After a few years in the Alps, we were ready for country living. The Dordogne was always in the back of our minds as a place that really impressed us. We had first visited the Dordogne in 2001, after 9/11. We had booked a tour of Egypt and with all the scare after 9/11, decided to tour France instead. So, we headed south at the school holiday called Toussaint. We were living in Paris at the time, took the new TGV to Marseilles and rented a car. After Nice, Monaco, Marseilles and the Languedoc-Roussillon, we visited the Dordogne. Absolutely loved it. Never forgot it. In 2006, when we were considering other regions of France for our next move, we kept coming back to the Dordogne idea. We visited again, picked our favorite part and started looking at houses. This property was the 17th property that we looked at. We rolled into the courtyard in front of this classic French house, I got out of the car and looked up and said, oh yeah, I could live here.
We toured the house and property, which included a beautiful old barn and outbuildings plus woodland and park, 3 hectares or 7 acres of land.
A huge project unfolded before us and Voila! We bought it and started a whole new life. The day we drove from Chamonix to sign the contract with the “notaire” we did have a sort of brief moment of reality check, a sort of moment of truth. But somewhere it was lodged in our brain that this was a good place and a good decision, even though we knew not one soul here.
There was a lot to be done in the house, it was livable but greatly out-dated. The barn, of course, was the brainchild of my husband, to convert into holiday rentals. Rural cottages in French are called “gîtes”.
The house is a traditional “maison de maître” in French architectural terms. It’s a stone house, with stucco on the outside and a slate roof. The barn is a beautiful stone building with a terracotta tile roof. The park and woodlands around the house would be part of our project for the property. When we bought the house there was not a proper park in front, it was just a big field, with bumpy terrain that had to be flattened out before we could plant trees and form an idea. But, first things first, we started on the house itself. Complete interior renovation. Kitchen gutted. I cooked outside in a summer kitchen a few steps from the house.
We had a super kitchen designer and liked him so much that we had him work on the kitchens for the gites as well. The summer of 2006 was good for our house, it was pretty much finished up by September with a bit left that was finished up by December. The living room is a grand “double séjour”, with a beam covered ceiling and a massive stone fireplace and mantle.
Then, in January 2007, the barn renovation started. That was a pretty big project. Here are some photos from that adventure. We divided it into 3 different gites. They had to put in steel girders and pour a slab. Then, there was the business of punching windows and then framing each window with masonry of local stone.
The summer of 2007 was dedicated to building the pool and landscaping the front garden (field). We had to create a park for the property. We planted 32 trees, created a rose bed circle and made all the driveways and paths for the gites.
Once the gites were fitted with floors, kitchen, and walls, there were trips to antique markets to begin furnishing them. By the end of 2007 we were ready to go. We needed to think of a name for our business. It seemed that a lot of the locals referred to our house as “le petit-manoir”, the little manor house. It felt like a great name for the property and the business and we went with it. The first season, 2008, started to fill up with reservations. We opened on March 31, 2008 and it’s been a continuing project ever since. There are always new ideas of things to add to the property…or take away. Add a fountain. Take out a hedge. Add a statue. Take out an overgrown tree. Plant flowers, bulbs, hedges, and trees. Every year. It’s a constant project, our work of art. One that is a pleasure to share with our friends and all the guests that we have had the last 10 years of vacation rentals.