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Spring gardening

Picture: Ton Muller | De Boschhoeve, Wolfheze (NL)

The best time for having 6.000 square meters of land is Spring. I’m totally amazed by the transformation of the soil, the plants, the trees and the view.

Only a month ago the land was still grey and depressing but like a miracle overnight it changed into a bursting of life vivid green. The fruit trees are blossoming, the fresh green leaves are popping up everywhere as well as the first weeds ūüôā But this year we will turn the garden into this Eden of Experimental Gardening. With our friend Hendrik Dekker who is a professional Landscape Architect we are planting a complete new ‘biotope’ like the picture here taken at De Boschhoeve.

Let me explain the new set up of the gardens… Continue reading

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Finally: the Official Launch of Supergites.nl

It’s finally live: the official Supergites website. Though it’s still in Dutch, it’s there and that’s the most important thing. The French, English, and German versions will follow in January, as will the calendar and the automated reservation module.

We also registered the g√ģte at the funniest website, Vakantie bij Nederlanders in Frankrijk . nl, which translates¬†to ‘Vacation with the Dutch in France’.¬†We’re eager to¬†see how it works and whether it gives us any leads.

The g√ģte will be ready for rent April 1. Tomorrow we’re off to France for 7 days of hard labour. ūüôā

Check our new design at Supergites.nl.

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Looking for summer?

Mr. Winter is about to leave. The sun is getting warmer. The first flowers are popping up from the cold soil. In Tourteron we’re looking forward to Spring and Summer 2010. It’ll be the first time you can enjoy the peace of the valley, the shades of the fruit trees, the smell of the flower garden, and the quality of the house.

To be sure those weeks off are yours, you should go to supergites.nl and make your booking.

Merci!

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The good news is here: We know when we‚Äôre opening!

This Saturday we went to see the progress in Tourteron. Although we were kept informed by Steph√°ne on a regular basis, we were not sure what to expect. In the end, even the three-and-a-half-hour drive does make¬†us feel a bit helpless.¬†It’s the same with¬†any construction project: being there¬†at least¬†speeds the workmen.

Sanding Mess

Sanding Mess

When we arrived, the whole place was barricaded with hardboard. All the windows were closed and covered with black plastic. The larger ones were even covered with wooden panels. We couldn’t enter the house by the front door. We had to take the second door uphill. Entering bedroom 3, we stepped into one big, dirty cloud of grey dust. It instantly grabbed our throats. What happened here? Throughout the house the floor was covered with a 5 cm-thick layer of black crystal sand. OK, they have been sanding the wood. In the bare light coming through some holes in the roof and windows we could see the result. All of the wooden beams had become this beautiful light-brown, rough oak colour. Fantastic!
The second fantastic thing that happened was this: the water meter had been moved from the inside of the house to the outside. As strange as it sounds, the meter was originally installed in the middle of bedroom 3. That can be quite unhandy when you need to check something while people are renting. So Monsieur de l’Eau Official came, dug a hole, and placed the meter outside of the house. This resulted in a completely hidden water system. I love it!
The third thing I love about this update¬†is the letters from the officials. The first letter¬† came¬†from S.P.A.N.C.; it‚Äôs the official note telling us we have to wait another two weeks before we’ll know if we can install the new 4000-liter eco-friendly septic tank where we want it. Why does that make me happy?¬†Because it means they have at least approved it! There‚Äôs another bureau involved who‚Äôll have a final say, but this is a good start.
The second letter has not arrived yet. Why does that make me happy? It means we have to wait one more week. No news here means the complete building permit has been approved and we can start on the roofs and windows in one week.

Our¬†plan is to open for¬†rental guests¬†the third week of March. Saturday March 20 will be the first time somebody can rent the first Super G√ģte. That‚Äôs right before the Easter holidays.

In the next weeks we‚Äôll have a¬†reservation module online at the official supergites.com site, but¬†any early birds who really can‚Äôt wait should contact us here:¬†marco AT artmiks . nl . Because we would appreciate the risk you’d take by making a reservation on a project that isn‚Äôt even finished, we‚Äôll have a very nice proposal waiting for you.

And you probably wonder what rent¬†costs at¬†the mill. A full week’s stay–Saturday 14.00 hours to Saturday 10.00 hours–will be 1200 euro in high season and 800 euro in low season. This includes double fireplace, four bedrooms each with its own bathroom, a 90-square meter¬†living room, designer kitchen, and a warm welcome. It¬†does not include¬†electricity, wood for the fireplace,¬†or cleaning. So, who‚Äôll be our¬†first guests?

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Like playing golf?

My best friend will Laugh Out Loud or even Roll On the Floor Laughing when he reads this post for the first time. But an amazing discovery I have made today: I like watching Golf.

I was invited to¬†go to the Dutch KLM Open, and I took the chance to watch golf and to be on a course for the first time in my life. I always considered playing golf posh, fake, and a lot of ‘puha’ as the Dutch would say. ‘Only wannabes play golf to pretend they are somebody’. So I avoided the subject amongst my friends, since many of them actually do play golf. I really didn’t think much of their hobby. Not my cup of tea–end of discussion.

Today I discovered why they like it.

I went to the Kennemer Dunes close to Zandvoort. The first impression supported the original idea: lots of black cars with beige leather seats and ‘wooden’ finishing. The white pants were reflecting the sun¬†in painful brightness. The hats make it look like we’re in the English colonies or even in a scene of Brideshead Revisited. This was indeed the Walhalla of the Rich.¬†So, this is it? I let it happen and seated myself on Hole 13’s grandstand.

The crowd was quiet! …wow! Since I feel easily uncomfortable with the shouting crowds found at soccer matches, I noticed the¬†tranquility right away. As soon as the silence¬†sign¬†went up birds¬†were all¬†I could hear. I searched for the players and far away I spotted a golfer swinging at an imaginary ball. And then, the strike. In the quiet peace I saw a little white dot approaching through the blue sky. It landed right in front of the grandstand without a lot of bouncing. How did he do that,¬†I wondered? Shooting a ball¬†more than¬†200 meters with just a single bounce? Almost a hole-in-one. I applauded spontaneously. The second player¬†looked for his ball in the rough. As soon as he found it-‚Äďagain‚Äď-silence, concentration, and Tik. His ball flew 40 meters and missed the hole by 10 centimeters. I jumped up and yelled, “WOW!”

I was shocked … for the first time in my life I was excited about a match, a competition in which only one will win. I was completely on the right spot and didn’t move for the following¬†two hours. I stayed at my seat and watched all the other players trying to conquer the same hole in as¬†few strikes as¬†possible.

I’m totally excited about golf now. I’m even thinking of taking lessons. I could try to find a place in the Netherlands, but I’ve discovered that the¬†Parcours Les Poursaudes is only 9 km from our mill in Tourteron.

This opens new horizons… ūüôā I’ll contact them to see how I can get a good deal for myself and for our future guests. Please, come play golf with me! You can easily win. I’m a complete novice. LOL

Golf des Ardennes

Golf des Ardennes

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10 Tips for People Who Want to Buy French Property

As you know from reading this blog, we’ve been through a lot of stuff to buy our French mill. I thought it was nice to turn some of our experiences into tips. If you’re interested in a little French place to spend the next level in your life at, read these carefully…and then do as you please. ūüôā

1. Target wisely.
France is HUGE. Compared to the Netherlands or Belgium or even other European countries, France is simply enormous. So be very specific about where you’d like your home. This sounds logical but-‚Äďtrust me‚Äď-a distance that feels a bit far away the first time does NOT get any closer. Use a pair of compasses to divine a range.

2. Check distance.
Calculate whether you could drive the distance on your own. Your partner might not come with you every time and you might need to drive to and from in one day or overnight. Four to six hours is OK. Over six to eight hours is stretching it. Over eight hours is crazy. You can fly, but you never know how expensive that might become in the future.

3. Check route.
Some places, even within the logical distance, take much longer to drive to. For instance: passing Antwerp on a Friday means one hour extra. Also, yet of a different order, check whether there are more ways to get there. Driving by Charleroi is NO fun. It’s an ugly town and the route is not the most pleasant. (We prefer to drive by Namur; this means green landscape until our front porch.) The route should be relaxing. You drive there when you need some extra peace, not¬†to arrive stressed because the traffic kills you.

4. Make up your mind.
What kind of house are you looking for? What will you use it for? Do you plan to share it with friends and relatives¬†or just use it yourselves? There’s a large variety within types of houses to buy. Make a checklist of things you like to do in and around your house. Do you feel like doing nothing at all for the next 10 years? Then buy a small house without a lot of land. Do you want to entertain friends at your place? Buy something with an extra room, and make sure there’s some sightseeing within a 50-km drive.

5. Seek out peace (in yourself).
If you’d like to find peace in France, make sure the house offers it. A sweet, hidden place in the forest might look serene, but it’s remote and available for anybody–meaning unwelcome strangers–to pay a visit. There’s nobody to check. We preferred a place that is within walking distance from a town. Why?¬† Because everybody knows the property and will know you and your car. The French do check who drives into¬†and out of their village. This neighbor patrol might be unwanted by some,¬†but it’s also keeping an eye on what’s happening when you’re NOT there. Your French house should give you peace, not fear and worry.

6. Go there more than once.
The French and the real estate people want you to decide quickly. “Listen, you are the first to see.¬†I have other people waiting. Blah blah.” Don’t buy it–it’s just a way to pressure you. If it’s true, then bad luck for you, but most of the time it’s bullocks. Try to lengthen your decision period. Going there more than once gives you a better insight of the house, the sounds, the town, the light. You don’t want to wake up next to a railway that you really can’t see but definitely can hear (at night).

7. Spend money on advice.
I guess this goes for everyone buying property. If you’re not a regular buyer of properties, ask someone to come and check your future house. Ask an independent and impartial¬†French/English speaker to help you negotiate. This person should not have any chauvinistic feelings towards the French, nor should they¬†have a¬†relationship with any of the other participants. It can be a building constructor with an eye for the construction or just a businessman with a nose for saving you money. Everybody will tell you a different story. You need him/her to get the message straight.

8. Do not agree on any price before you’re sure.
The French really don’t like you to come back on a deal. Nobody likes to hear: “Wait a minute, we’d like to renegotiate.” Sometimes it’s inevitable, like when we discovered our land floods twice a year. They forgot to tell us: yeah right. So back to the table. We got 10% off in the end, but we surely didn’t make any friends. Also, you could make a wish list of what you like and be so direct to add that list¬†to the requirements for the deal. We added the permission for a tennis court and swimming pool. Granted.

9) Ask around.
We found a chambre d’hote in the area where many people with the same mission stayed over. That helps BIG time for multiple aspects. A) During dinner you can ask who’s who in the area, B) find property for sale that’s not being listed yet, C) make friends close to your property who are dealing with the same issues.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some information on the property itself that does not come from the owners. They–including attorney, agent, and whoever else¬†is involved‚Äď-will not tell you everything. We used our French advisor to call the mayor and some neighbors to get the full picture.

10) Follow your heart.
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Stones do have a vibe.

Off the record: Learn French! ūüėÄ

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First Act

First Act

First Act

Every play has its First Act: the part with the first signs of the story line. It unfolds what we have tasted in the Prelude. For our adventure of the Super G√ģtes that First Act was today.

The previous owners started renovating the kitchen–but stopped right when they finished the ceiling. You can see the electricity points where they wanted to hang the lights. They came no further than a light bulb. That IS convenient, but not pretty. The ceiling was OK and yet we opened it, smashed it with a hammer.

I consider this to be the First Act. The demolition of what is there. All you have seen of the interior will be gone soon, coated with a thin layer of white dust. Dead electricity wires sticking out of the stone walls and no sewer to release your daily pressure. This division of the ‘show’ will reveal the death of an old house and take around¬†one ¬†month (I hope).

We will tear down the kitchen, the bathroom, the ceiling of chambre 2, the sewer system, the electricity plan, the walls of chambre 3, and the roof of the right wing. Then we’ll¬†make holes in the roof of the living room. Uff! When¬†I think about it I feel my heart pounding. The first act is a dangerous spectacle of dust and stones…debris is the magic word. It will be messy.

From the dust it will rise: the best holiday home you can imagine. ūüôā

And the kitchen ceiling? We know now it can contain the extraction hood.

You can see what’s there now here and what will be there then there.

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The New Collection

We’ve started working on the court and the orchard.¬†They are¬†around the mill and there is grass there¬†that needed to be maintained anyhow. It’s logical to start here and ‚Äďmind you‚Äď a good garden needs at least three years of work. The first year is for¬†shaping and planting the new collection. The second year is for¬†(re)planting, growing and maintenance. And during the third year you’ll be¬†(re)planting, growing, maintenance and enjoying.

So this is the year of The New Collection. We bought some plants in France, but they are way too expensive! We’d rather buy the plants in the Netherlands for example at Abbing (Zeist) … I just love to search around that huge nursery.

So far we have planted the following:A part of the New Collection

Achillea millefolium ‘Cloth of Gold’

Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’

Anaphalis triplinervis

Anemopsis californica

Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’

Armeria maritima

Aster ‘Monte Cassino’

Astilbe tangutica

Astilboides tabularisThe untamed garden

Astrantia major

Brunnera ‘Langtree’

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Calamogrostis brachytricha

Campanula addenda ‘Blue Star’

Carex muskingumensis

Centaurea montana ‘Grandiflora’

Chaerophyllum roseum

Clematis montana ‘Rosebud’

Darmera peltata

Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’

Filipendulina rubra

Iris ensata ‘Diamant’

Iris japonica ‘Variegata’

Luzula nivea

Molinia transparentThe shape of the new borders

Pachysandra terminalis

Papaver orientale ‘Perry’s White’

Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Robusta’

Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’

Polygonatum vanitatum

Primula¬† ‘Gold Lace’

Primula vialii

Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’

Rodgersia podophyllaPlanting

Rosa ‘Penny Lane’

Thalia dealbata

Thalictrum rochebrunianum

Trachelospermum jasminum

Trachystemon orientalis

Verbascum ‘Raspberry Ripple’

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Spending time green

I hate to admit it,¬†but YES, I¬†DO love gardening. I can spend hours walking through a garden ‚Äďespecially the gardens I maintain‚Äď checking on every little perennial to see how¬†everyone is¬†doing.

The mill at Tourteron has 5,700 square meters of garden–and that’s a long walk. Mind you: That’s 7,000 square feet. But I honestly don’t mind. It’s a perfect way to start a day before the first cup of coffee. I’d do it all day if I could.

Do I talk to the flowers and the trees? There’s my next confession: I guess so. LOL!

I could talk about gardening all day and show you every single flower there is. But it’s better if¬†you check yourself: I’ve made three galleries at Flickr only on the garden of the mill.

The (unknown) flowers at Tourteron: about the flowers we discovered in the garden.

The New Collection: about the plants we bought and planted.

Shaping the Garden: about the progress we’re making with getting the garden into shape.

So, those three galleries are enough for you to check out. The rest of the big steps will be blogged here (Flickr is only for the pics).

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Just the beginning

When you think you have seen it all, it’s usually just the beginning. In the period while we were still working on the finance we got a call from Madame Picard. During the heavy rain of that night the stream didn’t hold the extra water and…you¬†guessed it: flooded the Mill.

The clay residue of the flood

The clay residue of the flood

Now that was a big surprise. The mill apparently floods at least once every 5 years. At least!¬†We were in shock! And so were all our friends ūüôā

We claimed an extra cut on the price, but this time the French owners really said: “Pas possible!” So what to do next? We were this close to buying a mill with a high risk of flooding. We thought about it for a week or so – you know late night wine drinking, talking about risk, chances and dreams. And we decided to do it. “We’re Dutch,” we thought.¬†“We”ll find a way to stop the water!”

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