It probably isn’t the most southerly house in France, but it is the most southerly inhabited house in the country. Nestled low in a wooded valley looking out across what used to be productive farm of orchards, terrasses and fields to Spain on the other side. Over 7km from the nearest village and accessed down a challenging dirt track, the property is off grid, off water and is only connected to the phone due to a wealthy, earlier owner.
The farm has lain dormant and unused for several decades, probably abandoned before or during the last great war. Trees have grown up and now swamp the whole area, they loom above the fruit trees and a forest disguises the toil and sweat of yesteryear. Terraces crumble and water courses, constructed to distribute irrigation water, lie filled with debris and completely unusable. It is now the product of man and nature, once cleared and tamed, capable of supporting a community of over sixty people, the farm is now all but completely reclaimed by nature. The occasional apple tree evident amongst the pines and chestnuts, yellowing leaves of a vine left to climb and ramble amongst the treetops, escaped from its once controlled environment and free to explore its environment.
Reclamation by nature is fast, it has an energy that does not cease and a determination of untold energy, it does not rest or tire, it rises early and continues each day through rain and shine, at night it harnesses other energies and continues its work through the darkness, endeavouring to erase the mark of man and claim back the land for its self.
The current owners, my hosts, find themselves in this new world by accident. They were searching for a compact house with a small garden on the outskirts of a village, with easy road access to local towns, fully equipped with all utilities on tap and neighbours to pass the day with and invite for drinks. Instead, they fall in love with almost completely the opposite. A large rambling house set in this neglected 54 hectares of woodland, down an unmade track that takes a good twenty minutes to negotiate by 4x4 and a further ten minutes to reach the first small village. No electricity or treated drinking water on site and a sewerage system that consists of a neverendingly deep crack in the rocks where everything has flowed for the last sixty or so years. It gets cut off by snow frequently in the winter and there are no other houses in sight or earshot. For the most part, they love it and I certainly loved visiting.
Saint Laurent de Cerdans, the local village
One foot in France, the other in Spain
Somewhere in this valley is a house
there it is, fully off grid
and right in the middle of nowhere