The Work Begins – SUCH FUN

In December 2012 we were due to start the work on the house. Both Nicholas and myself going over and working for weeks at a time. Project managing on site dealing with the electricians, plumbers, builders, etc. etc… but unfortunately non of that happened…

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Work to set to start on the house..

 

back of house

Back of the house…

 

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Septic Tank had to go in

 

On December 18th 2012 my mum had a major stroke which meant all of our plans to work together on the house completely fell by the wayside as one of us had to stay behind to look after her whilst the other went to France with a team of family and friends all helping us get the place from the above to how it is now…..

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No central heating..

In January Nicholas and a team of 3 others went first – it was freezing cold, there was no gas for the heating and hot water so they lit the large wood burner and all slept on the floor near it to keep warm… no beds, no furniture at all… It was very very hard..

They started with knocking down internal walls and reconfiguring the inside of the house… If you’ve every tried to knock through a stone wall, which was about 2 ft thick, to make a doorway – you’ll know how insanely hard it is.. I was so impressed with the work done..

Next tackling the barn – if you look on the above pics you can see that a girder was holding the outer wall up and a posts was holding up the stones above the smaller door – huge job but the lads cracked on…. all in all they did a wonderful job and then returned to the warmth and comfort of their own homes vowing never to return…. but they did.

As the weeks turned into months of either Nicholas being there with family and friends, or me being there with friends – but never at the same time as one of us had to look after Mum, we were getting tired and fed up of it never ending and costing waaayyyyy more than we thought.

Any expat you speak to who lives in France will tell you that whatever you think a project will cost – times it by two and then add a few thousand more….  well they were not far off..

Electricians who quote one figure and then end up costing more than double, plumbers who, although very good, still cost way more than expected, problems with the house we didn’t expect, floors being laid in wet rooms which had to be dug up and re done cos the cowboy who did it in the first place didn’t slope it the right way …… :-(   lots and lots of problems…

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Bedroom before picture..

But eventually we could see a change.  Dark drab bedrooms turned from this:

 

 

 

to this… Bright, welcoming rooms with loads of space for an en-suite … wonderful

 

Renovated, stylish bedroom

 

 

 

 

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Another bedroom before picture

and rooms that were knocked down and reconfigured went from this:

 

Fresh coat of paint, new lighting…

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Modern bathroom

To This:-      with an beautiful en suite

Finally things were taking shape – back breaking work was paying off and Le Grand Chemin de la Vie Chambre D’Hote was being born…

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And Finally – the end of our Journey – or should I say The Beginning…

We stepped off the plane at 9.30am and we were meeting the Estate Agent in the Village at 12 lunchtime and going to see the house.

I actually felt sick – something just felt different about this trip – we had never taken Nicholas’s brother (who is a carpenter and had been in the building trade all of his life) and definitely never taken my mother… so why we brought them this time I just don’t know.. It just felt that they needed to be with us – James for his expertise in the structural side of the house, and my mum, for her approval….(I’m Irish Catholic Decent)

We meet the Estate Agent in the lovely village of Montcaret and our car follows his car.  We pull up outside a set of big black gates – opened by the owner and we drive through….. it looked AWFUL ..

Entrance to the Property

Entrance to the Property

Front of the House

Front of the House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a mess..

What a mess..

Everywhere, on the outside, was shocking – lots and lots of ‘mess’….

Normally I would have got out of the car – looked around and got back into the car – but there was something about this house – something that drew both of us to it.

We went inside.  Mums face was a picture – total disbelief… we walked over piles of rubbish and tried to avoid ‘other things’ that I don’t even want to explain..

Not to bad here...

Not to bad here…

 

Back Room

Back Room

these are three ‘good’ rooms… James with his hands in his pockets – ‘Lots of work mate’, Mum looking at me like she thought I’d gone mad……..    which I had – mad on it…

I really don’t know why after seeing so many houses, a lot of them in much better condition that this one, both Nicholas and I knew we had found THE ONE… a home, the perfect location for a B & B – lots and lots of space – and it already had a swimming pool……

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Swimming Pool

well sort of……………..

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Will It or Won’t It – Here we go again…

Just over a year had gone by since our last visit to the Dordogne. We had settled down into our life again and due to the financial crash had put moving to France at the back of our mind as it seemed like an impossible dream and the mountain to get there was just too high to climb…

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Christine & Nicholas

Then, one dark, grey, rainy afternoon whilst Nicholas and I sat watching something stupid on the TV, the phone rang… an estate agent who we had dealt with in the past and who knew what we had been looking for (let’s be honest we must have emailed, met or telephoned over 50 estate agents across France – all of them thinking we were impossible to please and a complete pain in the ‘bottom’…) It was December 29th 2011.. ‘Hi Mrs Kavanagh, (he was Scottish so I’m typing it with a Scottish Accent) I’m just phoning to see if you have found you’re property in France or are you still looking’ ‘Hi, I said, No we haven’t bought and have in fact given up on the search now’ ‘Och dear, I’m sorry to hear that. (I put the phone on loud speaker) It’s just that I’ve got a property here that was sold but has now come back on the market and I think it would be perfect for you’……… silence (our end)… Nicholas and I looked at each other and then said ‘tell us more…….

7 days later on the 5th January 2012 (Nicholas’s Birthday) Nicholas, myself, James (Nicholas’s brother) and my mum were all on a plane flying to France… omg – the circus had started again….. but I felt that this time it would be different…..

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Will It or Won’t It – Here we come again…

Just over a year had gone by since our last visit to the Dordogne. We had settled down into our life again and had put moving to France at the back of our mind as it seemed like an impossible dream and the mountain to get there was just too high to climb…

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Christine & Nicholas Decisions, Decisions

Then, one dark, grey, rainy afternoon whilst Nicholas and I sat watching something stupid on the TV, the phone rang… an estate agent who we had dealt with in the past and who knew what we had been looking for (let’s be honest we must have emailed, met or telephoned over 50 estate agents across France – all of them thinking we were impossible to please and a complete pain in the ‘bottom’…) It was December 29th 2011.. ‘Hi Mrs Kavanagh, (he was Scottish so I’m typing it with a Scottish Accent) I’m just phoning to see if you have found you’re property in France or are you still looking’ ‘Hi, I said, No we haven’t bought and have in fact given up on the search now’ ‘Och dear, I’m sorry to hear that. (I put the phone on loud speaker) It’s just that I’ve got a property here that was sold but has now come back on the market and I think it would be perfect for you’……… silence (our end)… Nicholas and I looked at each other and then said ‘tell us more…….

7 days later on the 5th January 2012 (Nicholas’s Birthday) Nicholas, myself, James (Nicholas’s brother) and my mum were all on a plane flying to France… omg – the circus had started again….. but I felt that this time it would be different…..

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And Finally We Arrive at the Dordogne – BUT…

What is the BUT – I hear you cry – why has she written a BUT – we know they live there now so what on earth can go wrong this time……….  well my friends several things can..

The Dordogne was the most expensive region we had searched – which meant that properties were smaller for the same amount of money as in, say, the Charente, but we had fallen in love with the area and so we decided that it was there – or no where.  So after several visit and several heartbreaks later – we had still found nothing.

The Dordogne is split into four distinct areas, The Green Périgord the most Northern part of the Dordogne filled with trees and green pastures,  The White Périgord surrounds the capital Périgueux, a city made up of white and grey limestone. The Black Périgord – which is home to dramatic cliff-hugging villages and towns including the spectacular Roccamadour and town of Sarlat.

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And then we have The Purple Périgord, the wine producing region that gets its name from the colour of the grapes. Home to “bastides” (fortified villages), beautiful rolling countryside covered in vineyards, and fields of Sunflowers… – am I bias (YES)….

Anyway – back to our house hunt  –  I love Estate Agents (bit random I know) but why oh why were we shown properties that we would have bought but which were out of our price range – sometimes by nearly 100k euros… did they think the seller would drop (which is what we were hoping for) or did they think we had a money tree down the bottom of our English garden that would produce more dosh – I don’t know but we did see several properties that were beautiful but we just couldn’t afford – hence the heart break…

Then we found one – one I thought ‘could be the one’ – an established B & B.. not in a great area but it was OK, no pool, didn’t have an attached garden – but hey it was an established B & B….  then via some stern words from Nicholas – the rose coloured glasses fell from my eyes and I woke up to reality… lovely as it was, established as it was (even had heating) – but it wasn’t the one……..

 

I think we both felt the same – both felt as though we had spent years and years coming over to France looking for something special, for something we could call home and other people would enjoy visiting…all to no avail… All of that money spent on planes, trains and automobiles… if you add it all up we could have blinking built a small house……….  No more

Broken we returned to the UK – we had given up – we would create a new dream – France had beaten us  –   or had it…………………….(well you know it hadn’t but that’s not as dramatic)

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The Search for the Perfect House Moved to the Charente

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Christine & Nicholas enjoying the sunshine

If you are ever looking to buy a property in France you will find, upon doing your research, that virtually every region is described as having weather that is either ‘one of the mildest in France or one of the sunniest parts of France, outside the Mediterranean coastal areas’.  The Charente is no exception.  We have now moved forward in time a couple of years from my post on the Vendee.  Our BUDGET had dropped and so had our expectations but our desire to find the perfect house to run an amazing Bed & Breakfast from remained steadfast.

Buying an already established B & B was at the top of our agenda for several reasons – it’s ‘established’, will hopefully have return BUSINESS, a website, en-suites, already kitted out with the beds, crockery etc. etc. and so, although things might need updating or replaced, the majority of the work had already been done – but unfortunately things do not always work out how you expect them too.

In the Charente we visited some amazing properties and I would say that this region did offered the best value for money so far.  Our property searching trips tended to be in the winter months so we knew that if a property felt like HOME and we loved it in the winter then we would love it even more in the summer

Romanesque carvings on small Saintonge church

Romanesque carvings on small Saintonge Church

Futuroscope - Photo St.A

Futuroscope – Photo St.A

 

The Charente offered tourist attractions such as the Futuroscope – A huge theme park …and totally different to the ‘France’ I love ….  Aubeterre sur Dronne, a small town with unusual romanesque “monolithic” church, carved out of the rock. One of the “most beautiful villages in France”  (see I told you about the theme of beautiful villages lol), and of course Cognac.  Tour the great cognac houses, what’s not to like about that…  So we thought that the Charente could really be a contender.

We stayed in a B & B that was for sale and although lovely and within our price range – the guest rooms were freezing (and I mean see your own breath cold) .  We came from a cold HOUSE in North Yorkshire so at the top of our list was a house where our guests would feel comfortable – whatever the weather. We obviously could have put central heating in throughout the entire house but this would have been a costly event and as it was already at the top of our price range it became a no no..

We then found an old school house which was a wreck – but we loved it.   It had nothing – no rooms, no full ceilings, no heating and no en-suites (except for a toilet which, for some reason, we found just placed in the middle of a floor) but it was huge and would have made a lovely 4 bedroom B & B and it was on for a bargain of a price.   I don’t know what it’s like buying property in your part of the world but in France once you make an offer you put down an agreed DEPOSIT which is non refundable.  We were about to make a deposit when we found out that the house was completely unstable – a bit like my mind at that point.. and the work that was needed would take the price through the roof (literally) and as a result became totally un-do-able (for us anyway)… so back to the drawing board and the long search went on………..

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And Then there was the wonderful Vendée or is it Vendee ….

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If you Google this beautiful region of France you will see that some call it The Vendée and others the Vendee – either way we loved this region.. having it’s micro climate and offering us nice sunny weather without the South of France price tag…  Still in easy driving distance to the ports and euro tunnel this was a perfect destination…  We went to this region on three separate occasions searching for our future home and at one stage we thought we had found it.

I’m a huge Sunflower lover so image my delight when we came across field upon field of large bright yellow faces holding their heads up high like a army of ‘suns’ greeting us as we drove through the country lanes…just loved it… had to stop to take this picture…

Property  –  The property we viewed was a mixture of the amazing to the ridiculous..  Every estate agent we met knew our criteria, what we wanted the property for, i.e. a Bed and Breakfast, 5 rooms that could be used as bedrooms,  the sort of location we wanted (i.e. easy to find) and our price range..  so why or why did they take us to view properties that were well off the beaten track and that would never in a month of Sundays be able to be converted into a B & B’s I just don’t know…

However, located in the village of Vouvant, a self appointed member in the ‘prettiest village in France’ club…(have you noticed that there are hundreds of villages throughout France that have appointed themselves to be ‘the prettiest village in France’) (but Vouvant did deserve the title because we did love it).. we came across a property that was (and probably still is) amazing.

An established B & B with 3 gites and a 4th unfinished.   It was here we met Carol.. a woman who spoke pure Cockney and hardly any French.. A self made woman with a bad limp who could turn her hand to anything.  She had created an amazing B & B and who, single-handedly, had converted the outbuilding into comfortable gites..that is until she was working on the 4th gite and had fallen through the ceiling and broke both of her legs.. she crawled through the door to the outside screaming for help before passing out… OMG Wonder woman or what…

So ‘why didn’t you buy this property’ I hear you all ask – well we tried.  The price was above our price range but we did the number crunching, took us well outside of our financial comfort zone, and put in a cheeky offer which she rightly refused… and, for us, it was a blessing in disguise as only weeks after we would have committed ourselves to a huge over stretch, the world changed – the euro crashed, the uk property market went into a downward spin and the money we had to invest halved… the World Economic Crisis had reached our pockets..

However our determination to live in France did not waiver – we had heard of great property prices in the neighbouring Charante… so guess where the next report will come from………….

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In the Beginning there was Normandy (September 2006)

The biggest decision anyone will make is ‘where’.. France is huge and each region offers something completely different – so knowing what you want and what is a truly MUST HAVE is so important.

When we first started looking in 2006 our destination was Normandy    Mont-Saint-Michel@Centre des Monuments Nationaux - P. Berthe our reasoning was that it was close to Calais for travel to and from UK, that the area was lovely and there were some amazing properties for sale at very reasonable prices…. the minuses for this area was that we were told, by ex pats who had lived there for several years, that they were all thinking of moving either further south in France, to Spain or even back to the UK…. and the reason for this was that the weather as not much better than it is in the UK…. (Don’t shoot the messenger)..

Average temperatures, rainfall and sunshine in Normandy

Normandie Tourisme  taken from the Normandy Tourism site…

So why do we Brits move to France?? Or indeed anywhere outside of the UK… From a vast survey I’ve undertaken (of at least 25 people) ….the number one reason British people leave the UK is (drum roll please) the WEATHER… I know you’re probably shocked…. Let’s be honest – the majority of us Brits, and I’m not saying everyone, really do not like the cold grey skies, the rain and how miserable it all feels and the fact that we unfortunately do seem to get a lot of it….. Now I know there are some people who love to pull on their thick jumpers, coats, scarfs and gloves and love winter – and so do I…. I just don’t like winter to be 6 months of the year…

So despite the beautiful properties – the weather aspects put us off – so we packed up our dreams and check list and headed south…and the next time I’ll tell you about the Vendée….

Happy Reading.

Christine x

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