Pays-de-la-Loire: Falling in love with France


Mick tells his story of buying a property in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France. We follow his trials and tribulations as he starts renovating a house that's almost a ruin.

getting readyMy love affair with France started nearly 40yrs ago with a visit to the Monaco grand prix, then in the early 70's I built 2 swimming pools for English client's one near St Tropez and one near Menton (and that's a story in itself) but it was not until the late 80's that a friend and I decided to buy several property's in the Mayenne department to renovate and then run a small holiday business.

Then there was a recession in England and we were not in the position to undertake the work, when things recovered our lives had gone in different directions, but now I have bitten the bullet and decided to get on and renovate them.

As you can imagine having been left for 18yrs they are nearer ruins than houses as you will see from the photos. The main property is a watermill which I believe to be at least 300yrs old, this is next years project which I intend to get back into a working mill and open it to the public, it is on the river Erve in an area that has just been designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty by the French government. I am investigating if there any grants available for this.

the old roofFirst thing was to open a bank account off to Credit Mutuel the girl was surprised when the only bill I had was from 1996 I think she must have felt sorry for me and opened my account and they have turned out to be very helpful so I have ended up insuring my car's and house's with them.

I started one property in the middle of Sept last year. I rented a gite for 6 months for myself and 3 of my workmen, we were to undertake the clearing, stonework, carpentry, roofing, finishes and landscaping, the electrics and plumbing I subcontracted to a local French company. The only way to get to the front door was with a chainsaw and then the fun began.

Once in I stood in the room that was to become the kitchen with a bedroom above and could see the sky also two section's of wall had fallen down, there where tree's growing out of the gutter's and brambles to the top of the tree's. My men could not believe that I intended to turn this ruin into a home and we moved in in Feb. 2007. Day two and the mayor turned up telling me he was in the process of getting a government order to demolish the place because it had become unsafe, once I explained we were here to undertake a complete renovation of the property he was very happy.

the snowThe water and electric had been cut off I asked the mayor about this and he arranged to have the water put back on within the hour, the electrics had to what until we had a roof, lucky we had brought a generator with us. So it was off with the roof out with all the rotten timbers and remove all the unsafe stonework. Down to Point P for new roof timbers forgetting they closed for 2 hours for lunch, so a chance to have a look around Laval.

As the new roof started to go on we had attracted a lot of attention from the locals, many saying they knew someone who had lived here, one lady who must have been at least 80 years old told us she thought the house was haunted by one of her relations. By now the weather had got rather cold so it was time to try out the fireplace and all the old timbers came in very useful in keeping us warm it work so well we had to open the windows to let some of the heat out.

SunsetThe work carried on at a good steady pace but we had ended up with a very large pile of rubbish, so I thought time for a couple of skips, no such thing in this area, a lorry to take it to a rubbish tip, no public tip for the type of rubbish we had, so I designed the garden around the rubbish and it has turned into a raised patio area where you can sit with a glass of wine and look out across a valley and see for about 30 miles and watch the most amazing sunsets.

Getting back to the work ,the floors went in, the studwork went up to form the bedrooms. It was time to go and see the mayor about a few minor changes I wanted to make adding a door and window, he was so pleased to see the house being restored that he said yes without wanting any drawing's. Then it was time for the plumbing and electrics I found local company that could do both they turned out to be very reliable and very reasonable price wise.

They were surprised that I did not have any layout drawings and that the design was all in my head so we went round with a piece of chalk and marked it all out on the walls. French electrics are different than in the UK and we ended up with a lot more cables than I expected including telephone and TV the electrician had not labelled any of them and I had my doubts if it was all going to work but it did.

fully restoredThe plumbing was straight forward we had already supplied and fitted the kitchen and sanitary ware so all the plumber had to do was run the pipes and make the connections. AT last it was starting to look like a house and not a ruin. It was time to start on the outside I decided to chip out and re-point the front elevation and rough render the others and am very pleased with the overall effect and more important the mayor thought it looked really good. As we had started the outside it was time to tackle the garden. To be continued...

© Mick Watson

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Pays-de-la-Loire: Falling in love with France
Mick tells his story of buying a property in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France. We follow his trials and tribulations as he starts renovating a house that's almost a ruin. ...

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