We talk to Wendy Clare-Dubavand from the UK about life as a gite owner in the Dordogne, France…
Why did you move to the Dordogne?
I moved permanently to France in January 2001 with my three children then aged 4, 5 and nearly 7. I moved into my parents tiny one-bedroom holiday home in the village of Montferrand du Perigord, southern Dordogne, near Sarlat. We’d been holidaying this area for 20 years and loved it. It was quite a squash for the four of us, but exciting at the same time. My children and I lived here for a few months whilst I searched for a property which would be suitable to become our home, fulfill our dream of a gite business and most importantly be together. My then husband remained living and working in the UK with the plan for him to join us later.
We arrived in France on a Friday and my children started at the village school which was literally next door, on the following Monday. They were initially kept together in the tiny school and within a matter of months were fully integrated and thriving. The school cook would create delicious meals for the children on site, such as rabbit in white wine. The scent of it would waft up to our little house, I cherish these memories. With so few children in the school it was more like an extended family to which we were very warmly welcomed. I did not speak the language at all apart from the hello, goodbye, thank you and bread! I was helped by an immensely kind English/Corsican family who ran the village Auberge as well as the Mayor and villagers.
Within a short space of time I found myself on my own with my children. I decided to remain in France as my three children were by then well settled and happy.
What is your house in Dordogne like?
Within a few months I found our dream property within the same Commune. Whilst in need of major renovation work I fell in love with its beauty and potential. Little did I realize at this stage just how major the work would be.
I found it difficult to find work here unless connected to farming or tourism and for some time I worked as a cleaner in a local Auberge in the summer months. These were very difficult times to say the least. When not cleaning I worked relentlessly on renovating the property. Finance at this time was painful, and I will be forever grateful for the kindness of the locals. Sacks of second hand clothes from French friends was the norm for longer than I wish to remember. Gone were the days of wearing designer clothes. There were many days and nights of tears.
Life in France is not always a bed of roses
After a couple of years my parents joined us in France. My mother was unwell and the medical care and support she and our family received was truly exceptional. After what felt like an eternity, I found a full-time job working for an insurance company, helping their English-speaking clients. The owner of the insurance agency in France took a massive gamble on me and in no simple terms, changed our lives.
Our living conditions were to say the least basic. We had a just about working bathroom. An old butler style sink with a pipe which led straight out into a well. With a gas bottle connected to free standing oven, we made one room our kitchen. Our first night was so exciting. I collected the children from school and we slept on borrowed mattresses in one room. The roof of the house which we called “Le Grand Reve” (the big dream) was leaking and collapsing around us. I soon realized we would have to get major work done or sell. The true reality of the condition of the property became evident. I was determined to make things better for us all and my ultimate goal was to let the property for an income.
It took 10 years of constant challenges to get to the point where I could open our doors with pride to our first guests in 2012.
The big dream comes true
I developed a deep love for this property and I still feel as passionate about it as I did in the beginning nearly 18 years ago. Over the years I have gathered a small team of artisans whom have been able to see and understand my dream, put up with my grand plans and added to our success. There were times when I almost gave up the fight but the immense pleasure I now get when I see the reaction of our guests makes it all worthwhile. The stunning views, high quality finish to the rooms, swimming pool, landscaped gardens and gorgeous living areas have a real wow factor.