Published July 2002
Our first home in France was a gite I booked through Gite de France. I stipulated that I wanted a house that was big enough for us (2 adults, 3 children), in the general neighbourhood of the house we were purchasing, with a telephone line. Only one property fitted the bill because phones are not regarded as a requirement for summer accommodation it seems. Picture my surprise when I arrived, tired from travelling, at a great big chateau surrounded by massive woodlands and roses. The gite was a converted stables a stones throw from the chateau, bright and airy with a massive open fireplace in the cuisine/sejour (kitchen/living room). The house was a hive of activity when we arrived, and the greeting party included Madame from the chateau who, reassuringly, spoke wonderful English. Also in the welcoming committee was the housekeeper from the chateau and the next door neighbour, Maria. As always, I was struck by the civilisation of the french - all shaking hands and wishing us welcome and showing an interest.
Maria and her husband Jose are a portuguese couple that moved to France about 30 years ago. They work on the grounds of the chateau, Maria tends the flowers, the kitchen garden, and the poultry and hunting dogs, while Jose is forever wandering about with chain saws and strimmers, cutting things down. They were the kindest of neighbours. We were hardly in the door and Maria arrived with a basket of fresh eggs "pour les enfants". Over the months Kevin developed an unusual friendship with Jose in a mixture of pigeon French and Jose's pigeon English. They had common ground in the world cup which was looming on the horizon. It rained a lot for the first 6 weeks (we arrived mid-February) and Kevin was convinced we had traded wet and windy Ireland for the wettest and windiest spot in all of mainland Europe. But the sun shone in April. Even on the most blistering hot day Jose was still to be seen clad in at least 2 jumpers.
Things did not go smoothly with the house purchase (do they ever?). The summer season was coming and the gite was booked up so we had to look for alternative accommodation. Renting in France is done on a 3-year basis which we found a bit weird but, eventually, a week before we were to become homeless, we took the plunge and answered an advert for a house in the same neck of the woods. We went into the agent's office and, after the customary formalities, drove with him to view the house - guess what, in the grounds of another chateau. While he went off to get the keys Kevin said "just tell him we'll take it". So we did - not before we had supplied about 3 thousand items of identification and "justicatifs" and the lord alone knows what. And here we are, in our second French home, surrounded by fine trees and roses, in another huge, rambling barn conversion. C'est la vie. We're on the edge of a small village that has a part-time shop, a bar/restaurant that is very good, the prerequisite communal park and fishing lake, and a mairie of course. The kids are making friends and will start school locally after the summer holidays. Don't know when and how we'll get our own house renovated but I'm in no rush - I could get quite used to the good life chez le chateau.