I've spent the last few days in southern France, about two hours directly north of Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrenees region. I went there to view an old barn that's for sale together with five acres of land, with a view to renovating it into a home. I flew into Rodez and hired a car to drive west to a friends house in Villefranche de Rouergue, a fabulous medieval town set on the river Aveyron. My friend William kindly put me up during my fact finding visit.
On the first full day there I visited the old barn and was quite impressed with the building. It was structurally sound and stereo-typical French barn-style roof. It sits on a triangle piece of land around five acres of land. The current plan would be to plant around one hundred orchard trees on half of the land, with the other half divided between vines and a terrace garden leading down to a vegetable field. The barn itself has a lean-to, corrugated iron roofed structure, which would be changed to a contemporary square glass building with a timber decking roof accessed from the first floor of the converted barn via glass doors.
The nearest town is a good twenty miles from the nearest large town and about two miles from the nearest village shop, so it is very much in a rural setting where a car would be essential.
Further away the nearest alpine ski area is Le Lioran, roughly ninety miles north east. By my calculation it would take the same amount of time to get there from the barn as it does to get from my current home to Glenshee in Scotland. Difficult to get there without a car as it would be a strangled and long route by train.
On one of the days there I took a two hour drive east to a small town called Millau.
The reason for the visit was actually to see a special bridge, designed by british architect Norman Foster and built by French structural engineers. On the way I stopped off at a fantastic ridge-top medieval town of Najac, and like the majority of small towns in France quite beautiful and partly run down.
Onto the bridge. An amazing piece of engineering standing at slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower and thus being the tallest road bridge in the world.
On edge it looks wafer thin and viewed from the town it bypasses the main supports look like angels spreading out their wings. It forms part of the direct motorway than links Paris with Montpelier on the coast, roughly another two hours away.
The barn isn't in quite the ideal location for me for outdoor sports such as mountain biking, trekking and alpine skiing, but then any closer to those areas and this property would easily be ten times as expensive. A typical renovated house near to the main town for example is well into the hundreds of thousands of Euros. So a compromise has to be made somewhere.
There is more information to gather and sometime in February I will return and see how easy it is to get to skiing either in the Central Massif or in the Pyrenees, south of the barn. One of my friends who has a property very close by is going to gather some more information for me in January as he speaks fluent French and has many contacts.
It's exciting, and now is the time to buy, but careful thought needs to be given once the romantic idea of it has passed.