TV presenter and interior designer Linda Barker tells us how she bought a house in Provence with her husband and two friends and why she loves life in the south of France
Ten years ago, TV presenter Linda Barker and her husband, Chris Short, jointly bought a Roman-style villa in the tiny village of La Môle, in the heart of the Var region just west of Saint-Tropez, with close friends, Vanessa and Mike Wilderink. She tells us about her longstanding love affair with the south of France and how she lovingly renovated their €1.4m bolthole and transformed it from a basic B&B into a luxury holiday haven…
What do you love so much about Provence that you decided to purchase a property here?
We used to rent a friend’s house near Grimaud, between Le Plan-de-la-Tour and La Garde-Freinet, and it was always really nice going back to the same house. When our friend decided to sell up, we thought, ‘Maybe the four of us should invest in our own property!’
What attracted you to this area of Provence in particular?
Its proximity to where we were holidaying before – knowing where to eat, where to shop, the great food markets etc. It was lovely to keep coming back to all those places. We looked at a map and drew a circle with a 15-mile radius around the area that we knew, took a drive around and looked at properties in estate agents. We searched quite intensively and viewed 10-15 properties before we flew home. Mike and Vanessa stayed on and Mike then found Villa de la Verne. They sent photos and we thought, “Yes, that’s great!”.
You love scouring the vide-greniers and brocantes to furnish your home. What have been a few of your other favourite finds?
Candelabras, tables and chairs, plus a few other bits and pieces. I love going to the MAISON&OBJET trade show in Paris and I’m a great one for looking around all the attic sales in France and the antiques markets are great. Often, I leave these pieces just as I find them as I love the combination of old and new, and a genuine bit of rust or chipped enamel is hard to resist. Other times, I might paint and wax a plain piece of brown furniture to bring it up to date.
You use the villa as a holiday home and you also rent it out. How often are you here?
We come out of season and early in the season to open it up, clear away the cobwebs and steam clean from top to bottom to make sure it’s beautiful and looking at its best, ready for guests.
With fabulous views over the French countryside, the villa is fairly remote and very private, and you are surrounded by vineyards and rivers. What are your favourite things to do here?
We take long, long walks… there are some great ones around the hills above the house and a four-hour walk away up into the hills, there’s a beautiful Carthusian monastery, called La Chartreuse de la Verne. There are bikes here at the house, so I cycle quite a lot. We also have lovely decks for yoga –it’s a very healthy place. Another of the many wonderful things here are the clear night skies, which are perfect for stargazing and satellite spotting.
Have you ever filmed in France?
We once filmed Changing Rooms in central France. It had the most beautiful vegetable market there, and I remember Andy going to a bricolage (DIY store) and finding it hilarious!
As a keen cook, what do you love most about the French gastronomy?
There are great food markets and the food is SO fresh. I love the Provençal way of life and have a big family and it’s very much about shopping at the market and bringing food back and all cooking at home. We’re all cooks and we like it that way. I’d love to grow my own fruit and veg, but we’re not here often enough to look after them. When we first bought the house, I remember arriving with packets of seeds, but there’s no one to look after them.
Any favourite dishes?
I love the soups… especially fish soup with rouille and Emmental cheese. We love doing simple cooking on the barbecue and the chicken is just wonderful here, too. We also have the most fabulous, award-winning boulangerie in La Môle. Their bread is extraordinary and people travel from miles around to buy it. We have a tiny market with farmers selling local home-grown produce, too. It’s usually just three stalls on a Thursday, with vegetables, salamis and saucisson.
Do you socialise with the locals and get involved in local fêtes?
The sense of community is very strong here. La Môle has a fête, Cogolin has vides-greniers and Grimaud has regular antiques markets, which are all really good fun. La Môle also has a newsletter, so if we’re around when there’s something going on, whether it’s music or art, we’ll go.
What have been the highlights for you here?
The parties including my husband’s 50th and my niece’s 18th – the house does parties very well. I’m from a big family they all love it here. It’s a very robust, very strong six double-bedroom house that can look after a lot of people; it’s not precious at all. We’ll be dancing at midnight, it’s so private, you can pretty much put the speakers outside and blast your music out.
It sounds totally idyllic… are there any downsides?
It’s wild boar territory, so we’re occasionally woken up by wild boar coming across the property with their piglets, which is lovely, but they dig up the lawn for roots and wreak havoc!
Any tips for people thinking about purchasing a property in Provence?
It’s wonderful! It doesn’t necessarily suit everyone, but buying with our mates has been a fantastic experience. It’s lovely to be able to share lots of things and travel together with friends. People did warn me against buying property with friends, but it has actually been the most wonderful, positive experience. It has meant that we’ve been able to get a bigger property than we would have been able to afford, in a very glamorous location.
What’s your perfect day in Provence?
It would have to involve going to St-Tropez market, wearing my sandals and something light over a bikini, buying local tapenade dip and some fresh veg, and then sitting on a beautiful, tiny, rugged beach like Le Rayol to eat it, followed by some swimming before going back to the house. We’d have lots of people round, so there’d be the sound of everyone getting ready for dinner, with everybody mucking in. Everyone would be cooking, while others would be preparing the apéritifs, setting the tables and putting candles everywhere, and someone would be picking flowers from the garden to display… all very simple. Then, we’d have a wonderful dinner, with music and dancing.
When it’s finally time to hang up the paintbrush, do you think might retire here?
I’d like to spend more time here, but I’ve definitely got my feet in the UK. To share time here and there is what really resonates with me. A couple of months here would be magical… That would be an amazing thing to do!
To rent Linda’s villa, visit Villa de la Verne