Lock Up And Leave In The South Of France
Each summer, I transplant my office and two children to my parents’ house in the Hérault department of the Languedoc in southern France. I rise early to work before the heat of the day demands a swim and a long snooze. This year, I’m also excited about looking for a new home for my parents.
Eight years ago, my extended family thought les parents had lost their collective marbles when, out of the blue, they announced they had bought a big old, five-bedroom vigneron’s house. (A vigneron is a grape grower; the particular style of house is marked by huge, double doors that open into a cool cavern where grapes were temporarily stored.)
It will take all my self-control not to spend my working hours gazing out at their shimmering saltwater pool with swallows skimming over the surface, darting cheekily over the heads of the swimmers who will, for sure, be making enticing come-and-join-us noises. The fragrances from my mother’s Mediterranean garden will waft in with the heat…a delicious mix of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. And then there are the cicadas: love them or hate them, their noise is the sound of summer. Losing track of time is all too easy in the rich surroundings of the Languedoc.
Alas, as my parents head into their 80s, the house that we all love to visit, and its garden, is getting too big to manage. Too many steps for ailing knees, too many nooks and crannies to clean, a massive cellar down a long flight of steps, a path that winds its way up the hillside to a viewing platform…all fabulous for a younger couple or a family but no longer suitable for my folks.
So, this summer, we’re heading out to explore the area within a 15-kilometer radius of their home. I’ve done some pre-visit research and found five properties that I think are suitable for an almost-80-year-old couple not ready to return “home.”
You may not be heading into your 80s, but if you’re thinking of part-time living in the sunny Languedoc, I recommend you take a look at modern, single-story properties (plain-pied in French). This type of property isn’t the romantic French dream… but it is easy to “lock and leave” at a moment’s notice. Ancient stone, rambling properties, though often gorgeous, usually require more maintenance and tender loving care.
So, here are the criteria I’m aiming to fulfill:
- Single story/bungalow-style
- Refurbished or requiring only cosmetic improvements
- Patio and/or simple garden
- Swimming pool
- Good dining/entertaining space outside and in
- Garage or outside storage
- Local shops/market/café in walking distance
- Budget: around 250,000 euro
My parents would like to stay in the same area; they’ve made many friends of all nationalities and taken up hobbies they never thought of doing before. Starting out again is not on the agenda.
- The first is a single-story villa in Cebezan, a small, wine-growing village with a very good bakery but not much else in the way of services. The wine co-operative is excellent, though, selling excellent over-production for 1 euro a bottle. The three-bed villa has a pool and an easy-to-manage garden/patio. There’s a large living room with a wood stove, large dining room with high ceilings, and a kitchen corner with bay windows that open out onto the terrace and pool. It has a utility room for storage but no garage. Price: 220,500 euro. Listed with Philippe Godia at Agence GTI (ref: M 2820).
- The next choice is in the lively market town of Saint Chinian which has all the services required. It’s a recently-built, four-bed, single-story villa with a garden that’s mainly gravel, patio, and a large covered terrace with a built-in BBQ and pool house. Again, no garage. Price: 229,000 euro. Listed with Philippe Godia at Agence GTI (ref: M 2880).
- The third property is also in popular Saint Chinian, but it doesn’t follow the brief: it’s 40,000 euro over budget and part of it’s on two floors. But I think it’s a good option… There are two houses joined together; first, the one that would suit my parents, is single story; the other has two floors and can be closed off (i.e. not heated or cleaned until guests/renters come to stay). The single-story house has a large lounge, a fitted kitchen corner, one bedroom, a bureau/office, a garage, a manageable garden, and an above-ground pool (not ideal as they can be tricky to get in and out off). House two has a living room, a fitted kitchen corner, and a bedroom/bathroom on the ground floor. On the second floor is a large en-suite room with a balcony. Price: 290,000 euro. Listed with Philippe Godia at Agence GTI (ref: M 2978). I think family and maybe friends might “chip in” on this one.
- This next is a very neat and tidy, fully restored, three-bed villa with a lovely pool in the pretty, traditional village of Pierrerue, three kilometers from St Chinian. The village has basic amenities. A light and airy but small kitchen/diner and lounge lead onto a sunny terrace. There are low-maintenance gravel gardens at the back and front. It looks almost perfect but the indoor entertaining/living area may be too small. Price: 274,990 euro. Listed with Leggett (ref: 21364JG34).
- And the last property, in Cessenon-sur-Orb, one of my favorite villages in the Hérault, is a quaint four-bed, renovated bungalow with all the original, very attractive, 19th-century stone tiles. The 600-square-meter garden has too much lawn, but could be simplified, and there’s no pool…but space to build one. However, it has a pretty outside eating area. Price: 250,000 euro. Listed with Caroux Languedoc (ref: 6030).
In my hunt for plain-pied properties, I’ve discovered that this type of property is in short supply and has a higher price-tag than older, bigger properties.
As always when house hunting, it looks as though some compromises might have to be made: more room inside but no garage; within budget but no pool; over budget but ideal for visitors. My folks will have to weigh up the features that are essential for comfortable, happy living and the tolerances that can be borne. Either way, they’ll probably wait until the fall when the flow of tourists has slowed down and owners are more likely to accept an offer.
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