WHERE THE HEART IS
Having lived in Gironde for some 40 years, American expat Carol de Montrichard Dalléas enjoys everything that life in France offers, as Stephanie Sheldrake finds out
Find out why Gironde has been home to an American-born expat for some 40 years
For American-born Carol de Montrichard Dalléas, France has been her home for some 50 years since she arrived in Paris to study back in 1967. It was love that made the move permanent when she met and married a Frenchman. The couple decided to move to Gironde, to the famous wine-making area known as Entre-Deux-Mers, situated between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.
“Entre-Deux-Mers is between Paris where we lived, and the Basque country where we were planning to finally settle to be near our children’s grandparents. However, we wanted to make sure we could live outside of Paris where my husband had grown up and so decided to try the countryside near a big city, and the choice was between Bordeaux and Toulouse,” explains Carol.
“Bordeaux won as it is near the ocean – we live about 30km to the east of Bordeaux,” says Carol, who admits that these days she doesn’t go to the coast very often as country living takes up most of her time. “It’s nice to know it’s there and we can get there within an hour.”
Tragically, Carol lost her husband at the age of 37, and with two young children, she decided to start a B&B business from her home to complement her work as an artists’ agent. “At the time I think I was one of two B&Bs in all of Aquitaine,” remembers Carol, who started the B&B known as ‘La Forge’ in 1985.
Now, 30 years later, Carol is married to Bruno, from Bordeaux, and has retired from her work as an artists’ agent, but continues to host guests in the B&B as well as running additional activities through her network of local chefs, winemakers, gardeners and artists.
The characterful stone house with its pretty pale green shutters is typical of the area, and overlooks vines once worked by the blacksmith’s horse. The main house is tastefully decorated and accommodates up to 11 guests and there is also a guest cottage which sleeps three.
“We organise cooking classes, wine tastings, visits to gardens and artists’ studios, as well as dinners in private homes and châteaux. But with an extensive network I can respond or suggest almost anything that guests might be interested in,” says Carol. “Last year I contacted the local pétanque club who organised a tournament and dinner for my Florida guests.”
The couple initially offered cooking and biking activities. “My husband, who is a doctor and also has a degree in French cuisine, was interested in giving classes and we had a new off-road bike path that just opened nearby. Professional chefs from the region, as well as home cooks, now give classes and the activities have expanded to week-long trips to visit gardens, wineries, and private homes.”
Around half of Carol and Bruno’s guests are French and the other half are international (about a third of which are British). Guests are able to find La Forge via Carol’s website, Sawday’s, as well as TripAdvisor and French websites including Les Guides Rivages and Maisons d’Hôtes de Caractère.
HOME FROM HOME
Carol enjoys inviting guests into her home, as well as the social interaction that running the activities brings. “As the house didn’t start out as a B&B, but as our home, it still is more of a family house that I share with my guests, as opposed to the classic B&B that most people imagine. It suits us and our guests very well,” says Carol, who enjoys spending time with her guests.
“When my guests sign up for a threeday to a week-long stay on a specific theme I usually accompany them or leave them in the hands of a specialist. However,
a ‘theme week’ is a 24-hour responsibility and I have my guests under my wing all the time.” These days, Carol spends most of her time planning new excursions, spending time with her guests, promoting her business on social media and working on the house and garden. Carol and Bruno do the majority of the work involved in running the business, with help from a cleaner and a gardener who comes once a week. The pace of life suits her, and Carol ensures she makes time for herself. “I’m open all year round but my busy season is from April to November. When I have family affairs to attend to and don’t have time, I just say that we’re booked or sometimes I find a friend to step in for me.” Since her introduction to French life in Paris all those years ago, Carol has not looked back. “I’ve enjoyed living in France from the very beginning when I arrived in Paris as an au pair and student. Even after the death of my first husband I didn’t really consider going back to the US. I like living in two cultures – being both French and American… If I was born French I would probably like living in the US!” she laughs.
For Carol, the appeal of living in this beautiful part of France has not waned over the years. “France is amazing as every area has something to offer and I think I could settle almost anywhere and be happy,” admits Carol. “Entre-Deux-Mers has become my home over these 40 years so, of course, I have my friends and family here which certainly adds to its attraction for me.”
From hosting guests on gourmet picnics to visiting local châteaux and gardens or accompanying guests on wine tastings, the numerous activities that Carol enjoys make it unsurprising that this corner of France holds such a strong place in her heart.
“Professional chefs from the region, as well as home cooks, give classes to our guests”
Bottom left: La Forge chambres d’hôtes is run by Carol and Bruno in Entre-Deux-Mers These pages from top: Two couples taking part in a chef-run cookery course; the tranquil gardens; Carol and Bruno enjoy cooking; one of the dishes created in the cookery classes