You know that feeling when you see something, a pair of shoes, a shirt or just what you want on a restaurant menu? That’s what it felt like when we first saw Bassinaud. It’s a two-hour drive from our rental in Haute-Vienne, most of it on roads we’d travelled before, but once we’d got beyond Angoulême it was all new to us. We gradually wound our way through small towns and villages then started to climb into wooded hills, with farmland in the valleys and the odd house or farm dotted here and there.
When we were nearly there, I brought the car to a halt and pointed to my right. Across a couple of fields, the land started to slope gently upwards, with woods to one side and, on the other, falling gradually to the valley floor below. At the top of the hill, with trees behind, were a collection of buildings of different shapes and sizes, barns to the left and pale stone houses to the right. It wasn’t a sunny day but there was still something about the light. We didn’t want to be late so made our way to the next junction, turned right and then spotted the sign for Bassinaud, or Hameau Bassinaud.
You approach Bassinaud down a narrow but well-maintained tarmac driveway that comes to a halt at a parking area with what look like those fences that Cowboys used to tie up their horses outside wild west saloons. We parked and were met by the friend of the owners who’d replied to our email and had arranged our visit. She was very welcoming and introduced us to the owners who were also friendly but clearly nervous. They had bought the place fifteen or so years ago, spending as much time there as possible but living most of the year in North America, but had done so much work.
Of course, we were all wearing masks, this being the day after France had tentatively started to emerge from lockdown, and as we’ve all learned, it’s harder to read someone’s face. We began to look round, all of us trying to socially distance even in the smallest of spaces. What struck us first was the care that had gone into turning what was a collection of very old buildings into attractive gîtes. Of course, there were things we’d want to change and replace but at first glance it ticked a lot of our boxes.
The owners live in a two-bedroom cottage, facing the driveway, created out of two adjoining buildings. One provides an open plan living room and kitchen with high ceilings and large modern floor to ceiling windows. Above the kitchen is a mezzanine office space and behind the living room is a smallish bedroom, shower room and toilet. The main bedroom is in the adjoining barn, accessed via panty and utility room, and has high-ceilings, an old stone fireplace, a walk-in wardrobe and an en-suite shower room.
Next door, the main house is single-storey and currently has three bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as a large kitchen/living room. This was probably the original farmhouse and may have been one large space, with an adjoining barn. This room has been divided between the kitchen and a small bedroom. In the adjoining barn are two further bedrooms and two bathrooms with the far end walled off to create a storeroom and a utility room. This is the only building out of six that doesn’t quite work but we’ll need to live with it to be able to imagine what to do with it.
There are four further cottages, two semi-detached with open plan living rooms and kitchens, plus toilet and shower rooms, and a mezzanine bedroom cleverly constructed upstairs. Neighbouring them is a cottage that was occupied by a friend of the owners for many years, fulfilling the role of ‘Sheriff’ when the owners are away. The final cottage sits at the end of the site and has a large, covered terrace facing west to catch the last of the sun over the valley.
Altogether there is about four acres of land, surrounded on three sides by farmland and on the other by trees. There are two barns, one three-sided with a corrugated metal roof and the other more substantial with breeze block walls, a large sliding door and metal roof. Inside is an Aladdin’s cave of building materials, bicycles and garden equipment and much, much more. Behind the barns is a large field which is mown regularly and will make a lovely wild-flower meadow. There is plenty of space for chickens, a compost heap and washing lines as well as spaces to sit in quiet contemplation under a willow tree. Then there is a space where another small building used to be with only the walls remaining. The current owners used it for entertaining and small-scale music performances; something we hope to continue. Behind this is the swimming pool, fenced and gated according to French safety rules.
After our tour we sat down to chat with the owners and their friends who were helping them with the sale. Over wine and coffee, we tried to get a sense of their expectations and before tentatively suggesting we were interested in buying their home. They were keen that we went away and thought about it but also mentioned that they had someone else coming to view that afternoon and that they’d had quite a bit of interest. I was glad we’d got there first and said we’d be in touch very soon. As soon we got in the car, we both looked at each other and knew that this was the place for us. As soon as we got home, we sent an email offering the full asking price!