Graceful living in Italy and France...

The smell of jasmine winds its way down our 16th century cobblestone street in Umbria as I step outside to greet the day.












Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Three Criteria for Choosing a Fractional Ownership Property





International Property Shares




Romance Rules
Other people will tell you that  it’s “location, location, location” when choosing a real estate property. For me, it’s romance first, then location. I may be splitting hairs, because location is a part of the romance of choosing a property that will appeal to expatriates buying international properties. Let me tell you what I mean.
 


La Bruyere, nestled amongst the Dordogne sunflower fields, 
 means "The Heather"
 
I want to fall in love. It’s that simple. I’ve found 14 properties in three European counties to present to buyers interested in owning equity in fractional shares. I’ve learned that if I am smitten, many buyers will feel a heart tug also. Here’s what I do when I’m looking.


I start online, not just on real estate agency sites, but on websites all over the world looking for European homes for sale. I also approach owners who rent their properties to learn if they are interested in selling. My online search criteria include words such as “charming,” “historic,” “stone,” “beamed ceilings,” and “village home.” I look for pictures of flowers, balconies or terraces, windows and light, castles, vineyards and historic sites. Only after my heart has begun to sing softly do I consider location.



Location
Once the heart starts singing, I address practical issues such as location and amenities. Is the property in a lively town with the necessary stores, a bakery, market, wine shop? Is the neighborhood appealing? Is there a lively sense of community? What about parking? Can it be accessed by public transportation? How near is it to a train station and an international airport? Is it affordable? Will it require renovations and decorating? After necessary changes, will it be a good investment for my buyers? 
 
Historic Gumstool Hill in Tetbury, UK
If these questions can be answered positively, then I study the town’s culture and year round activities to learn if they will be appealing to expats. Because I’m outgoing, I can learn quickly how citizens of the area respond to me and my questions. You see, I want the fractional share owners to feel comfortable in their new town, as well as their new home.

Lively Place aux Herbes in Uzes, France
Amenities
St. Etienne Uzes kitchen came fully equipped. Copper pots and
pans, yogurt makers, Nespresso machine, dumb waiter to
the terrace!

Comfort is also about the amenities that fractional owners find in their international homes. When I visit a house for the first time, I am looking for a property that has or could be remodeled in a style that will appeal to the expatriate buyer, typically those from Canada, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Great Britain. For example, my buyers want a full size refrigerator and stove, WiFi, a washer if not a washer/dryer, and newer bathrooms. For example, St. Etienne in Uzes, France had already been updated by it previous owner with an international flair, while Le Muguet in Vers Pont du Gard needed both an updated kitchen and bath.


How to fit a washing machine in space to
the left of the fridge??  Practical decisions...
Romantique, n'est-ce pas?

Casa Leone, Italy


When designing the interior of each fractional ownership property, I think of the balance between good taste and personal taste, since the properties will be owned and shared by four to thirteen different owners.
So far, most of properties I have bought are in villages and towns. I strive for a decor in each of these homes that is sophisticated; not over the top, urban sophistication but country chic. I like the charm of original floors, antiques, rugs, art and wall hangings found in my travels in the countryside, flea market gems.  In other words, romantique!


The Clockworks, England

St. Etienne, France



In a nutshell, a very small nutshell, that’s how I seek out opportunities for you. 
Happy New Year and may your journey’s be joyful!
  
Ginny Blackwell
For a free one hour consultation or more information, please write me at fpshares@gmail.com or call: 1-585-412-4904.
Recently sold: a share of Le Muguet, Vers Pont du Gard, near Avignon, France.
Currently available: see www.international-property-shares.com (See English, French, or Italian Fractionals)
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Friday, October 9, 2015

No car in the south of France? No problem!


My friend and fellow Le Muguet owner, Lisa, has long been a proponent of "smaller footprint" during her visits to our fractional properties in France and in England. At first I listened to her explanations of how to get around Vers Pont du Gard and the area via public transport, by foot or by train and thought "Hmmm. I'm just not there".

Well, guess what? Now that I've become a confirmed cycling advocate, I'm "all in", as they say. Today is a landmark of sorts as I've officially been back in the Languedoc for a month and a day, completely car-free, and loving it.

In August, I strongly considered buying a Vespa-type motorcycle. I did some research, found one that I liked, asked for people's opinions and then came to the conclusion that a scooter would be a perfect addition to one's mode of transportation, provided one already had a car.

Off to the races again, I started looking for cheap but good used cars. Some of you realize that I already own a swell car (it happens to be a truly handsome one as well- a jet black PT Cruiser) but it is parked in Tetbury, UK.   I drove it here last December and the drive was not only grueling but long- 13 hours each way. And expensive! I think gas and tolls amounts to about $350 each way.

Before very long I had found the car of my budget and dreams, a 1996 BMW 325i convertible with 60,000 miles on it and super affordable at only 2500 euros. Score!! Alas, by the time I researched insurance options and how to transfer title from the UK to France, someone else had beat me to the gate and had "stolen" my car. So not fair.

Slowly I came to the realization that I had nothing to lose by investing in a good "velo de route". I found a sweet one on www.leboncoin.com AND the seller delivered it to my doorstep from Nimes. Fifty euros later, off I pedaled, happy as a lark. Truly...gloriously free.

In another blog, I'll describe how liberating my cycling adventures are but for now, suffice it to say that while based at my two dwellings, St. Etienne and Le Muguet, I am one happy car-free gal. I've learned to take the 2 euro bus wherever I need to go, visit friends and grocery shop on my bike, and now, head for our Catalonia on the Sea property via the train a un euro. Life is good!


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Isn't France delicious?


On the road again
Me voici (here I am) back on welcoming Languedoc  soil and wonderfully settled into le Muguet in Vers Pont du Gard, our property share on the Languedoc/Provence border . Admittedly  the  9 hour drive from Casa Leone was not a picnic but stops en route to buy a souvenir bottle of Umbrian red  as well as a gas stop in Provence made for two good breaks. I had one moment of absolute fright as I pulled into the rest stop near Marseille for diesel fuel. 
 It takes a bit to figure out which pump to use, where to insert the American Express card, etc.  When my American Express did not work (very common in Europe with their credit cards with a circular “puce” or thumbprint on them), I reached for my travel bag with passport, change and extra visa cards and… it was missing. “ Where could that be?” I wondered and started searching under coats, cookies, bottles of travel water and so forth- no travel bag! You know that feeling when the panic starts rising from your gut up to your mouth? I was there.  Struggling  to remember the last time I had seen this slender travel bag which slings across your body and can easily be concealed, I remembered hanging it on an Italian bathroom hook when using the facilities- a good 2 hours back.  By now I had been traveling by car 6 ½ hours and the thought that I would have to retrace my steps, probably get there around midnight and all my cash, cards and passport be gone.  I was feeling pretty low. ” Ok” , I told myself,  “Let’s give this one more look”.  I went back  to my trunkwhich was burdoned with an  assortment of suitcases, food, and house supplies  and  began emptying it out. UNDERNEATH my food cooler, the slim black travel bag emerged. What a HUGE sigh of relief!

Once arrived, my gracious friend and fellow Le Muguet owner,  Anna Marie, had lit a variety of candles in our vaulted salon. She brought out the crisp local white wine from Vers Pont du Gard along with a yummy assortment of black and green olives. So good to be HOME!  France, where one and all can understand what I’m saying… Home where I know exactly where to find an open bakery with hot croissants and pain au chocolate on a Monday morning... Home, where our week’s activities have been fun and amusing:

·         Dining out at a renowned restaurant with a vintage tracteur out front and a famous NZ culinary star dining inside (Petra Mathias).  Aptly named le Tracteur, reservations are highly recommended. It's a treat to only drive 10 minutes for such good fare.

·          Picnic’s on our rooftop terrace while watching our favorite French boules players in the square below us.

·          Exploring new properties  for sale in Peter Mayle country. This sharpens my sense of real estate in France and was also a treat for Anna Marie. I believe she more fully understands what a gem we have in our home in Vers Pont du Gard.

·           Some extraordinary “vide greniers” finds at the marche aux puces in nearby Beaucaire. Among our best treasure were some exquisite silver dessert spoons, a Laguiole carving knife and fork, a vintage set of vintage tin kitchen canisters and the perfect handmade wool rug for one of the Casa Leone bedrooms.  

  Isn’t   France delicious?  Oui.. in soooo many ways.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Down the Umbrian Rabbit Hole

Have you been wondering why I haven't been sending my newsletter lately? On one hand I want to share my Alice in Wonderland-type experiences with you (and have been keeping a rough journal of each days adventures) but on the other hand, there are simply too many sirens out there calling my name; the quaint and welcoming old town of Monteleone where my balcony neighbors on the back street smile at my garland of rosy colored flowers lit up each night as I dine with crisp white wine and some version of pasta or pollo. Later on, they nod and smile at my lack of words and yet manage to say "See here, we have some sunshine today". Very kindly, another sweet middle-aged gal accompanied me from the wee grocery past our door and wanted to know where I was from. "New York" I responded. "Oh my", I'm sure she said. Oddly, like a patchwork quilt, we can piece together what we want to say, including her upcoming journey to another town this weekend and how much progress I'm making in Italian- ha! barely...

So, please do accompany me on this new journey to create a warm, welcoming, affordable, and delightful living abroad experience for any who wish to join us in Umbria. Be patient with my BLOG learning curve! Like my Italian, hopefully you will "capire" or understand enough to appreciate!

By the way, Monteleone (the Mount of the Lion) has these doorknockers on many of the homes, as one might imagine. I learned that the lion is the symbol fo the Guelps, a Middle Age faction that favored rule by the papacy over rule by the Holy Roman Empire. The antique door knocker above carried a hefty price of $175 online. We found one in Canandaigua for only $20 (!) which I brought here to install- on my list of things to do...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Passersby on the narrow pedestrian street pause to chat when you’re preparing something tantalizing.

Despite Francesco’s current weakened state (due to a bad infection he got in the hospital while recovering from eye surgery) we have been active at Le Muguet with various projects to make the house even more beautiful than it already was when we left in April.

Jacques Antzak, a local Vers upholsterer, has been sewing and hanging curtains and bed canopies stitched up from magnificent toile fabrics we found during our last visit. There are now curtains in the salon of the brilliant gold & red toile that compliments the ochre and yellow accents in the room; bold blue toile spattered with palm trees and oriental scenes on the antique wooden ciel de lit in the bedroom; more subtle blue & white birds on the toile in the guest bedroom that we have christened, in their honor, the ‘chambre des oiseaux’.

We mounted nine antique Montereau ‘vieux Paris’ plates – cream-and-black scenes of Paris – on the long stonewall near the front door where they make a stunning array, and two Edwardian plates in brown & cream next to the old ‘comptoise’ clock that graces the corner of the little stone mezzanine.
After four coats of paint we finally achieved the right color and texture on the wall showcasing the eight antique colored prints of Renaissance courtiers of the reign of Henri II. (The first coat was dark ochre painted over with a rose color, highlighted with various grays and browns, and finally covered completely with the same tone found the local Vers stone. The result exudes the warmth and depth of butterscotch.)



Various pieces of Ginny’s great collection of Circulon cookware (that she packed and mailed over in April) are now hanging under the antique brass utensil rail we purchased at a flea market, along with an assortment of old funnels, hand mixers, and kitchen bric-a-brac. The room is a visual delight but is also a cook’s dream – plenty of counter space, good small & large appliances, sunlight flooding in through the large window where passersby on the narrow pedestrian street can (and do) pause to chat when you’re preparing something tantalizing.



The terrace is especially nice at this season for anyone longing to roast in the sun and is perfectly heavenly for sitting out at night sipping wine and star gazing. The barbeque works well and the large table is a fine place to eat dinner while listening to the clink of petanque balls in the park in front of the house. (Petanque is played there all day long and into the night; you can hear the so ft murmur of the players’ voices well after sundown.)


To me, the greatest change at Le Muguet has been in the so-called ‘Oiseaux Room’that was, when we found it, nothing more than a small white room with a forlorn looking day bed and a rickety wood & canvas ‘closet’ bought (probably) from a dime store. The sofa bed and clothes-hanging contraption are history and the room now shimmers with curtains and a small ciel de lit of blue & white fabric, wall s graced by butter yellow paint that coordinate nicely with a Vers stone wall facing the bed. We added a real closet by chopping off a bit of the adjoining bathroom and this tiny bed chamber – once so under utilized – has taken on a zestful spirit. It will be a pleasure, I believe, for those sleeping in this room to be so near the large open terrace with its cooling breezes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

France bound via ferry from Rome.

After a much longer delay than anticipated ( nearly 2 months), Dan, Francesco, and Arcadio are heading back to le Muguet to put the sparkling touches on her decor. Sadly, several unexpected complications following surgery put Francesco very much under the weather. Here's a note from Dan:

"So we have decided to head to Vers tomorrow after all. To avoid driving we will be taking the ferry from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Barcelona, then drive the 3.5 hours north to Vers on Saturday afternoon. This will save me having to drive the usual 16 hour trip by myself and we hope will be a much more restful way to get there than usual. The drive from here to the coast is less than 2 hours and ferry ride is 20 hours but mostly overnight and we, of course, have booked a cabin and a 'berth' for Arcadio in the kat kennel. (He has already been on ferry rides, back & forth from Civitavecchia to Palermo, and we sneaked him into the cabin and he loved it. Watched the white caps all night through the porthole window.)

 Cost is excellent as we have spent around 750-800 round trip before and the ferry, cabin, cat, car totals to 560. We will divide the cost with you (if that is acceptable) so this one way cost for you will be 280. We don't know if we will come back the same way - maybe try going from Marseilles to Corsica, then Corsica to Civitavecchia. (Unfortunately there are no direct ferry routes between mainland France or Italy.) But we think this is a good solution for this driving problem and hope you agree. And it now gets us FINALLY to Le Muguet to sort out things, maybe box a few ears, etc. I will be assembling our travel stuff, including our paints, brushes & stencils, so we can get cracking on our decor ideas!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Houses speak to us

 Houses talk to us. It might take time to hear their voice, to adjust to their symbols. They tell us about previous lives, different occupants. Decorators are often chatty people, full of their ideas, who might fail to catch what the house is trying to say.

Dan and I always try to imagine and interpret a house’s multilayered stories. Our aim is to minimize the decorator’s presence while enhancing the potential for the house - to show what it was like for generation after generation to live in it. Le Muguet was a relatively easy job. The charm of it was all there to be seen, and Ginny has been the easiest commissioner.

There is often a serendipitous event - call it the intervention of a patron saint, or the deus ex machina – that starts it off. We were discussing creating an opening through a plain partition wall between the salon and the kitchen. We knew that wall was a problem, just because it lacked color and movement in a context rich with period details. Yet cutting through it didn’t seem the best solution either. Then a set of eight engravings caught our eyes at a large brocante (flea market) in the nearby town of Carpentras. If the subject - portraits of courtiers from the reign of Henry II of France (1519-1559) - was in line with the origin of the house (a section of the castellated wall of old Vers Pont du Gard, with its vaulted stone salon, its plafond à la française, or beamed ceiling, its spiral staircase and fenêtre à meneau, or mullioned window) the wooden frames painted in black and yellow were going to lead the way for many of our choices. It reminded us of our visit many years ago to the chateau de Bussy-Rabutin where the owner, disgraced from the court of Louis XIV, surrounded himself with the most incredible gallery of portraits of men and women of his time on a whim of both nostalgia and humour.


How to describe the beautiful yellow, so sunny and hearty, that you see so often in Provence on market stalls? Or those vibrant fabrics, mounds of spices, and warm ceramics of Marseilles, Anduze and Montpellier? It is a textured deep yellow, with a hint of burnt sienna, that reminds you of the robust soul of the land, the cheerful approach of its people. The massive fireplace at Le Muguet lost its sombre allure and found a domestic contentment with the mantel adorned with yellow platters and hearth screened with a new ochre curtain. And an Anduze enamelled vase is softening a sharp stone corner, red and yellow toile hangs from the windows, yellow lampshades top old petrol lamps.

When you see Le Muguet for the first time you’ll be enchanted by its quintessentially French surroundings. The square it overlooks is planted with ubiquitous plane trees, the men in the village linger all year on sunny days to play endless games of petanque under the trees next to a 19th century covered fountain. The vans from the vendors of fish or vegetable stop regularly during the week. And when April rolls around, and the asparagus fete takes place, everyone in the village sits at long tables covered with white linen, eating, drinking, and joking to the sound of the accordion.

‘French’ and ‘domestic’ have become les mots d’ordre (watchwords) for all our picking. A ‘comptoise’ - the French country version of a grandfather clock - was found at a local dealer, adorned with naïf decoration on the pine case. Every house, every kitchen, would invariably resound with the ticking and chiming of a similar clock: part of the French provincial DNA, just as is the case with the old-fashioned petrol lamp, with the porcelain cloche, now hanging from the salon ceiling. It bespeaks an era not too distant from us, especially in terms of comfort and cosiness. Yes, it is still possible to live our modern lives surrounded by objects from the past that speak of functionality, dignity, and pleasant design. A ‘Voltaire’ chair, still upholstered in its rich green linen velvet, can be as comfortable to snuggle in with a book than anything manufactured today - and the curves of a Louis XV caned chair have no rival in the history of furniture making for simple elegance.

Another happy ‘trouvaille’ (find) at a flea market made our day: a huge wooden panel with a central diamond motif also a suggestion of French renaissance, that found its perfect place on the hood of the main bedroom fireplace.