Two years ago my friend Robin and I spent five days at a house in the village of Magny-les-Villers in Burgundy – surrounded by vineyards and rolling countryside. On arrival at such a quiet location, Robin wondered aloud whether we would find things to do for five days. On leaving, we both wished we could stay for weeks longer.
I found this new book about Magny-les-Villers online. Turns out it was written by Laura Bradbury who (together with her husband Franck) rented us the house where we stayed. Titled My Grape Escape, this book is all about finding and renovating that property. It is about camaraderie with friends, family, and workers who help inject sanity and levity into the daunting task of completing renovations before the first paying guests arrive.
The genre is that of foreigner buys property in France, undertakes renovations, and in doing so learns to slow down and appreciate the quality of day to day life. It also documents the transformation of a person as well as a property. Laura was in her twenties when she and Franck purchased this property. Her years of studying law at Oxford convinced her that time spent in non-productive tasks was almost abhorrent, something to feel guilty about. But her husband Franck helped demonstrate otherwise.
When they set off to spend a day buying a second hand car, they instead enjoyed long hours with friends eating breakfast and lunch, and drinking wine and coffee, and buying – unexpectedly – all required kitchenware for their home at a bargain price. Their failure to find a car was alleviated within days when they found one to purchase elsewhere. The book is filled with these scenes – which expand Laura’s comfort in letting go of control. As Franck asks her about events in life: “…why don’t you try to believe that they will turn out just fine – no matter what we do or don’t do?”
One day when Laura and Franck part from their friend René, he leans in the open car window to tell her, “…never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important.”
Laura lets go of her plans and realizes that working long hours in a law firm might damage her precious marriage. She also begins to enjoy herself more. Opportunities to learn abound around Magny-les-Villers. “I had never met anyone who was more gifted for capitalizing on a moment of celebration than Burgundians,” she writes.
On visiting a physician to get a prescription for pills to reduce anxiety, Laura hears her husband Franck ask whether his wife can still drink wine while on medication.
“Only good wine,” Doctor Dupont answered. “I would highly recommend around two glasses at lunch and dinner. Something fortifying. A Pommard or a Vosne-Romanée would be perfect, though I would also consider a solid Savigny. I would, however, advise you to stay away from the whites at the moment, Madame Germain. They tend to have an agitating effect.”
The book is riddled with colors, scents, and images of good food and wine. There are blue-footed chickens from Louhands, yellow wine from the Jura region, cherry red ramekins, lime green pie plates, as well as stewed rabbits and prunes in white wine sauce, smoked morteau sausages and potatoes with crème fraiche and freshly chopped parsley, and bottles of bubbly crémant, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, and Savigny-les-Beaune Les Guettes.
The home they are renovating comes with historical intrigue. Built in the year of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille – 1789 – it was also used to house a billeted German soldier during the Second World War.
It was a pleasure to read this story of how the property we stayed in was first renovated. Though I never met Laura and Franck personally because they were in Canada at the time, the attention to detail they put into each communication, and their rapid responsiveness to our queries were both informative and helpful. The brightly painted home was a joy to stay in. On more than one morning while there, we woke, drank coffee, sliced a baguette for breakfast, then simply opened the door to wander by foot around some of the most sublime and precious wine properties of the Cote D’Or.
This book brings alive the quirky joys of living in the French countryside, and will make you reconsider what you truly consider important in life.
Where to go?
Laura and Franck can recommend some of the best places to visit. Two local wineries recommended by Franck are the following:
In Magny-les-Villers; 03 80 62 91 50; firstname.lastname@example.org
In nearby Savigny lès Beaune; 03 80 21 53 42; email@example.com