Salleles-d’Aude is a picturesque village like so many in France, with vines, a tree-lined canal, a church… and soon, a “private oasis” for ageing British gay people — reportedly a first in the country.
The brainchild of 66-year-old Danny Silver, the luxury community for gay, lesbian, bi- and transsexual British people will be located just outside the small rural village, whose residents have raised a surprised eyebrow at the news.
“It’s for people who want to live, it’s not a place to come to die,” said Silver, a Brit whose real-estate company The Villages Group builds “active retirement communities” in France for the over-50s.
These types of communities — where people aged over 50 can either retire or just go on holiday — are popular in the United States and Australia but are little known in France.
Complete with 107 homes, a hotel, tennis courts, saunas, jacuzzis, golf and horse-riding, it will be an eco-friendly and low-energy compound with “English and multilingual staff”, the group’s website states.
Silver says it will be the first such village for ageing gays and lesbians in France, where a bill allowing same-sex marriage and adoption stirred up sometimes violent protests, before finally being adopted in May.
But the 2,500-strong Salleles-d’Aude village, nestled in the rural southwest, appears far from any such controversy and the news has been cautiously welcomed — if not with open arms, then with a touch of pragmatism.
“It doesn’t bother me as long as they stay at home and don’t come for a stroll hand-in-hand or kiss each other in front of children,” a wary Herve Garcia, the owner of a pizzeria, told AFP.
“But for village business, it can only be a good thing. This year, we’ve had 30 percent less tourists (than other years).”
Serge Core, another village resident, pointed out that homosexuality had now become part of everyday life.
“They can marry now. So I don’t see why they couldn’t come and settle down here,” he said.
Even the mayor Yves Bastie — who will soon be officiating a gay marriage — was caught unawares by the project, having sold the group a construction permit thinking a more mainstream holiday village would be built.
That had been Silver’s idea too, but a sluggish crisis-hit market subsequently convinced him to change tack, and try and target the homosexual community.
“The reaction has been absolutely wonderful,” he said, adding building was due to start in early 2014, with a planned opening of the village a year later.
But for Michel Teychenne, a politician who was in charge of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) issues during President Francois Hollande’s election campaign, the village may not be such a good idea.
“The government is currently discussing the issue of old age and LGBT,” he said, confirming that as far as he knew, the community in Salleles-d’Aude would be the first of its kind in France.
But he warned such gay communities, which are popular in the United States, could lead to a “form of ghettoisation of the homosexual community”.