Medieval mystery


If you’re looking for a village with plenty of historical character, Neil Parkinson has a couple of suggestions in Languedoc

Prospective housebuyers surveying the Mediterranean Languedoc might find two locations that catch the beady eye. Just south of the C�vennes, the small town of Sauve, and four miles away, the village of Durfort, sparkle with the character that only long history can give, in settings that fire the imagination.

Your first surprise as you reach Sauve will be its tall houses, five and six storeys high, built on a rise and forming an amphitheatre above a fitful river. Emerging from a long underground path, the river, every once in a while, loses its cool. When the waters rise, mills from a bygone industrial age that straddle the river seem to adopt fragile poses. Rarely a threat to the nearest houses, though, the waters recede as quickly as they rise.

One of the town’s main attractions, a sea of rocks’, lies, not below the village where you might expect it, but high on a plateau above. Granted, that’s a little unusual, but the place is ideal for walks in aromatic countryside. The town also hosts an annual medieval weekend that attracts thousands of visitors. The rest of the year, tourists arrive – in lesser numbers – to enjoy the medieval charm, and the peace and quiet. No doubt they are also drawn by the relaxed warmth of the locals.

Homebuyers should head into the medieval centre. Despite the climb, the interior is easily accessible to vehicles and offers all amenities, except for supermarkets – they can be found a couple of miles down the road. On sale at present is a splendid 17th-century renovation project with a cloistered courtyard, upper and lower ambulatories, grand staircases and vaulted rooms. Ample in proportion, with more than 250m� of floor area, the property requires substantial renovation. Given its rarity and heritage, it’s priced at €305,000, and certainly you could spend another €200,000 doing it up. But the reward would be a beautiful home with courtyard and grand rooms in which to receive guests.

Going round in circles

The smaller, more sedate Durfort is one of a small number of villages of Mediterranean Languedoc that proudly shows off its heritage as a circulade. Going back a thousand years, these circulades are dotted across the Languedoc, and at their heart lies some form of fortified tower or castle, or the remains of one reduced to rubble by Revolutionary fever, as is the case in Durfort. This remnant of former prestige stands on a slight promontory, a classic defensive format, ringed by smallholdings and simple dwellings that show their medieval origins. Today, this type of property with its abundant character can be used as a permanent home, or a low-maintenance holiday home.

For property seekers wanting simply to pack their suitcases and belongings, consider the following prime example: a medieval house that underwent a gutting in the early 2000s and then a splendid renovation. From the smells, clutter and primitive fittings of its beginnings, we find now a good example of how to make a four-bedroom home. Ground, first and second floors are generously equipped for family use, and where a roof originally stood is the pi�ce de resistance: an amply proportioned terrace. This forms the perfect observation post to survey goings-on, be it the arrival of the postman or a knight in (cardboard) armour freshly returned from (simulated) bloody battle in Sauve. Interior details include shallow vaulted ceilings in the living room and fine use of ironwork for a handrail that projects decorative shadows on the walls. Curved iron pinning gives the fa�ade a classical elegance, as does a wisteria planted at the time of the renovation. There is an abundant supply of water deep beneath the house – a well is accessible from within!

Head back in time

Imagine for one moment how this property once would have looked. Stored at ground level would have been your fresh produce and livestock. You’d have lived and slept up one flight of wooden steps in one or two rooms, over the din of poultry, rabbits, pigs, goats and sheep, and stored dry produce up another flight.

On the same floor, a large windowed opening in the wall would have enabled you to haul in goods from down below on a pulley – still present at the top of the house. At €240,000, you have a house tastefully renovated and ready to move directly into.

Given that the defensive character of the circulades eventually faded as crusades and pillaging abated, it was typical from the 18th century to see lanes sprout at a tangent. It is on one of these lanes that this latter property can be found. But if you must be in or at the periphery of the circulades, aspire towards a complete renovation, and must have a garden, then another property in the village might be for you. With a vast 235m� internally, 800m� externally, a stone outbuilding and olive and laurel trees, this house has an asking price of €160,000. It awaits someone with an eye for detail and a budget for restoration: €100,000 or thereabouts would bring it up to a high standard. Its character intact, it simply asks for its former gloss to be restored.

Durfort has a couple of restaurants, a basic grocery store, and a post office. Nearby Anduze and Quissac will satisfy all other needs.

Neil Parkinson, Sal�ry Cevennes & Piemont Immobilier

[email protected]

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