Nine months ago, my husband Adriaan and I moved from Dublin to Dordogne in south west France, where we had bought a château with a view of doing it up and renting it out for weddings and groups of up to 18 people.
Our decision to focus on this region was partially motivated by the type of architecture you find here. It is said that there are 1,001 châteaux – we’re not sure if that’s true – but there is certainly a lot. But it’s not just the châteaux. Most of the buildings here, even new family homes, are built in a highly attractive yellowish limestone with charming roofs, windows and shutters. There are very strict building regulations so all of the houses look more or less the same. When you drive around, you sometimes have the feeling you are in one huge open-air museum. We were also drawn to the landscape, particularly the oak forests and views of rolling hills of cornfields, meadows and old rural hamlets – places that as keen cyclists – we frequent on regular Sunday outings.
Before lockdown started our lives were already fairly monotonous: we worked every single day, sometimes only leaving the estate twice a week: once for groceries and once for our weekly meal in a local restaurant. We were not prepared for lockdown, but I don’t think anybody really was. Having said that, we also did not need much preparation, as ultimately confinement, as the French call it, did not impact us as much as it did millions of others across the world. While some of our friends lost their jobs, were trapped in a small inner-city apartment, or, in fact, contracted the virus, we were “stuck” in a French château set on a large estate.
Aside from our employee (a local handyman) and the occasional delivery van driver, we have not seen anybody for weeks, which has been somewhat challenging. And, then came the cancellations. We had quite a few bookings for our first year, so to see them go one after another was tough. Luckily, all of these bookings eventually rescheduled to next year, which has softened the disappointment somewhat.
The most enjoyable aspect of our project has been seeing dark, old-fashioned rooms with heavy flowery curtains and thick carpets gradually turn into stunning, bright and tastefully styled rooms. We have also very much enjoyed unpacking deliveries! If you want to style an entire château, you need to order a lot of accessories online. Normally, when you order something, it’s there within two or three days, which still falls within the limits of “instant gratification”. But during lockdown, every delivery has been severely delayed. This has meant we have sometimes forgotten what we had ordered. So every box on our doormat has become a bit of a mystery Christmas present.
During the last two months we have started to walk more than normal. This must sound strange to most people, as we are blessed with a huge estate of forests and fields which seamlessly run into those of our neighbours. You can walk for hours without meeting anybody. However, when we arrived, the husband of the former owner’s housekeeper asked us whether he could continue keeping some of his cows on our land, which apparently had been here for many years. We said yes, but we soon found out that these were not “laughing cows”! They were quite wild and chased us aggressively every time we came remotely close to them. Hence we did not dare to explore a large part of our estate out of fear. Right before the lockdown started, the cows were sold and so we finally could walk on the fields we had acquired nine months earlier.
What we are most looking forward to when this is all over is welcoming guests. We have worked so hard to open this summer and we are now eager to share it with others. We had, and we still have, a fear of a “second wave” … That would be very tough, not only financially, but also emotionally. We are very happy, though, that we made the decision early on to offer the Château exclusively to one group. This means our guests do not have to share the pool, bar, cinema and gym with other people, just with their immediate family and “bubble” of friends.
Château La Carrière, La Carrière, 24220 Saint-Cyprien, France; www.chateaulacarriere.com
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