Passionate American chocolatiers, husband and wife Shannon Grochowski and Jean-Pierre Wladyslaw, tell Sylvia Edwards Davis about their transatlantic love affair with a dreamy riverside cottage in Yonne, Burgundy…
What brought you to France?
Shannon Grochowski: Although I have a degree in education and English literature, I became intrigued with chocolate after visiting France for the first time. And then the film Chocolat came out, and chocolate became an obsession. After marrying a Frenchman with the same passion, we decided to open a chocolate shop, leaving both of our careers behind (Jean-Pierre had been a network manager, and I wrote for an investment relations company). We opened La Châtelaine Chocolat Co in Montana, where we raised four sons and a daughter. I enjoy cooking, hosting culinary retreats, gardening, walking in the countryside and reading. We decided to raise our children bi-culturally, so every year we stayed with grande-mère, grand-père and the rest of Jean-Pierre’s family.
When did you buy the property?
Shannon: We bought our little cottage on the river in Mailly-le-Château in June 2017. The first year we stayed for one month in October, but we had to return to the chocolaterie for the busy holiday season. I now spend summer there working on a book. My husband stays several times during that period when we’re hosting cooking retreats. We still divide our time between Montana and France, but I would love nothing more than to be here full time, now that our children are grown.
How did you decide where to look for your home in France?
Shannon: We narrowed it down to Burgundy because we like to visit my husband’s family in Paris. It’s so easy to hop on the train and be there in a couple of hours. Burgundy is very natural and unspoiled, like Montana. We had looked for a year online, and nothing grabbed us. This was the first house we saw that we immediately wanted to see in person. We made an offer right away.
How did you know this was the one?
Shannon: The moment we walked onto the terrace with steps leading into the river and the canal beyond, we knew. It feels like Venice! We’ve been told how difficult it is to find a house along the river since then, so we’re pleased.
Tell me about the property…
Shannon: It was built in 1774 – so that makes it 247 years old – in a quaint village in Burgundy. It has three bedrooms upstairs with a balcony overlooking the Yonne river. There is one small bathroom with an enormous clawfoot tub, a living/dining room and a bright kitchen. There are a lot of windows. The kitchen and dining area both have doors to the terrace along the river.
Did you have to compromise at all, or did it tick all the boxes?
Shannon: It ticked all of the boxes. We had a few requirements. It needed to be in decent shape so we wouldn’t have to spend too much time remodelling and repairing. Living part of the time in America, we didn’t want to have to worry about land to maintain. Jean-Pierre’s parents had a large property in the southwest of France. They would spend the entire summer there, but the vegetation grows well in France, and it was always a lot of work to maintain the grounds around the house.
Did you stick to your original budget or did you stretch it?
Shannon: It came in quite a bit under budget. We were able to buy it outright without having to deal with a loan, which was good – not being French residents at the time.
How did you manage the renovation process?
Shannon: Jean-Pierre said “let’s return her to her former glory”. He’s a DIYer, having learned a lot helping at his parent’s country house, so we made some improvements the following year. We removed the modern tiles and he installed antique tomettes. We also repaired the terrace, renovated the kitchen, returned some interior walls to pierre apparente [exposed stone]. We plan to possibly do the same for the outside in the future.
How did you achieve the amazing kitchen design?
Shannon: We wanted it to reflect the soul of Burgundy houses. An Instagram friend, Heather Bender, kindly offered advice. In the kitchen, we knew we wanted reclaimed shelves and because the house came in under budget, we could afford a Lacanche oven, a real work of art made in Burgundy.
What’s your favourite corner of the property?
Shannon: The terrace, where I watch swans float by, herons swoop and listen to the constant birdsong.
What is there to do in the area?
Shannon: We canoe, take long walks, visit surrounding beautiful villages, such as Vézelay and others just as charming but lesser-known. There’s so much to do if you enjoy the country: riding horses, rockclimbing, cycling along the canal, foraging for mushrooms, birdwatching. There are brocantes and farmers’ markets close by, too.
What would you say to someone who is considering searching for a property in France?
Shannon: Be realistic about why you want to live in the area. The countryside isn’t for everyone. Know ahead if you are prepared and have the budget for remodelling. Laws and building codes are different here – most of the time you will need a professional for larger work. An already renovated home might be a better option.
What was your experience with the buying process and the paperwork?
Shannon: Jean-Pierre handled that, being French he was prepared for it. It’s mainly a matter of patience, things take longer in France. Communication was key: the notaire was straightforward and the realtor [estate agent] was very helpful. Actually it was all fairly easy, the main difference was the time it takes to buy a house. In America, if you buy without a loan, you can be in your new home in less than a month. In France, there are lots of rules that make the process quite a bit longer – nearly three months in our case.
How did you manage with the language?
Shannon: I’ve been learning French for many years after marrying my husband. I make an effort and reach out to the villagers who don’t speak English. Honestly, it could be challenging without my husband. I try not to rely entirely on him, though.
Tell me about your business…
Shannon: I run old-world, romantic, countryside cooking retreats in Burgundy and Provence several times a year along with my husband. It’s a quaint, six-people experience for those who want to slow down and immerse themselves in the French countryside. We cook, take walks, visit nearby villages and winemakers, go antiquing, have picnics. One of my missions is to help these tiny villages in any way I can through my business. For instance, I hire the local sewing club to make aprons for our guests to keep. I invite my friend, a brocanteur, to set up a pop-up brocante at our workshops. We introduce our guests to locals, which has resulted in international friendships. If you want to know more, you can find us at www.frenchcountrysidecompanion.com and www.chatelainechocolate.com also on Instagram @french_countryside_companion and @chatelainechocolat.
What are your and Jean-Pierre’s plans for the future?
Shannon: Someday, we hope to find a place to restore and host our cooking retreats there. I’d also like to open it to art, writing and photography retreats. I’d like to grow a variety of roses like the Empress Joséphine did at Malmaison, too.
What has been your best day during this whole experience in France so far?
Shannon: Every single day, I pinch myself. Whether it’s seeing a swan float by or picking blackberries along the trail, I have never felt more content in my whole life. This village we live in – the people, the animals, the simplicity – has made me feel like the wealthiest person on Earth.
Ready to Find Your Dream Home in France?
From planning your property-hunting trip to collecting the keys—FrenchEntrée is here to guide you, advise you, and hold your hand through the entire process. Ready to get started on your property search? Browse our property for sale in locations all over France, then read our step by step articles covering every aspect of the purchase process.
Leave a reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *