Anyone who knows me well knows I'm impetuous and have a tendency to act on impulse. Not the best personality trait, but it has often served me well, especially when it comes to trusting gut instincts. I always listen to my inner voice and usually get a very clear signal. Occasionally, it's not the "best" signal, but nine times out of 10, I'm happy with the choices I've made. But there is one lingering doubt about a big choice I made, and that's this house I bought back in 2021.
What reeled me in (perhaps blindly) was its potential; to me, this cute old house just needed my special variety of TLC to transform it from a rough stone (literally) into a polished pearl (diamond? no, that's stretching it a bit too far).
If I'm being honest, it was probably the price that swayed me; I mean, it really did cost next to nothing (as far as houses go). And when I asked the realtor at l'Adresse in Montrichard how much she thought it would cost to bring this 19th century house into the 21st century and make it a home, she thought about it for a moment, then looked me in the eyes and said, "Oh, about 15,000 euro."
A house in a cute town with a train station and a health food store and a swimmable river and a weekly market in a lovely part of France just 90 minutes from Paris for less than 50,000 euro? VENDU!
The problem was she was BOLD FACE LYING! And/or really isn't a professional in her line of work. Because, come on. We're so far beyond that it's not even funny (Even if it is kind of hilarious. Stupid Americans!)
As you can see from some of these before and after chronicles, there has been some progress. We owe it all to Vivien, the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend we hired to put in the staircase connecting the living room to the kitchen. Eventually, we hired him to put in a second staircase, install a new kitchen, and lay down floors upstairs and downstairs after the waxed concrete floor guy flaked out. He's also served as the lead organizer on the project when we couldn't find anyone else for the job, creating schedules and keeping everyone on track. We would be lost without him.
But even with all his skills, Vivien was no match for the consummate flakiness that was our plumber.
Monsieur Veteau, all 4-foot-nothing of him, was the biggest of the big fat liars on this project. Even though he was slow to send photos of his work, and I played by the rules and paid his invoices (including the biggie for the shower, toilets, sinks, tile, towel drying rack, and other bathroom fittings). When I called him and asked him why, after several months, he hadn't done any work, he replied, "Oh, it was the carpenter's fault; he was late getting the sub-floor finished so my work was delayed."
OK, but when can you resume work?
"Oh, are you back from California already? I didn't know you were back!"
Yes, I'm back. When can you start?
"Well, there's been a problem with the furniture. Some of it arrived damaged."
Oh yeah? Like what?
"Um, like the the knob for the shower."
This is when I suspected something was really wasn't right. But more on that in the next post.
The more time I spend in Montrichard, the more I like it here. There is so much to do and see, and the people continue to surprise me with their friendliness. And above all, the simple beauty of the area has really cast its spell.
For both of us–me having found my creative niche in the world of vegan-oriented journalism/vegan travel and Jeff having worked in the cycling industry his entire career–it’s been a pleasant surprise to discover how this region is in perfect alignment with our interests, our values, and our favorite pastimes!
The biking here–while extremely flat, is well-supported with paved bikes-only roads and bike lanes on regular roads. And there are little rural gites and campgrounds along the paths so bike-tourists can easily find a spot to stay the night. We even have a forest about a kilometer outside of town with a flatlanders version of “mountain biking” trails. Yesterday we went out for a spin and got a lay of the land, and even spotted a deer and two enormous hawks! #Wildlifefreaks in the house!
And for food-loving vegans, there is no shortage of food-and-drink-related history here. So far, we’ve visited two wineries that have been producing elixirs grown from local grapes for many generations; enjoyed a tour of a mushroom-growing enterprise where they’ve been growing ‘shrooms in caves around here since 1893, and even met a fourth-generation cordial maker who uses local peaches, berries, and herbs to produce his potent eau de vie. And there’s so much more to discover here that we have yet to explore. All of it gives me inspiration for story ideas, travel and tourism-related projects, and for just plain ol’ enjoying life!
Another reason we love this area is because it’s so central to not only the rest of Europe, but the rest of the world! It’s crazy to imagine, but I could literally drive or ride bikes overland to India, Thailand, or Siberia. Not sure we’d actually want to make those particular treks (though I loved Dervla Murphy’s book Full Tilt about her bike adventure from Ireland to India), but so cool to know that if we wanted to, we could.
What's giving you inspiration where you live? Where are you hankering to travel?
We went for a wine tasting at a winery--literally a two minute walk away from our new house’s front door--and discovered lots of interesting things. For starters, the winemaking enterprise is a multi-generational family-run business specializing in cot, the french grap name for Merlot. They do delightful sparkling wines, buttery sauvignon blancs, and juicy cabernet franc-cot blends.
Before the tasting, the fellow in charge invited us to do a self-tour of the caves, or old wine-storage areas. Inside these wine warrens were ancient oak barrels and many hundreds (thousands?) of bottles of wine being stored in the cool, temperature- controlled space. We deduced—based on the long tables topped with candelabras and the heady ambiance—that these spaces are also used for special events, which got us thinking ….
We have our very own cave chez nous, albeit not as big and definitely not stacked with bottles of red, white, and rose, but it could easily be transformed into a cool space for dinner parties. What would you do with a space like this?
You might have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. That’s partly because we’ve been away from our little house in the Loire for six months now, and also because—in the month that and two days that we’ve been back—we’ve been so utterly overwhelmed with the scope of the project that there hasn’t been any creative energy left at the end of the day to write about the experience!
When we arrived back in Montrichard on the 11th of January, we settled into our rental house just down the hill from our house. We rented the same place last summer and liked the big yard, the views over the river, and the fact that we could see our house up the hill from the bedroom window! And there was something new at this rental house since we were here last: two adorable donkeys living in the pasture behind the house. (Brother donkeys Gribouille and Nuage are sweet and curious, and always come running to the fence to say hey when they see us.)
Our first goal is getting electricity at the house. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t happened yet.) We got one estimate last summer, a second while we were still in California (after sending a detailed explanation of where we hid the house key. We were kind of surprised he actually found it!), and a third the first week we were here. They ranged from thousands of euro to many, many thousands of euro, which caught us off guard. (The realtor we bought the place from estimated it would cost 15,000 euro to get this place completely habitable. Either she is the least knowledgeable real estate professional in town or she was lying through her teeth. Not sure which is worse!)
For the last week, Jeff and a friend have been demolishing the interior of the house, bagging up the contents, and making dump runs. So far, they’ve had one lady stop to question them as they stacked up the bags in preparation for dumping them into the trailer for hauling away, and had a band of pickers come along and start rummaging through everything looking for bits and bobs of value. Requests to move along (they were still working, after all) went unheeded!
Today, electrician #1 is coming back to confirm his estimate is still valid. We’ll likely go with him—the middle-of-the-pack estimate—mostly because he was recommended to us from a friend of a friend. That matters in France. Then, we’ll be on the hunt for a plumber. This, my friends, is the not-so-glamourous reality of home renovation.
Fridays are market days in Montrichard, so this morning, before our friends Sophia and Mo arrived from Paris to spend the day with us, we put on our rain jackets and made the five-minute walk to town. (More like 15 minutes when you've got a geriatric dog in tow.)
Because it's a small town, I expected a market to match its diminutive proportions, but what we walked into--beginning at Mairie and continuing up the road for roughly two small-town blocks--was a rather grand and interesting marché with a wide variety of vendors.
Sure, there were the typical things you find at most outdoor markets throughout France, namely fruits and vegetables, but there were also vendors selling organic locally made soaps, regional wines, olives and other cured things (looking at you, lupini beans!), plant starts, mushrooms galore, fresh Italian pastas, rustic loaves of organic bread, and fried potato pancakes that were *almost* vegan (we might have to beg them to find an egg replacer so we can eat them, too).
There were several stalls that we were particularly excited about, including the tiny two-woman bread stand and the woman selling herbs, grains, olive oil, tamari, and other items in bulk. And then we stumbled on the bike fix-it guy!
One of the big draws to this area was the cycling; not exactly the kind that Jeff likes to do (crazy downhill mountain biking), but the kind I prefer: lazy rolling paved paths that allow you to feel safe while enjoying the scenery, and make stops for picnics and wine drinking. This area is cram-jam full of bike paths throughout both the Cher and Loire river valleys, so it makes sense that there would be a mobile mechanic out here. We didn't introduce ourselves but plan to do that the next time.
We ended up buying a ton of mushrooms, wine, green beans, and spinach, which we feasted on for the next few days before our Monday departure back to Paris. We weren't able to get through all the green beans, so we packed them to go, thinking that we'd add them to Fanny's homemade dog food. Turns out they went into a pot of soup last night, and—almost a week later—they were still crisp and flavorful.
I think we're going to love it here!
Buying a house is a pretty big deal all on its own, but buying a place sight-unseen, during a pandemic, in another country is next-level real-estate adventure. (Or insanity. Call it what you will!)
When this place first popped into my inbox, I was immediately struck by its potential. It just seemed sturdy and solid, and even though it isn't the prettiest thing ever, I liked its French-country homeliness. The price was pretty damn good, too! (Around the price of a new Prius.). And then there were the wooden beams, the fireplace, the cute little yard, and its location, a mere five-minute walk to the historic center Montrichard, France and a 90-minute train ride to Paris.
My friends in France knew I was on a perpetual hunt or something pas trop cher, and pas trop loin de Paris, so when I told my friend Jenny about this place, she offered to take the train down from Paris to scope it out on my behalf. I felt like I'd won the French real estate lotto! Someone I trusted to be my eyes (and nose--I did NOT want a weird-smelling house) and offer an objective, honest opinion. Now, we're getting somewhere!
So, last July—as the pandemic raged on--Jenny trekked down to Montrichard and met with the realtor at l'Addresse. The realtor picked her up at the train station and drove her to the house, and Jenny took me on a WhatsApp virtual tour of the space. The real-time visuals reinforced my initial impressions: funky, with potential. And potential doesn't come cheap. There would be much work involved (and €€€) to make the place cute and cozy and functional. I needed to think it over.
Having written a few books on how to move to France, I knew a little bit about the house-buying process. I knew it would be complicated (because EVERYTHING in France is complicated) and that a pandemic wasn't going to make it an easier. But after giving it some thought and with encouragement from my closest Parisian friends, I decided to make an offer.
It was rejected.
More on that and what happened next in my next post!
I've been obsessed with the idea of buying my own house in France for--literally—more than two decades. I may have still been in my twenties when I made my first real-estate-scouting trip, traveling from San Francisco to rendezvous with realtors in rural Brittany and Normandy, when real estate was REALLY cheap and the prices were still in Francs. I'm glad I didn't take the plunge then, because I wouldn't have wanted to live in Brittany, even part-time, so it clearly wasn't meant to be. In the intervening years, I zeroed in on Paris (too expensive) and Nice (less expensive, but still too expensive), and then drew up some criteria to help me keep the fantasy alive.
My ideal place in France, if not in a big city or a gorgeous sun-splashed Mediterranean village, had to be within reach of a big city. That means a train station is a must. I also wanted to be around water, and, in a truly perfect world, there'd be something vegan happening nearby. Oh, and some diversity in the population would be a HUGE bonus.
I set search parameters on French real estate sites like SeLoger and LogicImmo, and every now and again, something would pop up in a town called Montrichard. On the surface, it seemed to have a lot of potential: an historic town center (which I read as "tourists" and "things to do"), perfectly positioned on a scenic river (the Cher) with its own swimming beach, just 90 minutes by train from Paris (it sometimes takes that long to get across town in traffic!) and—now this was really important—it had its own Biocoop in town AND a weekly open-air market!
Other things about this town appealed to me, including the fact that cycling is big here, and that aquacenter with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and hot tubs, and a hammam, right across the river? SELLING POINTS GALORE!
I didn't know much about the town other than what I read online, which wasn't much—or so I thought. Turns out I'd been to Montrichard once before, about seven or so yeas ago, when I went to visit my friend Terresa who was staying in Pontlevoy, one town up the road! And you know why we came here? To go to the Biocoop! I think that's what you call going full-circle.
Of course, I had to fall in love with a particular house right as covid started. And so began the adventure of buying a house in another country that I'd only ever seen online. Crazy, right? More on that in my next post!