Hollywood to Aveyron: an internet-bought hamlet
PUBLISHED: 10:03 24 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:03 24 October 2014
Having made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a hamlet in France, Rain Heron describes her journey from the Hollywood hills to the valleys of Aveyron
In a leap of faith, my husband Lance Ojeda and I bought a hamlet in the French countryside directly from an estate agency website. As much of a shock to us as to our family and friends, we sold everything we owned and left California for our new home in France. We shipped 101 boxes ahead of us that took four months to arrive so we lived out of suitcases and little else. After eight months of renovations, we finally settled in.
Nine years later, we still live in this piece of paradise. Our property is nestled on a hillside just above the Lot river in 10 acres of woodlands with a stream running through it. The hand-cut slate portico is the entrance to the storybook hamlet and just beyond is the main winemaker’s house, a stone cottage and an ancient schoolhouse. Adding to the history of the place are an ancient chapel, communal bread oven and a Wendy house, once used for drying meat and nuts.
The property has been designated as an LPO Bird Refuge for the last 25 years with hawks, kites, herons, owls and a variety of songbirds filling the air. The formal flower gardens are filled with roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, wisteria, daffodils, tulips and irises. The setting is picturesque and tranquil with soaring mountain and valley views, yet only a few kilometres from the charming medieval riverside village of Entraygues-sur-Truyère, which means, ‘between the waters.’
Entraygues-sur-Truyère is dominated by its 12th-century Romanesque château where the Lot and Truyère rivers come together. Located in the verdant Vallée du Lot in south-west France in the Aveyron department, the village is designated as a ville fleurie. The formerly fortified village is a labyrinth of narrow medieval streets lined with ancient stone and half-timbered houses.
There are 350km of hiking trails in the area and all manner of outdoor activities. The hills surrounding the village and beyond towards Le Fel are terraced with picture-perfect vineyards where AOC and AOP Entraygues-Le Fel wines are produced.
The village hosts a farmer’s market each week, thrice weekly in the summer including a convivial community dinner. Entraygues offers boutique wineries, charming shops, butchers, bakers, cafés, restaurants, post office, bank, doctors surgery and pharmacy – and, of course, lots of friendly people.
After we finished the restoration of the main house, we began renovations on the remainder of the buildings. Now, the ancient chapel and the two stone cottages are self-catering gîtes that we affectionately call ‘Sweet French Cottages’. The chapel, with its barrel stone ceilings and clerestory windows, is a stylish studio flat, and the two houses are now quaint cottages with stone fireplaces and log stoves. All feature stunning mountain views and the tranquil sound of the river below.
Just beyond the grounds our visitors can enjoy several footpaths and hiking trails, including an ancient aqueduct, with forests and meadows of wildflowers and ferns. The gardens also feature a 20-foot pool with a large sundeck and mountain views, as well as an organic vegetable/herb garden.
EAT AND GREET
This is an area that strives to preserve traditional cuisine with farm-fresh food and regional dishes. It also offers fantastic restaurants, seven of which boast Michelin stars, including Maison Bras which has three stars and is rated as one of the top restaurants on the planet.
The style and history of this region’s cuisine flourishes in the Lot valley and is often of exceptional value. Regional specialities include foie gras, river trout, outstanding lamb and Aubrac beef, sausage, fouace, wild mushrooms, pink garlic, chestnuts, honey, AOC cheeses and much more. Despite the rural setting, restaurants are surprisingly elegant. Crisp white table linens, beautiful place settings and polished silver set the stage for ambitious meals with the freshest local ingredients. Many of the chefs trained at Maison Bras and now have a Michelin star of their own. From restaurants, cafés and brasseries to rustic auberges and bistros, the area offers a never-ending temptation of gastronomical delights.
The area is blessed with several wine producers, all tucked away in the picture-perfect countryside. From the dark red wine of Cahors (which has been in production since the 7th century) to the local Entraygues-Le Fel wines, Aveyron enjoys its unique contribution to the wines of France.
The AOC Entraygues-Le Fel vineyards are sited on precipitous slopes above the Lot and the Truyère, and produce light and perfumed red, white and rosé wines. Chenin and mauzac are the white varietals, which are dry and crisp, while gamay, fer servadou, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon are used for the reds. Entraygues-Le Fel wines are usually drunk young.
Further afield, there are the wine regions of Estaing, Côtes de Millau, Gaillac and Marcillac, where monks from Conques first planted grapes in the 10th century. Marcillac wines are produced uniquely from the fer servadou grape, known locally as mansoi. They are dark in colour and rich in flavour, with lots of body and a bouquet of raspberries and spicy tannins.
CRAFT OF ART
When we lived in Hollywood, I formed an interior design company where I created metal furniture, sculpture and mixed media work. Having had my work exhibited in galleries throughout Los Angeles, I opened my own gallery and so, with this experience, my husband and I have decided to open a contemporary art gallery in Entraygues that will feature art by local and international artists. The gallery will also offer food, music and books on art, design, music and photography, while handmade gift cards, clothing and jewellery will also be available.
There will also be a café serving homemade gourmet sandwiches, salads and desserts, with a choice of wine, beer, soft drinks and coffees. Called H2O, the gallery café is due to open next spring.
MOVING TO AVEYRON
For the past 15 years, my husband Lance has worked in real estate and now works for Selection Habitat, providing English-speaking estate services to the community in Entraygues and the surrounding areas.
We love looking round beautiful French properties, and luckily there are lots on offer here. For example, just north of Entraygues, in Montsalvy, a stone character farmhouse is for sale near a village with full amenities. The house has been tastefully renovated with three bedrooms, a lovely fireplace and terrace with panoramic mountain views. There is also a renovated guesthouse and old bread oven; the asking price is €199,000.
A second property for sale is a former presbytery located in Estaing, a riverside village designated as one of the most beautiful in all of France – so you can imagine how beautiful it is! The presbytery has five bedrooms and a spacious living room with a huge contemporary fireplace. There is a large swimming pool with sun deck and attached barn with garage. This is a perfect property for hosting family and friends, and the asking price is €245,000.
From farmhouses, ancient wine-producing houses and old mills to stately village homes, these are just three of the appealing properties for sale in Lance’s portfolio, in an area where little has changed, yet all services and modern conveniences are easily accessible.
Rain Heron is an artist, interior designer, writer and poet, and Lance Ojeda is an agent for estate agency Selection Habitat