Elizabeth and Jonathan Adey left the Cotswolds to set up a gîte in a medieval granary in the Tarn. They share the joys – and pitfalls – of ﬁnding the perfect property with Sylvia Edwards Davis
Meet the Movers
NAME: Elizabeth and Jonathan Adey
MOVED IN: 2017
MOVED FROM: The Cotswolds
MOVED TO: Tarn
What brought you to France?
As a family, we always holidayed in France and loved immersing ourselves for those precious weeks in the food, culture, family lifestyle, the wildlife and, of course, the weather! As a director of an ecological consultancy, Jonathan is passionate about wildlife, and I was a former piano teacher until baking and catering took over. So we both dreamt of one day having a house here and opening a B&B and gîte business. Three years ago, an opportunity arose and we decided to take the plunge and never looked back. Our four grown-up children and two grandchildren all meet up here at least once a year. We also go back throughout the year to visit them. We still have our home in the Cotswolds and Jonathan commutes back to the UK to work while we establish the business here.
What made you take the leap?
Our youngest son was about to go to university and by then, having searched online for a number of years and visited the France Show in London, we knew exactly what we wanted. We came across Péchauzi just before we were due to go on holiday to the Tarn and we were so struck by the description and photographs that we decided to view it. We fell in love straightaway. The family was on board and encouraged us to make the move.
What attracted you to the Tarn?
Over our family holidays we got to know it well: the beautiful scenery, the many bastide villages. In summer, the lakes offer swimming and fishing, and for the more adventurous there is also hiking, cycling, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and paragliding. Albi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is a famous market in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val every Sunday, as well as lots of other local markets. There are summer festivals, a truffle festival in nearby Villeneuve-sur-Vère in February and the Chinese lantern festival in Gaillac.
Tell us about Péchauzi.
It was a medieval granary with a huge bread oven and barn until the conversion to residential use in 1821. When this property came up, we knew it was special. Not only is it a lovely property near a bastide village with a weekly market, but it had been recently renovated, ready to move into, with two outbuildings that could also be converted into gîtes. It ticked every box – in a region we love, not isolated but quiet. It has one hectare of land, close to a village, a large saltwater pool and all basic amenities nearby: a shop, three restaurants, a café, a post office and even a hairdresser. And it has lovely views down to the Forêt de Grésigne and up to Castelnau-de-Montmiral and the lakes. We have now finished renovating the studio gîtes, which gives us the flexibility to live in them if we rent out the main house.
What’s your favourite corner of the property?
For me, it’s the covered porch, to sit and drink coffee and take in the beautiful blue sky, the sound of the Lombardy poplars in the breeze and look up to Castelnaude-Montmiral on the hill. Jonathan loves the veranda by the pool, with its dappled sunlight and views across the countryside… and the rear veranda to watch the sun go down with a glass of the local Gaillac rosé.
How have you found running a business in France?
It’s a lot of work! We started a chambre d’hôtes and gîte business almost immediately, joined Gîtes de France and were lucky enough to be invited to join Sawday’s Special Places to Stay. We also offer meals and picnics, and all our guests are provided with a welcome hamper with a few essentials: wine and some goodies. We are onsite to give information about the area, but otherwise we leave our guests to enjoy their time independently. We also have a market stall in several villages selling jams, cakes and marmalades. Maison Péchauzi produce also features in local restaurants, cafés, vineyards, and at Christmas fêtes and vide-greniers. Next we are aiming to expand the season beyond the summer months to include those lovely balmy weeks in September, October and June by offering courses. Our first art course this September is run by a renowned botanical artist and next year we hope to run more, as well as food and wine courses to take advantage of the beautiful Gaillac wine region which we are in the heart of, and the regional specialities cooked with local ingredients, notably duck, guinea fowl, veal, saucisson and jambon de pays and all the delicious local fruit and vegetables. We are also considering restoring the bread oven and perhaps opening the barn as a pop-up restaurant.
Has the language barrier been an issue?
Having holidayed in France for years we thought we knew enough French to get by. However, once settled you really find out how much you don’t know. We were lucky to have met some lovely English-speaking friends of several nationalities in Castelnau and around, who were very kind when we first arrived and introduced us to their friends. This helped enormously in settling in and for asking advice. We tried to speak French and people were very helpful and met us halfway. We then started running a market stall and our French improved no end. Jonathan now gives guided nature walks.
What advice would you give to other prospective buyers?
Understand your needs to ensure you choose the right property for you. How close do you need to be to amenities? What degree of isolation do you want? And what type of property are you after? The larger the property, the harder it is to maintain. Decide on a region that you love and spend some time in that region, particularly outside of the summer period. Providing you have time to wade through all the paperwork sent to you from the notaire, you’ll need a reasonable understanding of French, or use an English-speaking notaire or agent. There are many books and magazines available on how to buy a house in France. The process is reasonably straightforward, although it can be a little long-winded. When negotiating a purchase price, beware that ‘fixtures and fittings’ does not mean the same in France as it does in the UK. We would advise itemising everything in writing, otherwise anything that isn’t nailed down may disappear – as we found out.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
You learn from your mistakes. Two days after completing, we lit the log burner which the previous owner had kindly made up for us. Within 10 minutes the chimney was on fire. So regardless of what anybody says, make sure you have the chimneys swept yourself, otherwise insurance companies will not reimburse any costs without proof of cleaning. In this instance, the local pompiers came out within minutes and put the fire out with limited damage – just some smoke damage and we needed a new flue. Even if it did prove to be a way to meet some locals (everyone seems to have a relative in the fire brigade) it isn’t to be recommended!
What has been the highlight so far?
We had a wonderful time when all of our children came out to stay with us for Easter and Péchauzi really felt like a real home from home. But one of the best days we had was when we joined the local randonnée (hiking) group for their annual lunch. We thought it would be a great way to get fitter and meet new people, but what we didn’t expect was that we would make such wonderful friends who would welcome us as they did, so warmly and wholeheartedly. They even invited us on their annual transhumance weekend, when they move cattle from the lowlands to the highlands in spring, and we spent one of the happiest times and felt very honoured that we were so welcomed, particularly as we were the only English people there.