and plants, and there are plenty of ter­races for mak­ing the most of the views and plen­ti­ful sun­shine. The vast grounds in­clude a boules pitch, and the cou­ple also ob­tained plan­ning per­mis­sion to add a heated swim­ming pool, which again was sub­ject to strict rules.

“Even the wa­ter had to be a spe­cific colour!” laughs Elizabeth. “The pool liner couldn’t be bright blue; it had to be greeny-blue or an­thracite. These things are only in place to make sure that any de­vel­op­ment looks sym­pa­thetic and are usu­ally what you’d want to achieve any­way.”


Elizabeth and David en­joy fam­ily hol­i­days at the house with their grown-up chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, spend­ing be­tween eight and nine weeks of the year there.

“The fam­ily are al­ways keen to join in and spend time at the house with us,” says Elizabeth. “I wish the house was big­ger and then we’d be able to have more peo­ple come to stay! We go over at Easter and in the sum­mer, and have also spent Christ­mas there which is lovely. The days are still bright and sunny, and it’s great for walk­ing and just chill­ing out com­pletely. It’s beau­ti­ful in both sum­mer and win­ter, and when the trees lose their leaves it lets even more light into the house.”

The house is also rented out to hol­i­day­mak­ers be­tween April and Oc­to­ber, and while it pro­vides the per­fect place to re­lax away from the modern world it still re­mains con­nected to it, with wifi ac­cess and English TV chan­nels, and the near­est ameni­ties are just five min­utes away. The house is par­tic­u­larly well equipped for fam­i­lies with young chil­dren, with high chairs, cots, toys and games all pro­vided, while child-friendly at­trac­tions nearby in­clude Aquacity and Zoo de la Bar­ben.

“It’s equipped for fam­i­lies partly be­cause that’s how we use the house our­selves,” says Elizabeth. “We al­ways in­tended to make this a home for us and also to rent it out. We re­alised from our ex­pe­ri­ence with the house in Lot that it isn’t good to leave a prop­erty empty for too long, and it’s good to have an in­come to cover some of the costs.”

There are reg­u­lar flights from Heathrow to Mar­seille, which is about an hour from the house by car, and there’s plenty to do in the sur­round­ing area, from cy­cling and hik­ing to golf and wine tast­ing. Hol­i­day­mak­ers can also rent elec­tric bikes dur­ing their stay, and as Elizabeth has made plenty of con­tacts dur­ing the time she’s spent in this part of the coun­try, she’s happy to book lo­cal tours or ar­range for a chef to come in and cook.

The at­trac­tions of this part of France have long been in the spot­light – this is Peter Mayle coun­try after all, and it’s been al­most 30 years since the au­thor first in­tro­duced read­ers to the de­lights of Luberon in his book A Year in Provence. Elizabeth cer­tainly has no re­grets about her choice of lo­ca­tion. “Per­haps I was a bit of a driv­ing force as I spent a year in Aixen-Provence when I was at univer­sity, and I think you do put down lit­tle roots and get at­tached to places,” she says.

“It was a fam­ily de­ci­sion though and we all went over to Provence to check we were mak­ing the right one. We’ve met a lot of nice peo­ple, both French and English, and there’s al­ways some­one to bump into when you go to the mar­kets, which are re­ally fan­tas­tic – they’re so colour­ful. There’s a lot of his­tory and lots of art; you can go to vine­yards and cafés, visit vil­lages such as Lour­marin and gen­er­ally just have a very nice time. It’s a lovely area and we love be­ing here.”

provence­farm­ The house is avail­able to rent through simp­son­

Above: Tim­ber beams and flag­stone floors add char­ac­ter to the liv­ing space, as well as mak­ing it feel cosy

Be­low: Elizabeth and David have brought the prop­erty into the 21st cen­tury with en-suite bed­rooms and a modern kitchen, while re­main­ing sym­pa­thetic to its age and style

Right: The luxury of four en-suite bath­rooms means no queues for the toi­let when the fam­ily come to stay, or when the house is rented out to hol­i­day­mak­ers vis­it­ing this lovely cor­ner of Provence

Clock­wise from top: Elizabeth’s friend made the cur­tains for the house; the con­di­tions of the plan­ning per­mis­sion meant Elizabeth and David were re­quired to use cer­tain ma­te­ri­als and paint colours; the cou­ple with son Will and daugh­ter Anna

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.