The media fuelled glamour of emigration and renovation during the early noughties has a lot to answer for! Caught up in the dream of escaping the rat race of London and its suburbs, I unwittingly ended up “chatelaine” of a semi-renovated 19thCentury Chateau in the heart of the Loire valley, France. That was 2001 and now, 13 years on, I have surfaced from the relentless haze of building, maintenance, welcoming guests, admin and autoroutes to tell the tale….smiling and with a huge sense of achievement!
With 3 children under the age of 5, one would imagine that my role of stay-at-home mum was laid out for the next few years at least. The daily grind of feeding, playing, feeding, ferrying, feeding, bathing and eventually collapsing for the night in preparation of a re-run the following day, gave me no immediate need to justify my existence. I had the most important job–motherhood. However, this is only something I realise now. Once my youngest was 18 months old, I had this notion that she was no longer a baby and the worst was over – the wonders of youth and inexperience!
Until then, we got through our 9 week summer holidays with a mixture of playdates, short breaks and holiday camps. With my youngest then reaching the minimum age for these camps, the financial reality of booking 3 children to have them entertained for only 2 weeks over the summer was frightening. Even with a 2-for-1 offer, I was about to commit three figure sums for each child for this “luxury”. I ignored the special offer February deadline and announced to my great friend, that I would have no need for any such activities, as I would have a holiday home in time for the start of the summer holidays!
I turned to the internet, then not the vast resource as we now know it, however, nonetheless an incredible resource from the comfort of my desk whilst little ones slept. I scoured the internet, honing my computer skills in the process, looking for a second home project to cut my teeth on, eventually stumbling across a very basic “homemade” website “loirevalleygites”. This later turned out to be a misnomer as it was in fact a Chateau with 3 Loire Valley Gîtes! To this day, I have no idea why I was instantly captivated, but this was the one (my gut feel has rarely let me down).
One problem, it was 3 properties too many! How would I justify this to my ever-suffering husband, who was happy and content to watch me dabble in my attempt to follow this month’s dream, whilst never actually believing it would come to anything. I needed to convince him that this was a well-researched, viable proposition and proceeded to glamourize the notion that running this as a holiday rental business, providing idyllic summers for our 3 young children, who were already tiring of summer holiday camps, whilst also making our investment pay was a “no-brainer”! My first attempt didn’t even touch the sides – as I gushed my excited plans upon his return from work, his response pretty much amounted to “what’s for dinner”?! Undeterred, I continued my internet search and with a short list of 5 suitable properties, I decided to woo him with a weekend away, “sans enfants” in the French countryside. A weekend away from the mayhem of weekend family life didn’t take too much convincing and off we went for a mid-March expedition.
The first property we visited was approached from a long tree-lined drive, with a majestic property eventually appearing in the distance. That was where the beauty ended – dilapidated, un-modernised and too rural, it didn’t appeal. The second property was a modern, functional collection of cottages, aligned side by side – void of character and charm. Definitely didn’t appeal! The third property was a 3-story town house in the middle of the beautiful city of Saumur, whose endless steps to up to the garden ensured this property didn’t fall into the “family-friendly” category – our main criteria for any holiday destination! The fourth property eluded us – we searched and searched but unable to find it easily and running out of time, we headed to Concourson-sur-Layon in Maine-et-Loire for our final property. We arrived mid afternoon to a rural Anglo-French welcome and after many hours of viewing, chatting and discussing, we called it a night with our minds (well mine at least) brimming with excitement!
The journey home the following day was no less animated as my now-resigned husband made the call to the owners confirming our interest and began negotiating. The rest, as they say, is history!
We took over existing bookings in July 2001 for our first season and have been chasing our dream ever since!
The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage site with its chateaux steeped in history and their legacy as home to French royalty for over a century during troubled times. With stunning landscape and its majestic River Loire, the feeling of space and freedom even during the peak summer months, is wonderfully relaxing and a welcome antidote to our busy frantic lives back home.
There’s plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities, whether you fancy cruising or canoeing on the water, cycling along the banks of the Loire or exploring cave homes.
Holidaying in the Loire has truly been wonderful and I will endeavour to share some treasured moments, experiences and ideas with you with this blog and hope you can enjoy the region as much as we have.
A bientôt! (See you soon!)
May has owned and run a successful holiday rental business in the Loire Valley since 2001. As an MSc qualified nutritional therapist, May now combines the property with her passion for the power of nutrition as part of a healthy lifestyle, running Optimum Living Health Retreats. May lives in Surrey, England with her husband and 3 children in between shuttling to and from the Loire!
Chateau de la Vigne www.chateaudlv.com
DN-A | Diet & Nutrition Advice www.dn-a.co.uk