Expats in France: When Caroline and Chas Sharp from the UK first saw Le Caillau in September 2008 they knew that this was THE property – and they had to buy it. A 300 year old winery set in the heart of the best Cahors vines, it’s a peaceful location yet still close to many small villages and towns with plenty of activities on offer for holidaymakers.
Caroline says that having both worked in London’s fast-paced marketing world for many years, they like a challenge – well buying Le Caillau certainly provided a challenge albeit of a different kind and on a different scale. Working long hours in a large advertising agency in London left the pair longing for more time to enjoy life and when their children came along they took a momentous decision – they would have an adventure, take time out – and they chose France for their new life.
Both had holidayed in France with their families as children and were fans of the French way of life and culture so it seemed like a natural move. Chas has a degree in French and German and Caroline spoke basic French but says she was full of “enthusiasm to learn more”.
They started to look for a home in the Dordogne area but couldn’t find that special place they wanted but when they saw a house in the Lot (in the Midi-Pyrénées region) – they fell head over heels in love with both the property and the area considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in France.
The couple moved to France with their two little girls Evie and Lilah and have thrown themselves into the way of French life, picking up the local dialect, haggling with local artisans and enjoying far too much local wine and cheese.
Caroline says that the children didn’t have any problems at all with the change of country. “Our youngest was only 18 months old so didn’t know any different, and our eldest was four so at the perfect age to pick up the new language.” The local school was very accommodating and at school another English child helped for a few months. Now both children are fluent in French and English and have the perfect local accent!
The house had been recently renovated though the couple are looking forward to working on the huge attic which hasn’t been touched for years. The property is huge, they have a home on the edge of it and there is a privately accessed gite which they have renovated themselves – it’s all beams, stone arches and chic with antiques and oodles of style.
They’ve also renovated one of the big outbuildings and opened a restaurant called Le Caillau. Stylish, comfortable and oh so pretty with its stone work and gorgeous chandeliers, within a very short time it has become a popular place to go for both locals and visitors and we can certainly see why.
Caroline says “We’d always had the idea to set up a few gites, and serve food to our guests. Whilst renovating the first gite, because I’d had the pottery painting business in the UK, we decided to open the café atelier as there are no activities like that in the area.”
In their first year they served homemade cakes/tea/coffee, and at lunch times salads and baguettes – it was very successful but enormously hard work. In their second year they decided to go all out and hire a chef. Caroline worked closely with a chef to create the menus using local ingredients where possible and serving food with “modern influences from the rest of the world. “ Caroline says she felt that there are so many local restaurants that serve good French food they didn’t want to directly compete with these but wanted to offer something different that would appeal to both locals and visitors.
Caroline enthuses about the space the family have in their Lot home. “In London I’d always wanted to have a vegetable garden and animals but we had a tiny north facing back garden. Now our vegetable patch is bigger than our whole garden was and the children have enough space for a trampoline, swings, sandpit, football goal, swimming pool and acres to run around in.” She says that having lots of fruit and nut trees is fantastic “although slightly frustrating that you get no fruit all year then 30 kilos all in one week…but my jam making skills are getting better!”
Moving from paid jobs in the city to working for themselves as a team has worked well for Chas and Caroline who says that all the hard work in setting up the gite and restaurant has “been a bit of a shock”. The pair love being their own boss though and can’t imagine going back to office jobs, the hard work and learning new skills has certainly been successful for them and they use skills from their previous lives to suit their new lives. Chas is front of house and takes care of all the paperwork, Caroline works in the kitchen and takes care of the design and ideas and says ”We both have very different skills and strengths and work in different ways which I think is essential to the success of our working relationship!”
Would they ever go back to their old life? “Absolutely not” emphasises Caroline saying that although she misses the shopping and great bars and restaurants in London and the fact that you get anything you want at any time – Le Caillau is where their hearts are now. Despite the fact that she loves to go back to visit London, the “stresses of public transport are so much easier to cope with when you know you’ll be back sipping local red wine in the sunshine in a few days!”
Caroline and Chas are not resting on their laurels – they plan to create more gites and make the indoor space for the restaurant bigger for off peak times. Out of season they want to focus on themed holidays, cookery breaks or wine tasting holidays and have a larger space for locals when the weather is cooler.
Caroline says “We are in the process of transforming Le Caillau into a unique destination both for locals and holidaymakers and the Café Restaurant Atelier plus gite are just the first steps in this process…”
See Le-Caillau.fr website for details of the restaurant, beautiful luxury gite and Café Atelier with its year round pottery and craft courses