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Reality arrives in The Roannais by Brian Franklin

Brian Franklin’s historical account of their discovery of the Roannais continues in This French Life  during March –  ‘REALITY ARRIVES IN ‘THE ROANNAIS’

Following on from our new discovery in the Roannais, Rhône-Alpes, and our eventual purchase of ‘The Stables’ there is, of course, much more to tell.

We paid around £12,000 for this building which needed a complete renovation job. Some of this money was also part of a contribution to the communal courtyard and pool.

Basically we had bought into a small ‘co-propriété’ (joint ownership of communal grounds) of about 10 other dwellings which formed part of the original courtyard of the Chateau des Cresses (an ornate, gothic-style pile built around 1908)

The courtyard – ‘Cour Rossignol’ – made up the ‘servicing’ complex of the chateau.(with Bakery, Winery, Butler’s Pantry, Barn, and, of course, our Stable block)

The other building which formed this courtyard was, in fact, the stylish ‘Pavillon de Chasse’, an 18thcentury hunting lodge and salon, built around the time of the French Revolution, and oozing ‘old French Empire’. This was the original and only building on the site before the chateau was constructed clumsily around it.

It was a picturesque location, however, with great potential. Our excitement and eager anticipation at developing our ‘ruin’ in this wonderful location was immense. Our uncertainty substantial!

However, we made our decision to apply a clean, contemporary approach, and involved one of our architect friends in England to create an outline interior concept that was simple, stylish, and which maximised on utilising the potential living space available to us. How smart!

It was sharpen pencil time! There was no shortage of ideas. We were creative, that was our job in England – interior design, image-building, photographic concepts for kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and living rooms. In fact, totally in our realm! France here we come!!

I’m not going to turn all this into some ‘Grand Design’ type saga (It was not big enough for that, of course! That will come a few years  later.), but it could turn into a saga all the same. A different type of saga. A saga of intrigue, and the ‘mentally’ insane. Of the’ ups and downs’ that occur when you take a ‘runner’ – a risk. A small risk it maybe, but a risk all the same, entwined with heartfelt dreams of a new home, and a new life experience.

Yes, we got ‘ripped off’ a bit.

Although, it is said of the French: ‘they see us Brits coming’ , maybe it is  because they see an easy ‘kill’, an easy ‘euro’ or two (it was actually the famous French Franc, then), because our brains were still, temporarily at least , resting, sloppily, on the dockside at Dover!

Our many dealings with the French have been incredibly rewarding, and in our relationships with artisans, shopkeepers, neighbours, and with those that have become great friends, we have found all of them to be incredibly generous, exceptionally friendly, honest, and personable people).

Yes, there are always ‘rogue traders’ about (so you have to watch out!), and you are never far away from diabolical experiences, whether from individuals or from the famous meanderings of the over-developed (and often over zealous) French bureacracy and legal sytems.

We bought into a 10-dwelling co-propriété, and our experience of this was certainly not an ideal one.

It is difficult to get all people to agree, and conflicts occur. These type of co-ownership organisations may work for apartment buildings, or well-organised holiday complexes in places like Spain, but my suggestion would be to avoid getting involved in this type of property arrangement despite some of the price advantages, and shared communal costs for items such as pool maintenance, gardening, insurances, etc.

They are often troublesome, and your several neighbours can be just a little too close! However, at the same time, all the negatives and positives of this experience were thoroughly stirred into a pot-pourri, a melange of wonderful discovery, fun, and friendships.

We had, in fact, a brilliant time planning and designing The Stables.

Our, discovery, too, of Lyon – France’s second city – was also a fantastic experience, and Lyon is now a place which we regularly re-visit.

The local Roannais region, also, was, and is, brilliant and has so much to offer, from medieval villages and chateaux to picturesque wine-growing countryside, mountain vistas and some of the best food in France.

To be fair,  in the early days, and the early year or so, things moved on pleasantly, albeit very slowly.

We finally signed for our ‘ruin’ and full payment was duly made (some of it, I might add, siphoned off to some unknown destination and bank account in England! You have to watch out for this sort of thing, because any money paid outside the transaction is not recorded, so you are likely to pay more capital gains tax on any profit later further down the line if/when you re-sell your property)

Our real fun and adventure with France could now continue with a vengeance! For a while the distance actually helped between England and France.

Yes, the communication and project control aspects were difficult and frustrating at times. French language problems were always an initial hindrance, and part of the equation to solve. But, we were tenacious.

It was something we had to accept as part of the ‘risk’ of buying  and renovating in France from a distance. We had to put it all down to experience – ‘The French Experience’

The Stables moved gradually on, and started taking internal shape. It was beginning to look like a home on the cusp of habitability. We made decisions, we flew over as regularly as we could, and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The French life’ as we found it.

We also continued to throw more money at the project!

And gradually, bit by bit, over 2 years or so (It wasn’t rapid!), we turned the place from a ruin into a home.

‘The Stables’ ended up as a delightful 2 –bedroom dwelling (with retained French character on the outside and a contemporary, clean ‘look’ on the inside!). We were very pleased with the results: Good-sized kitchen and dining, separate lounge with wood-burning stove and exposed chimney. Feature stairway and landing to two large double bedrooms, and bathroom with bath and shower.

The countryside and woodland views of the original chateau grounds were superb, and a great setting for our own new piece of France .

And our new French way of life!