Carol Drinkwater: Cherchez la ferme
Author and actress Carol Drinkwater, 68, lives with her husband, French film producer Michel Noll, 67, in the South of France
For ten years I’d been looking all around the world for my house by the sea. There was always a reason why I didn’t buy and I think it was because Michel wasn’t there; he was the piece of the jigsaw that wasn’t in place. We’d met in Sydney in 1984 when he was producer of a programme I was working on. He invited me to marry him on our first date.
In April the next year we went on holiday to the South of France. I had been there lots of times. I’d hitched my way around Europe and stopped in Antibes when I was 21, and had visited with my parents on a bus trip to Italy when I was 11. I was very taken with the glamour of it all. Aside from wanting to start a whole new life that was our own and nothing to do with my past, Michel knew the area and it was a part of the world we both loved.
We first saw our olive farm at the end of our first week of house-hunting. The sky was cobalt, swallows were swooping over the swimming pool, and there was this crumbling villa looking out over the sea. I was enchanted. We hardly knew each other and we couldn’t afford it, but we were so in love I couldn’t have cared less. It was glamorous and sexy and wild.
Andy Bridge, managing director of A Place in the Sun Ltd, says: ‘Many of our buyers purchase a holiday home with a view to it becoming a more permanent residence. As such there’s a balance between what you want now and the requirements you may have in later life. Do you want to maintain grounds and a pool? Is there public transport? Can you walk to town?’
Michel was based in Paris and I was in London. We’d come down here every three or four months to remind ourselves it was ours. It was a good ten years before I sold my flat, but I’ve never looked back. There are things I miss – friends and working as an actress – but I have few ties with England now.
The villa was built in 1904, with a walkway by the pool, balconies, and a beautiful view over the bay. It’s set in just under four hectares of land with lovely old olive trees, but it was so run-down we couldn’t live in it. There was no electricity and no water – we still have to pump water up from the valley. We’ve spent fortunes on it over the years, extended bits, built terraces and repaired around the pool.
It’s still a tumbledown, shamble-y but lovely villa. People with money wouldn’t look at it and, anyway, they’d have to want 380 olive trees. That’s a lot of work on a steep hillside. At first I loved the glamour of Cannes – now it’s the history and agriculture. My surroundings have inspired my six Olive Farm books, which sold more than a million copies, and my novels.
There’s a huge sense of adventure in buying a place abroad. I made a big life decision and I’m proud I had the courage to do it.
The Forgotten Summer by Carol Drinkwater (Penguin, £7.99)
Kate Humble: How green is her valley
TV presenter Kate Humble, 47, and her husband Ludo Graham, 55, moved from Chiswick in southwest London to the Wye Valley in Wales in 2007
Having lived in London for 20 years, I found it had become less and less fun. I grew up in Berkshire, and if you’ve been born and brought up in the countryside you’re made of mud and you need trees and greenery and birds. To return to my country roots became an overwhelming urge in the same way people crave a child or a dog.
However, we weren’t sure how it could work. Then Ludo made the first series of The Choir, and the BBC asked him to work for them in Cardiff.
While we’d been searching for places to live I kept looking longingly at the map of Wales, which is brown with no roads. But the BBC wanted Ludo to start in a month and I was about to live on a boat in the Pacific filming a diving expedition, so we delayed it for a year.
We’d still go away for weekend breaks, though, keeping an eye out for somewhere, and eventually we decided to be near the Wye Valley because Ludo could easily get to Cardiff and I often work out of Bristol. Our reasons were actually unromantic and practical but as soon as we got here, that was it! We’d house-hunt on Saturday and spend the whole of Sunday walking, and it made us fall in love with the area. We found an old stone farmhouse at the end of a forestry track with a bit of land, which we instantly adored. We thought, ‘Why are we clinging to London life?’
The area is relatively undiscovered and such a special part of the world. It was a big tourist centre in Victorian times, so it’s had its heyday. I love the fact that we live on a Welsh hill but can still wave at England. Neither of us can imagine living anywhere else, ever.
It was incredibly cold the night we moved in: December 14, 2007. I’d been delayed filming in Ethiopia and didn’t get back in time for the move. I arrived at 1am to find Ludo looking shell-shocked, surrounded by boxes, clutching a bottle of wine and wrapped in blankets. The people we’d bought the house from had left us with no wood, no oil, nothing!
The next morning I woke up to a proper, thick Jack Frost and I walked outside. The chickens belonging to the previous owners had laid us an egg; that was our introduction to livestock. I thought, ‘This is it – I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.’
In 2012 we launched Humble By Nature, running courses in food, rural skills and animal husbandry. My most recent project is training a sheepdog called Teg – or she’s training me – and I’ve written a book exploring the relationship between man and his best friend. I’m fascinated by the working capacity of dogs and how it’s different from being with pet dogs. For somebody who is fascinated by how we connect with animals, it’s so rewarding to work with a dog. You’re making a connection with another species.
We’ve met people here who have become great friends and it’s made me realise the importance of community and how it’s missing in big cities. I don’t miss London – it’s only 90 minutes by train and we even go to the theatre, which we didn’t when we lived there.’
Friend for Life by Kate Humble (Headline, £16.99)
Wayne Heminway: Dune roamin’
Wayne Hemingway, 55, and Gerardine Hemingway, 54, founded fashion label Red or Dead in 1980 and now run HemingwayDesign. They moved from London to West Sussex in the Nineties
The seaside always appealed as I was born in Morecambe. One of our accounts ladies at Red Or Dead – an avid bird-watcher – recommended we visit The Witterings. It sounded such a silly name, but we got in the car to take a look. We fell in love with it because it reminded us of Australia, where we’d travelled a lot. We started coming down every few weeks to a B&B in East Wittering for a break. After a year or so, we bought an old three-bedroomed cottage in Itchenor for the price of a one-bedroomed flat in London and weekend-ed for a while.
The children have always been very sporty and in London we were spending so much time ferrying them around, we thought it might be easier down here – and it worked.
We had so much fun camping, cycling, walking on the South Downs and being on the water. It was a Swallows and Amazons existence and gave them another outlook on life. Change is good and we’ve always embraced it.
Then we got the chance to buy some land in a prime location, and we built a very modern house there, which was finished in 1998. Our home is eco-sustainable, which is important to us both. We grow our own veg and fruit, and compost everything.
We have a small group of friends here and that’s the way we like it. We don’t go to dinner parties or garden parties. When you spend your week in meetings and in the public eye, you need time on your own and as a couple.
We knew the kids would go back to London when they were 18, which they all did. By the time they were mid-teens they wanted nightlife and culture. We thought about going back to London, but the kids love coming here and it’s an amazing space we all built together.
I love Itchenor in all seasons: in the dead of winter, when there’s nobody on the beach, I wrap up and go running and in summer I go down there at first light. This is the house
we will always call home.
House of Hemingway’s Classic Car Boot Sale is in Glasgow, Aug 6-7; Vintage by the Sea, Morecambe Sept 3-4. Visit houseofhemingway.co.uk
- Visit out of season to see if you still like it when it’s cold and deserted, and shops and cafés are shut for the winter.
- Take advice from a local estate agent – if you want to move later on, you need to know how easy it will be to sell. Properties abroad sell far more slowly than those here.
- Make sure there are medical facilities nearby that will cater for any existing health problems.
- Look into public transport as, if the time comes when you can’t or don’t want to drive, you will need to be on a bus route or close to a train station.
- Pick up local magazines and check out social activities to see if there are any clubs you might join. Like-minded people will help you enjoy your new life and become friends.
- If you’re buying abroad, check that airlines operate all year as they can withdraw their service.
- If you can’t speak the language, it’s no good settling in rural France. A local English-speaking community is always useful.