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By Brian and Lucy Franklin
The usual romantic week-end breaks in Paris, as well as several business trips during the past 20 years or so.Travelling by car down the west coast from Mont Saint Michel tothe northern part of Spain, around San Sebastien, stopping off at family-run chambre d‘hotes, visiting ancient villages like Bayeux, searching the wine caves of St Emilion, and strolling around Avignon, Arles and Aix en Provence feeling the history and the sense of impressionist art.Caravan holidays in Brittany, and renting gites in the Loire Valley, visiting as many different Chateaux as possible!Much like many thousands before us, and since!
But, as much as this was a good ‘taster’ of France, it was, of course, just an entrée – a little delicacy to whet the appetite.Even our French had not passed the schoolboy/girl stages!
No, our big venture into France was yet to come!And, purely by accident ( or luck !!)
It all started in 1995 after our friends (one of them a workcompanion) – Mike, and his wife, Pauline, took off for a long week-end,
and disappeared without a ‘by your leave’, and returned from France with some photos of some pleasant, but delapidated buildings which formed part of a Chateau complex near a medieval hill village called Perreux, near the township of Roanne.They had seen, by chance, a recent advert in ‘Exchange of Mart’ and were now actively considering purchasing one of the properties.“The Butler’s Pantry” to be exact!
How brave were they?!
Lucy and I thumbed through the photos, and thought this could be an interesting diversion from the realities of our working world. Some of the properties were on sale for less than £12,000!
One of them caught our eye.
THE STABLES, Cour Rossignol, Chateau des Cresses, Rhone-Alpes
It was originally part of the servicing complex for the Chateau des Cresses
and the 18th century Pavillon de Chasse (hunting lodge)
I went on a mission – a reconnoitre !
And I flew out, not with my wife, lucy, but with my friend, John.
Who, incidently, spoke much better French than I did.
We flew direct to Lyon, hired a car, and eventually found the place (Not that easy, actually!!)
As we entered the ‘courtyard’ at the rear of the Chateau des Cresses a large muddy hole faced us. This was, apparently, where the swimming pool was going !
A gruff, but amiable character, was hanging off some ladders working on part of the barn. He offered us a beer, and directed us towards the chateau.
We were in search of the owner who we had sent a lump of deposit money to, before even setting foot in the country ! (call yourself a businessman, Brian !)
Of course, this sort of thing is normal for us Brits. We do it all the time, apparently.Particularly, it seems, when it comes to France – we have a remarkabletendency to leave our brains at Dover !
We are besotted with the dream of the French way of life, and mesmerised( like rabbits caught in car headlights) by the beauty of their sunflowered, lavender-covered, vineyard-lined countryside, and the seemingly endless opportunities for renovating old barns and ruined buildings which are “two-a-penny”.
Then we arrive with excitement, feeling the warm, scented, continental breeze on our sun-glassed faces, anticipating our first taste of grand cru wine, and the exquisite, gastronomic ‘menu gourmand’ experience which is simply ‘pure France’.
Not forgetting, of course, the easy-elegance and ‘bambi-eyed’ natural beauty of Frenchwomen, and, of course, the Intoxicating purring of swarthy Frenchmen with a glinting eye for the ‘swooning’ wives of white-faced Englishmen !
When we first viewed The Stables building it was in a state of absolute disrepair, and used as a storage area for all sorts of discarded rubbish which had been accumulating for several years.
The original wooden and cast-iron stalls were still in position, and hay racks were still fixed to the walls.It was a miserable, rainy day when we first set eyes on this delapidatedFrench building – the nadia of our French Dream.
Rain was dripping through the roof, and it was very difficult walking around the place in order to visualise any potential, because of all the detritus of ages passed, and various discarded pariphernalia of the current chateau owner.
The place looked, well, horrendous.But, through the veil of rain and the shivering damp there was hope amongst the trepidation, even a sense of fun, adventure, perhaps a little madness, too !! (no question).
Imagination and vision were certainly needed to even contemplate turning this ancient building into our first French home.
The salient and essential thing here, of course, was the fact that we had already put a non-returnable deposit on the building before even stepping onto French soil ! (We had obviously already taken our brains out before even booking a ferry! )
We had just simply, and immediately believed and invested in this “opportunity” on the basis of just one or two colour photographs that our friends had taken when they had visited the site on a week-end excursion looking around for a French holiday home in a region they new nothing about (not to be recommended!).
After being pointed towards the lengthening and darkening shadows of the chateau, which in the dimming light of a dreary, cloudy evening, looked more like a French version of the ‘Adams family’ home.
The interior, we found, was not much better. We walked slowly through the dark, unlit foyer, and up a massive creaking mahogany stairway towards a glowing light beneath a closed door.
I opened the door. The room was small, and lit only by the embers
of a wood-burning fire.
On a worn and frayed mat in front of the fire was a lump of a human being in a “Where’s Wally?” jumper.
We moved forward and spoke a soft ‘Hello’.
The figure jerked upwards in drowsy surprise like the startled awakening of the‘Alien’ when Ripley was starting up the shuttle to escape the clutches of the monster in the film of the same name !
Disturbingly, it seemed, we had found the ‘soi-disant’ proprietor of the Chateau des Cresses, or, should I say, ‘Chateau des Messes’, and the 'presumed' vendor of The Stables – our new ‘ruin’ in France.
We did not know it then, but we had stumbled into a new world, a new
experience, almost a different dimension!
One which would have a far-reaching and deep effect on us for the rest of our lives.
Next: “REALITY SETS IN 'LE ROANNAIS' BY PURE DESIGN'