Country houses for sale

Country Life International Interview: Viscount Linley

Viscount Linley and his wife happened upon a former hunting lodge far from what he describes as the ‘posh bit’ of Provence, in the eastern Lúberon hills, 14 years ago. Despite its grand name-Château d’Autet-the house is a modest holiday home to which the Linleys repair with their two children, aged 11 and eight, whenever possible. The house is surrounded by fields filled with heady-scented lavender, which provides inspiration for the products Lady Linley sells in her new shop in Knightsbridge.

How did you find your house?
By mistake, really. It stemmed from a chance conversation with a friend my wife sat next to at lunch one day in 1997. We didn’t know the Lúberon and decided to go on holiday there that summer on the back of the recommendation. Once there, at dinner with the lady who’d organised our trip, we said how much we loved the area and added, a little carelessly, how we’d like to live there one day.

It turned out that she used to be an estate agent and, the following day, the last of the holiday, she took us to a house that just fitted the bill-miles from anywhere, surrounded by lavender fields and not a hint of any orange glows in the night sky. We did look at other houses, but this one was so compelling that we settled on it from the first.

What happened next?
At that point, the owners decided they weren’t going to sell, so we left them a message to get in touch if they changed their minds. Six months later, I was driving down from the north of England on New Year’s Day and thought we’d give the agent a call to nudge her with a Happy New Year. It just happened that the vendors had put the house back on the market. We resubmitted an offer and it was accepted. It was several months, however, before we completed the deal.

Has much changed in the intervening years?
No, I still like all the things that attracted me there in the first place: the quiet, the deserted roads, the clean country air and the wonderful views. The house-it’s called a château, but must be the smallest one in the world- is thought to have been built by a family from Marseille. It was perfectly all right, but we’ve made it work for us-putting in baths and taking out the bidets, for example.

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How is it decorated?
Part contemporary and part traditional Provençal, but very simple throughout. I have the first piece of furniture I ever made-a desk I finished when I was 14. And we have various pieces from the Linley collections-including a rather lovely bookcase-in the bedroom, drawing room and outdoor furniture in the garden. These are mixed with other things my wife and I have collected over the years.

Where do you shop locally?
I’m utterly blown away by the craftsmanship there-it’s very good indeed. From the metalworkers to stonemasons to the person making doors and windows, there’s never a shortage of good people. We’ve also commissioned pieces from a basket-weaver in Apt. Market-wise, there’s Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Banon, where they make legendarily good goat’s cheese. Otherwise, we pile the children into the 2CV and head to the boulangerie in the village, which makes the best croissants. We’ll stop at the market to pick up little pieces of cheese and sometimes we knock on the door of farms, where things are laid out on the kitchen table. Nothing’s been near a pasteuriser, of course-it’s all totally illegal. Their honey is the best in the world.

How has owning changed your lifestyles?
It certainly hasn’t improved my French, which is hideous, but fortunately, my wife speaks it beautifully and I wait like a patient dog for a translation. It’s provided the justification for my wife’s new venture-Serena Linley Provence. She opened her new shop on Walton Street in December. All the products -soaps, scents, candles and creams-are inspired by Provence. We make all the lavender oil on the farm, where we planted three fields early on in our tenure and everything is produced in a factory in Apt. Everything possible is sourced locally-if not from our fields, then from those of our neighbours.

What do you miss when you’re not in Britain?
I used to say the newspapers, but now we can get them every day in Apt, so possibly Marmite? But mainly I think the reason for going somewhere else is to forget about home and wallow in everything foreign- the wine, food and the smell of the soap are very much what you remember from your holiday when you return. I like that.

A range of silver items has been created to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Linley (; Serena Linley Provence, 156, Walton Street, SW1

* This article appears in the spring edition of COUNTRY LIFE INTERNATIONAL, out with COUNTRY LIFE magazine on March 2

** Luxury properties for sale in France