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Fate, French houses and finding the one

Pretty stone house with blossom trees in the garden

Lesley Mathieson-Smith left Australia to visit Europe on a home exchange trip in 2013 – with a month each in Spain, France and the UK. Little did they know that their sojourn in France would change their lives…

We had two weeks booked in Mirepoix in the Ariege department, southwest France in June. I swear it was the coldest June in 40 years. How do you kill time when it’s cold and miserable? Well we booked some time with an estate agent to show us around. Even though we weren’t really contemplating buying anything.

At the end of the day, the agent said “I think I know what you are after” – which was amazing because we didn’t.

A fateful meeting in France

Market scene at the little town of Mirepoix

She made a call to a lady whose house had been on the market the year before and voila – we had an appointment to see it the next day. We walked into the hallway of an unprepossessing village house and my reaction was instant. My shoulders dropped, I sighed, I was home. Try keeping a poker face when that happens!

It was the most unique and beautiful house I had ever seen and I knew I was about to do the craziest most impulsive thing of my life. But I also knew if I didn’t, I would always regret it. After a few phone calls home to our bank and accountant to determine the financial viability of this madness, the decision was made. I’m very fortunate to have a partner who tolerates and mostly supports my occasional impulsive behaviour.

The transition from looking at houses for fun to becoming French homeowners was remarkably rapid. We saw the house in late June and by 2nd September the deed was complete.

We look back now and realise that had we known ANYTHING at all about France – we would never have been able to choose a location to buy. There is so much diversity in scenery, history, food and culture. We just happened to discover this lovely village of 1100 inhabitants. It was a very far cry you from my life running a business on an industrial estate in western Sydney.

Since then we’ve dealt with business issues, semi-retirement, more business issues and eventually retirement.

One would think that was enough adventure for two oldies, but no… COVID struck and clipped our travelling wings. It was then we realised we wanted more than village life. We  felt we were heading into our mid-sixties with more years behind us than in front. So we wanted to up the French experience a notch.

We read a lot about the Lot

Stone bridge with tall towers in Cahors

By now we were better educated on France’s huge range of offerings, but we wanted to stay in the south. We had read a lot about the Lot, so we headed to Cahors for a weekend while not in lockdown. We found a property with huge potential in the old town, on the river, and made a ridiculous offer which, to our amazement, was accepted. However it transpired that the most appealing parts of the property, a huge terrace and ancient forge, were subject to a town planning order that would see them demolished once the plan was implemented. Luckily we had engaged a lawyer to oversee the fine print as neither the property agent nor the vendor were aware of the town planning order.

We decided perhaps we were content to stay in the village. After all, we still absolutely loved our house. But we went for one last contemplation, to look at a property listed on Le Bon Coin, a classified ads website, and stay the night in our favourite hotel where we always enjoy a great meal. But fate intervened again. At the end of the lane alongside the hotel, there was a beautiful old mansion with what I thought was an “a vendre” sign. As soon as we parked the car I rushed up the lane, only to find the sign said “vendu” – sold.

But miracle of miracles – right across the road was an equally charming, grand old Quercy style house with a tower (top photo). This one definitely had an “a vendre” sign on the gate. We were able to raise the property agent that evening and arrange a quick visit before we had to head home. We settled on the house a few months later. It was only then that we realised, when the property agent told us it needed “beaucoup  de travail”, a lot of work, he wasn’t exaggerating.

So our new adventure has begun. Divided into three flats and uninhabited for 3 years, this 1790’s house has many challenges. But it also has charm, history and the promise of magnificence.

As Vincent Van Gogh once said “I am not an adventurer by choice, but by fate” – we call it the ‘France effect!’

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