So many of us working and living in this beautiful part of France had the experience of searching for property, perhaps experienced the initial language barrier, the excitement coupled with fear as you signed the compris de vente… until you finally settled into the ‘joie de vivre’ of your new home.
Chateau de Capelle
The search for our new home started in 2018 when our family landed at Toulouse Airport, full of hope to find our dream property. We saw 15 properties around the area but did not find what we were looking for. A few months later we had a second trip and the first property we viewed was an old château with big rooms, high ceilings, lots of character and nestled in a beautiful spot above a lake.
But… there was no heating, no plumbing, no water or electricity and in my opinion, it was too much of a wreck. So, we continued searching for ‘the one’. After 25 more viewings with our three little children in tow, it was still ‘the wreck’ that stuck in our minds though. Despite its state of disrepair, we kept talking about it on the plane and even when we arrived back in England it received more ‘airtime’ than any of the other properties we saw during our trip.
Six weeks later my husband went back to France to have a second viewing, as now ‘the wreck’ was becoming ‘the possibility’. A building surveyor and architect visited the château and confirmed that, although it did require extensive work, it was structurally sound. The roof had also been replaced five years earlier, after some water damage, which was music to my husband’s ears.
Despite the positive feedback I still struggled to share in my husband’s excitement. The water damage had made holes through most of the ceilings and wooden floors, damaged some beams, and there was not even ONE working toilet! Despite the lack of toilets there were enough spider webs to gift wrap the planet of Jupiter! Our language skills were also limited to ‘bonjour’ and how to order an omelette and coffee in French. It simply would not suffice to take on such a huge restoration project in a foreign country. Or so I thought…
After lots of planning, budgeting, measurements and prayers for guidance, we made an offer. Our offer was accepted and on the 23rd of October 2019 we became the new owners of the château, spider webs and all! A few months later we drove from Berkshire to Haute Garonne to begin a new life in our centuries-old home.
When we bought, we had no idea that the challenge we faced would grow with Covid-19 and the lockdown which closed shop doors when we still needed building supplies. We even had diggers sitting for weeks in our garden, waiting patiently for the day they could roar into life again to finish the tasks the workmen started the day before the first lockdown commenced.
Initially we had to make use of a ladder to access the first floor of the apartment as the old stairway collapsed many moons ago. An old basin hung from the wall where a floor collapsed but both have since been replaced. The new basin has a repurposed floorboard (from the grenier) which serves as a rustic-looking surface for it to rest on. We have built a new stairway and the crumbling floor made way for a safer, more useful structure with chestnut wood flooring.
Other improvements that have taken place since our purchase include the (necessary) connection of water and electricity, installation of a fosse septique, and the creation of pathways through the jungle that we still attempt to tame into a garden. We converted a part of the west side of the house into a comfortable apartment where we currently live. There is even a driveway now, much to the disappointment of our children, as it once was an enjoyable adventure track for 4×4’s. It seems impossible to convince two little boys that the flat gravel driveway is in fact an improvement.
Renovations have kept us very busy, and we continued working through all the lockdowns. We made a few discoveries along our journey such as secret cupboards, a false wall, old coins between floorboards, original frescoes behind wallpaper, a vase in the garden and even a stray cat with two kittens in the attic! The cats stayed and are now a special part of our family. Perhaps most importantly is that one year on we are able to have proper conversations in French!
The Château’s history stretches over 484 years and we have started research about the owners. On the day we collected the keys, the estate agent gave us a box full of letters, books and a diary that were found inside the château. Some of the letters were written by Baron de Sauvan who seems the most prominent figure to date as a bodyguard to King Louis XVI before the French Revolution. The documents range from dates as old as the 1700’s to early 1900’s and we found even more inside the château.
According to the local Tourist Office the château was a temporary hospital during WWI. This is backed up by inscriptions on the wall inside the château kitchen, dated between 1910 and 1914. The château was also home to the ‘De Sarrieu’ sisters at some stage and magazines, letters and invitations addressed to the sisters during the early to mid-1900’s were found inside the property. Sadly, the local town archives burnt down shortly after WWII which has made it difficult to find more historical information, but we live in hope that someone, somewhere might know more about the château’s history or the previous owners.
We do not know nearly as much about the story of our home as we would like to, but every day we are creating memories that we hope our children will tell their children one day. The story therefore lives on. I am sure most of us who made the move to France stepped out of a comfort zone, took a step of faith, and have lived (the good life) to tell the tale.
We have heard it all before; that we are crazy, that we are brave, that it will be wonderful when it is finished, that it is a money pit… But those who have taken on a similar restoration project will know the joys often surpasses the hardships. If 2020 taught us one thing it is that life is short and that we should live our dreams while we can. We are thankful that we were crazy enough to take on this challenge when it came along.
Join us as we share the chronicles of Château de Capelle and hopefully discover more about her history along our journey.
C’est la vie… in a château in this beautiful part of France.