Le Maraval, our home away from home, is located in southwest rural France, a stone’s throw from the Dronne river. This is wine country, foie gras country, truffle country.
The original part of the domain was built during the reign of Louis XIII in 1634, one hundred and forty two years before the American Revolution.
Our house was the Master’s House, home of the owner of a farm that stretched along the banks of the Dronne. Many of its original features, such as its fireplace, its wood floors and gigantic chestnut ceiling beams are intact.
There are rumors that persist until today that the domain was built on the site of a 13th century Manor of the Knights Templar.
One hundred and seventy six years after the original house was built, during the time of Napoleon, several other buildings were added to the domain. The garden was renovated, and the two dovecotes were built.
In the 19th century, it was a privilege to own dovecotes, and not everyone was allowed this privilege. The dovecotes, which gave shelter to doves and pigeons, also provided the lucky owner with the best fertilizer of the era: pigeon guano.
It was also during the time of Napoleon that the buildings that make up the hamlet along the river were built. These were the homes of the peasants who worked the farmland. It is likely that these structures replaced earlier ones that dated from the same period as the construction of original Le Maraval.
Over time, because Napoleon instituted a law that divided inherited property equally between siblings, the domain got split up. Today its buildings and land are owned by three different families, two of them French, one of them American.
We bought the property because my mother was from the region, and on his first visit, my husband fell in love with it. It was certainly a crazy thing to do, but we have never regretted it for very long. A three hundred and seventy four year old house is a fantastic and ongoing project.
When we become blasé about the history surrounding us, we can always visit the caves ten minutes down the road. Inside, there are 17,000 year old paintings, as mysterious as they are beautiful.
But most of all, we love the lifestyle, a way of being that is hard to find in today’s world. It’s a reality in which time behaves differently. The moss embroiders the stone pathways. The vines suture the fissures in the ancient walls. The gray slate tiles on the peaks of the dovecotes ping with raindrops. Clouds roll across the village road, heavy as amber.