In January 2010, Charlie and Jules Thackway made La Meynardie in the Dordogne their permanent home. They bought their French property two years beforehand with the intention of using it for holidays. However, the couple found that “the more time we spent here the harder it was to leave” and after six or seven visits, packed up their home in the UK and moved to France. Charlie works as a landscape gardener and musician whilst Jules runs a gîte – Le Petit Fournil.
What first attracted you to France and the Dordogne in particular?
We looked into buying in Spain and Italy but decided that France would be easier for family and friends to come and visit on a regular basis. It was the beautiful countryside that attracted us to the Dordogne, with its rolling hills and hamlets.
How did you go about finding your property?
We had just returned from a 3,000 mile trip through France and Spain. It was winter and I just happened to be searching the internet for property one Sunday afternoon whilst Charlie was watching the rugby. A sweet little cottage caught my eye and I called the estate agent the very next day – it was still for sale!
We booked flights and the following Monday, landed at Limoges airport. The agent was very helpful and found us a lovely B&B to stay in whilst we explored the area. We viewed nine houses in total that week, but still bought the first one we saw. We really fell in love with the area and La Meynardie.
Describe your property…
The property is set within a hamlet, next to a dairy farm. The cottage, barns and gîte are on 1/2 acre of land overlooking a lake and one of the Dordogne’s national forests.
A lot of work was needed to restore the property to its original state. So far, we have restored the farmhouse, bringing back the stone work and exposing the original 400 year old beams. Charlie has also been working to improve the garden.
What preparations did you make before you went out?
Because we had already sold our house and were living in rented accommodation, we just gave a month’s notice and organised a man with a van to transport our worldly goods to France. My husband then handed his business over to his sons and we had a farewell party to say goodbye.
Is running a gîte everything you thought it would be?
Running the gîte is extremely worthwhile and satisfying. It is lovely to watch people relax as their holiday evolves.
So far, the gîte business is going well – how did you ensure this would be the case?
I put myself in the position of the holidaymaker and asked myself what it was that I wished for when renting a property – a place that feels like home but is that little bit special, clean and tidy with a friendly host who is there when needed, but has the discretion to leave you to enjoy your holiday.
A web presence is vital these days. I was lucky enough to find a very creative web design company not far from here. I also added myself to a couple of networking sites, which has proved very successful.
I had a very small budget for advertising and consequently needed to find the right company to advertise the gite with. On the advice of a fellow gite owner, I went with a holiday rental company in the UK.
What have been the main challenges about the move?
Settling into the French way of life has not been as hard as we thought it would be. There are always people to help, whether it they are our French neighbours or other English people who have had the experience that we did not have when we first arrived.
Can you speak French?
Neither Charlie nor I had much experience of French. Every day we learn new words and in September we are going to start conversation lessons.
How have you benefited from the move?
We are so much less stressed now than we were in England. Living in such a rural place has many healthy benefits. We spend more time outside, even in the winter months. The air here is so clean. The food we eat is all locally produced and much fresher. We lead a much slower pace of life.
Describe a typical day…
We generally wake up with a coffee and listen to the radio for about half an hour. Once showered and dressed, I will do chores in the house whilst Charlie waters the garden using the water collected in our well.
Charlie is always disappearing into the barn, which is his temporary work shop, and comes out later in the day having produced a piece of furniture that we may need – last week it was a garden table. I will check emails and attend to any admin that needs to be done.
Occasionally we nip down to the village café and pick up a baguette for lunch. The afternoon is much the same as the morning, but we may have a friend round for coffee and cake. In the evenings we sit outside with a glass of wine. Charlie may have a gig or we will go and eat at a local restaurant.
Do you go back to the UK regularly?
We have returned a couple of times. Our family and friends have all been to stay the last couple of months.
Do you have any amusing anecdotes of your time in France?
Lots of funny things have happened. One of our cats, Dorothy, has befriended a chicken next door – they never stop staring at each other! The chicken will walk down the field and Dorothy will follow on.
Our mayor invited us to what we thought was a soirée with food and wine. It turned out to be a religious festival and we spent two hours in the church with not a piece of food or a glass of wine in sight! I think that is when we decided it might be a good idea to take some serious French lessons…