Many people ask us the story behind Mas de Mahystre. Why do we rent it? How did we find it? Why the hell are we not still living in the South of France?
The truth is, we fell in love with the place but at different stages of our lives, we need different things…
We bought Mas de Mahystre in the Languedoc, South of France in June 2005. A long time ago now. My husband, Neil, was working in Montpellier and we had two young children, Rosie and Tristan.We adored the centre of Montpellier, a buzzing, beautiful city, but we craved countryside and space for our expanding family and for friends and relations to visit. A space to make as much noise as we wanted, uninhibited by close city neighbours. We drew an hour’s circle around Montpellier and hunted for about a year before we stumbled upon Mas de Mahystre.
A year and a half after we moved in, our daughter, Freya, was born and we felt more and more settled. The rascals attended the lovely village school and we reaped the benefits of life in a beautiful, unspoiled, charming, corner of France. “Do you think you’ll always stay in France?” our friends always asked, “We will stay until it is no longer right for us anymore.” We lived here for over six unforgettable years.
In February 2012 an unmissable opportunity arose to move to Montreal, Canada, so we upped sticks again for another adventure for nearly two years before returning to London. And in July 2016, we settled in Brighton and are loving living by the sea.
We could have returned to St Come after Montreal but we had been out of the UK for 11 years and to be honest, it was time to return – for our family, for the education and for us. And the marmite of course.
But how could we abandon Mas de Mahystre completely? So many memories, friends and experiences. The only affordable option was to rent, unless we sold, but none of us wanted that. So the rental experience began and oh, did we have a lot to learn! Clutter to clear, linen to buy, photos to take, website to make, not to mention choosing the right advertising sites, finding the cleaner, the gardener and the pool person! We are so fortunate that we lived in St Come for many years, for without our neighbours and friends from the village, renting Mas de Mahystre would be tricky.
Our aim is to give our guests a truly memorable holiday. So, we strive to provide a gorgeous holiday house, in a beautiful setting, nestled in an interesting, authentic and private part of France. We aim to provide a personal touch and to forge great relationships with our guests.
Of course, there are ups and downs and you can’t please everyone but every year our guests, many who return year on year, seem happier and happier. We listen, learn and improve, for there is always something to do. Fortunately Neil is rather a dab hand at the DIY stuff…
As for the future? We will certainly continue to rent our house through the wonderful Sawdays site, as well our own website. And we want to try to spend more time at Mas de Mahystre. For our kids, family, friends and guests to come together and create more memories. Having just spent 10 days there over Christmas, we know it’s a perfect place to catch up, slow down and appreciate life.
Looking for a place to rent in the south of France anyone?
Ten full days at Mas de Mahystre is a real treat for us. Winter brings different colours and experiences in St Come, with plenty of time for cooking, eating, chatting, backgammon, walking and reflecting. Especially at Christmas…
Highlights are always:
- Nimes Les Halles food market on Christmas Eve, carefully choosing the chapon, oysters, cheese and veg, amidst the festive hustle and bustle.
- Christmas Eve lunch by Les Arenes in Nimes
- Walks in the garrigue above St Come with our dog Ringo (please admire his special Christmas coat!)
- Hours spent by the fire with a glass of vino battling fierce games of backgammon
- Decorating the tree
- Catching up with special neighbours, friends and family
- Taking time to cook up feasts
- Time for each other
- Just being at Mas de Mahystre together
Spice rack – étagère à épices (I think – at least that’s what Google says).
From my experience, hot spices are not something that the French really like. I think a good French friend of mine thought I was trying to poison him and his family when I served up spicy Thai fish soup, and ever since then he has been rather nervous about accepting dinner invitations.
So, to try and find hot chillies, or some of the more exotic Asian, African and Caribbean spices in local French markets and supermarkets, can be tricky to say the least.
We recently moved to Brighton and like most self-respecting English towns and cities, there is a healthy mix of restaurants from all over the world. Even better, there is a great shop in Brighton called “The Spice Shop” and that inspired me to create a spice rack in Brighton. Enezio from Brazil works at the shop and mixes a lot of the spices himself and is a font of great knowledge. I think the original shop is London.
The Razel Hanout mix from Morocco is great with chicken. I have always enjoyed chillies and when we lived in St.Come I used to have around 20 different chillies growing all over the house. I used to bring them inside in winter but they were outside for at least 8 months of the year. One even turned into a small chilli tree that lasted 3 years. The Creole mix is another favourite of mine – great for BBQs. But to be honest they are all tasty, so it is a chance to be inventive with your marinades and sauces!
The Spice Shop, 10 Gardner St, Brighton and Hove, Brighton BN1 1UP
So we have replicated our Brighton spice rack in Mas de Mahystre in St.Côme with around 28 tins of spices. Many come from The Spice Shop and many are more local spices. Please help yourselves and replenish when you can.
We will do our best to stock them up at the start of each season.
Enjoy and be creative!!
We have just returned from nine days in St Come for some restful family time and of course to celebrate Christmas! As the rascals grow up, the festive period still retains the magic and excitement but there seems an increasing importance to appreciate valuable family moments before they grow up completely! This year we had the added excitement of bringing our naughty puppy, Ringo…
On Christmas Eve we continued our tradition of going to Les Halles market in Nimes to buy the Christmas lunch and last minute Christmas shopping in the little boutiques, before enjoying a fine steak frites under the arches of the magnificent Roman Arena.
Christmas Day itself was bursting with chapon, champagne, oysters, fois gras and chocolate log, all shared with the french cousins. As we tucked into the red wine and cheese, carefully chosen presents were much appreciated under the glow of the twinkly tree and hypnotic fire.
The others days were filled with long walks in the gorgeous La Vaunage countryside, shopping in local markets and cooking french feasts. Lazy evenings by the fire with fierce backgammon games, appreciating local wines and festive delights, interspersed with catching up with neighbours and friends.
Our Christmas moments in St Come are treasured ones and now we are already looking forward to a spring time visit…
Happy New Year to you all.
This Easter we arrived in St Come, our corner of the south of France, just in time to see our terrace wisteria in full, glorious bloom. Never will I tire of their pungent, purple plumes, growing in confidence year on year. Within a few days, the petals were dancing in the breeze and by day six, the wind had transformed our terrace tiles into a magical, soft, lilac carpet. Pretty but pesky, so with the help of my not so little people, we swept the petals up and set them free in the field.
I think these photos tell the story more beautifully than my words…
Back in 2005, when we caught our first glimpse of Mas de Mahystre, never did we imagine it would become a second home, a home we would rent to guests. After nearly a year of hunting for homes within one hours drive of Montpellier, we arrived in St Come, a village in the Languedoc, on a sunny day in early Spring. Edge of the village – tick. Old, charming and spacious – tick. Enough garden to make as much noise as needed for our growing family and friends – tick. We allowed ourselves to feel curious and secretly excited but refused to let our imaginations fly.
Six months earlier we had signed a ‘compromis’ or a ‘promise to buy’ accompanied by a 10% deposit on a rambling house north of Montpellier. Within the ten days grace period fortunately, our surveyor discovered plans were afoot to build a sewage works on the land. Perhaps it was simply a rumour initiated by the xenophobic mayor but irrespective of the truth, we retracted the offer and fled relieved and unscathed.
In June 2005, we collected our very own set of keys for Mas de Mahystre, a much more gorgeous and sweeter smelling option. Neil and I, with our two tiny rascals, both covered tip to toe in chicken pox, could not have been happier.
Many joyful times followed until seven years later, and with an extra rascal in tow, it was time to pack our bags once again for a new adventure in Canada. How could we leave our hideaway in France, a home which had captured our hearts and souls? We couldn’t, not forever anyway. We cleared the clutter, locked up precious possessions and purchased beautiful white linen and stripy pool towels, ready for the first guests. If Darwin is right and “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change,” our family are survivors.
We now live back in the Uk and even if we still need the rental income from Mas de Mahystre to pay boring bills and endless French taxes, we know how fortunate we are. We want to share the luck. During our first few years of renting Mas de Mahystre, we offered an off-season week to be auctioned off to raise funds for the unbelievably brilliant Royal Brompton Hospital. More recently, the potential possibility of having to sell, put a stop to our ‘charity week’. Through determination and pure love, our hideaway in France is now firmly in our future and we want to offer an off-season week every year to charity once again.
As we’ve moved down to the English seaside, we will now choose more local Brighton & Hove charities. The research is underway and I’ll keep you posted about which charity we will support this year. All suggestions most welcome.
Here’s to an enjoyable and memorable summer everyone.
As Autumn creeps in and the heat of the summer sun fades into memory, our 2016 season in the south of france draws to a close. Many happy guests enjoyed hours relaxing by the pool and whiled away many more in the shade of the terrace, so conducive to long, rosé fuelled lunches and cooler, candlelit dinners.
Happy guests is our greatest aim for Mas de Mahystre and this year, from all the lovely emails we received, I think we have been successful.
Thank you to all our guests who looked after our house so well and a huge thank you to our great team, without whom our aim for happy guests would never be realised:
Laurence, our super cleaner extraordinaire,
Alain, our fantastic gardener,
Marc, our brilliant pool man
and of course our incredibly special, patient and kind neighbours Oriana and Giovanni, who manage our home in our absence. Can’t wait to see you soon…
Only a couple of weeks before we head off for Christmas in the south of France and excitement is mounting fast. By the time we arrive, Christmas Eve will be almost tangible, so first on the list will be finding a tree and enjoying the sweet scent of a Norwegian forest. Unravelling our treasured Christmas decorations never fails to create some delightful nostalgia and once the fire is lit, the Christmas tunes blaring, the fairy lights sparkling and a glass of something special in hand, the festive scene is set. Catching up with our local friends is always a big treat during the Christmas season. We are also lucky to have my older sister, brother-in-law and their three bonkers, little, blond girls, who live in the Luberon and run Provence Guru, joining us for the grand day. I do wish though that we could gather up the whole extended family and conjure them over to our secret corner in the south of France.
As a child on holiday in France, I could never understand the French families who nibbled greedily on warm baguettes straight from the boulangerie. Not to wait for some salty butter and sweet, apricot jam seemed ridiculous. They must have been ravenous or simply ignorant. A pain au chocolate, or a pain au raisin could easily be scoffed before stepping out of the shop but plain, old baguette – nope, I never understood.
Until that is, we moved to the south of France in 2002. Perhaps it was my increased appetite due to pregnancy or toddlers, more pregnancies and again more toddlers, or perhaps I just wanted to fit in to a foreign land but before the first month was up, the smell of a fresh baguette heating my hand was utterly irresistible.
You don’t just ask for a baguette in France. Like with their meat, it’s all in the cooking – ‘Bien cuite’, ‘Pas trop cuite’ or ‘Blanche’. (Translated roughly as well cooked, medium or rare). It’s always ‘Blanche’ for me but never forget that no two bakeries are alike and everyone living in France will have their unshakeable favourite. For our family, it’s l’Amandine in Calvisson every time but Aux 13 Desserts in Caveirac is a close second, especially for their scrumptious tarts.
Now we live in London for the majority of the year, I am on a quest to find my perfect baguette on this side of the Channel. Despite some excellent local bakeries, the ‘desperate to stuff it in your mouth’ baguette, has so far eluded me. This is the beginning of my quest, so I will keep you posted but if anyone has any hot tips, I will happily go hunting. We are in North London but I am eager to travel all over the big smoke for that satisfying stick of bread which promises happiness, holidays and to me, tantalising food to come.