Patios, Paths & Pools: A Dordogne Renovation

Patios, Paths & Pools: A Dordogne Renovation

Removing a few small redundant walls turns into a major landscaping project for Dean Truder and his wife

Although winter has very few redeeming features, the off- season does afford the chance to tackle those jobs, big and small,  that can often get overlooked during the summer months when the sun is shining. We used last winter to finally complete the evolution of our property, La Suque, situated on the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne borders, by completely renewing all the exterior paving. This included patio areas, pathways and, the biggest job of all, the swimming pool area and terrace.

We purchased La Suque and set about extensive interior refurbishments during the worst of the Covid pandemic back in early 2020, which was challenging to say the least, with restrictions on artisans being allowed to travel to and from the property during the various confinements. After many trials and tribulations, La Suque’s refurbishment was finally completed September 2021 with the exterior of the property including the shutters having been painted by our excellent decorator, Geraint Jones.

Since then we have stayed at our property on a number of occasions and on one of these visits I noticed that the miniature walls surrounding three sides of the swimming pool were starting to lean precariously due to the original footings not being substantial enough, which was disappointing to say the least.

These walls are purely decorative so we decided to simply remove them and let the grass grow up to the paving surrounding the pool. To my surprise Jane agreed, and went further by suggesting that if we were getting a landscaper in to remove the walls, we could renew the patio area by the kitchen too, as it was looking well past its sell by date.

That makes sense, I replied, but if we’re going to replace the patio, we’ll have to replace the pathway leading to and from it as the new paving will show up the old. Yes, we could do that, said Jane, but then the pathway leading to the patio also leads to the swimming pool and terrace so won’t we have to replace all the paving around the pool and terrace as again, the new will only show up the old?

A good point, I replied, but if we replace the patio, pathways and pool terrace, we’ll have to replace the pathway running the complete length of the front of the property as again, the new will show up the old.

Yes, said Jane, but if we replace the entire paved area in front of La Suque, we’ll also have to replace the path from the drive down to the front door so it’s all uniform. We both took a step back and looked at each other, saying simultaneously, are we finally done here?

I think so, retorted Jane. No, wait, she added, the patio area leads into our summer kitchen so if we’re renewing the paving we’ll have to replace all the tiles in the summer kitchen as yes, you’ve guessed it, the new will show up the old!

So that’s how we went from simply removing three small walls that do nothing to completely renewing over 200m2 of paving around La Suque! It only serves to emphasise that every job, no matter how big or small, usually evolves into something bigger and completely different to what was originally intended! I was going to have to delve deep into my pockets again if we really wanted La Suque to look as we had always intended it to.

It was time to search for a landscaper. Most things in France can be rather more expensive than the UK but some of the quotes for the work were optimistic to say the least! We eventually appointed Martin Carvath who came recommended and after our initial meeting it was clear he knew his onions, so to speak. I could sense that he genuinely wanted the job and I’m pleased to say that his subsequent quote reflected this.

We then had to source the paving and materials. We visited two reputable builders’ merchants in our area and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, indeed, shocked at how aggressively they discounted their prices in an effort to secure a substantial order.

Ultimately, it came down to personal preference, not so much price, so we opted to place our business with Pierre Vergnes & Fils in Monpazier. Severine, our initial point of contact, was very helpful plus her smattering of English was far better than my limited French vocabulary, making the whole process easier.

One problem with renewing patio and pool terraces is that you invariably then have to renew the old patio furniture too because, as we’ve previously discovered to our cost… the new shows up the old. Ours was no exception as we inherited it from the previous owners.

We always try to give local French businesses our custom but after shopping around, it soon became apparent that on this occasion it wasn’t possible as the choice was low and the prices high. As we needed to transport other personal items, we decided to buy the patio furniture in the UK and, as we’d done twice before, rent a truck and bring everything down. I should add that when your wife works at a garden centre and receives a very generous staff discount, this most certainly sweetens the deal!

I again enlisted the help of my old friend Richard Jones, an excellent co-pilot/navigator, and after successfully negotiating French customs at the Tunnel we had another uneventful journey there and back. Although I enjoy Richard’s company immensely, I really am hoping that it will be the last time we do this journey, although I’m not holding my breath!

We knew from the outset that the process of buying and refurbishing a property in another country was never going to be easy, with or without a world pandemic, and that it certainly wasn’t going to be cheap. However, despite the usual bumps in the road (including replacing the chlorinator and heat pump in the pool, ouch!), now that our little piece of paradise is finally just how we want it, we wouldn’t change a single thing. Every time we return to La Suque, we feel justified that the whole process was so very worthwhile and we still feel the need to pinch ourselves that this beautiful old property really is ours.

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