4-BR Victorian house Camden Town, also house in SW France 1 hr. Biarritz

4-BR Victorian house Camden Town, also house in SW France 1 hr. Biarritz

Gwynne

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Plus d'un mois

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mars 2011


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4 chambres
Couchages 6
2 salles de bain
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Notre maison

Our main house is a terraced Victorian four-story home, ca. 1850, on a quiet tree-lined residential street just 5 minutes' walk from the centre of Camden Town and the underground station. None of central London's main attractions is more than 20-25 minutes away by car, minicab, bus or underground (take your pick), and most are a good deal closer. The house has been fully renovated and has a 30' garden with patio and fish-pond.

Our second home is a small, 300-year-old stone house on a hilltop in the Pays Basque, the south-western corner of France. It was originally built for a widow from the village who was given free lodging in return for looking after the church (hence its name, 'La Benoiterie'), and was therefore quite small. It has been in our family for three generations, and was expanded to its present size, with a modern kitchen and dining room added on, in the 1980s. There are three bedrooms that will sleep four comfortably, and up to six at a push. There is one full bathroom plus an upstairs toilet. Normally we would make both houses available in a swap, as it's easy to move between them; flights from London to Biarritz cost around £200 return and take less than two hours.

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  1. Gwynne is a freelance journalist who writes a twice-weekly column on international affairs and sells it to papers around the world. He was born in Canada, but has lived in London most of his adult life. Tina is a documentary film-maker and an artist. She was born in South Africa, but has lived abroad all of her adult life. We have been in this house for seventeen years.

    We have only one child still at home: Kate, who is twenty. However, her sister Melissa, now 29, often accompanies us on holidays as well. There are occasions on which one of their elder brothers also comes along, together with wife and 2 children in each case, but that is entirely negotiable and not a condition of a swap.

    We have a car that would be available in any exchange, provided that you are not embarrassed to be seen in an elderly Daewoo. We park it in the street outside our house (residents' parking keeps the commuters away). There is a cleaning lady (Brazilian) who comes a once a week and does a very good job, but she could come more often if desired.

    The one catch is the cats, of whom there are three: Samson (13-year old male) and Diego and Frida (1-year-old kittens) There is also a free-range dwarf rabbit who thinks he is a cat, and by and large can be treated like one. They are healthy, neutered and largely self-sufficient, needing only to be fed morning and night. Cat-doors front and back mean they can let themselves in and out (including the rabbit). They delight in affection, but don't have to have it if you're not cat people. If you plan to travel out of London while you're in England, one of our neighbours will come in to feed them.

    There are also fish in the pond, but a sprinkle of flakes once every day or two keeps them going.

    We are all fluent in French. Our Spanish and German are weak, but Gwynne also speaks Turkish and Tina speaks Afrikaans and therefore can stagger around in Dutch/Flemish as well. We are not smokers, but we are not doctrinaire about it; use the garden if it's nice, the kitchen if it's raining.

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Localisation

Quartier

Camden Town is just north of central London, about a mile from King's Cross Station. It is an intensely urban place, though there are no high-rise buildings and the enormous green spaces of Regent's Park (plus London Zoo) are only five minutes' walk from the centre.

It is a raffish-looking part of town, home to much of London's music industry (including MTV's studios) and to a significant chunk of the media and arts community, but it is actually quite safe and more upscale than it looks -- single-family house prices are US$1-2 million. It abounds in quite decent restaurants -- there are good or excellent French, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Tex-Mex, Chinese, Thai, Lebanese and Indian restaurants within a ten-minute walk of the house. There is a big Sainsbury's supermarket five minutes' walk away (with underground parking, if you want to take the car), and every other kind of shop imaginable in the high street -- plus Camden Market, the biggest in London, which is an Aladdin's Cave of a place.

We know all our neighbours, and will put you in contact with a couple of particularly helpful ones if you come to stay. There is a (non-rowdy) pub at the end of the street, and the Regent's Canal runs behind the houses on the other side of the street -- you can walk along the towpaths all the way to the Zoo in one direction, and down to Limehouse on the Thames in the other.

The house in France is in the village of Bustince (ten farmhouses), about five km. from the beautiful medieval walled town of St-Jean Pied de Port. That is where we go for good restaurants, shopping, the weekly market, and all the other services. It is at the foot of Roland's Pass across the Pyrenees, on the Pilgrim's Route that ends in Santiago de Compostela, so it tends to fill up with tourists in the high summer months, but at Bustince we are well out of all that.

Our house sits on the highest hilltop around, looking across the valley at the front range of the Pyrenees. It shares the hilltop with the village's Romanesque church (ca. 1450), some unidentified fortifications that could be Carthaginian, Roman, Arab or anything else that suits your fancy, plus a couple of Basque-style farmhouses. There is a farm family down the hill who look after the house when we are not there, and take care of cleaning up, washing bed-linen, etc. when we have guests.
The Spanish frontier is 7-8 km away at the top of the mountains, and Pamplona is less than two hours away on the other side. Bordeaux is three hours to the north, Lourdes and Toulouse are 2-3 hours to the east, and Biarritz is an hour down to the coast by car (or a small train).

Biarritz has casinos, upmarket shops, dramatic beaches, Europe's best surfing, and lots of beautiful people, as does St-Jean-de-Luz just down the coast. Another half-hour and you're across the border in the port of San Sebastian, home to half of Spain's best restaurants; another hour on the motorway gets you to Bilbao and the Guggenheim.

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