I’m not joking. Nine years ago, desperate to book a last-minute summer holiday, I bought a copy of his guide to self-catering properties in my local WH Smith’s and began ringing some of the places he recommended. I’d left it far too late and virtually everywhere was booked up, but the owner of a gite in the south of France said she’d suddenly had a cancellation and could offer us one week. We snapped it up like a shot and a couple of weeks later were en route to the Drôme, a wonderfully unspoilt region sandwiched between the Rhône Valley and the foothills of the Alps. As we drove halfway down a remote French hillside to our destination I had no idea that this place was going to have a major impact on all our lives.
In the following years we returned time and time again to the Drôme, enchanted by its lush, green landscape and majestic mountains. For some unfathomable reason it’s far less famous than Provence, its tourist-run southern neighbour, but just as beautiful. Lots of people have never even heard of it – and those who have discovered it want to keep it that way.
But more importantly, the owner of the farmhouse where we originally stayed became a dear friend. So much so that when we bade farewell to her after yet another blissful holiday I suddenly heard myself saying “I’d love to buy a small place here. Please will you keep a look-out for us?” Within months she’d spotted a rundown farmhouse for sale 20 miles away and sent me an email saying ““Beautiful place. Great potential. South-facing, with its back up against a wooded hillside. Very old farm with heaps of charm.”
So that was it. The next year I bought the House With No Name - a rambling 16th century house with a tumbledown roof, a plague of rats and a heap of rusting cars 12 feet deep in the barn (I’m not exaggerating). And it all began with Alastair Sawday.