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Why a French country home is a blessing in disguise

Elizabeth Kesses
By Elizabeth Kesses Published on 22 August 2011

When my beau first told me about his house in the country it all sounded like a French version of Pride and Prejudice - Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, punting on the Seine and naughty frolics in the woods.

Why a French country home is a blessing in disguise

Its name alone - Bois Le Roi - conjured up splendour and elegance so I eagerly awaited the grand tour. The house indeed is beautiful, a period building set on the banks of the Seine in Impressionist countryside, thesomewhat neglected gardens overlooking the river, even a mooring for boat.

I was ready to rub my hands with glee when my beau told me the house was actually a business. Rental flats for MBA students. My face visibly fell. Instead of airy spaces and antique furnishings there were rooms filled with Ikea furniture and single beds.

Worse still there was grubby evidence of adolescents everywhere. Tins of food, old drinks... shudder! I tried to remember how I was at uni. Ughh!

I remember a time I found an ex-boyfriend taking a midnight pee in my sink. Or the time when my gang of friends thought it really really funny to trash my room and stick tampax on my ceiling - I could not reach the dangly white decorations so learnt to live with them.

Being sensitive to energies I dared not go in to inspect the rest of the house.

My beau's ex-wife, being a practical type, had helped out before me but as I'm anything but "janitor Jane", I was out of the running (I'm more upstairs than downstairs!) Instead he'd hired a part time assistant to look after the place.

His new assistant was simply fabulous. A flamboyant gay guy who was the life and soul of the student life. He would greet them with welcome packs of flowers and chocolates à la Bree in Desperate Housewives.

He fretted about the "little details" - that the house did not have a canoe or that there was no outdoor jacuzzi. I think he had visions of Springbreak in the US, all hot boat parties and student shenanigans.

Yet when there was the slightest upset, a cockroach spotted for example, he would say it was an infestation. Or, come contract time, he would knock down the price because Dave from Denmark was such a sweet guy. Or add a few hours to the gardener's shift because he needed some extra cash and was a real cutie.

When the assistant moved on to pastures new, we went for a visit to check up on the house. The timing of our trip was spooky. My school reunion had just taken place and I found out that one of my closest friends who had studied French with me was not only living in France but in Bois Le Roi! She had 3 kids by now but also a French beau, just like me.

I decided to have a coffee with her whilst my beau started his inventory on the rooms - which was a euphemism for cleaning grime and yuk.

My friend, Anna, had not changed except that she'd become, perhaps, even more beautiful than I remembered and with 3 cherubic tots in tow. Pretty impressive.

She handed me her littlest and I felt like Patsy in Ab Fab not quite sure which end to take hold of. She had moved out to Bois to have her kids and commuted into Paris. A real working mum. She waxed lyrical about the area - the outdoor cinemas, restaurants at Fontainebleau and international schools.

I left feeling positively connected to my past. I had been the ultimate geek at school - all the names had been thrown at me - four eyes, Bugs Bunny and teachers pet - Kesses became Kiss-ass.

It was good to hear her memory of school was the same. Either seeing my friend had put me in a particularly bright mood or the summer's day was especially lovely but I had a 'coup de foudre' - a lightning bolt realisation - I fell in love with the house.

I wandered around the grounds making plans - an old fashioned kitchen garden, a pool, restoring the well and a pontoon for a boat. Each room has a fireplace and a view of the Seine. I imagined family Christmas there. The sound of children running around on the wooden parquet. A big fir tree covered in snow.

My friend's family had given me rose tinted glasses but I was rolling with it. I persuaded my beau to shut down one of the floors so we could spend weekends there to renovate.

I think I made his day. The house was special to him. It also became his sanctuary from troubles in life. I could see us there in our vintage years - me picking blackberries, him smoking a pipe as he rowed.

City life is so noughties. Vive la vie à la "countyside"!

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Fontainebleau, Barbizon, and Giverny

Brit Chick says: You must visit Fontainebleau for its magnificent chateau and forest. Barbizon is a quaint market town painted by pre Impressionist artists Millais and Corot and then there's Giverny the infamous gardens painted by Monet including the famous Japanese bridge and Waterlilies. All of these are only one hour from Paris's Gare de Lyon.

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by Elizabeth Kesses

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