Kismet Encounter in a Beau Village
In this case, the word one might use is “kismet,” meaning destiny or fate, and a host of other definitions for something that seems so predestined that it might as well have been “written in the stars” or “God’s will” or “the writing on the wall.”
Let me explain.
Yesterday, my daughter and I had planned to take a day trip to the village of Saorge as part of a three-day tour of the medieval villages close to Nice, but at the last minute decided not to do that. Saorge, close to the Italian border, north of Ventimiglia, but still in France, was just a bit farther than we had wanted to go that day, nor was I in the mood to maneuver the circuitous roads of Ventimiglia to get on the right path. Instead, after a very brief amount of Google research to find other suitable destinations, I suggested we go to Peillon.
Peillon is one of the “beaux villages,” perched, fortified, medieval and picturesque, just 20 kilometers north of Nice. I’d never heard of it before and had certainly never been there, not knowing what to expect. We climbed a very narrow road made up of a series of hair-pin turns that would make any driver sit upright and nervous in his seat, as it did me. When you drive into the village, there are about a dozen spaces for cars, but no more, and it is impossible to enter the village any other way than by foot.
Upon entering the village, a woman sitting on a stone stoop near a fountain just as the stairway ascended to the village called out to me in American English, “Are you Adrian?”
Imagine my surprise to see someone I had met once through an American friend living in Nice in this very remote spot. After a few OMG’s, she said, “I live here in Peillon part of the year. Would you like to see our house?”
Of course, we jumped at the chance. Her door is very near the entry to the village, a blessing as the village is pedestrian only…seriously pedestrian. Narrow stone stairways ascend and descend along cobblestone pathways, under archways and through tunnels. Every inch is made of stone, except for the wooden doorways, most of which were so low that one would have to duck to enter. Population statistics online claim that the population is about 1,100, but that seems way too many to be believed.
She and her husband are from New York City, but discovered this oasis a few years ago. They bought the home from a British woman who had renovated it to perfection, and with it came most of the furnishings. When you enter the main door, it takes you down a long stone corridor, that feels very much like a cave, until you enter into a large two-level high foyer that leads to an enclosed patio at the rear and stairs up to three living levels. On one level is the more than fully equipped kitchen, a master bedroom and a guest bedroom, each with their own spacious bathrooms. On another level is the salon with stunning views of the mountainside and up a steep winding staircase is a third bedroom where their son loves to take refuge. In one corner of the living room is a baby grand piano that astonished me for what it must have taken to get it into its rightful place.
The apartment, or house, hard to define since the walls are attached to other abodes, is a combination of very contemporary and insanely ancient…so many centuries that it’s impossible to count. It’s a refuge where one can imagine an urbanite loving for the sheer contrast to the hustle-bustle. She loves to bike and hike. Having a car to explore the countryside is more a treat than a burden. It was all so surprising and awe inspiring that we hardly knew how to react.
She explained that the other residents had told her “that in the 1960s, Peillon was essentially an abandoned village.” At the time, the French government offered artists very low cost residences there, and it had evolved ever since. A lot of the homes are only occupied in the summer, but she admitted that there is a nice core of permanent residents. They love it for its tranquility and it’s easy access to Nice.
Our American friend directed us to one of the two restaurants in the village, the Auberge de la Madone, the only one open on a Wednesday. Run by the Millo family who have four generations in Peillon of which to be proud, served us a truly magnificent meal on the terrace of the auberge overlooking the beautiful landscape of orchards and olive trees. Mathieu Millo presented us with a plate of fresh-made socca (crisped up to perfection), an entrée of the most heavenly locally-grown red tomatoes (the best I’ve ever tasted), a whole grilled sea bass with lightly sautéed vegetables, apple tarte for dessert he claims he made himself, accompanied by locally produced wines and topped off with a dense espresso. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.
We were told that the other restaurant in the village, Les Plaisirs, is run by another member of the Millo family who branched off after having a family feud. According to our friend in the village, it’s as delightful and delicious, but one must reserve in advance as it’s very small and they only prepare for the number of reservations on their books.
Once nourished and content, we wandered up and into the village, taking the twists and turns, the stairways up and down, to discover its charm. There were few properties for sale. For those who want as remote and tranquil a life as our American friends, property in a village like this is remarkably inexpensive. A two-bedroom of 70m2 in the heart of the village newly renovated in 2018 with unobstructed views of the village and the hills, consisting of a living room with a vaulted ceiling, a fully furnished and equipped independent kitchen, a cellar and an outdoor terrace is for sale for only 185,000€. For another 69,000€, you can buy an adjoining studio with a loggia. (See the apartment information here.)
Another, larger four-room village house of 95m2 with a terrace and two bedrooms, a living room with fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, an independent toilet and a wine cellar has unobstructed views of the village and the hills, double glazing, wall insulation, independent heating, west main exposure, and boast of a beautiful sunset, all for only 209,000€. (See the apartment information here.)
These properties are half the price of Niçois apartments (and one-quarter the price of Paris or less), yet very much a part of Provence and the Riviera. What would it be like to live so remotely, is the question I’d ask myself? For a couple or family who don’t need much outside stimulation, and who have been bombarded much of their life by the “noise” of urbanity, might find it heaven like our American friends there. If you’re a single person looking for “action,” then I’m not so sure it fits as well, but no doubt, this is a place where one can commune with nature and one’s own thoughts, removing all stress.
For me, property is not just “real estate.” Property is where “home” is — where one can create a “nest,” a safe and secure place to be and enjoy life to its fullest. It can be very different for each person and while this might not suit most, it obviously suits many, with many different villages like this in France from which to choose.
The “kismet” part to this coincidence was getting to know this particular resident of Peillon, which seemed to be very “meant to be,” but something we can only discover as the future unfolds.
Adrian Leeds Group
(in Peillon, France)
P.S. There will be no Parler Paris, Parler Nice and no French Property Insider between August 12 and 15. I’ll be on the sands of the Spanish island of Ibiza.! I Hope you don’t mind this brief break.