A beautiful property, along with peace and tranquillity and a warmer climate, attracted Bea White and Derek Connor to Maison Pyron in Ste-Colombe, Landes, which they now run as charming family-friendly holiday accommodation
What were you doing before you moved to France and what prompted you to make the move?
I was one of the co-founders of a charity offering affordable counselling near Brighton. I was mainly working in fundraising and Derek was running his own antique furniture restoration business in Sussex working with private clients, stately homes and auction houses. We were both working long hours and I was ready for a change, as I was often working on a voluntary basis encountering many closed doors when fundraising, despite growing demand at the centre. Derek had started restoring for a client in France, who was keen to work more with us and New Year 2011 we ‘château-sat’ for a couple, who are presenters on the Antiques Roadshow. Through them we discovered Maison Pyron, met French neighbours and found new work ideas now coming to the fore. With me speaking French and many new doors opening, we decided to take the plunge after a year’s contemplation and move over here lock, stock and barrel.
What attracted you to Landes in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?
We were drawn to the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful unspoilt part of France and enticed by the amazing properties with outbuildings, space and grounds and affordable price tags! The people are incredibly welcoming and proud of their heritage, Gascon food and wines and amazing markets. The warmer climate was an attraction and having close friends nearby who were integrated here was re-assuring in the early days.
What attracted you to Maison Pyron?
A beautiful, spacious and affordable property with two hectares of land and heaps of potential for the future. As a neighbour showed us round the property, we were blown away by the sheer size and could see the potential even though the property had been uninhabited for several years. We could see past the dirt and cobwebs and the previous owners’ belongings littering the house. Half of the property is woodland and we still have no idea where our boundary lies around the woods. One day we dream of clearing the woods and creating a path through it.
Did you have a lot of work to do to the buildings?
Our first project was to finish renovating and decorating the main house before tackling the larger projects of installing an in-ground swimming pool, renovating the Grenier, the original grain store, and the Four, a studio cottage, from scratch and clearing the grounds. We could not have created all this without the help of family and friends over several seasons. We started renting out Maison Pyron initially then Le Grenier out of season, then two years ago we were approached by two different groups of guests wanting to rent both properties together, so we thought ‘what a great idea’. We needed to renovate another property now for us to stay in and so Le Four was born.
What do you enjoy most about living in Landes?
The peace and quiet; friendly people who were welcoming and delighted to see the lights on again in this lovely old house; hearing the cockerel at lunchtime; pretty villages with great fairs; little traffic on usually perfected maintained roads, good quality food and wine. Pyron is an ideal base to explore south-west France and Spain with San Sebastian and its tapas culture; trips to the Pyrénées for mountain walking or to take a train to Lac d’Artouste and not forgetting the Atlantic coastline, so many places yet to explore.
What is it like throughout the seasons?
We enjoy a slower pace of life in the summer due to the heat. In winter it can be quiet but we still have some lovely sunny days and cold nights, great for star-gazing. Spring can be wet, hence the lush greenery in the area and autumn is our favourite season with warm weather through to October, enabling the occasional autumnal swim in the pool.
Where is your favourite market in Landes?
Amou has a pretty small market running on Sunday mornings with local artisanal cheeses, fruit and vegetable stalls and a brocante from time to time. The Saturday market in Mont de Marsan is amazing, offering all kinds of local food and wines.
Can you recommend a good restaurant?
Many of our guests enjoy eating at L’Auberge du Laurier in Saint-Cricq-Chalosse, one of several local restaurants appearing in the Guide Michelin 2018. We also fully recommend the Amalfi in Hagetmau for good home cooking, delicious pizzas and a warm welcome.
Is there any aspect of living in Landes that surprised you?
The slow pace of life – it can take months to receive quotes and then many more months for works to be completed. Despite having started the pool project early in December, our worst fears materialised when the pool liner arrived one week before our first guests were due in July! Many small businesses close down for their annual holidays in July and August – there is without doubt an element of truth in the saying that the French work to live and the Brits live to work. Also, how well-kept and clean the villages and towns are here – you very rarely see any litter here. The climate is more extreme than we realised with occasional temperatures of up to 38C in summer and -14C in winter.
What advice would you give to expats thinking of moving to Landes?
From our experience as people coming to work in France, ensure that you have enough finances to enable you to become established and then some more for contingency; participate in local events; have some grasp of French to enable you to live here and integrate; be patient with different systems and accept it will take time to become established here.
Derek and I have very different skills, so we work well as a team. Be prepared to do works yourself and have a good skill set between you. Finally, from our perspective, learn from others but do what works for you and explore any new opportunities. Some of our original plans floundered but we very quickly found new ones that are now sustaining us here.
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