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Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France

Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France

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Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France

195 pages
2 hours
Sep 19, 2020


“Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France” is California artist Marques Vickers’ memoir and mediation on five years of his passionate pursuit of la belle vie in France’s Languedoc rustic refuge. Vickers’ evocative and original vignettes illuminate the enchantment behind southern French culture and village life.

His insider’s profiles into the region’s history, eccentricities and charm become an indispensable guide for the visitor wishing to lift the veil behind French mystique. For expatriates wishing to integrate seamlessly, his insights bridge the divide of nationality. His diverse and humorous essays become as delicately layered as the alchemic blending of fine Rhone Valley style wines. The edition offers practical advice on the realities of investing and renovating stone village properties with purchasing and resale strategies. Commentary is abundantly seasoned regarding the often confounding and intruding French bureaucracy on matters of immigration, health care and regional wine classifications.
“Love, Wine and Real Estate” is a gourmet indulgence as flavorful and aromatic as the diverse natural herbs fronting limestone caged mountain ranges crowned by mediaeval castle ruins. France’s Languedoc region boasts the world’s largest wine acreage, pristine and vacant white sand Mediterranean beaches and internationally renowned cuisine including foie gras, cassoulet, duck specialties, pastis and varied fresh seafood delicacies from the spawning waters. The savage regional winds, climate and landscape extremes stimulate a beauty that has both haunted and inspired artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

The writings escort you into the cloistered halls of a seasonal truffle auction, adjacent regional caverns boasting scrawled 10,000-year-old drawings and 400 year-old graffiti and the remnant legacy of the Cathar religion that barely escaped total annihilation.

Savor this gourmet delicacy at your favorite patisserie accompanied by a dark roasted espresso and chocolate pastry. “Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France” is your travel companion to experience a captivating adventure from the inside.

Sep 19, 2020

Despre autor

Visual Artist, Writer and Photographer Marques Vickers is a California native presently living in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, Washington regions.He was born in 1957 and raised in Vallejo, California. He is a 1979 Business Administration graduate from Azusa Pacific University in the Los Angeles area. Following graduation, he became the Public Relations and ultimately Executive Director of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce between 1979-84. He subsequently became the Vice President of Sales for AsTRA Tours and Travel in Westwood between 1984-86.Following a one-year residence in Dijon, France where he studied at the University of Bourgogne, he began Marquis Enterprises in 1987. His company operations have included sports apparel exporting, travel and tour operations, wine brokering, publishing, rare book and collectibles reselling. He has established numerous e-commerce, barter exchange and art websites including MarquesV.com, ArtsInAmerica.com, InsiderSeriesBooks.com, DiscountVintages.com and WineScalper.com.Between 2005-2009, he relocated to the Languedoc region of southern France. He concentrated on his painting and sculptural work while restoring two 19th century stone village residences. His figurative painting, photography and sculptural works have been sold and exhibited internationally since 1986. He re-established his Pacific Coast residence in 2009 and has focused his creative productivity on writing and photography.His published works span a diverse variety of subjects including true crime, international travel, California wines, architecture, history, Southern France, Pacific Coast attractions, fiction, auctions, fine art marketing, poetry, fiction and photojournalism.He has two daughters, Charline and Caroline who presently reside in Europe.

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Love, Wine and Real Estate in Southern France - Marques Vickers


How I Found Myself in the French Languedoc

In the fall of 2004, the notion of relocating to southern France was a pleasant, but irregular musing my wife, Claudia, and I shared over toasts of Pinot Noir.

We were comfortable in a four-bedroom northern California home with a picturesque view of Marin and Napa counties. We had secure careers, adequate income and schedules enabling frequent travel, dining out and pursuit of our unique interests. We had no children living with us as my two daughters from a previous marriage resided overseas.

Like many suburban couples, we had hectic lifestyles, but were content. We intended to remain in Northern California for an indefinite span of years.

Who could have foreseen the impending real estate boom within the next twelve months? Real estate values in the area and nationwide would spiral into an appreciation tailwind. Prices kept rising and a buying frenzy kept accelerating. One neighbor across the street piqued our interest by marketing her five-bedroom house with a modest view at an absurdly inflated asking price. Claudia and I decided to test the market with our property at this same asking price. We felt this price absurd because just the year before we had refinanced our mortgage and our house was appraised for half of this value.

Following a brief three-month listing with many viewers, we had a motivated and solid buyer. The real estate marketplace had spoken.

Suddenly, the south of France seemed as practical and accessible as any other location.

With conviction and a comfortable profit from the transaction, we acted on our muse and selected the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. Claudia’s online research had confirmed the region’s agreeable climate, easy access to the Mediterranean, ancient and historic ruins, close proximity to Spain and most importantly, undervalued real estate.

Internet real estate listings confirmed an abundance of 100+-year-old stone village houses (in varying states of condition) priced less than 150,000 American dollars. This pricing contrasted significantly with compatible properties in the neighboring regions of Provence and the French Riviera.

Following the sale and during the Christmas holiday, we traveled for ten days throughout the Languedoc viewing properties and inhaling the distinctive fragrance and charm of the region. During this brief span, we intimately visited approximately a dozen villages and houses before arriving at a decision.

In brief, we made an accepted offer on a three-level stone house facing the major entry road to the wine growing village of Fabrezan, located in the Department of Aude (named after an adjacent river). The house, built in 1887, appeared to require cosmetic repairs but seemed structurally sound. Since detailed inspection data was non-existent, most of my observations were merely instinctive. I did not have tradesman or carpenter experience, so it was critical that any repair work involved with this initial real estate investment be reasonable.

Fabrezan’s population was approximately 1200 plus and geographically wedged enviably between acres of vineyards and the historic Roman cities of Narbonne and Carcassonne. We successfully obtained a low variable interest mortgage loan from a French bank following twenty percent cash down payment. In fact, the whole transaction, paperwork and deposit process shepherded by our nearby Lezignan based English real estate agent resembled a typical American real estate transaction.

One of the more alarming differences however was the lack of any buyer protective provisions and guarantees inherent in American real estate contracts. Buying a house with character (cache in French) in excess of a century old was a leap of faith. Thus far, our own faith had seemed justified.

Southern French homeowners we learned preferred more modern brick constructed houses with contemporary conveniences. Most shunned these traditional stone houses unless they were employed as vacation residences. The remaining orphan houses were usually inherited but abandoned and a burden to both maintain and pay annual taxes on. The French government had streamlined the process for foreign ownership. English and Northern European buyers became the primary source of French rural renewal, one transaction at a time. With expanded inter-European air transport, reasonable airfares and 300+ days of probable sunshine, the Languedoc region became their ideal second residence.

We moved into Fabrezan during the first week of June 2005 following the conclusion of my teaching year. The village, to any outsider, would appear vacant and lethargic, but superficial observations are simply that, superficial. Each village has a unique population base and undercurrents of cultural complexity. For a foreigner, who will always be an outsider regardless of their level of language comprehension, the simple act of residing in France is a daily adjustment. In fact, it involves thousands of continuous adjustments and dismissal of all previous assumptions.

The extreme levels of beauty, frustration, genuine hospitality and contradiction are the only certainties. Serene and leisurely villages like Fabrezan are in a state of transition, at the crossroads of stagnation or reluctantly leaping into the computerized global economy of this century.

Their ultimate destiny has been determined as with many other global rural destinations. The young who traditionally leave for urban employment welcome change. Their flight continues leaving Fabrezan with a mix of retirees, detached foreigners and the unemployable (habitual bar patrons). In sifting out my observations and perceptions of this village life it is only fair to add that subjectivity colors one’s sense of self-discovery and revelation. I likened my five-year residence in two different villages to the aging process of premium claret. The further time distances my memory from the experience, the more I realize how remarkable those experiences were.

In a single lifetime, we may be fortunate to experience moments of genuine enlightenment. My own five-year residence in southern France was a well-lived lifetime. As the experience slowly fades into the mirage of memory, I savor the re-articulation of my impressions.

A Personal Leap of Faith

I envy you.

Are you out of your mind?

These paradoxical sentiments intertwined each exchange when someone inquired about our impending relocation to the Languedoc.

I am a cautious individual, yet I recognize the flirtatious and fleeting nature of opportunity. We are given few windows of genuine opportunity to make major changes in life and they are never risk free. The act of turning our backs to the known and embracing a radical relocation was both exhilarating and petrifying.

Our move to France seemed to complete an unfinished chapter of my life that I had abandoned nearly twenty years before.

Within most of us restlessness resides. This sense of unease isn’t necessarily composed by personal unhappiness or even a sour attitude towards present circumstances. Rather, the source of our restlessness may be grounded in the certainty that life offers more than our present environment. We are destined for a better experience in our existence.

Most of us forsake this nagging impulse until it becomes merely a faint background hum, scarcely audible. Our activities, families, occupations, children, debts, lifestyle and perceived obligations become convenient and acceptable rationalizations for avoidance. As the years pass, any sense of urgency fades and the segway to change becomes a roadway strewn with the refuse of excuses.

Amidst moments of clarity, we may sense the horizon for change no longer exists because it is entirely eclipsed from our view. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. This impulse for change never entirely vanishes.

Our 2005 relocation to southern France was not my first attempt.

I had a much clearer strategy for success than my initial adventure. I had sufficient financial resources, a foreseeable source of income (renovating and reselling houses) and a wife/partner, Claudia, who equally shared my zeal to contribute and succeed. Without this confidence, I would have been insane to attempt to repeat an earlier failure.

My French History

Prior to this move with Claudia, I had made several touring visits to France, my first at the age of seventeen. During a second visit in 1983, I met Annie Monin whom I married three years later.

Following our marriage ceremony, we attempted to reside in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy and near her hometown village of Auxonne. The residence lasted for nine painful months during 1986-87. Like the marriage prompting it, our efforts were doomed from the outset. Impulsiveness, ill preparation and incompatibility were contributing culprits. Collectively, the combination insured immediate failure and later divorce.

My impulse to live in France then was motivated by a sense of vocational stagnation and curiosity to live overseas. I had just turned thirty. My self-confidence and love towards my new wife seemed sufficient adaptation skills. I was leaving seven years of executive level jobs following college amidst the competitive southern California job market. I naively reasoned this work experience would prove adequate preparation for working in the Burgundy job market.

During that period, my French language skills were insufficient for a workplace environment. I enrolled for three intensive months of language training at the University of Bourgogne in Dijon. I rationalized that three months of daily instruction would make me employable and living in Dijon over time would make me fluent.

Reality is severe for the unprepared. I still shudder reflecting on my rationale. Memory amnesia is often a soothing balm. Curiously, in retrospect I have never regretted the audacity behind my attempt. One must be willing to risk sometimes.

The Beginning of Many Subsequent Endings

My Dijon adventure endured nine months before exhausted resources and persistent quarreling made a return to California inevitable. The language courses indeed improved my communication skills. The 1987 Burgundy job market for Americans and majority of foreigners was nonexistent, even for temporary work. It was hardly a nationality issue as regional unemployment was high and wages unattractive. Job mobility and availability were and remain limited within France. My skills set did not fit into a specific niche and likely would not have had I remained in the region.

Persistence wears thin following six months of polite, but successive nons, particularly when you have been steadily employed in your home country. Arguments over the lack of incoming money became routine to the point of extreme idiocy. Living primarily off of my wife’s modest salary and my own dwindling savings became intolerable.

I returned to resuscitate my professional career in my northern California hometown.  The process required several months, but I reestablished full-time employment and initiated a tour business, which I operated for fifteen subsequent years. Annie remained in Dijon for two additional years before we reconciled because of her desire to remain close to family relations.

Among a significant number of Franco-American couples I have observed that family attachments often become an impediment, particularly when the wife is French. This attachment frequently sabotages a marriage once the couple moves away from French.

Annie and I separated with the intention of divorcing. Against logic, I wished and lobbied for our future reconciliation. We reconciled and she moved to California. The marriage was wounded but not deceased. We limped through an additional ten years, which included two separations, two children, one house, three leases and innumerable disagreements. Finally the marriage collapsed from exhaustion. Reasons become crystalline with perspective. The best and certainly only positive result from our eleven-year marriage was our two daughters.

Mid-life Transition

Divorced from Annie eight years and already married to Claudia for five years by 2005, I welcomed our impending life change. I had a compatible and motivated partner. Her motives for the move were primarily based on professional work fatigue.

The intrusion of middle age had become my irrepressible influence.

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