This is a story for anyone who has ever dreamed of escaping from London to a new life in southern France.
After 20 years working in the City, Andrew Whittaker kept a promise to his French wife Sofy by taking his young family to live in France.
They chose Montpellier, a buzzy university city by the sea, to be their base while Andrew completed an MBA.
Then he put into action the second part of his plan. He wanted to create a hotel lodge experience like the ones he knew from his childhood in New Zealand: a relaxing place where people could enjoy the countryside and good hospitality on a small scale.
Four years on, Lôdge St Germain is under way. The 140- acre site close to the market town of Sommières in France's Gard region, 20 minutes from Montpellier, took five months to find but was worth the wait.
'When the work is completed by 2010, it will become a 79-suite hotel with three pools, tennis court, spa, restaurant and bar'
It has fabulous views up to the jagged peak of Pic St Loup and is rural and hushed, surrounded by oak and mulberry trees, and covered in lavender and thyme. It's a Nature 2000 protected site, home to one of only 26 pairs in the world of Bonelli's eagles, which swoop and soar over the vineyards and olive groves lining the Lodge's drive.
Lôdge St Germain has a 12th century mas (farmhouse) and an atmospheric ruined chapel but when work is completed by 2010, it will become a 79-suite hotel with three pools, tennis court, spa, restaurant and bar and games room.
It is the inspirational architecture that should be the star of Whittaker's project.The stone mas will become the reception and lounge area while new stoneand-wood lodges will be built in small groups around the grounds.
'Lôdge St Germain is perfectly located in the centre of southern France with swift access to Montpellier airport'
A spa, run by French company Payot, will be in a dramatic grass-roofed building, almost hidden in the sloping grounds and accessed by a floating wooden path.
Whittaker is looking for investors to buy these lodges - or hotel suites - ranging from a snug 300sq ft to a generous 700sq ft. They are available for sale off-plan through the French leaseback system, priced from £123,000 to £454,300, fully furnished and freehold, with a guaranteed rental return of up to 4.1 per cent net.
Lôdge St Germain is perfectly located in the centre of southern France with swift access to Montpellier airport and TGV station. Yet in these uncertain economic times, buying off-plan from a first-time developer can be seen as a brave move.
© Tourist office of Montpellier/Celine Escolano
Why should buyers invest in Lôdge St Germain? "France is considered a safe haven among more volatile markets. There's less history of boom and bust here," says Whittaker.
With two years to go until completion, Lôdge St Germain has already been accepted into the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, only the second hotel to make the list before opening. "This is for buyers who want to be part of an exciting project," adds Whitaker.
Lôdge St Germain: 020 7183 3829; www.lodgestgermain.com.