House with a View for Sale

Maybe, as a preliminary remark, let me say that this was not exactly planned. Also, that I’m not an investor type of person. And that I relate to houses almost the way I relate to animated beings. So. Here’s, however, how the story goes.

Last year we had been approached by the family who over a decade ago sold us our very own house, stating that they’d like to get rid of another family property and they’d be happy if we bought it because they liked the way we treated their old home. Of course we already had the guesthouse in addition to our own house and I mentioned to them that it wasn’t my intention to start collecting houses. It’s true we were looking for a house but a big one, where we eventually could lodge our workshop guests, the house for sale was about the same size as ours and thus not what we searched for. Yet we still discussed the house, my husband and I, and then I discussed it with mother, and we all discussed it again and then we drank a lot of wine and eventually bought it including all the rubbish and not-rubbish still in it. Not for enriching the collection, but to share it. Also we were sort of very demoralised as we never found that big house we were yearning for and looked at is as a plan B sort of. We started renovating in November last year, the works were scheduled to be finalised in May 2023, and the house let as a holiday rental and for eventually lodging some of our workshop guests. And then, we found it. The big house. BAM. So the short version is that now we won’t need this house anymore we’re going to sell it.

For you romantic souls, here’s however the real story, a peek behind the curtains, it’s a bit of a read but I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Mind, this is not an ordinary house, of course, and so the course of things was not ordinary at all. The house was part of a large property in the 19th century, belonging to an artsy family, where they’d spend their summer with their bohemian friends from Paris and New York. This was the painter Jan Monchablon and his cousin the writer Jules Maurie with handsome Francine, his wife, and the talented Jeanne, their daughter. When around the turn of the century Jan unexpectedly fell dead from the chair playing cards in the village bistrot, everyone was very sad and the property split into two parts, one in the possession of Jan’s surviving wife (she got the kitchen yet never used it, I think she hated the place, which probably was due also to Jan’s libertine lifestyle, they didn’t have any children yet he allegedly has several descendants in the village, all very happy and merry souls) and the other half went to cousin Jules and Francine and Jeanne (they got the dining room and made ample use of it). After that, however things went pretty much downhill with the cabbage what with two wars and the general decline and fall of the French bourgeoisie. By 1950, Jeanne was divorced, slept in her furs in winter and gathered sticks in the near woods as she couldn’t afford firewood. She had sold most of her uncle’s paintings, the crystal glasses and the porcelain, of the latter two however she kept one set as a memento. I drank from her glass, it tastes beautifully nostalgic. She still ran fancy French dîners though, with fruits confits and coffee. She also died old and I pray happy too. When she posed in photographs, she always touched her left ear in a graceful manner. She played the piano, back when the world was still hers to become she gave concerts in Paris and received many billet doux.

Why do I know all these things? By the time we had sorted through all the boxes and furniture remaining in the house, we became aware that we were in the possession of a unique little archive of Jules Maurie and his family, manuscripts of his works, his private library, official documents and very old photographs and portraits, letters, notes, dinner invitations, invoices, a handwritten recipe book for kitchen and boudoir, writer’s appliances and the almost complete furniture of his study including knickknacks. Plus the valuable anecdotes told to me on cold winter afternoons, sitting comfortably at the fireplace, bent over papers and photographs, a witty black and white cat on my knee, by my kind neighbour Annemarie who is old enough to have known and remembered Jeanne. She says Jeanne walked “comme une princesse”, like a princess. Never bent her back.

By Christmas we had finished the upper floor with the master bedroom, a small bedroom serving as my husband’s office and the bathroom with a separate toilet. We slept in the most comfortable handmade bed and I read “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden, I could see a million stars twinkling in the night sky. Come spring, and we gave the ground floor a thorough polish with a new kitchen (which is in the 19th century drawing room, we found the original wallpaper behind the paneling), a tidy drawing dining room and a little minuscule study with a view. Apropos, the view. The view is absolutely stunning. It’s a view that normally doesn’t happen to houses, but then, as I already said, this isn’t an ordinary story. We watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes films on the sofa with a crackling fire in the stove and we started hosting little dinner parties. We also thought about staying, daydreaming about how it would be to make the house one again with the adjacent property, to bring it back to how it really was. I found a crumpled old photograph of the garden one day when I picked up a book from the “bibliothèque”, the big armoire containing Jule’s private collection of books.

By the time it was summer, the wind had changed, it meant to blow us in another direction.

The two remaining downstairs rooms (the house is built into a rock, which is why it’s got three storeys from the back yet one only as seen from the front) thus are not done yet, the same goes with the little vaulted wine cellar, which is in dire need of prettying up. In memory of Jan and Jules’ passion for wine – they even owned a vineyard outside the village from which they made, as it’s said, a passable red – we planned on planting a vineyard in the terraced garden, a project which we abandoned for the moment, however being more than happy to share the details of with the new owners if they’d like to continue with it!

Given the peculiar history of the house we’d like the writer’s collection to remain complete, we really think it’s unique and should stay together, ideally with a new owner who is as passionate about 19th century history and every day life, as we are. Who perhaps, like us, sees themselves less as owners of a house than keepers of memories and stories to be passed on to future generations.

I’m happy to provide more details, just drop me a message at hello@lespoissonchats.com or leave me a message via my mobile +33 615 67 92 58.

Here’s some pictures of the place for a start (I took many from my instagram, so just ignore the weird notes in them):

The Napoleon Tarte

The thing with running culinary retreats is that you get to know very cool people. Like really cool people. Really really really cool people. Dashing dapper folks. And sometimes they’re just exactly the right kind of exceptional and sometimes they’re just exactly the right kind of witty and sometimes they’re hitting it and are all of it and to top it up live in a Chateau (that’s like sounding ever so unlikely cherry on cake but I swear it’s true). And now guess what, they asked us if we didn’t want to pop over and say hello which is, in my universe, a mere rhetoric question, swoon and sigh and God I’ve been so excited! What to bring along when you’re invited to spend the day at a Chateau? Well, I made a Napoleon Tarte, now, Napoleon, as you are very well aware of if you read my book, is sort of a patron Saint of The Good Life (and The Cultured Blast), and a must for every decent household altar so you never run out of fêtes and adventures and things that are a hit. It’s with tipsy cherries (the recipe for which is too in my book) and lots of chocolate. I think it was a proper blessing and rather delicious.

What to wear when you’re invited to spend the day at a Chateau? A dress, of course, and it was a beautiful weather and just so summery so I fancied putting up my hair 19th century style yet they’re gone and I currently look more the likes of king Henry’s page. So I’d have loved to storm over on horseback or at least in a decent fly sharp trot dust cloud trailing behind but for the sake of the cake we took our battered mg car (dust cloud trailing behind). It was such a pleasant ride and arriving back home happy and ever so inspired after this day spent in fairytale, we were greeted by the moon casting a magical light over pasture and forest.

What you’ll need

  • 200g very dark chocolate
  • 180g fresh butter
  • 120g sugar
  • 4 farmer’s eggs
  • A pinch of fleur de sel
  • 30g of all purpose flour
  • 90g of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • A jar of tipsy cherries (recipe is in my cookbook) or griottes
  • Optional: a tin soldier Napoleon on horseback

How to make it

Preheat the oven to 200°C. 

Melt the chocolate with the butter in the bain marie = a pot in a pot of simmering water. Make sure the water doesn’t boil else you’ll spoil the chocolate. Mix well so the two amalgamate. 

In the meantime separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the sugar until they turn almost white, it takes a couple of minutes. Slowly incorporate the chocolate butter and then add the flour and cocoa powder. 

Beat the egg whites with the salt to a very stiff mass, the like that is suited to make a baroque super hair sculpture on your head (think Marie Antoinette). Gently fold under. 

Transfer half of it to a well buttered mould and put some tipsy cherries on, add the other half and bake for 7 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150° and bake for another 17 minutes. 

Let cool in the mould before transferring to a pretty plate. 

Sprinkle with cocoa powder, decorate with tipsy cherries and a Napoleon. 

How to eat it

With an inner salute to the Emperor while relishing the first bite, the rest of the cake then is entirely for your own enjoyment.