In holiday mode when the borderline between dreams and reality can blur a little, my wife Jenny and I with absolutely no experience of major DIY projects and no command of the French language, wandered into an estate agency in a small town in Southern Normandy and ended up buying an old house in serious need of a complete renovation.

It was March 2008 when we had gone out to stay with her life-long friends at their holiday home in the medieval village of Lassay les Chateaux in an area called the Pays de la Loire, and prior to that it had never entered our heads to become French property owners.

The three-storey detached town house in a narrow and quaint little street called Rue Dore behind the square was the third property that Marc the agency owner showed us on that fateful morning.

Pushing open its white front door we stepped into a house that had been in the same family for over sixty years and had clearly seen little change in the whole of that time.

The long narrow hallway with its lofty ceiling was dark, and ended in a white wooden door beyond which was an old toilet. Then turning right out of the hall, we looked in to a gloomy lounge with a big stone fireplace and a window looking out onto the street.

Now entering the kitchen, our eyes fell immediately on an antiquated wood-fired range standing in the large fireplace, the likes of which we had never seen before!

While the opposite white tiled wall was lined with a worktop and a range of very old white Formica cupboards, the end wall had a large metal framed window and an old glass door opening on to a gloomy courtyard.

We fell in love immediately with the curved, dark wooden banister leading us up and round to the first-floor landing and window, where we were now faced with three old white doors.

The one ahead opened into a large bedroom with a lovely old wooden floor and two windows looking out onto the street below and it was immediately obvious that this was one space we could move into straight away.

Our hopes raised, Marc opened the door to the left and we were confronted with an old thrown-like commode macerator sitting on a green, and obviously moth-eaten carpet in a light and airy room with a large window looking out over the courtyard and surrounding houses.

So, its future use as our potential bathroom with shower was a no brainer and I felt just a little tingle of excitement at the prospect of possible things to come.

But nothing could have prepared us for what was to follow when Marc turned on his heels, opened the third white door and again led us up the winding wooden stairway to the top floor.

Now we were confronted with a scene of utter dereliction and it was obvious that no one had been up here for years, because while the magnificent curved oak-beamed ceiling supported bare roof slates, the floorboards were completely rotten and venturing any further would have been perilous.

Shaking hands with Marc and promising to get back to him, we walked the few yards along the lane to a covered alley between the buildings and emerged onto the square with the tabac bar and its tables and chairs on our left.

I ordered two ice cold lagers and we sat there in the sunshine looking across the square to the tall and imposing Mairie, or town hall, trying to get our heads around all that we had seen.

The fact that neither of us could speak a word of French seemed to have been left out of the equation, but Jenny’s friend had a good command of the language, as had several of her friends, so I guess we simply thought we would get by until we acquired a basic understanding of French.

Now strolling across the square, we followed the alley beside the Mairie and down the long flight of gently sloping steps to an extensive rose garden.

Crossing an adjoining public car park, we followed the quiet road out of the village before turning right to enter Lassay’s restored four-tiered and medieval English Garden.

Here small plots surrounded by neat box-type hedges and trained espalier apple trees were crammed with herbs of many varieties, whose sweet scents lingered on the air as we passed.

Did villagers come and help themselves to the herbs and fruit, we wondered as we came upon a small fountain, before making our way to the lower level and turning right to enter Lassay’s beautifully-restored and slate-roofed lavoire, where yesteryear villagers came, baskets in hand, to do their washing.

But a far more stunning sight followed as we stepped forward to reach the edge of the lake with its perfect mirror reflection of the multi-turreted chateau and towering ramparts rising from the far shore.

No wonder we had fallen in love with this small place tucked away in its sheltering fold of rolling hills.

Strolling around the lake and up the lane under the chateau ramparts, we made our way back to our friends’ house where that evening, we started having a reality check.

The house would need a huge amount of work to transform it into a comfortable holiday home and besides that, being in the heart of the village, there was no garage and, more importantly, neither did it have a garden or a view.

But the following morning when we returned to the property with our friends for a helpful second opinion, Marc apologised for not showing us the large cellar accessed by a trap below the stairs, and more importantly, pointing out that there was, in fact, a garden with a shed in a neighbouring street.

As we all set off with a sense of mounting excitement to view this completely unexpected addition to the property, I noticed that besides his file full of sale details, he was carrying a medieval looking key, large enough to unlock a small fortress, and that should have been something of a give-away.

For the little shed turned out to be an old two-storey open-sided barn big enough to house a single-decker bus, set in a wildly overgrown garden, complete with an old chicken house and trees beyond.

And all this and the house for only £58,000! Well with promises of support from our friends, the husband happened to be a builder, we simply could not resist it.

The estate agent sent us forms both in English and in French to complete in triplicate and once we had returned them along with our deposit, the wheels were set in motion.

I will never forget the day we became the official owners of our house in Rue Dore because it was lunchtime and we were sitting outside a restaurant, near the River Thames, on our way to the O2 Arena to see Leonard Cohen’s first sell-out come-back concert.

Ping went my phone and there was a text from Marc. ‘Congratulations you now own a house in France,’ the simple message read and the never-to-be-forgotten date was July 17th, 2008.

But it was going to take many long months of hard work and painstaking renovations before we could move into our pied-à-terre.

Our illustrated French Pied-a-Terre Adventure by Nigel Heath is now available from Amazon books. To order your copy follow this link.