DOMAINE DE FORT ESCU ('SUNSET HOUSE') - Near Opio
Winifred Fortescue and her husband, Sir John Fortescue, moved to Provence in the early 1930s. There they converted an old stone farmhouse into a graceful and idyllic home - the Domaine. For two years after Sir John's death, Lady Fortescue, still a comparatively young woman, continued to live in the Domaine, years that were not altogether happy. Then, visiting a friend, she came across a small, near derelict house set amidst thickets of wild lavender, magenta gladioli, and trailing sweet peas. She fell instantly in love with it, and thus began a new and happy chapter of her life.
With the help of her dear friend and neighbour, 'Mademoiselle', she set about trying to purchase the property from a complicated and cunning 'Mafia' of local Provencals - and then, once more, she began the heart warming, frustrating, funny, and altogether delightful process of transforming a small Provencal cottage into a home and creating a breathtaking garden down the side of the mountain. She called it 'Sunset House'.
Click on any of the pictures to see the large version
Winifred's Dining Room & Salon at Sunset House in 1936
The lovely jacket artwork by Brian Sanders of the garden at Sunset House'
Today 'Sunset House' is still a private residence. It still carries the Domaine De Fort Escu shield on the wall, the name Winifred decided to give it as she thought her alterations and extensions when completed made it look like a tiny fort. She thought the French would know it meant 'Strong Shield' spelt in the ancient way. She also thought she would be more likely to get her letters as it contained her name and that the English would realise it was a little joke.
The property was sold for the first time in approximately 30 years in 2000. The owner, an American artist, fully aware of its history, had been keen to keep it very much in the spirit of Lady Fortescue. When I was in the area around that time I called at a boulangerie and to my amazement discovered a lady who had not only known Lady Fortescue but had actually been one of the children invited to 'Sunset House' one Christmas when a service was held in the little private chapel under the house and presents distributed. I was so surprised and delighted that I gave her my original hard back copy of 'Sunset House' which contains some pictures of that era!
Please note: The house is a strictly private residence and not open to the public.
Pictures - P.Riley - V C Riley - A niece of Lady Fortescue - Maureen Emerson