We talk to Anna Congratel who, alongside her husband Abel, worked for 15 years to gradually turn a spectacular 19th-century manor in the Lot into a luxurious guest house
FE Mag: When – and where – did you buy the house?
We bought Manoir de Malagorse, our 19th-century manoir, which is set in the rolling countryside of the south-west of France, at Cuzance in the Lot, during September 1999.
Was it your first French property/business and what was your background?
No, previously we ran a restaurant in Courchevel for 15 seasons. My French husband, Abel, was trained as a chef and I’m an English-trained physiotherapist. We were on holiday in the area and after visiting Dordogne and Gers, towards the end of the break, we headed into the Lot, which then was much less well known than it is today. We bought the manoir on the last day, and this was our first home, so you might call it blind faith! From a tourism perspective, the house is in a great location for our guests to explore the whole region. It’s also handy for the airports at Bordeaux, Brive and Toulouse…
What condition was it in?
We liked the fact that the house was symetrical, with nice stone barns on either side. Although an American former owner had done a few minor renovations, it still struck us as a reasonably sized project – just right for us. We knew that we could renovate it in stages – because of the different buildings – but still be open for paying guests quite soon. The ground and first floor were habitable but the second floor hadn’t been renovated and the four outbuildings were in poor condition.
What were your main challenges?
Over time, we’ve closed to guests for winter and take on a new project each year, so now finally the main house, the bakery, the barn, the suites and loft are all done. Now there are no buildings left to renovate, and no money left!
What workmen did you use, if any?
For the main house we used local artisans, found through trial and error. I found it quite difficult to co-ordinate them, though, so for subsequent renovations of the suites and the loft we decided to find ourselves an architect. Our roofer recommended one with a practise in Paris, which is who we went with – she has great taste.
Although using an architect can be quite expensive, there was one major benefit to us: she always used fantastic workmen such as her stonemason and a very clever carpenter and she organised them well. All of this meant that we could open for business on time, which saved us money in the overall scheme of things.
What was your inspiration for the look and feel of the manoir’s interiors?
I wanted to keep it very simple. For us, it’s not about having the latest look or a hi-tech approach, but rather about being a place of calm and peacefulness. We used only great natural products – laid lovely stone floors, and oak and chestnut for certain roof structures, built-in wardrobes and shutters. Although we did tackle plenty of the painting work ourselves, the rooms that were done by a specialist certainly do look better, even if they were expensive! The paint we used was a Belgian brand called Flamant [classically elegant colours, a kind of European version of Farrow and Ball].
Where did you source the furniture, paints and other objects?
We managed to find a lot of fairly cheap, quirky antiques and also used some excellent French furniture companies, such as Blonde Ivoire and Côté Table. For the exterior of the house, we went for a good quality paint, too.
What advice would you give to anyone in your shoes, who’s thinking of buying French property and relocating?
Go for it but don’t do too many sums as they won’t add up! Get a good architect who works well, and don’t be afraid to meet with many until you find the one who you’re happy with. Also, if you’re out and about, and see a renovation which looks like it was done recently, don’t be afraid to knock on the door and ask who did it.
Can you tell us a little about the businesses that you run?
Manoir de Malagorse has six suites, including ‘L’Ecurie’ in the renovated stables and ‘The Loft’, a contemporary barn conversion. The property provides an excellent base for exploring the Dordogne Valley and the historic treasures of the Lot.
If you’re interested in buying a renovation project in France, FrenchEntrée has a dedicated Property Team to assist you in finding your dream property. Let us know what you are looking for and we will do our best to select properties matching your requirements.