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

Living France - - Contents - maison­hi­ron­delles.com

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

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