Building A House In Provence, Part One

Building A House In Provence, Part One

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When I first met my husband, Maurice, he told me he had always dreamed
of living in Provence. He is originally from Nice and even has some
gypsy blood flowing through his veins, so I thought it was a genetic
thing—he had to have the sun shining on him to be happy. Once he
retired, he brought up Provence again and wanted to start checking out
property there. I was perfectly happy in Paris and while I thought
Provence was beautiful, I wasn’t sure how long I could be content
looking at a vineyard. It was Maurice’s dream, not mine.


marriage is made of compromises and I could tell it really meant a lot
to Maurice, and so I decided, “Why not?” with a promise from Maurice
that if I really hated living in Provence we could always sell and come
back to Paris full-time. We wouldn’t sell our little place in Paris. I
would be back here for short trips when I felt the need for the
stimulation of a city. A friend said to me, “You have doubts about
living in Provence? Do you know how many people would kill to be in
your shoes?” I just know, having reached my ripe old age, that dreams
and fantasies don’t always turn out to be what you thought they would
be. But I was willing to give it a try.


We were
given the name of an American man who sold real estate.  He lived
in Menerbes, the village made famous by Peter Mayle. I contacted him
about helping us find a place to buy in Provence. He wrote back wanting
to know our price range and when he found out (I’m sure he was
laughing), he told us he couldn’t help us and that we would never find
anything near Aix-en-Provence at that price, not even a fixer-upper. We
would have to spend at least twice as much to find something small and
ordinary at best. I could tell he didn’t want to waste his time with
us, not with the commission he would get if we happened to find a place.


we have French friends who moved from Paris to Provence. Although I had
been a little discouraged about finding an affordable place after the
Menerbes man, they gave us hope. They had a beautiful home and the
price they had paid wasn’t far from what we could afford. We set out on
a short tour with them and they took us to various little towns to have
a look at the area. They lived outside a little village called
Villelaure and we saw Lourmarin, Cucuron, Bonnieux, Ansouis and a few
more. This whole area is covered with vineyards and rolling
hills.  Some of its villages are perched on top of a mountain. I
rather liked the idea of actually living inside one of the villages
behind a high wall with a little yard and a house that would be within
walking distance of all of the shops and markets. Maurice didn’t. He
wanted some land and a swimming pool, so it was time to find a real
estate person again.

We made a couple of
trips to Provence and looked around with various real estate agents. We
found a lot of homes for sale in our price range, but I didn’t like any
of them. Some were nice homes, but extremely isolated. Some were in a
great location but the actual buildings were old and dark and would
cost too much to renovate. A few looked as if various pieces had been
added on by the owner in a do-it-yourself manner. One house had a
device where wood had to be burned to heat the water. That was a little
too country for me. We saw a brand new house in a crowded neighborhood
that would have sold for half the price in the States.


was getting depressing because almost every house we saw was up for
sale because of a divorce. It broke my heart to see the children’s
rooms. I was starting to think Mr. Menerbes was right. We weren’t going
to find a place in our price range. On the last day we were in a little
village called Tour d’Aigues and hadn’t liked the house the real estate
man had just shown us, when he said, “How about looking at some
property?” We thought we might as well look. Maybe building what we
wanted would be the best thing, if the property wasn’t too expensive.
It turned out to be next to a tiny village of 250 people in a rather
isolated area located in the Luberon National Park. It was covered with
dense brush, a few oak trees, bushes called Mimosa that are covered in
yellow flowers in the spring and some wild olive trees.  When we
walked, we could smell wild thyme getting crushed under our feet, an
incredible odor. Some people were walking in the area, as well, looking
for wild asparagus. Maurice’s eyes lit up. This was more like it.


came back the next day and walked around and then went up to the little
village. It had a tiny church with Mary standing on top and a city
fountain next to it, the type with a little head with water coming out
of the mouth. There was a charming narrow street lined with houses
bearing shutters and doors in bright Provençal colors. But that was it.
There was not one restaurant or shop and that bothered me as I had to
discard the dream of a short walk to a boulangerie to get a baguette.
The nearest boulanger was 4 kilometers away. Not too far, but not an
easy walk either.

It was Maurice’s dream and he really
wanted this property, so we bought it. It turned out that the property
had been the inheritance of four family members, all aristocrats, who
came from the nearby castle. They had divided it into four pieces and
put it up for sale. Land is hard to find in Provence these days
and we were lucky to find it before it sold. We met with two members of
the family, a man with fluffy white hair and a pointed nose and his
sister dressed in what looked like a Chanel suit with high heels,
stockings and pearls. I was in jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes. A
Notaire, who does all of the paper work and legal things needed to buy
property in
France, was in our meeting. The Notaire had brought
his darling dog Pistache with him. I was surprised that the Notaire did
all of the paperwork by hand, laboriously filling out the location of
the property, the owners’ information, our information, etc. It took
well over an hour. It was all done in French, of course, so I sat there
totally clueless and made friends with Pistache. We signed the papers
with the understanding that none of it would be legal and that the
whole thing would be canceled if we didn’t get the permission needed to
build our house.


To be continued. …


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