We became the custodians of the enchanted Chateau des Vieilles Vignes in March 2021. It had become all but abandoned by its previous owners who would visit it for a couple of weeks each summer. We fist came across it in November 2019. It had become completely overgrown with vines and ivy, there were leaks in the roof causing damage to the walls, floors and ceilings and many of the windows had warped, or had panes of glass missing or broken. However, beneath the foliage and worsening dilapidation was a magical 700 year old chateau looking for someone to breathe new life into it. However, this wasn't love at first sight, nor was it an obvious find. Below we tell the story of how we became custodians of the chateau and what led us to want to transform it into a family home, together with a luxury bed and breakfast, gite, and leadership and wellbeing retreat business.
Where it began
Nicole and Nick met in September 2011. What started as a friendship between colleagues eventually blossomed into something much more serious. We got engaged at the end of December 2014. We had already been seduced by the idea of buying a place in France, having watched Ridley's Scott's A Good Year. However, first up was finding a venue in France for our wedding.
A serendipitous find
When contemplating where in France to tie the knot, by pure chance we settled on the idea of visiting the Dordogne with the intention of locating a beautiful chateau to host our wedding. While we didn't end up getting married in the Dordogne, we fell in love with the area, including its Michelin quality restaurants, the fantastic array of local wines, the stunning scenery and the wonderful people (including our Dutch hosts at the B&B in Montaut where we stayed).
We tied the knot in the beautiful hill-top village of Grimaud, in the South of France at the end of May 2016, surrounded by close friends and family. As part of our vows, we promised to one another a life full of adventure. Little did we know the adventures that awaited us. A not so subtle nudge was about to set us on the adventure of a lifetime.
A happy coincidence
Just a week after we said 'I do' in the South of France and having returned from a mini-moon in Tuscany, did we find ourselves awe-inspired by Dick and Angel as they graced our screens on their Escape to the Chateau adventure for the first time. Having spent the best part of 18-months planning our wedding, we had a renewed sense of what we wanted to achieve together.
In November 2017 we set off with Nick's parents to explore the south of France from Grimaud in the Var to Bergerac in the Dordogne. On our way we visited Aix-en-Provence, St-Hippolyte (where we stayed at a beautiful B&B called Les Trois Comtes) and Albi, before arriving at a super friendly B&B (Maison 20) in Eymet from where we could explore the Dordogne a little more. The trip confirmed what we already knew, the Dordogne was where we wanted to live.
Falling in love (again)
For our second wedding anniversary we returned to the place that inspired us from the very beginning - a secluded B&B in Montaut about ten minutes from Bergerac. From there we explored neighbouring villages, including the medieval village of Issigeac which holds a very special place in our heart due to exquisite restaurants, historic architecture, quaint shops and its infamous Sunday market. We visited several properties, none which were quite right.
We were back exploring and searching for properties in January 2019. We both got very excited by the prospect of a townhouse in the village of Issigeac. With its outer wall forming part of the old fortification, it was more than a meter 3.5ft wide. With our interest piqued, we set about planning the internal layouts and understanding how much renovations might cost. However, by May 2019 before we had had a chance to put an offer together, we learnt that the property had been sold. It was not to be.
A chance encounter
Picking ourselves back up after our disappointment in June, we scoured property websites all summer and into the autumn, compiling a short list of possible properties to view on our next visit in November 2019. While the chateau had made the list, it was very much a wild card. It is fair to say that Nick wasn't keen to view it (or indeed the agent to show it to us), but with Nicole insisting, we drove to the quaint little village of St Julien D'Eymet one November morning. With expectations set low, we were blown away by the rugged beauty of the chateau, its flow and its potential.
The excitement both of us felt on leaving behind the chateau in November was palpable. We genuinely thought we had found the one. Not wishing to make the same mistake we had made with the property in Issigeac, we booked flights for January 2020 to view the property again with a view to making an offer shortly afterwards. Despite the enormity of the renovations required our hearts were willing us to take a leap of faith.
Going all in
Back in London, and with our minds and hearts set, we put forward an initial offer significantly below the asking price, which we hoped might be accepted as the owners were keen to sell as the property had been on the market for over five years, but the offer was swiftly rejected. The owners put forward a counter offer, which we were contemplating accepting. However, before we'd had a chance to respond, we learned that they had agreed a sale in principle with someone else who was being represented by another estate agent. We were devastated (as was Murielle our estate agent). However, with the ink not yet dry, we went all in with a higher offer - at the asking price - this was no time for squabbling over a few thousand euros. It was a whirlwind 24 hours, but by the next morning, we had our counter offer accepted by the owners. The champagne flowed that night!
No turning back
Not long after we had agreed to buy the chateau, Covid-19 hit. With global lockdowns ensuing, everything slowed significantly, not helped by the fact that we were not just buying from one owner, but 13 owners (as a result of a succession), including one child under sixteen whose interest had to be signed off by a judge. As things tentatively opened up across Europe, we managed a trip to the Notaire in Bergerac to formally exchange contracts at the end of July 2020 - there was no turning back now. While we had hoped that completion would follow swiftly on from that signing, it turned out to be another eight months until we would complete the purchase and finally get the keys!
A new chapter begins
March 2021, the day had finally arrived. However, the trip to St Julien was not without its complications. The UK and Europe were in the grip of their second major lockdowns. Despite Nick being half French, we had to have a signed authorisation from our Notaire to enable us to travel to France. The initial flight we had booked was cancelled, as was the subsequent flight. We thankfully managed to secure seats on the Eurostar to Paris. From there we caught a TGV to Bordeaux, before renting a car for the final leg of the journey. At last, the next chapter in our adventure began!