The Sills have had many adventures in the old farmhouse they bought in deepest Charente back in 2000. Their love affair with France is still going strong, they tell Sylvia Edwards Davis
FRENCHENTRÉE MAGAZINE: How did you pick this area?
BRENDA SILLS: John and I originally looked in the south, but it was too crowded and too expensive. We then read an article about the Charente and that it was the second sunniest area in France because of its proximity to the Gulf Stream. Our home is in Lincolnshire and we can fly easily from East Midlands or Stansted airports. Our French pad is within easy reach of four good airports: La Rochelle, Poitiers, Limoges and Bordeaux [voted by Lonely Planet as the best city in the world to visit in 2017]. The area is relatively unknown – especially in England. When I tell people where the house is, they look at me blankly. I have to say, “It’s near Cognac”, because that’s somewhere many people have heard of. Or I just tell them it’s north of Bordeaux.
FE: How did you find the property?
BS: It was quite difficult back then as some French estate agents didn’t produce particulars or put up ‘for sale’ signs. It seemed very different to the buying and selling process in England. I suppose it is easier today with the growth of the internet as buyers can look at listings online.
FE: Did you manage to negotiate the asking price?
BS: Yes, we did! We managed to get a reduction on it. We decided to look at the house in November because we thought if we liked it then, we’d love it in the summer. It just so happened that the owners were using it as a holiday home and didn’t want to keep it through the winter, so we offered them a lower price and they accepted it. I think we got it reduced by 15 per cent.
FE: In hindsight, would you say buying Le Tamaris was a sound decision?
BS: At the time we bought Le Tamaris, property prices were very much lower than they are now – certainly in this part of the country. It’s gone up in value much more than we expected. When we bought the house we didn’t realise that property in France doesn’t normally gain much, or at least it didn’t back then.
Since we’ve owned the house it has at least doubled in value. We are talking about 17 years, of course, but I think access had a lot to do with why it has appreciated faster than properties in other parts of France. When we bought in this area there was just one airport – Bordeaux – the other ones hadn’t been built yet.
In total, we spend around three months a year at Le Tamaris, and we let out the house to holidaymakers when we’re not here. It’s equidistant between Cognac and Angoulême and surrounded by vineyards and fields of sunflowers in the summer. You can rent kayaks in the village and have fun on the river. Both cities host interesting festivals such as the Blues Festival at the beginning of July and the Circuit des Ramparts in September each year. There are plenty of good restaurants and wine tasting in the vineyards; plus you can be in the city of Bordeaux in just over an hour.
FE: Tell us about the property.
BS: Le Tamaris is an old four-bedroom stone farmhouse, set close to the river Charente in the village of Vibrac. We bought the house in 2000 as a family holiday home, which is something we had always wanted to do. Our daughter, who owns DecorativeCountryLiving.com, has helped us with the interior decoration and furnishing. We deliberately looked for a house that didn’t need lots of work as we both had jobs at that time and didn’t want to spend our holidays labouring. We actually drew up a criteria list before we started looking.
FE: What’s your favourite ‘corner’ in the house?
I love the salon. It is the grown-ups’ room: all pale tones and a large open fire, which makes it toasty warm in winter. It also has a very interesting stencilled ceiling that was painted by a previous owner and which we decided to keep.
FE: With what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
BS: Not really, but I would say in general make sure you introduce yourself to the Mayor once you have moved in.
FE: What advice would you give to anyone considering letting out their property in France?
BS: I’d say that if you don’t live there, you do need reliable help to clean and maintain the property. We have been very fortunate with our guests – some have been coming back every year for ten years now.
FE: What has been the biggest challenge?
BS: The move. It was difficult as the lorry bringing the furniture was too big to turn into our courtyard in our narrow street, so everything had to be carried in from the road. Our advice: plan ahead!
FE: Was the language barrier an issue?
BS: Our village really welcomed us and even set up a conversation group for those English who wanted to learn French andvice versa. It still runs today.
FE: Would you consider moving to France permanently?
BS: No, we would miss our family too much. But we have a great circle of friends here and we come back as often as we can.
FE: What has been the highlight so far?
BS: It’s difficult to pick one. We’ve had many happy days in the sun, on the river, with family and friends. We’ve always loved the French way of life: family, food and fun!
A stone’s throw from the Atlantic coast, the climate in the Charente département is mild and temperate, with rolling hills and forests, dramatic gorges, rivers and lakes. There’s great access with four airports, plenty of aff ordable properties and the highest number of days of sunshine per year after the Mediterranean, plus excellent local tipples like Pineau des Charentes and, of course, Cognac.
We Say… “With its picturesque medieval quarter and riverside situation, Cognac and the surrounding area can be as intoxicating as the brandy to which it lends its name.” – Mark Lamb, Property Services Consultant, FrenchEntrée Property Services.
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