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What it’s like to live in Albi in south-west France

PUBLISHED: 14:26 03 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:48 03 May 2017

Albi market is popular with locals © Dominique Viet Midi Pyrenees Tourisme

Albi market is popular with locals © Dominique Viet Midi Pyrenees Tourisme

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Inviting neighbours over for an apéritif and shopping at the local market are among Nick Matthews’ favourite things about life in Albi

What attracted you to Albi?

All my life I have travelled in France, and along with my wife Joy I’ve stayed in hotels, with friends and camped throughout the country. In 2001 we made a return trip to Albi in Tarn and loved its varied shops, cafés and magnificent cathedral. We felt we’d found something very special.

When did you start thinking that you could live in Albi?

During the trip, we found ourselves drawn towards a local estate agency to get an idea of what was on the market. We discovered that there were plenty of properties for sale in the city and surrounding countryside, and decided we wanted to view some of them in person. After visiting several properties we found ourselves on the narrow road towards Le Bez, where we came across our future home.

Nick Matthews lives in this French farmhouse near AlbiNick Matthews lives in this French farmhouse near Albi

What was the house like when you first saw it?

Built in 1850, the house was in a rather sorry state. Upstairs there were two large bedrooms full of old furniture and family belongings. At the back was a large outbuilding with chicken cages and a ‘hole in the ground’ toilet. Nevertheless, we loved it and could see it had potential. We met the neighbours, a delightful and friendly couple, and the locals were so welcoming that we decided we wanted to live there.

When did you move?

We returned in October 2003 to sign on the dotted line, and our close friends who lived in Limoux joined us to ensure we fully understood the process and what was involved. The house had been cleared but there were still two cars in the barn, and we discovered we were legally obliged to pay €1 to keep them! We travelled over with our caravan and when we received the keys to the house we set it up in the garden as our base, as the house needed a lot of work to make it habitable.

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It took a lot of hard work and help from their friends for Nick Matthews and his wife Joy to create their dream homeIt took a lot of hard work and help from their friends for Nick Matthews and his wife Joy to create their dream home

What work needed to be done to the property?

The wall between the dining room and the old adjoining stable was knocked down to enlarge the space, the upstairs windows were replaced, a skylight was added and walls were re-plastered. We’ve added en suites, created extra bedrooms and re-laid floors. My wife and I scrubbed, filled, sanded and painted to bring the house back to life, and we became dab hands at plasterboarding ceilings. Neither of us had ever done this before, but we basically learned and picked things up as we went along.

What attractions are there in the area?

The Gaillac wine festival has always been a highlight, and the wine’s very good too! The hilltop village of Cordes-sur-Ciel is truly magical – it’s easy to see why it belongs to the Plus Beaux Villages de France and was voted as France’s favourite village in 2014. The nearby Tarn river is great for swimming and canoeing, while the city of Albi is stunning and in the golden evening light it is all the more so.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

As a photographer I’ve enjoyed taking countless photos – there’s certainly plenty to capture on camera – and in fact one of my photos has been displayed at Château Lastours near Gaillac. A visit to the Wednesday market in Lautrec, to the south of Albi, has always between a highlight of the week too, and inviting the neighbours round for apéritifs is a real pleasure.

Any regrets?

When we first started the renovation process the list of jobs that we needed to do seemed endless, and it’s been a lot of hard work but we’ve also had a lot of fun along the way. We’ve been lucky enough to share our experience of buying and renovating a French property with old friends and new neighbours, and we’ve loved every minute of it.

Other articles you might like:

Expat life: running a well-being retreat in Tarn

Cordes-sur-Ciel: on cloud nine

I wish I’d known that before buying a French property

Albi: an insider’s city guide

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