TICK ALL THE BOXES
Tempted by the great weather, Kate and Roger Sampson moved to Aude and took on a building project. Deborah Curtis discovers that they have no regrets
And it was within a stone’s throw of this beautiful old bridge that Kate and Roger stumbled across an ‘ À Vendre’ sign for a substantial property, which had once been the village épicerie.
“We looked at the house three or four times because it was huge and hadn’t had any work done on it for years and years,” says Roger. “The back wall of the house is a metre thick. It’s part of the old ramparts of the village, which look out over the river, the abbey and the old bridge towards the garrigue on the hillside behind.”
They saw immediately that there was a lot of work to do, but that didn’t put them off.
“Downstairs was a massive garage and a huge shop, and then there were three flats above that. It was a strange mish-mash,” says Roger. “One flat had two kitchens and no bathroom and another one had three bathrooms and no kitchen. It was very odd, but we fell in love with it and we could see lots of potential.”
Within a week, they had sold their property in Pas-de-Calais and bought 11 Rue des Deux Ponts. They moved lock, stock and barrel to Aude in February 2001, and together they began work on unravelling the complicated internal layout to create an apartment for the family and three gîtes to rent out.
“In the north of France, I’d been renovating lots of houses, and I was confident I could take on a project of this size,” says Roger. “It was an opportunity for me to work for myself rather than other people for a while and do something for us. It’s been a fantastic success.
“It is a very old, solid building and had features that had been boarded up, which we knew would still be there if we were lucky. Once we started, we found everything we’d hoped for: the original tiled floors and beautiful 17th-century wooden ceilings, stone arches; it was fantastic. It’s a wonderful project that is still ongoing. It’s such a huge house, I don’t think it will ever be finished; there will always be things left to do.”
Once the building work on the gîtes was finished, Kate got on with the job of decorating and furnishing them ready for guests; hand-picking furniture and knickknacks from the many brocantes and vide-greniers, which are held in the region in the summer.
“It is fun decorating like that if you have time,” says Kate. “It was all done on a budget. I remember seeing these wonderful olive pots that I wanted to put in the hallway, but I couldn’t really justify buying them. It was always about compromise, but I did manage to find some nice pieces for a good price.”
They now welcome guests from all over the world and in one of their most successful years, they were booked solid for 10 months.
“People often come in the winter time because the weather can still be very nice,” says Roger. “Lagrasse attracts people from all over; it is a really special French village. It has lots of restaurants, lots of shops, lots of artists, a really beautiful abbey, lovely cobbled streets, old buildings and architecture. It’s a really special place and it’s very much lived in. It’s not like some French villages that are a bit dead; it’s very lively all year round. We love it.”