The Dordogne river (Doni Belau)
I’m often asked why we bought the house (in France) that we did, in this tiny town whose name we can barely pronounce and that’s even harder to find on a map. What about your first love, Paris? People ask.
Well, I was fortunate enough to have a deliciously beautiful apartment in Paris for six years from which one could hear the bells of St. Sulpice. We eventually had to sell it because the value had gone up considerably and we used what we made to help pay for our children’s college educations.
While selling had been bittersweet, I considered myself lucky enough to have lived my Paris dream as long as I did. Of course, I began to think…what next? After attending a retreat in the Aquitaine and a writer’s workshop in St. Emilion, I began to take notice of the pleasures of the Southwest of France. My sister has owned a place in the Aveyron for 25+years and I had spent a fair amount of time exploring the rest of the country, so I was used to rural France… But I liked what I was seeing in and around Bordeaux.
Montagne St. Émilion (filtran)
The crashing Atlantic Ocean, with its wide gorgeous beaches, is just over an hour away; Spain and the Pyrenees aren’t far and Bordeaux, 45 minutes to the west of us, is a Unesco world heritage site and generally a spectacular city. So I narrowed my search to within one hour of Bordeaux.
Doni’s house in Flaujagues (Doni Belau)
After three years of searching and looking at over 40 homes, I found our sweet little spot. It’s the location that really is magical, as we are right on the Dordogne river. We can walk outside and down the steps from our garden and plunge into the cleanest river in France for a kayak or canoe ride or a swim before dinner. We can dine outside from April to November thanks to the mild climate, which is much less rainy than Paris. Plus, we are just 15 minutes from the fairytale village of St. Emilion and its famous wines.
So it has worked out to be an escape from my busy life in New York and Paris. Paris has now become the place for work and Le Priolet (the house came with the name) is our place of respite, with only birds chirping and a phone that rarely rings. It’s the French country house dream that I have always had in the back of my head. We have blue shutters and limestone from the region, a pool that was already there, and a long drive alongside Bordeaux vines to keep us in the spirit of the area.
My husband, while initially less keen on the idea of buying something else, was converted mainly because of the affordable prices in the region. The 4-bedroom, 250-year-old farmhouse with a pool that didn’t need much renovation cost what a small one bedroom apartment would in Paris. Renovating was actually quite simple and lasted about 4-5 months. We turned the attic into a guest room (with bath), redid all of the other bathrooms, plus the outside terrace and garden. There were no Peter Mayle-type nightmares. There was some good wine drunk by the workers, so I learned one lesson – lock the wine closet! But the whole thing was fairly easy to do overall, thank God.
The view from St. Émilion (HerryLawford)
Everything is cheaper down here. There are a number of places that serve a 5-course lunch with wine for only €12-13. Food at the markets is quite affordable and wine from the local co-op, if you bring your own bottle, is €2/liter. Coupled with the great health care in France, I’ve deemed this the perfect place to retire, not that we’re quite ready to yet!
- Check out Doni’s website, Girl’s Guide to Paris — an amazing resource for all things Paris.
- Join the Girl’s Guide to Paris’ travel club for year-round discounts, exclusive invites and personalized travel services
- Would you like to rent Doni’s house? Find out more here
Written by Doni Belau for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.