Moving to France: Lifelong Dreams & First Glimpses – Introducing La Ravanelle

Moving to France from Australia with family in your late forties is not simple, let alone the prospect of becoming the custodians of an 18th-century bastide, the former summer home of a famous French writer.  Our family, myself Australian and my husband, Franco Australian made the decision in late 2021 to move to France.

Were we dreaming about moving to France?

We discovered this magnificent home in the commune of Le Tignet, near Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, online during lockdown.  Looking at the glossy pictures we could only dream about what it would be like to visit let alone live there.  My husband had suggested that if we liked the property in winter, it would be even better in summer.

So, it was decided, we would take the family to France to inspect the property in January. It was the perfect opportunity for my husband and me to explore a business opportunity, and for our girls to learn French. And for me, it was the realisation of a lifelong dream.

Moving to France: The reality test

When we arrived on that cold, bright winter day in January, we couldn’t quite believe what unfolded before our eyes.  ‘La Ravanelle’ the name of the property was a coup de coeur (love at first sight).  Hidden behind a large stone wall, the grand portail (gate) creaked open to reveal another driveway lined with olive trees.  This led to yet another gate, an intricately woven black iron piece. As the second gate opened, we caught a glimpse of our new home, perched beneath the small village of Cabris. It was everything I’d imagined of a typical French bastide, creamy pale stone walls, shutters the muted shade of olives surrounded by an expansive garden, and an assortment of trees – oak, palms, cypress, and olive.  An oasis of calm.  A melange of flowers bordering the internal driveway and the far side of the garden.  Bumble bees hovering above the jasmine-covered tonnelle de jardin (arbor) in an orchestrated dance.  Multi-colored butterflies danced across the manicured lawns and played cache cache in the flowers.

Buying a property – French style

That same day we were meeting for the first time the agent and the owner of the property who had just driven five hours from Switzerland to meet us. It is not easy when you have flown 28 hours from the other side of the world to meet new people.  It was also unheard of that we had secured a three-month lease of this prestigious property from the other side of the world as it had never been leased. Life in the time of Covid does present some opportunities and this was one of them. The property was for sale and after three months there was an option to buy.

Our girls instantly loved the garden, a 5000 square meter park, and took off to explore. Being hulled up in the plane for so long, no one could blame them. I was worried that they might break something. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful things, vases, urns, glass jars full of lollies, and champagne glasses. The girls were darting everywhere and I was finding it hard to focus with my head in a jet lag fog.  I wanted to get to know the agent as well as ensure nothing was broken. My husband was speaking with the Swiss owner in French and I was grateful as I was not up to practicing my French yet. Importantly we wanted to make a good impression.

The sale of real estate in France is not like in Australia, where prices, by comparison, are very high and people just sell to the highest bidder. In France, money is not always the primary motivator, often consideration is given to selling the property to what the vendor believes to be the right fit. We had reviewed clauses in French sale contracts which stated that the sale of the property is at the discretion of the owner or when translated words to that effect.

I went back outside into the garden to see what the girls were doing and tried to take in its enormity.  This was a garden that reflected the changing tides of time, transporting me to a bygone era, one where there was time to think, ponder, and reflect.

Discovering rich history and old stone benches

Featured prominently among the olive trees and adding to this sense of history and charm is an old stone bench.  Slightly weathered by moss and lichen, the soft, mottled grey hues of the stone add a touch of natural elegance to the weathered facade. On each gracefully curved leg are decorative flowers carved into the stone.  I imagine the countless conversations, whispered secrets, and shared moments that may have taken place on the cool sturdy seat.

Focusing back to our welcoming party, I discovered that the bench I was admiring was the original bench of the famous writer Henri Troyat, who used to sit on this weathered, time-worn stone and ponder his writings.  In fact, our prospective new home had been the summer home of Troyat, a famous French author who left Russia to come to France after the revolution. He is not widely known to the younger generation, but he wrote over 100 books and was invited into the Academie Française.

A perfect day

By 4.00 p.m. that afternoon we were now starting to fade and it was time to say our goodbyes. As the Swiss owner was leaving, he took me aside and in French commented what a lovely family we had and gave me a kiss on each cheek, three times. Despite the warmth of the sun, the champagne, and my tired brain I knew this was a good sign.

I recounted this later to my husband and he agreed. Later that evening we both said at the same time:

We are not leaving this house”.

It was the perfect place for the next chapter of our lives, we just needed to work out how to secure it.

Have you ever dreamed of ‘Moving to France’? Please share your dreams and experiences in the comments below.

Image credits
All images: copyright by the author.
Further reading about Moving to France:
You’ll enjoy this practical mini-series by Amy Gruber who moved from the USA to Brittany. You’ll find that 6-part series here.

About the Contributor

Jacinta Bayard

I grew up with a deep curiosity about my surname, its French origins and history. I've always loved France and dreamed of living there one day. In 2022 a business opportunity allowed my family to move to the South of France. Recently I started writing about this experience.

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  1. Mark & Kim Jespersen Feb 11, 2024 at 1:56 AM - Reply

    Welcome to the neighborhood! Well, the region I suppose. We’ve been in Seillans now for 15 years and love it here, though our home is a bit more modest.

  2. Jacinta Bayard Feb 12, 2024 at 8:06 PM - Reply

    Thank you Mark and Kim. Yes Seillans is not far from us at all. It is on my list to visit. How beautiful is the Mimosa at this time of year?

    • Mark & Kim Jespersen Feb 13, 2024 at 10:41 PM - Reply

      With all the rain, the almond and mimosa trees are in full bloom. There is nothing quite like the scent of an almond tree blossom. As for a visit to Seillans, give it a month or two. The village is torn up a bit at the moment with some major projects. Kim and Mark J.

  3. Jacinta Louise Bayard Feb 13, 2024 at 11:51 PM - Reply

    Yes it was the same for us last weekend, 2 full days of rain but great for the garden. 🙂 Thank you for letting me know and maybe we can have a coffee in the village if we come for a visit to Seillans in a couple of months?

  4. Mark & Kim Jespersen Feb 16, 2024 at 10:24 PM - Reply

    Bien sur

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