The idea began, as many good ideas do, in the pub. Rebecca Randall, a criminal barrister and husband Greg who works in the City came to the realisation that they didn’t want to be commuting to and working in London until they reached 70.
“Several glasses in and one of us (we still aren’t sure who to blame) came up with the bright idea of moving to France and setting up a gite business. Brilliant. Easy. What could possibly go wrong?”
Rebecca had spent time in France as an au pair when she was young. Greg had been on a boys’ holiday to Le Touquet. “I had done French at A Level. My husband could order a beer. We were clearly well equipped to make an incisive, life-changing decision” Rebecca laughs.
Finding the dream in Dordogne
They did though do considerable and in-depth research of the kind that involves holidays staying in chateaux, drinking wine and sitting by a pool. They decided that the Dordogne was the region for them and that they could afford to buy somewhere that needed a little bit of renovation. “We thought we could cope with maybe a new bathroom or kitchen, but nothing – repeat, nothing – major”.
They drove thousands of kilometres but there was nothing that got their hearts racing and butterflies fluttering. That is, nothing until a rainy, miserable day in March 2016.
“On a dull, wet morning we saw an incredibly beautiful house with a large gite. It was designed to perfection and we wouldn’t have had to so much as lift a paintbrush. I wanted it. In the afternoon, our agent persuaded us to go and see one more property that she had on her books. It was a Mill and she uttered the fateful words, “you need a bit of vision” – and my heart sank.
Nevertheless, off we went to see Moulin de Fontalbe not far from Bergerac. We got lost on the way and had a small marital disagreement. By the time we finally drove through the gates I was in no mood to have vision for anything, apart from a glass of wine.
The Mill was enormous and had been abandoned for several years. Roofs needed repairing, there was no kitchen or bath-room. It felt unloved. It was in a nice spot, but that was all. It was too big a project, I told Greg, we should just forget it” says Rebecca.
They returned to their hotel and discussed the day’s viewings. Greg was very taken with the Mill, Rebecca wasn’t, but as they talked, she says she started to come around.
Falling in love with a mill
The next day was beautifully sunny and they decided to revisit the Mill. “What a difference a day makes. We realised that the Mill was effectively on its own private island, with a huge mill pond and lake, plus forest either side. The stone walls glowed in the sun. It was picture perfect and truly unique. We both felt our pulses quicken and knew that our search could be over. What we didn’t know until it had utterly captured our hearts was that there was no mains water, a complicated sluice system and an insufficient and antique electricity supply. But, it was too late by then…”
Rebecca and Greg are now the proud owners of Moulin De Fontalbe and say they feel “privileged to own a beautiful property nestled in the middle of the Dordogne countryside, close to Saint-Avit Senieur with its UNESCO listed medieval abbey, picturesque villages and a long, winding river. Everyone that we have met has been welcoming and helpful”.
Their plan is to turn the Mill into a beautiful home plus a 6-bedroom gite with a yoga studio. It’s an enormous project, not just the house and gite to renovate but 16 acres of land, forest, three fields and a quarry. In the meantime, home is a caravan whilst the work is ongoing. “It is tough, stressful and incredibly expensive but it will all be worth it in the end” says Rebecca.
“The mill is starting to share its secrets with us and I’m looking forward to the days when, once again, it is filled with friends, laughter, chatter and love. Our agent found our original brief the other day. It says, “don’t mind a bit of painting and decorating, but no major projects”….
Tempted by Bergerac?
Local estate agent Corrie Phillips of Leggett Immobillier says on the surface Bergerac is a quiet and understated city. Look a little closer and it is not difficult to understand what is attractive about living here. It has a temperate climate with longer summers and cool winters, making it conducive to a more outdoor lifestyle. There is something to do for all ages, from Go-Karting, to canoeing, wine tasting from one of the 120 wine producers of the region, or shopping at one of several weekly markets. If all this becomes too much, then people watching from one of the many cafés offers a welcome rest.
With an International airport and major train station, Bergerac has excellent transport links to the rest of France and further affield.
Rebecca blogs about her adventures when she has time at Fontalbe.com