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

Living France - - DES­TI­NA­TION -

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.”

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