Carefully edited: Andrew Neil's French retreat

When Andrew Neil bought a house in France, it was a ramshackle retreat. After some painstaking changes, it's now a luxurious home
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The Independent Online

I used to come to this part of France a lot on holidays and stayed in hotels but I was really keen to find a place of my own. Then about 15 years ago, an ex-girlfriend of mine told me about this house that was going at a good price. It was actually the first and only place I looked at .

With its breathtaking views and secluded location in the hills overlooking Grasse, it was just what I was looking for – a retreat, and somewhere I could write and take time out. I wrote my book Full Disclosure here in 1997.

I managed get the house at a great price as the bank was foreclosing on the owners at the time, but it was a false economy as I had to change practically everything and spent a fortune in the process. The previous owners had done nothing for years, there was this awful brown shagpile carpet everywhere that had to be ripped out immediately and lime green bathrooms. It wasn't a good look.

It took some time to get things right, almost 10 years. But with having homes in New York and in London I wasn't able to do everything myself. I entrusted the help of a husband and wife interior design team from Scotland, who did all the interior decoration . They put the final touches to things – I knew the style I wanted but with their help I could implement it; they put a four seasons touch to the house without taking away the charm. They added things like olive trees inside the house, zebra patterned ottomans, traditional roll-top baths and a lot of Indonesian furnishings, which all make for quite an eclectic home. The floor was the one thing that took the longest – but we sourced these wonderful Italian terracotta tiles, which I think will last forever.

Outside the house all the shutters are painted a lilac blue – which is in keeping with the Provencal tradition.

I have a few luxuries now. I've got an outdoor gym – with treadmill and step machines it's what I call the torture chamber – which looks down on to the swimming pool. I have a Jacuzzi on the balcony outside my bedroom and a huge hammock that I got shipped over from Harrods. Also there is Wi-Fi everywhere and satellite TV in every room.

I even have a drum kit in the sitting room, which was a gift from a former girlfriend – she knew about my days as a drummer when I was part of a rock band while at university.

The swimming pool was already here but I had the garden landscaped around it. I love the fact that the pool is a soft turquoise green colour and not bright blue like some of these modern pools – it is a lot more subtle looking. Now there are topiaried hedges in the shape of dolphins around it as well as a summer house with a barbecue, rest room and a Smeg fridge.

I usually tend to come here with friends as it is a big place with seven bedrooms and six bathrooms but even when the house is full of people it doesn't feel too packed.

I love to read all the time, and I have a lot of books in my home. When I need to work I have a little office perched on the hillside – it is the only place that has air conditioning, and it has a shower too. That's where I can get some work done if the heat is on. I have photographs around the office of key moments, like meeting Ronald Reagan, and framed covers from when I edited The Sunday Times.

I try and spend the whole of August here and other than that I will probably visit around seven or eight times a year for holidays and Christmas and New Year.

I don't go back to Scotland much at all nowadays – only to see my brother. I feel that the place has changed a lot and I don't really like the overt nationalism that prevails.

My schedule tends to follow the parliamentary calendar, so there are big chunks of the year when I don't have to be working, and I get out of London as much as possible when Parliament is not sitting. I either come here or go to New York, although I am now doing quite a lot of work in Dubai where I chair a publishing company. It is an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

The only thing I think has dropped in France is the standard of restaurants. When I first came here 20 years ago the restaurants were amazing. Now in London you tend to get a better standard. But when I'm here I love going to the Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence, The Bistro in Mougins and The Terrace at The Carlton in Cannes.

Occasionally I will go to Monaco for a business meeting, which is not too far away and sometimes stop for lunch at The Café de Paris, and St Tropez is only an hour and a half. But I try to avoid spending too much time in St Tropez – it is like a zoo in the summer.

One of the things I like about this area is that is not in the least fashionable. Although Richard Attenborough has a house near here and Edith Piaf used to live nearby, there are not lots of wealthy people living round here. It is very subdued and relaxed.

If I could live anywhere in the world it would be here – and I would love to spend more time here. I'm sure I will soon – but for the moment there is still a lot of work to be done.

Andrew Neil, 59, is a publisher and broadcaster. He is the former editor of The Economist and The Sunday Times, and is now chief executive of The Spectator and chairman of ITP Magazine Group. He also presents the BBC's This Week and Daily Politics shows. He lives in London, New York and the South of France.

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