House Of The Year

No, the picture at the top is NOT the 2015 House of The Year. That house is the story and picture below. The picture at the top will require a lot of work even before being nominated. And it will cost this Ancienne Hippie a lot of more than $1.00. Then a lot of work by the Hippie and friend, the Ancienne Rider.

This house is located in South Eastern France in a little town of Annot. It is 82 kilometers (51 miles) from the Nice Airport. Annot is on the Vaire river, on route D908 just off the RN 202, 15 km (9 miles) west of Entrevaux. It is inAlpes-de-Haute-Provence (04240), has a population of 1,053 and an altitude: 680 meters (2,231 feet).


A real gem is the Train des Pignes (which winds around “house of the year xxx”). This 1-meter gauge railway runs between Nice and Digne-les-Bains, and takes about three hours. The track follows rushing rivers and steep-sided mountain valleys, many not accessible by car, and the view is magnificent. The ride is an adventure. The stations are old, tiny and personal, with everything on a human level. The name Train des Pignes comes from the pinecones, once used for tinder to start the steam engines.

From Nice, the journey begins through the city streets, crossing through main road intersections to the little urban stop at Gambetta, then passes through a few tunnels to the little La Madeleine and St Isidore stations before dropping down to the Var valley and the Lingostiere station. Along the Var river and the busy route 202, the train stops at the Carrefour/Lingostiere shopping complex and a couple of other places on the way to Plan-du-Var. This urban section is quite busy, having a service of 20 trains a day for the commuters and shoppers.

From Plan-du-Var at the mouth of the rugged Gorges de Vésubie, the tracks follow the deep valleys and gorges of the Var river, turning west at the mouth of the Tinée valley [map]. Stops along the section include the villages of Villars-sur-Var (with the picturesque station building now serving as the Alp’Azur restaurant and chocolate factory), the lovely tiny village of Touet-sur-Var nestled against the side of the mountain, past the gap of the Gorges du Cians and Puget-Theniers, where the steam trains are garaged [map].

From Puget-Theniers it’s only a few minutes the station at the Vauban-fortified village of Entrevaux and its high fortress guarding this narrow gap in the mountains. Continuing along the deep river valleys through the hills, the train continues west towards Annot, leaving the Var river where it flows down north through a narrow gap in the mountains. The station at Annot is the other end of the steam-train section, and from here the Train des Pignes will go northwest up into the mountains, cross beneath them, then drop down south to St. André.

Six minutes after Annot, at the little village of Le Fugeret, in the beautiful Vaire river valley, the train climbs up through a tunnel and loops around on itself so it can get enough altitude to continue the trip north. A few minutes after Le Fugeret, there’s a flag-stop at the mountain side below the little perched village of Méailles. Between Méailles and Thorame, the track passes beneath the mountains, with a 3.5 km tunnel carved through the heart of the rock. On the 150 km journey, the track climbs to an altitude of 1000 m above it’s starting point in Nice, with inclines up to 3%.

The train exits the mountain on the west side and heads south along the Verdon river (the same one that becomes famous where it flows through the Grand Canyon, past the station of Thorame Haute Gare, and down the wide Verdon-river valley to the town of Saint André-les-Alpes. From S André the route is west, through a long tunnel beneath the Col des Robines and along a very lovely valley to the village of Barrème. The train arrives beside the Asse de Moriez river and heads northwest along the Asse de Blieux river, through the mountain park area of the Trois Asses. Along this gorgeous stretch we’ve seen huge birds of prey hunting from the low poles alongside the track, including bussards and harriers.

The mountain valleys are a bit more gentle, less rocky and savage, than the earlier part of the journey, as the train curves north on the final leg into Digne-les-Bains.

If you arrive by the Train des Pignes, it’s a 10-minute walk down the road to the town. If you arrive by road, take a walk up to the train station for a look around. The station here has a small café-restaurant, and has some picnic hikes you can take. This is also the terminus for the steam train during the summer season.


Although this is a large town, it’s high enough to have a distinctive mountain air. The Vaire river flows through the center of town, beneath a multi-arched stone bridge. The northwest side of town is overlooked by cliffs, with exposed rocks amidst thick pine forests.

There are several terrace cafés, with plenty of huge, shady plane trees. Saturday is the Foire, with mainly low-cost clothing, and Tuesday is market day.


The grés (in Grés d’Annot) is a sedimentary sandstone rock created about 60 million years ago when this area was under the sea. Grains of sand were pressed together under intense pressure and cemented together by a natural silicon or calcium cement. The sandstone cliffs were exposed by several million years of glacial and fluvial erosion.


Now for the Wall St. Journal’s 2015 House of the Year


The Wall Street Journal’s 2015 House of the Year cost $1.

The Queen Anne-style Lamb Manor was built in Palmetto, Florida, for the town founder’s son Asa Lamb in 1910. Nearly a century later, it was dilapidated and facing a condo developer’s wrecking ball when restorers George and Nancy Corbett stepped in.

The developer gave it to them for a buck, and they had it ferried across Tampa Bay in 2006 — at a cost of a quarter-million dollars — to land they owned on the Little Manatee River in Ruskin, Florida.

They spent more than seven years and $2 million on the property. They added a full floor to the house, bringing it to about 7,000 square feet, and added a birdcage-style elevator and antiques. They dug a lagoon on the property, too, at a cost of about $100,000.


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