A JOINT EFFORT
Combining their talents to transform a dated manor house into a home and chambres d’hôtes has been a good move for Anthony and Sarah Flockhart, as Vicky Leigh discovers
Learn how an expat couple transformed a manor into a home and B&B in Haute-Vienne
With backgrounds in the building and hospitality industries, Anthony and Sarah Flockhart were perhaps the perfect couple to tackle the renovation of a dated property in Haute-Vienne and transform it into a boutique chambres d’hôtes. Anthony is both a builder and a trained chef, while Sarah worked as a hotel manager, so between them they certainly had plenty of relevant experience to bring to the project.
After selling their home in Canterbury, Anthony and Sarah moved with their two sons to Barbados, where they spent eight years developing properties. When they then decided to return to the UK, they took on a renovation project and opened the property as a B&B. However, they struggled to settle back into life in the UK, and after two and a half years their thoughts turned to making another move.
“We couldn’t really settle and we got itchy feet,” explains Anthony. “A friend got me thinking about France because she commented that she often couldn’t find anywhere nice to stay and eat as well when she drove down to Spain. So I chose two main roads down through France towards Spain, drew a circle of around six hours’ driving time and then looked at properties for sale within that radius on the internet.”
The house they went on to buy was the first one they saw and both liked, and indeed was the only one they viewed. A grand manor house at the heart of Mézières-sur-Issoire, the property was built around 1860 and had been run as a chambres d’hôtes for the previous 12 years. Anthony and Sarah booked to stay there, and were able to arrange a private sale with the English owner as a result.
They completed the sale in December 2015 and were keen to get stuck into the renovation work to bring the property up to date, while at the same time ensuring
that any changes they made were in keeping with the age and style of the house. However, the couple soon found they had to scale back their renovation plans, which was an unexpected yet welcome development.
“We didn’t think we’d have any guests this year but there’s a château nearby which hosts lots of weddings for up to 500 people,” explains Anthony. “We went and introduced ourselves to the owners and we’ve been pretty much fully booked every weekend, so we’ve been really lucky. In fact the owners recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and their family wanted to stay with us instead because the château doesn’t have a pool!”
Anthony has had help with the plumbing and electrics, but has done all of the building work himself, and so far the couple have reorganised the living accommodation in the main house to create five guest bedrooms. This winter they plan to make further improvements to the self-contained two-bedroom gîte situated in the gardens of the main house.
“There were three bedrooms on the first floor and one had a terrible en suite while the other two shared a bathroom,” says Anthony. “We’ve basically moved everything around so that all three bedrooms are now en suite, and this winter we’re renovating the top floor of the gîte so that both bedrooms in there have en suites too.”
Anthony’s two sons are both builders and were happy to lend a hand when it came to transforming the area around the swimming pool, which had been somewhat neglected and lacked a proper terrace and decking area. They also created a decking area behind the gîte for guests to use, as well as a private outside area for Anthony and Sarah to have their own personal space.
In addition to the work they plan to carry out on their own property this winter, Anthony will also be helping their eldest son to renovate a three-storey townhouse just around the corner in the village, which he has recently bought as a holiday home. Meanwhile, his youngest son who currently lives in the UK has his eye on the barn attached to Anthony and Sarah’s house as a possible future home, so there’s plenty to keep Anthony busy.
“I’m trying to get out of building work and I keep getting pulled back in!” he says. He has however found the time to swap his hard hat for chef’s whites and has enjoyed putting his culinary skills to use
“We didn’t think we’d have any guests this year but we’ve been pretty much fully booked every weekend”
once again. While Sarah is front of house, Anthony is in his element in the kitchen creating four-course evening meals using locally sourced ingredients.
“I suppose I’ve swapped one sort of mixer for another!” he says. “I try to use as much seasonal produce as possible – the Saturday market in Bellac is a great place to pick up cheese and I buy organic meat from the little shop around the corner. Friends we’ve met in the bar often bring us fresh mushrooms and rhubarb, and I have a vegetable plot behind the house too.”
Opening a restaurant alongside the chambres d’hôtes was always part of Anthony and Sarah’s original plan and it’s proved to be a good decision so far. “We’re in an area where there aren’t many restaurants and most places tend to close at 7pm. We’re finding that people are booking in for dinner as well as staying with us, which we’re really pleased about. We can cater for up to 15 people, which feels comfortable – we want to keep it small – and it seems to be working so far.”
Getting to grips with the language has been another challenge that Anthony has faced this year, especially as the majority of their guests so far have been French. “I was really thrown in at the deep end,” he says. “Sarah speaks French much better than I do and she has books, pictures and translations everywhere to help us learn more and as quickly as we can. The lady who runs the bar around the corner speaks very good English so I write out my menus and she translates them into French for me. It’s very frustrating because I can understand more than I can say, but the more French people we have staying, the easier it becomes.”
Anthony’s ability to turn his hand to both building and cooking has proved to be a recipe for success so far, and it certainly looks set to continue.
This page top: Anthony and his sons have transformed the swimming pool area, adding a terrace and decking
Facing page clockwise from top left: The grand manor house was the first and only property Anthony and Sarah viewed; the dining room where guests enjoy Anthony’s meals; renovation work to the house is in full swing; a self-contained two-bedroom gîte in the grounds provides further accommodation