Sunday, 26 September 2010

A visit to Grasshopper Island... The Mill at Monticello

It was during a recent trip to the Balagne that I found myself trundling down the track to ‘Le Moulin’ wondering once again at the wisdom of low profile tyres for my Corsican adventures, but what a treat awaited me...

As soon as I drew up in front of the gates I was enchanted, and when P & G told me that the house had actually been the setting for the children’s film ‘Grasshopper Island’ my imagination started to run wild!

The film was serialised in several countries and apparently, when the current owners started renting the house for the summer, they had an email from someone in Germany who had loved the series as a child and now in his forties was hoping to make it here one day – how lovely is that!

We went into the house via the terrace at the side which opens straight into the farmhouse style kitchen, and first glance convinced me that there would be more delights to come.

One of the problems with renovating old/character properties is that people can get very carried away which leads to the ‘yellow plastic door handles mixed with flagstone floors’ horrors of another mill I have visited. I was delighted to find that here, a great deal of taste and restraint has been exercised. Every piece of furniture has been hand-picked and seems to have almost become as one with the house. That’s real skill!

I am a huge fan of exposed stone work, but as I am someone who is nearly always chilly (I am the mad woman wearing trousers and a jumper when the tourists are all in shorts and t-shirts!), I was worried that it might be cold in the winter. G assured me that old Corsicans knew what they were doing and the stones actually hold the heat so the house feels quite cool in summer and doesn't lose the heat until the depths of winter when the roaring fire warms them up again!

Whilst I really liked the living room with its unusual iron gallery, it was love at first sight when I got to the first bedroom. I don’t know why, but this room really captured my imagination. I really liked the idea of transforming the original cupboards into built in book cases and it seemed to just sum up the character of the house.

The house is set in about 5 hectares of land which is mostly covered with olive trees which are still harvested and taken to the local co-operative to be turned into oil. The first year, the manager was surprised at how few they had since he had seen the trees which, like this year, were dripping with fruits. The owners had been very selective when collecting the olives, not collecting bruised ones etc., instead of just sending them all to be turned to extra virgin olive oil which is what is normally done. Needless to say they have had more oil in subsequent years!!

The pool has been fenced with a childproof gate so I was a bit worried that there might be a repetition of the incident at Les Hameaux where I had to be rescued by one of my neighbours because I couldn’t get out! Luckily, no such drama today.

We took a tour of the land and saw the train stop – apparently you just step out of the gate and stick your arm out! – before coming across the little bergerie hidden at the far edge of the land.

What a gorgeous little spot P & G have created here. They told me that when they rent the main house out during the summer, they de-camp to the bergerie which has been converted to a little studio.

Again, they have managed to keep and make the most of the original features, working with the original materials to ensure that everything blends seamlessly into the landscape. There is a little garden at the back where they were growing delicious looking tomatoes, and pots of herbs.

The welcome committee of three beautiful if slightly over excited dogs was unleashed and I was treated to lots of tail wagging and leaping about. It wasn’t until they raced off into the grounds that I realised that one of them only had 3 legs, not that it seemed to slow her down at all! It’s no wonder they all looked so happy – I know I would have been equally enthusiastic to be living in such a fabulous place!

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