Lifelong Francophile Amanda Walsh talks to Sylvia Edwards Davis about her family’s hard-won new life in the southwestern idyll of the Charente-Maritime…
FRENCHENTRÉE MAGAZINE Why France?
AMANDA WALSH I I fell in love with the language through my French teacher at age six, followed by family camping holidays, and at 28 I sold all my possessions and moved to Marseille to study the language. I think France is in my blood somehow. Then I met Tim in 1997, we have two girls Eleanor (11) and Lisbeth (9). We both had our careers in London, but after Lisbeth was born I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a massive reassessment of my life. Tim still works in London and travels weekly between France and the UK.
FM Tell me about the house
AW We came to stay at ‘La Flotte’ on a viewing trip to open a gîte business and every time we drove back there we knew it was the type of house we wanted. It has an amazing location close to a lovely fishing port with restaurants and the Atlantic beaches aren’t too far away. So we asked the owners if they wanted to sell and the rest is history… La Flotte is big! We’ve four gîtes, with eight bedrooms and five bathrooms between them, and each has a private garden – they’re really comfortable for families. Our four-bedroom main house is the equivalent of the Georgian period with beautiful high ceilings and panelled double doors. There are two barns for wood storage and stabling, and 16 acres of fields, woods and formal gardens. We feel very lucky to be here.
FM What was the renovation like?
AW We exchanged contracts on March 24. 2010, and we had our first guests at the end of May. I spent a fortnight unpacking and six weeks-flat out, with two tradesmen, repainting top to bottom – putting in new kitchens and bathrooms, and entirely refurnishing the gîtes. Since then I’ve redone our house, one room at a time. We haven’t knocked down any internal walls downstairs, so it was mostly redecorating. Upstairs was a bit different. One half was a completely untouched space from when it was built 300 years ago. We converted it into two lovely bedrooms for Eleanor and Lisbeth, with their own bathroom and an extra en-suite for guests.
FM What’s your favourite corner?
AW I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and although I never get to sit on it, I have a window seat next to where I prep food. It’s a lovely place for friends to come and sit and chat with me over a glass of wine as I cook supper. Our sitting room is also very beautiful, with an amazing stone fireplace – very baronial!
FM How did you manage with the language?
AW I already spoke decent French, enough to get through the buying process without a translator. I can’t impress enough on people how important it is to be able to communicate with your French neighbours and integrate.
FM With what you know now, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
AW Get a structural survey done if you’re buying an old property so you can see what will need repairing. We took the seller’s word that one of the roofs was okay. The very first rain it leaked in all the bedrooms, which was a nightmare and very embarrassing as we had our first guests staying at the time. We subsequently had to repaint every single room upstairs.
FM What’s your best day in France?
AW There have been so many. For me, horse riding on the Atlantic coastline at a flat out gallop was pretty memorable. Spending the day on île de Re as a family and eating a fantastic lunch. Taking a picnic supper to the beach at Royan and watching the fireworks at 11pm. Floating in the blistering sunshine in our pool, with the only sound from the birds and the rustling trees…
NAME: Amanda Walsh
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? Mortagne-sur- Gironde, Charente-Maritime
WHEN DID YOU MOVE? 2010
WHERE DID YOU MOVE FROM? London
OCCUPATION: Tim provides data and media solutions for the hotel industry, while Amanda runs La Flotte gîtes.
WHY BUY IN THE CHARENTE-MARITIME?
This département on the southwestern coast is renowned for its sandy beaches, scenic coastal landscapes and temperate weather. It’s a paradise for lovers of seafood and Cognac enthusiasts, and a great place for such water sports as surfing and sailing. Hiking and cycling are also popular, especially on the île de Ré and the île d’Oléron, where le vélo is the principal means of transport.
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