March 6th 2002
If you feel tempted to buy a ruin you may find
that it is several years before you can actually occupy it
Region: Dordogne : City - Sarlat
Image: Sarlat Film Festival 2001
It must be everyones
romantic ideal fly to France, buy a summer home for around £12
- 20,000 and dream of long French summers to come. The crazy thing is
that in the villages outside Sarlat a pretty medieval town in
the Perigord Noir there are many properties with a starting price as
low as £20,000 for a simple pied a terre. But caveat empor if
you have romantic ideas about renovation; if it is cheap and it looks
like a ruin it is a ruin! The walls might be thick as a castle but you
will need a new roof, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, plumbing, electricity
- which is why the French like new homes. Something else to beware of,
For instance, in Salignac, the village of a hundred ruins, the local
mayor has decreed that all the concrete scree that covers most dwellings
have to come off. Now I am all sympathetic to a Mayor who must hate
pebbledash as much as myself, but getting this stuff off is tough and
requires many weeks and hours of chipping and cursing to remove it.
Its one thing to insist upon the aesthetic for your village, but
it may be the one thing holding your new home up. Why is it there in
the first place? to stop the damp getting in. So not only do you have
to renew the doors and ceilings and roof, scrape off the concrete covering
the stones, but then you have to seal it and point it and who knows
what horror story you might find once you remove this seal .
For one thing you will find that most of your house is made of rubble.
The more you chip off, the more nervous you will become. Something that
might set you back £30-40,000 for a three-bed 800-year-old town
house may end up costing £100,000 (if you are lucky!).
now in Salignac (a fifteen-minute drive from Sarlat) there is a huge
town centre ex-convent for sale. OK there is a crack half a mile wide
in the back and the ground floor looks pretty ropey, but I am assured
that it is amazing inside with the largest fireplace outside of Hampton
Court. It comes with furniture that would make Antiques Roadshow pop
their corks and the locals just think its ugly and
old. What they would really like is some early Eisenhower period furniture
with a dash of Formica
How much for this? It has so many bedrooms I lost count. It is a mere
snip at £100,000 plus around 6.5 -10 percent tax and Notaire
costs. Then you begin the renovations
.at the barest minimum you
can double it. Why would you buy it? Well it would make a great hotel
and it is dab smack in the centre by the old market. Parking might be
a sod but you could get a few cars at the back. It could be divided
into apartments or you could just be rich and lonely and like being
isolated for seven months of the year.
Of course, as everything is made of of a tough, golden stone (some locally
mined near Soulliac) these houses are very, very cold and damp when
the wind blows and it blows a lot in winter.
One Scotsman who came to live in Salignac two years ago has experienced
many of these problems. Barry Paton and his partner Fiona Alderman have
settled there. They bought a 800 year old townhouse and set up a little
company that offers video and dance training, location scouting and
more sensibly servicing ex-pats who have bought homes out here. His
company will take over the running of lettings, repairs, finding plumbers
and the like and the changeovers when tenants leave. It is pretty essential
to have someone there to do all this. Something always goes wrong.
Barry bought his Salignac hobbitt house on the hill two years ago and
seen it rise in value since then. It is nicely situated by the ruined
Chateau that gives the village its name an imposing place
that stands like a fortress in 'Lord of the Rings' at one end of a valley.
A tiny hamlet of houses are stashed below it and one can see something
like a Gormenghast existence for those who once inhabited
this vast pile of stone and those who serviced it.
Finding the right property Barry says is not easy. He viewed over forty
before he bought his place (three floors with a curious cave
at the back he hopes to turn into a dance studio for his partner Fiona
who teaches the Merce Cunningham method of dance there). Both of them
stressed that whatever you buy make sure it is immediately habitable.
If you feel tempted to buy a ruin you may find that it is several years
before you can actually occupy it and finding artisans who will do the
work that is needed is hard and they can be temperamental. There are
horrors stories of roofers who hold Brits to ransom on wet days.
Elsewhere in Salignac you can see many abandoned homes. Some houses
are of a very pleasing design and well situated. It is a puzzle as to
why they are empty and rotting until you discover that under French
inheritance law virtually any relative can contest a will and the disputes
can continue for generations. Also this region suffered
from years of neglect, high unemployment and the decline of agriculture,
as well as a continual drift to the urban centres. The empty Chateau
must have also contributed to the loss of pride in Salignac, only now
returning with the dynamic and ambitious Mayor. So yes, there are bargains
to be had right now, but these will disappear, as the region is about
to become very accessible.
By train from London it takes about eight hours via Paris and Austerlitz
station. The train is excellent from Paris going via Limoges. But Buzz
(the airline that knows how to charge you twice) is flying into Bergerac
from April 2002 and this is just forty minutes away from Sarlat. It
makes Salignac a weekend possibility.
The English are coming, but so are the Dutch and the Belgians, snapping
up the ruins for their summer sojourns. In summer, I am assured the
countryside comes alive (May to September) but rest assured it is deceased
out of those periods. You will be able to watch the walnut trees grow
in perfect solitude. If you are the kind of person who hankers after
retiring to such quiet places, then be aware that it will be very quiet
in the winter. Luckily Salignac boasts a brilliant patisserie so there
is at least one place to go to while away the long hours
be better off buying in a city like Sarlat. It might only be a city
of 10,000 souls in winter but in the summer it receives a million visitors
to its quaint streets and quirky markets. Make no mistake Sarlat is
gorgeous. It has around 60 restaurants and er.. at least sixty hairdressers,
and every shop sells just one thing Foie Gras.
You probably think I am kidding. But no, thats it. Postcards,
bread, chocolate and foie gras. You can go on school trips to watch
the poor geese and ducks being force-fed. The corn growing in the fields
is only for the geese and ducks. This is what they do in the Perigord
Noir, stuff geese and make foie gras. Of course the food in the restuarants
is excellent. We had a meal in Café De Paris on the market square
and for around £9 quid you get the set menu, foie gras, duck casserole
and crème caramel. Of course you will need a long walk to burn
it off, but fortunately theres plenty to see as you inch your
way through the narrow packed streets. Make sure you go to see the biggest
doors in the world. Youll know it when you see it. Of course a
little embellishment might have gone a long way or some graffiti but
then again, the French are not quite as reverential about their history
as the Brits and get careless from time to time with restorations. They
aren't too picky about sympathetic modern designs either and the effect
can be rather jarring. Witness the Tax office in Sarlat like looks like
a giant Macdonalds.
For film buffs, there is a four screen cinema tin the city (The Rex)
and they have the Sarlat Film Festival here every year around November.
In 2001 Sylvester Stallone turned up and Eddie Murphy. Quite why is
a puzzle, but there you go. They tend not to show version originale
so will need to know your French.
So if you really want to buy in this region and you have found a ruin
youll need a lawyer. Luckily the UK lawyers Siddals will
make it easy for you. They will help you buy, sort out the inheritance
problems, help you get a Carte de Sejour (your residence card) and social
security numbers and suchlike.
You can email SIDDALS.BORDEAUX@WANADOO.FR
Or phone them in the UK at (0044) (0)1329 288 641 and they will send
you a pack on how to buy in France.
Having bought your ruin, fixed the roof, installed some beds and want
to let it out when you arent there well then you will need Barry
to look after it. His Gites to the gentry comes highly recommended.
email him at Salignac
So is it worth buying a ruin? Right now buying the right place in the
right location that is close to trains or at least on a bus route is
going to be very lettable. If you want liveable, then stick close to
the cities so there will be hospitals and services for emergencies.
Find a place like Salignac that still has upward potential and watch
the prices rise. Certainly you will need French, the locals are very
friendly but just dont mention the 100 years war!
My tip? Buy in winter when prices are cheap repent in summer
*I might add that beware
of EVER changing your flight plans with Buzz; they charged me a whole
new fare to return early despite the plane being half empty. Personally
I would suggest that Buzz can be a very bad deal if you have problems
or miss a flight check-in by even a minute. If you can book ahead, use
the train. It goes from Waterloo-Paris (change stations) and
Soulliac (where you can get a fast bus to Sarlat). Either that or fly
to Bordeaux and catch the train direct to Sarlat. It costs 5.30 Euro
from the airport to the train and 18 Euro for a one way to Sarlat.
Local Places of interest:
Castelnaud and Les Milandes (Josephine Bakers orphange)
Domme, Sarlat, Vezere,
Lascaux (the Cro- Magnon cave paintings)
Trains: SoulliacParis- 4 hours
Sarlat Bordeaux - 4 hours
Local English news www.french-news.com
Foundation Video Training
Film Festival (last year's roundup)
Walter Roberts writes about cloning babies. Right or wrong it is going
to happen. Read about it in Life Choice. Robert Cooper risks leaving
London to explore authentic England and falls upon Tunbridge Wells -
he is not a happy bunny. Meanwhile Kevin and Diane from the States have
travelled to Zambia and Vietnam and have much to say about what they
saw there. Ian Bowie who lives in Finland is missing his pint, so gives
a potted history of the pub; useful information next time you are stuck
in a pub quiz I should think. Colin Field has been treading in Kerouac's
footsteps. Thumb a ride with him in Kerouac - the sequel.
Al Humphreys is still cycling around the world aiming for the Sudan,
James Campion is very upset about Donald Rumsfeld and Shana Ting Lipton
has a word of advice about spiritual excesses. Also James Skinner on
european violence in the home and Dave Rich visits Myanmar.
© Sam North 2002 - Editor
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