Author Archives: kevinjstark

Day Six

K – I just want to reiterate how amazing last night’s guest house was. The village it sits in is the type of place we would love to end up. We had the choice of driving into Moissac for a meal (where we’ve eaten before) or to go to the “rustic” restaurant opposite, called “Le Cadillac”! We opted not to drive, and ended up meeting some super-friendly people and eating some stunning food. I felt slightly humble about criticising the name – it turns out that a guy from the village travelled in the 18th Century to the US as one of the initial immigrants and founded the town which was later to become Detroit!

So, after a very delightful breakfast (we’d paid less than the night before in a vile Ibis in Carcassonne, by the way) we went off to meet our lovely Jenny, the host for 3 of the day’s second-viewing properties.

For those of you who have had to suffer the interminable “Gayraud” fascination since January, this was the first time we’d been back. This is reference 12 on our map. And it didn’t disappoint. Mum, who had been slightly sceptical when she saw the website, was bowled over, and even more so when she fell in love with the adjoining property, also for sale. If only we had another 50% in our slush fund.

We visited the next two on our short list, neither of which were contenders, then had a lovely lunch in Roquecor. The chef used to work in Quaglino’s in London and the place is owned by a French/Australian couple who were very welcoming. On our way up to the next appointment, mum, clearly unaware of the global outreach of our Swedish candle supplier, suggested it might be an idea to hire a van to be able to transport any Ikea furniture we might want to buy from London.

We then visited a contender followed by a non-contender and finished finally at 4pm (I had to have a snooze in the car at 3.15 – it is unbelievable how tiring this has all been).

We got to Toulouse at about 5.30. I dropped the team off at the hotel in the Toulouse equivalent of Oxford Street, taxis beeping me as the luggage was unloaded, then sought out the world’s worst car park. Please, at all costs, avoid the Parking Victor Hugo. It was so bad, I paid my €1.20 to leave and find somewhere else.

The Novotel in Toulouse is very special – new, inexpensive and reallllllly nice. And, for those BA people reading, we get a discount – ask me (thanks, Bertrand).

After an hour’s nap for me, and an hour’s underwear shopping for Phill, we cracked open a pink Cremant (inexpensive sparkling wine from areas other than Champagne, but made in a similar way, and usually just as good. The Cremant de Bourgogne is made just down the road, and is usually a really safe bet for about €5-€8) and started an elimination process. We all independently agreed on the same top 3 (refs 12, 23, 32) and same bottom 3. It didn’t take very long till we actually all agreed on the chosen one.

I have to say, it was definitely a momentous and exciting occasion. A bit emotional too, because I did get my way. We’ve opted for ref 32 in Fayssac, just north of Gaillac. It is really difficult at the moment to show you all in either photos or words what made us decide this. But, physically being there has made 4 of us come to the same final decision. Please, all have faith. The link to the agent’s site is here.

Categories: House hunting | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Day Five

K – Today was ok. We saw a massive house in a horrible village then a horrible house in a nice village then a great house in a great village that we’re going to buy. Now we’re in a great B&B which has inspired us. Ask me later about mum’s new invention – a fabric wrap for the roof of a house to protect it from the wind. Night night.

P – OK, so that was Kev’s version of the day, he is very tired because he has driven all day. He has already decided which house we are going to try to buy – I say try because having bought and sold houses there is no definite guarantee you can get what you want, but he seems very determined.

Our day started with a 40 minute drive to Belveze du Razes, a nice–ish village in the Aude, then an interesting double property in another, much nicer village, Pech-Luna, again in the Aude – it’s a perfect location as it’s only an hour’s drive to the Mediterranean and to the Pyrenees and all the ski resorts, plus they will tell you that the weather is that much better. BUT as much as I would like to have liked the villages and the houses (we will be back, however, to explore Mirepoix – a medieval stunner), neither felt right nor ticked the boxes, and our thoughts keep gravitating back up to the Tarn or Tarn et Garonne. Both departments are lovely and quite similar, I could list a load of things we love about these departments; the undulating hills, the vineyards, the style of houses etc, but it’s not a singular thing – it’s a gut thing. In hindsight, they are the only departments where the agents haven’t actually tried to sell us the virtues of the area – they’ve sold themselves. We just love both departments and that has answered a big question which all the agents have asked us: where do you want to live? And now we know.

We have a short long list or a long short list which ever you think sounds better, and we started looking at the houses on that list today and will finish by 4pm tomorrow, then in good old X factor style we will sit with big glasses of wine in a smart Toulouse restaurant and go through the pros and cons of all of them and whittle them down until hopefully one rises to the surface. Kev’s has already risen, as you may have gathered.

So keep an eye on the blog on Sunday for news of which if any we have chosen as our front runner. And to see if Kev gets his way.

K – I’m on a weird sleeping pattern, but it’s fun, because I’m waking early. And this is giving me a little chance to edit all the blogs before Phill posts them! Mum’s classic line yesterday was a comment about all the little houses which had their own wind turbans. I’ve got the patent application in already, so all you entrepreneurs out there can just sit back down.

We started our re-visits this afternoon. Six in total. One is my favourite, another is Phill’s, and one’s a dud (just to keep mum and Ian on their toes). The one we saw today is my favourite, and here’s why. You look at the agent photos and it’s nothing special. But this place is going to keep us busy for 10 years – a magnificent garden to landscape, a 4 bedroom house to renovate, and 3 attached barns and stables to convert. It’s got a great view, on the edge of a little village on top of a hill, surrounded by vines (though, unfortunately, not in the direction this house looks), with a VERY trendy little cafe, and summer events, and smack bang in the middle of what is known as the Golden Triangle – the tourist destinations of Albi, Galliac, and Cordes sur Ciel, and 40 minutes away from another of our favourites, St Antonin Noble Val. And, a 55-minute drive for me from Toulouse airport. The price needs to be worked out, as it’s too expensive at the moment. But we have a persuasive agent on our side. We’ll fill you in tomorrow!

Categories: House hunting | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Our little gang of translation buddies

Part of our business plan for our guest cottages (in my head, anyway) is to appeal to as large a market as possible. One way of achieving this is to make as many nationalities as we can feel comfortable when they visit. So, I have begun to compile my little gang of translation buddies. The idea is to offer a holiday to a non-English speaking friend, in return for a little translation work – maybe the basic website, and some of the guest literature in the cottages. I’m going to be quite fussy, however, with my invitations.

I’d like to welcome the inaugral member: Bjorn, from Sweden, currently living in Barcelona. We recently worked together on a trip to Shanghai, and I thought – here’s definitely someone I would like to have visit! There might also be a BOGOF offer to be had here – his new husband is Brazilian (yes… I’m sure their children would be beautiful!)

Categories: The business | Leave a comment

Our Aims for our French Business

Because I spend my entire working life in hotels around the world (some nice, some not), I tend to prefer renting apartments or villas when I go on holiday. Recently, I’ve been traumatised by the lack of thought and sense of style which have gone into a number of holiday lets (don’t talk to me about Spain!) When I go to live abroad in a house, I want a little bit of luxurious living that I don’t normally get at home. That’s part of the essence of my holiday – wanting to live in a nicer environment for a week or two.

We applied that theory with some success to our apartment in Nice, and got some fabulous feedback – we were convinced we’d managed to get our little space right. And now we want to do it again, on a larger scale. We want to take whichever property we fall in love with (with any luck, in April) and transform it into a must-go-to holiday destination in its own right. I know, it’s a VERY ambitious plan, but I want something to strive for over the next 10 years. I don’t want to be done with the property after 4 years, as we have with every other one we’ve lived in.

We’ve looked at the holiday properties we’ve visited over the last 15 years, in the UK, France, Spain & South Africa (we like to keep a narrow time zone!), and I think, for me, the most outstanding in terms of quality of accommodation, and service, is The Watermill in Suffolk (http://www.thewatermillsuffolk.co.uk/). This will definitely be a continual driving inspiration for us as we set up our new guest cottages.

As for further inspiration, this website (http://www.sawdays.co.uk/) was recently featured in The Times top 50 travel websites, and I would love to be able to create a property worthy of being featured on here. And, if we decide to sell some time down the line, I hope to be able to place it among this list: http://www.lafitescholfield.com/find-country-homes-for-sale-in-south-west-france.html. How many bright sparks have noticed that each photo on that site is taken in sunshine, and most can be seen with blue skies? Compare that to the majority of properties on the standard French agents’ websites. At the France Show recently, I heard an agent joking to someone else that all you need to sell a house is blue skies and blue shutters! I felt he was being flippant – that the buyer is too shallow to be interested in anything else. Fool!! I tell you – I’m definitely going to wait for blue skies before taking marketing photos!

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Kev’s first post!

Ok…. I have no idea where this will end up. Phill is out visualising and making some shop-keeper’s dream come true, so I thought I’d have a crack at it.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plotting our little journey in the Spring – working out the best route to take and order to visit our shortlist. I just heard some sad news though – one of the ones I was most interested in has been sold. In fact – it was the very first one we were going to visit! That and a couple of other adjustments have freed up some space, so  we’re back to looking at property sites to fill in the holes. Look out for property numbers 38 and up over the next few days.

One worrying note, though, is all the press coverage about the weakness of the pound. It just means we’re facing a much smaller budget in France. For example, if someone had £300,000 to spend in France, in the middle of January they’d have had €30,000 more to spend than in the middle of February! That’s quite a chunk of money.

So, now we have to make the difficult decision about whether to go ahead an put our London home on the sales market soon, with the prospect of staying in smaller, rented accommodation for longer than we had intended, waiting for an improvement in the £.

Categories: Houses we are looking at | 1 Comment

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