Sometimes life throws up the most unexpected surprises. On Tuesday a friend asked me if I would like to go with her to look around a house. This wasn’t a house to buy or a house to sell, but a house she was thinking of renting for a week in the summer for 25 friends. I love looking at houses and going somewhere new, so obviously I leapt at the chance. But a house that would sleep 25 people, all under one roof, now that really peaked my interest.
The house is an 18th century French manoir, typical of the Charente Maritime department and it sits in 25 acres of grounds.
The property is reached by a long unassuming drive which ends in a pair of relatively simple solid wooden doors housed in a high wall. There is no clue as to what lay beyond, nothing is visible to the inquisitive stranger and in fact there is nothing that would warrant a second look from the casual passerby. But as we opened the doors and drove through I had an inkling of what was to come; the old stone walls housed yet more stone walls, arches and gateways and they hinted at something special; I knew this was going to be a fun afternoon.
The house stands at the end of a main square of lawn, bordered on two sides by old barns. One used to house the chai, the original wine-making room; inside there are hundreds of ancient oak barrels, all sadly empty, forgotten and looking slightly forlorn. On the other side is another long barn; this houses more traditional workshops and harbours one of the most picturesque wells I have ever seen in a private house.
We could immediately see this would be the most amazing setting for a summer house-party; it was gorgeous even on this chilly February day, so I could only imagine how stunning it would be when the Virginia creeper covering the house was in full leaf, when the flowers were in bloom and when everything had that distinct smell of summer. Eagerly we ran up the steps to the front door.
Once inside we seemed to step back in time. The house is comfortable in a slightly down-at-heel sort of way. It has been gently restored and it is elegant in a style that says ‘I have stood for centuries I don’t need to be perfect’.
I clicked away with my camera quite unashamedly and I completely fell in love with this brass lantern, the likes of which I have never seen before; it was held up simply by the one red hook in the middle.
Nor had I ever imagined cleaning my teeth before I hopped into bed using this fabulous antique French enamel lavabo (water reservoir and basin).
The rooms are well proportioned and generous, the ceilings high. There was a palatable atmosphere of peace and calm.
All in all the whole property is like a grand old dame; it’s a little worn around the edges, and in places its age is definitely showing, but it has an ancient aristocratic quality. This is something that can never be built or bought, it’s a patina that can only come with time – and lots of it. This lovely old house wears its badge of antiquity with sun-dappled charm – it is totally comfortable within its own walls where generations of French folk have no doubt laughed, loved and juggled wine-barrels contentedly within the grounds. It was difficult to leave; simply put, this wonderful house encapsulated so many people’s dream about living in an old French house. I had to share it with you.