Business of the month
In Bellac, ancient capital of Haute-vienne, discovers a pair of Tolkienesque gîtes restored by a building conservationist who previously worked on the Tower of London
A pair of medieval gîtes in Haute-vienne fit for Bilbo and Gandalf
If Bilbo Baggins ever moves to Bellac, he is bound to buy this beautiful medieval house above the banks of the River Vincou… unless you beat him to it. An alluring mix of stone, brick and timber with a jettied upper storey and a wine cellar hewn out of granite, it’s straight out of Tolkien’s imaginings.
That was Michael and Mary Chapman’s impression too when they bought the 15thcentury building in 2005 and set about turning it into a pair of gîtes called Hobbit and Gandalf. Today their business attracts guests from all over the world.
With an ever-increasing turnover in the past three years, rising to €18,900 in 2017, the business is obviously ticking the boxes for visitors, who seem to appreciate the mixture of modern comforts and original features.
However, things were not quite so rosy back in 2005. “It was on the verge of collapse,” laughs Michael. “There were large cracks, rotten beams, holes in the roof – a lot of structural work had to be done.”
Such projects would be beyond most buyers, but fortunately Michael is a building conservationist with a track record of working for English Heritage and the National Trust. Having helped restore the stonework of the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Bath Abbey, he was more than capable of taking on one of the oldest buildings in Haute-vienne’s ancient capital.
Working with his nephew, Michael has created the Hobbit and Gandalf gîtes, each with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a wine cellar and a terrace overlooking the Vincou valley at the back and the church at the front.
Bilbo, he imagines, would want to live in the slightly smaller dwelling on the left, with its wonky oak spiral staircase, limestone fireplace and inglenook cooker.
Gandalf, he suspects, would plump for the slightly larger, grander dwelling on the right, which was “modernised in the 17th century”. No doubt he would feel at home with the wattle and daub walls, smart floor tiles and oak panelling, not to mention Michael’s cast of a lion in plaster and stone dust above the sitting room fireplace. He would surely also appreciate the wizardry of high-speed internet and the modern woodburner, which has an efficient heat-transfer flue to the rooms above.
Not quite Middle Earth, Bellac is about halfway down France and over to the west, about 45 minutes north of Limoges with its airport and TGV links to Paris.
The city of Poitiers, also with high-speed rail links, is 80 minutes to the north-west.