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The good life in Gascony Sue Aran tells how her heart was won by a house in Gascony despite trials and tribulations… My husband and I first travelled from Seattle, Washington to Gascony in May 2006 with a couple of friends, looking for a house to purchase together. All of us loved rural France. Our criteria included proximity to airport, train services, village life, doctors and a hospital. We rented a two-bedroom stone cottage in a small hameau (hamlet) in the Gers, (department 32). It’s often called the Tuscany of southwest France thanks to the great weather and bucolic landscapes. For five weeks we spent mornings sight seeing and visiting local farmers’ markets. In the afternoons we enjoyed alfresco meals and long twilight evenings strolling country roads under a panoply of stars. We put 3,500 kilometers on our rental car looking at 25 houses in various stages of disrepair. A week before the trip ended we saw the last house – a 300-year-old ruin built of stone and colombage (halftimbering) sitting on a knoll in the middle of a 500-hectare farm. The front door faced east, the rising sun cresting the village of Campagne d’Armagnac. To the south we could glimpse the peaks of the Pyrénées mountains. Just across the road to the west were vineyards and to the north, through the branches of an old oak tree, the 11th century Basque church, Cutxan, rose majestically into the azure blue sky. The ruin had no electricity, no water, and no plumbing. The attic was full of old bottles and rusted tools and the barn was stuffed with ancient farm equipment. An overgrown pond was a watering hole for deer, wild boar, crayfish and herons. For some inexplicable reason my husband and I were smitten. Our friends were not interested at all.
Left: typically Gascony above: the house that Sue Aran fell head over heels for... We returned to our respective lives, unable to stop daydreaming about the ruin. Often, we reminded each other of meeting the elderly couple, Jeanette and Roger, who owned the ruin, as welcoming to foreigners as any two people could be. They spoke a Gascon patois almost indecipherable, especially Roger, but each possessed a joie de vivre that was clearly communicable. In October we decided to go back to the Gers to see if the magic was still there. We stepped off the plane in Bordeaux, picked up a rental car and drove south. Once actually at the ruin, we felt like we had come home. We hadn’t the faintest idea that 8 years after purchasing the property we would be mired in the French court system, tied up in legal bureaucratic knots and intrigues and separated by more than an ocean. We purchased our half hectare (1 acre) property for 70,000 euros, approximately 100,000 dollars. The whole process took 6 months. The following year we returned and interviewed local builders and chose one highly recommended by the only other American couple we knew there. As a former architectural designer, I drew up a set of plans and researched local building codes. I submitted six different sets of plans, each summarily rejected by the head of the local building department, Monsieur Lafitte. However, after visiting him in person, the plans were approved.
Bonjour! Welcome to the winter issu
contents Features 8 A tale of two c
P 88 88 give aways Win a row of gor
The Medieval City of Carcassonne Th
The inside track The Medieval city
Left: Le Parc Franck Putelat restau
astide saint-louis Back in the midd
The weekly market (Tuesday, Thursda
information Getting to Carcassone:
When Louis XIV visited Orange, he s
The theatre at Orange continues to
The inside track The centre of Oran
Stay at: Au Vin Chambré is a lovel
There’s a little on-site shop whe
But the famous golf courses of the
If you arrive in Nimes via train as
More Roman stuff Two thousand years
The Inside Track Late night dinners