The Country House
Buying property in France takes ages. First you sign an agreement to buy, which sets the wheels in motion for the bureaucracy machine to regurgitate an avalanche of paperwork. This then takes several months to get in order. It takes time to get things in motion with the bank, meetings and discussions, the legal waiting periods, the required inspections, research by the notaire, and all of the little glitches along the way. When we bought the apartment here in Lyon, we signed the papers with our intention to buy in the month of June, and it wasn't until mid October that we finally had our meeting with the notaire. At this meeting, the entire history of the property is read aloud, everyone is satisfied that things are correct, and we sign the papers. They ceremoniously hand over the keys. It's a great moment! Immediately, you rush to the apartment and pop a bottle of champagne! Walking into our place in Lyon, empty and echoey, sunshine streaming in, was like a dream. It was one of those moments I'll remember forever.
Our visit with Francois and Philippe to their chalet last spring planted a seed that sprouted quickly in my mind. I was developing the idea of a little cottage in the golden hills near Lyon, definitely sticking with the idea of something in the Lyonnais region. Maybe something in the Bugey or among the ponds of the Dombes near Brest. Weekend poule au pot, mud boots, and an herb garden tucked between the grape vines came to mind. We don't really need much. A little square of land to get our hands in the mud, a place to walk and collect leaves in the autumn, a place to get away from the city.
After we had been searching for awhile, Loic was feeling lucky and turned his attention to the Alps. At first, the only places that seemed even close to our budget were either at very high altitudes, with no water or electricity and not accessible in winter (what's the point?), or were actually just ruins that needed complete rebuilds. But he was sure we'd find something. He did a lot of research on the regions. He got serious about one area, and we went there to look at one property that was within our budget. "It's probably got something seriously wrong with it", was how he began, but the more we looked, and the more we saw, the more we realized that this one particular place was exactly what we had been looking for.
This one little converted stable, the first place we'd seen, kept calling our name, in its little hamlet tucked away in the Savoie, just north of the mountain range called the Belledonne. Before we even realized how perfect this little house was, we found ourselves tromping around the area every weekend. It is a part of the Alps that is close enough to Lyon for spontaneous trips, but in keeping with the quiet ways of the country. Hiking, taking picnics, checking out the commerce, trying out the cafes in the little towns, inspecting the the ski stations, considering the historic Roman baths of the area, looking at one house and then the next, even considering apartments, we just kept going back. We fell in love with the area's humble beauty and variety.
The area around one cute Alpine town with its butcher, baker, cobblestone, clock and church is central to a cluster of small neighboring hamlets. Fifteen minutes by car into the hills and it is as if you are stepping back in time. They still have their lavoirs (a place like a central running fountain where people wash their clothes) and spring fed water supply. The little hamlet where this house is located features lots of hobby gardeners, honey bee keepers, a cow, sheep and horse farm, and is a mix of year round and seasonal residents. There is a friendly sense of community. Best of all this little hamlet is not on the winding thoroughfare that connects the ski stations. Very little traffic aside from residents, but close to everything.
The house is old and stone, originally a stable, stacked up on three levels, and each floor is a room. The top two floors have the alpine ski lodge type wood work, installed at the original conversion in the 1980s. There's a big old wood stove in the kitchen, and this is the room where I am going to have the most fun, I think. The best thing is that the kitchen door opens up to big open pasture land. When I open the door and look outside, the expanse of nature, mountains and rolling grass covered hills - it's just breathtaking.
I am going to have a lot of fun with this room.
The realization that this is actually happening was like getting hit on the head with a huge happiness mallet. Things move so slowly and carefully that you can't really say from one moment to the next that you are really becoming the owners.
My search for decor inspiration for this little Alpine getaway took me in a few different directions, but one theme stood out very clearly in my mind, and I was always drawn back to it. I'm not the kind of person to do this kind of thing all at once. Collecting tidbits and undertaking projects always has to be done carefully and with restraint. So over time you'll be able to see the details as they unfold.
We'll be closing on the house in a week or two, and I am very excited to roll up my sleeves and get started! People in France often give a name to their secondary residence, but we don't have one. We're just calling it "the country house" for now.