Mid-December 2018, after some weeks of slow and tedious negotiation, we signed the “compromis” for our new house in France. Having been assured by everyone we knew, that the purchase of the house would take at least three months from this point, we relaxed and enjoyed a family Christmas.
Lots of time was spent reviewing the photos we took at the viewings, there were long conversations about layout and interior design, and plenty of window shopping to gain inspiration for our new kitchens and bathrooms. There were plenty of distractions from the frustration of waiting to get the keys.
Only a few weeks into the new year, whilst on one of our trips out – to a reclamation yard near Aix – my phone beeped and there was an email from our Notaire, asking us to make an appointment for the very next week to sign for the house. Confused, I emailed back, asking if we should be expecting to pick the keys at this appointment. She replied and said yes!!
After organising some very speedy money transfers and insurance quotes, on the 21st January we found ourselves in her office, signing for a French townhouse and being handed a box of keys by the immobilier. A box of keys, about the weight of a housebrick. To this day we still haven’t found locks for all of the keys, or keys for all of the locks!
The first day was spent wandering round the house in a bit of a daze. We had had some concerns about the tenants moving out and whether or not they would take all of the furniture. Thankfully they did both, and we were quite astounded at the sight of this huge, completely empty townhouse.
The house is spread out over 6 floors, from cave to roof terrace, and built around two sides of an internal courtyard. It is located on the rue des Marchands, a vibrant street running right through the middle of Apt. The town sits on the ancient remains of Apta Julia, and we know that the house is only a few hundred yards from where the Gallo-Roman theatre was located. I’m pretty sure there are secrets to be discovered in our vast 100m2 cave, when we have the time and energy to do some digging!
Above ground, we have a “local commercial” on the ground floor, occupied by a lovely hairdresser. An entrance corridor takes you past the salon and either down to the cave or up into the courtyard, where there is an external staircase to reach the house and the grand central staircase. Stairs are a bit of a theme in our house, with 70 steps between the street and our roof terrace. There’s definitely no need for a gym membership here, just carry the shopping up to our third floor kitchen once a week!
The house was already split up into three separate apartments, each with a private entrance off the central staircase, which works perfectly for us. The first floor and second floor apartments are each one bedroom apartment for holiday rental, with a good sized bathroom and a large “sejour” – open plan kitchen, dining and living area. The tall ceilings and huge windows give a grand and dramatic feel and we were instantly smitten with the tiled floors – gorgeous hexagonal tomettes – typically Provencale and running almost throughout the house.
The third floor apartment is ours and sits at the top of the house, with tall angular ceilings and big beams. Hidden behind a cupboard door there is a final set of (tiny!) stairs leading to our office and roof terrace, perched right up above the roofs of Apt. We can see ancient and new roofs leading out to the hills and countryside around Apt and we have the most spectacular view of Sainte-Anne sitting atop her cathedral dome.
Across the other side of the central staircase from the apartments, there are additional bedrooms that we currently use for storage. The middle floor bedroom has a tiny doorway that goes through the thick external wall and into a shower room. From what we can work out, the shower room juts out over a neighbouring courtyard! Some repairs are necessary to the roof of this little room and we have yet to work out which house the courtyard we need access into actually belongs to. There is a strong temptation to write a note on a paper plane and launch it through the window in order to find out! We are planning to make this into an additional bedroom to let out – either on its own or as an extra bedroom for the second floor apartment.
We also have a loo “on the stairs”. It is located between the first and second floors, part way up the central staircase and is built in the same fashion as the shower room, out over the courtyard next door. The room was too small to put in a basin, but a clever solution was found with a toilet that has the basin built into the top. It has proven itself very useful during the renovations!
So far we have renovated our own apartment and the first floor guest apartment, as well as the entrance hall, utility room and one half of the cave. Currently we are working on the second floor guest apartment – although anything noisy has to wait for the gaps in between guests renting the first floor apartment.
Everything should be up and running for 2020!