Strange – it sounds like an airshow?

September 07 and we’re back in Premian for a holiday, hoping for better weather than we experienced last September. Having arrived on the Friday, by the Sunday morning we were in no hurry to get up – not that we ever need an excuse to relax while we’re here, we just slide straight into chill mode. Anyway, I digress, as we laid in bed – in that state where you’re thinking we really should get up, there was a drone of light aircraft clearly audible which created no more than a little curiosity from us, then all was quiet again. However, just fifteen minutes later we heard more aircraft noises in close proximity and this time even felt obliged to get up and look out of our window, which I just might have mentioned before has a lovely view out over the hills/mountains behind us. We were just in time to see water being deposited from one of the three aircraft onto the smoking/steaming hillside.

plane

The operation seemed marvellously efficient, and about every 15 minutes the aircraft returned loaded with water to drop in an attempt to douse the flames. We assumed that the were reloading from the lakes, they continued to return until the ridge was well doused and the flames and smoke had subsided. I guess it was the first time we’d actually really thought about the danger of fire. Seems where ever you live these days, even in this small paradise you are susceptible to fire, flood and the ferocity of nature, more often than not fuelled by mans intervention. Sorry, didn’t mean to climb onto a soapbox there, or get philosophical, but there have been many fires and “natural” disasters in Europe this summer and you can’t help but think about the devastating effect it has on peoples lives.

2nd aircraft pic

Ski in Font Romeu? If only there was more snow

As Font Romeu is about two and a half hours from the house we thought we’d combine ski trip and visit to the house.  We arrived on the Saturday at the house, boy oh boy was the house cold, thankfully Pauline had been and put on the electric heaters but still that first night we sat cuddled up together on the sofa under a duvet – good job we have a close relationship!  The whole ski trip had been under threat as I’d been really ill all the previous week with a chest infection and though I was well enough to come my chest still felt fairly restricted and I hadn’t even bothered to bring my snowblades with me.

Next day we trundled off in the car with all Martins gear off to Font Romeu where we had rented an appartment – well that certainly didn’t disappoint, a lovely spacious appartment with wonderful terrace and comfy sofas to chill – and more to the point it was warm.  I was well armed with books for the 4 days at the ski resort and Martin went off to ski alone.  Well 2007 hasn’t actually been a good year for snow so far in the Pyrenees and many of the runs were closed – see all those red FERME signs on the piste map – what a disappointment.

Piste Ferme

So I never actually got to see anything but the apartment and the town, and Martin skied the same runs and was back to the apartment early each afternoon having explored as many runs as he was able.  We have been to the Pyrenees before in Andorra but I think next year it will be back to the Portes de Soleil.

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Back to the house for three days and with gas and electric heaters working and ski fleeces on at least we weren’t feeling the cold.   With running our own business the laptop is ever present and we got a message on the blog from Laurence who it appears lives in a hamlet nearby – he was busy fitting an Ikea kitchen accompanied by a fine tub of plonk (Mas Oliver) from the cave in Fougeres – well done him, although he did say the wine was winning – well we can understand that!

We escaped Ikea this trip – but did introduce ourselves to Fly in Bezier on a sofa hunting trip, no sofa success but quite liked the store – will perhaps be back.

I’m looking forward to our next trip at Easter when the weather will be much milder and hopefully the cherry trees will all be in blossom just as they were when we first saw the valley.

November Sunshine

Back in Premian again – we just love coming back. This will be our last visit this year, and our last chance to relax before the Christmas rush at home. We have internet retail sites selling jewellery and from mid November until the 3rd week of December is absolutely manic (thankfully).

Just here from Weds arrival to Sunday departure – not long enough, but in reality we just want to batten down the hatches for winter and have a bit of r and r while we can. So this time no hurtling about down mountain roads to the shops – instead we intended (weather permitting) to do some walking. Frankly our walking boots in the UK had been getting zilcho use – and so they are now French residents!

Piste Verte map
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W piste

Although we didn’t realise it when we bought the house just above us is a “piste verte” (map above), which runs from Olargues to Corniou a distance of 24kms with Premian roughly central – what a bonus. It runs along the old railway line and is fairly flat – essential when, like me you hail from south Lincolnshire where the terrain is totally flat – but there I am above smiling bravely for the camera. Our first jaunt was towards Riols, the walk was lovely, the autumn colours were beautiful and the autumn sunshine made it all the more enjoyable – this is the life! As you can see below the trip was somewhat leisurely with time to enjoy the view.

Martin the hiker
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Framed

Along the route we had time to look properly at views we couldn’t have seen from the road, and eventually we got to Riols and walked through the village to the bridge over the Jaur to sit in the sunshine before the trip back.

Jaur
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artistic trees

Out and about umbrellas at the ready

Having a second home overseas can be a bit concerning when its a few weeks in between your visits, so it was something of a relief when we spotted an advert offering all levels of care/visits to the property and had arranged an appointment for the Thursday with Pauline Giles who, as well as running the Haut Languedoc Property Services, also runs the Les Quatr’ Farceurs guesthouse in Olargues – which incidently gets a very good write up in the Rough Guide.   What a charming lady – immediately we had met her we were happy to engage her services which gives us a wonderful peace of mind that our little home is cared for in our absence.

Following Pauline’s visit we set off to Puisserguier as I’d seen a charming looking shop Deco Cado which I’d been wanting to browse around.  At last I seemed to be browsing for “bits and pieces” of decor for the house, the lady who served us was charming and we engaged in as much conversation as I could manage in French while she beautifully wrapped my purchase – a service at which the French excel and is mostly so badly lacking in England.  The shop is pictured below with the lady watching us out of the window.

 

Deco Cado

 

Friday, again umbrellas at the ready but undeterred we explored nearby Olargues and had a good walk around the town snapping happily with the camera as we went. The scenery is delightful, you can see why Olargues is un des plus beaux villages de France, but you’ll see the clouds were still threatening!

 

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It’s a nice place to meander around with plenty of nooks and crannies and lots of alleyways leading off – you can’t help but feel tempted to explore.

 

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Joyeux anniversaire!

Wednesday dawns, and yes – you’ve guessed it, more rain!  You might be forgiven for imagining that coming to the south of France to celebrate your 50th birthday would mean only sunshine, but not today.

 I had made plans, nothing too grand, but wanted to go to the local market at St Pons de Thomiere and buy some nice local produce.  So I opened my birthday cards (pictured below) carefully brought over from England and some posted to Premian by well organised and thoughtful friends, and kept an eye on the weather. 

Birthday cards

Believing that the rain had all but stopped, ever the optimists we set off for St Pons, we couldn’t have travelled more than 2km and the heavens opened again.  Once in St Pons our first stop was the local supermarket for an umbrella, then, both huddled under an inadequate umbrella we set off down the main street towards the market.  Unfortunately the traffic was failry busy, including numerous large lorries trundling by, and by the time we got to the market we were fairly drenched – and most of the stallholders were closing up for the day – defeated by the rain!  Oh well, we were already soaked and so on to the local hardware store where we purchased a further altogether more substantial umbrella – having looked at the weather forecast online we felt becoming a 2 umbrella family was probably wise.  Back at the house we took off all our wet clothes and draped them on furniture in front of radiators – at this point the decision was made - our mission was Bezier for that blasted tumble dryer.  When oh when will the practicalities give way to pure pleasures, not today thats for sure.  Anyway by later in the day mission was accomplished, clothes all dry, and we were at least looking forward to a very pleasant evening – we were not disappointed.

Les Bergeries des Ponderach

To celebrate my birthday Martin had booked dinner at Les Bergeries des Ponderach in St Pons.  The establishement exuded a wonderful ambiance and tasteful decor, the bar area was comfortable and cosy, the dining room grandiose but intimate, and the wonderful welcome and level of service by the staff was exceptional – attentive but not intrusive. Oh yes and the food – well suffice to say we shall be returning.

 Ok so the weather wasn’t as good as it could have been but all in all I had a wonderful day.

September in France

Our September trip to France, a much awaited, keenly anticipated trip. We arrived on Monday 11th, our holiday delayed due to going to Roundhay Park on the Saturday to see Robbie Williams! An excellent evening was had by all.

The early flight into Carcassonne at least gives almost a full day in France, and a lovely day it was too, we travelled across the Minervoise and in the distance saw the machines harvesting the grape, the weather was warm and heralded the start of a pleasant week in the sunshine, or so we thought…

Tuesday morning we awoke to the sunshine and, whilst it goes against the grain – our body clocks have no problem realigning to a no hurry mode, we had made arrangements with Sky France to have a satelite dish installed and so were up and about early. Stephen from Sky France duly arrived and a couple of cups of tea later the dish was installed, not only that but a lovely neat job and Stephen even cleaned up after himself! Not seduced by the idea of daytime television we headed off in the direction of Bedarieux and browsed in the electrical shops, we still needed to purchase a vacuum cleaner and perhaps a tumble drier – not for this week obviously but one will certainly be necessary in winter for the ski gear. The route along the valley still charms us every time we travel it, the natural beauty of the landscape, the villages and hamlets dotted along the hillsides and the manmade wonders like the 37 arch viaduct as we approach Bedarieux.

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We parked down near the river, oh to be in France and park the car without it costing an arm and a leg, and wandered looking around in that unhurried manner that we do when in France. However, the skies were distinctly grey and threatening, and sure enough it started to rain, warm rain of course, but rain nonetheless. Brollieless we sheltered under a shop canopy until the rain abated, whereon we continued our wandering, but heading back towards the area we’d parked in as the sky still appeared non too friendly. sure enough more rain which continued on and off all evening – ah well.

Making plans for French home

Despite the help of our Michel Thomas language CD’s when we watch programmes on the French tv channels we understand only some of what is being said.  I appreciate the train of thought that says don’t get satelite tv, watch French tv and your French will improve!  It’s not as though we’re big watchers in the UK and follow none of the British soaps thank goodness but its either satellite or bring over lots of dvds.  I can feel myself quickly giving in to the idea of satelite freeview so that I can watch (and understand) the news and visitors and family will expect it, won’t they?  I think we’d really appreciate it in the winter months when we want to stop in in the evening and chill – we have the quote, best get that appointment made.
Regardless of all the shopping we’ve done can you believe it I still need to bring over more stuff from the UK – especially a winter weight quilt for our English bedding.  What will the weather be like in the winter?  We want to visit in January and then travel down to the Font Romeu area so that Martin can ski for a few days and again hopefully in March after the end of the school holidays.  I think our baggage allowance will be maxed out again for the next couple of trips bringing some of our ski gear to leave in Languedoc.

Two more weeks and we’ll be back there -  we can’t wait. This time I’ll be celebrating my 50th birthday while we’re there, I hope Martin remembers to book a restaurant!

We’ve arranged to meet a local lady who does property management, this will give us peace of mind, knowing that our property will be visited and checked over between our visits.

Shop till we drop

So after one hell of a long day following our arrival we sank into our beds, and “we didn’t need any rocking”! – this became Martins saying of the week.
I swear the next day dawned minutes after we’d gone to bed. The discovery that our clock tower seems to strike on the hour every hour did nothing to disturb our sleep.

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We knew that although the house was partly furnised we had to do some fairly serious shopping and had deliberately rented a hatchback to transport our cargo! We promised ourselves that due to being in France if we shopped Friday and Saturday we could have Sunday off. How wrong can you be? On the Friday we trudged off down to Beziers to begin purchasing all that we needed, we got home again about 6pm with the car solidly loaded and happily unloaded all our new purchases.

Saturday – yes you’ve guessed it – like true Brits we hurtled off towards Montpellier and Ikea for some flat pack furniture for our bedroom. Sunday – that day of rest was spent busily putting the units together. Still the house was starting to take shape, but if theres one thing I wanted in France it was outside space, often in short supply in the villages, we had our outside space but alas no garden furniture for me to sit on to enjoy my dinner and local wines – that took care of that days shopping, table, chairs, relaxers, parasols. So next morning after breakfast al fresco, off again down the road to Bezier, once again a car packed solid with stuff that you take for granted at home, once again arriving home early evening. The neighbours must have been bemused and wondered where on earth we were putting everything – had our modest home got the internal dimensions of the tardis? But did it all end there? Not quite – no washing machine and I’m certainly not going to continue to hand wash for ever more. Yes you’ve guessed it, the well travelled road to Bezier, granted the route along the N112 is pretty and the towns and villages enchanting but I want to spend the days wandering around them leisurely shopping for knick knacks please!!!

The full week was to continue fairly much in the same way – shortly after our return to the UK it had been planned that my Mum and stepdad Ken were coming out for two weeks so that Ken could watch the tour de france arrive in Carcassonne and then set off from Bezier. Best laid plans had been upskittled though when Ken had to go into hospital and it was still unknown if they’d make it or not, but we wanted to have our little home fully equipped for them hoping they’d make it.

We did manage a little r and r, enough to whet our appetite for our next visit when we could enjoy the fruits of our labour. We briefly visited Olargues (pictured below) and were here when Anna rang from the UK to tell us she’d got her exam results for her first year Masters in HRM – well done Anna! We are keen to revisit Olargues again to take our time, stop for lunch and do some shopping.

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As we drove through Roquebrun (pictured below) we promised to ourselves to return as soon as we could. All in all, despite all the hard work we had an excellent week and really enjoyed ourselves, this is just the start of things to come…

Roquebrun

Arriving in France

We signed the Compromis de Vente on Sunday 9th April, and guided through the process by Jenny (our English speaking agent), Keith at ALR and the specialist English solicitors he recommended the process went fairly smoothly, thanks to Martin who, as he works from home was able to chase progress and deal with all of the bureaucracy – the French do love their paperwork! We’d really recommend using English solicitors, though not necessary in the eyes of the French they were invaluable to us, and advised us on the French inheritance laws – crucial when I have children from a previous marriage!

We were advised at the initial meeting that all would be completed by the 30th June at the latest and luckily no serious problems were encountered and Jenny contacted us on the 18th May to suggest a completion of the 29th May! Fantastic but too soon for us, unlike Martin I have a real job (private joke) and with colleagues away that week no chance, that and the fact the flight prices were astronomic, blasted school holidays! The 15th June was agreed and an appointment made with the Notaire in Narbonne.

No problems with the flights this time thank goodness, and we got the early flight to Carcassonne loaded down with our maximum baggage allowance. Once in France and with the help of tomtom we found our way to Carrefour to make a start on the shopping! There we were, in Narbonne, car packed to the gunnels, hoping that there would be no last minute hitch. We parked up nearby the Notaires office, walked alongside the river and meandered through a wonderful local market before stopping and chilling out at a local café, sitting in the sunshine just watching the world go by – does the world get any better than this? Made a mental note to revisit Narbonne as soon as we are able to spend some time looking around properly.

Narbonne

After a meeting with the local Notaire – who appeared to speak even less English than we do French, (translator in attendance), we were given the keys to our little home. It was an hours drive through the beautiful French countryside and up to the foothills of the mountains. Everything was just as we remembered, it had been a long day but excitement and adrenaline kept us going. The house was sold partly furnished but ahead lay a very busy week of shopping and setting up our new home. But that’s another story…

Narbonne river

Our second househunting trip to France

Exactly one week after our planned first visit and feeling optimistic we set off yet again for the airport and though the knock on effects were still being felt this time fate was on our side. We flew into Perpignan and landed in France on Thursday the 6th April very excited at what hopefully lay ahead. With the help of Keith Pow-Williams at ALR Associates we had made appointments with 3 local agents to view properties, based on the fairly broad criteria we had given him.

Martin at Chateau

We had booked into the Chateau Saint Martin des Champs at Murviel les Béziers, it did not disappoint, lovely surroundings and extremely friendly staff. We set out on the Friday full of optimism to see 2 agents and saw a total of 5 properties, most of them below our fairly modest budget, but needing various amounts of renovation or refreshment. We had seen a couple of possibilities but wondered about the difficulties that we would have to undergo having to oversee a renovation project from the UK whilst speaking very little French.

On the Saturday morning we had an appointment with Jenny Malmberg at AFI agency at Bedarieux, and set off bright and early from the relative plains to the mountains. The first property she showed us, whilst having potential was not for us, we then travelled along the D908 heading for Premian. The mountain scenery around every bend was breathtaking, the valley was full of cherry trees in blossom, I was captivated – if we were to buy in Herault then it had to be in the hills. The second house we saw that day was in the village of Premian but was a little large for us, we then walked further along the village to the next property, we both had the same feeling – this was it, our perfect holiday home, and the mountain view I so dearly wanted from my window.

View from window