Chasing the dream in rural France
Adrian and Karine Meadows were working for BA when they fell in love with a château in a French village. So they left their jobs to turn the ruin into stylish accommodation
Karine and Adrian Meadows at Château de St Paul
Four-year-old Nina Meadows at the château
‘This will be the entrance,” says Adrian pointing towards the first floor French doors set into a rubble stone wall. “There’ll be a small balcony there; stairs over to that side,” he says pointing. “You really do get a lovely view of the countryside from up here.”
And so you do.
It rolls away before you – a landscape sculpted by millennia of French farmers. Nearest the building, there’s a field of brown grain, sun-dried brittle now and ready for harvesting. Then there are some woods on the right and more over beyond to the left. There are more crops in fields dipping low before the horizon and running gently up again to yet more woods. And so this pastoral patchwork quilt interspersed with hedgerows repeats itself across the southern Lot in the southwest Aquitaine region.
If you stand here long enough, especially at dusk, you will see large barn owls, their wings at full span, swooping low across the crops and into the woods, their hideout while hunting. They share the night air with bats and armies of flying insects attracted to any light.
Adrian pads past in crumpled shorts and T-shirt, slips off his battered Crocs and steps gingerly over the newly-stained floorboards. Ladders, cables, saws, dust, plastic sheeting, bits of insulation – the detritus of builders –– are strewn about the place.
“The stain?” he says repeating my question. “Eh, erm . . .”
“Walnut!” shouts a voice, unseen from behind a kitchen unit spanning one length of the wide open space. “It’s walnut.”
Karine, the woman behind the voice, surfaces, screwdriver in hand, and wipes her brow. She’s engrossed in securing cupboard doors to each of the Ikea units that make up the kitchen. It will be ready, alright. It has to be – it’s booked for use in a few days’ time.
I am inside a little bubble that is the world of husband and wife, Adrian and Karine Meadows, their happy, bouncy four-year-old daughter Nina and their three Labrador dogs, who loll about, snoozing in the shade.
It’s a scene straight out of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs, a world of dilapidated buildings, a vision of what could be, if only. The world of two determined people who are making the “if only” a reality.
Château de St Paul offers gîte and chambres d’hôtes accommodation (ie self-catering and bed-and-breakfast accommodation) on the edge of the tiny village of Beauregarde between the lovely bastide town of Monflanquin and the regional capital of Villeneuve-sur-Lot in Aquitaine.
The Romans built a road passing here and there is evidence of settlement from that era. From the early 12th century, the Château de St Paul was a priory of the community of St Paul le Jeune whose priests administered to the surrounding villages. After the French revolution, the priory was home to local nobility and more recently a Catholic sect.
For reasons not entirely clear, sometime after the turn of the new century, that community decamped to Lourdes. . . which is about the time that Adrian and Karine – then two British Airways cabin crew from Surrey and Provence respectively, but living in Switzerland and commuting to Heathrow – were on holiday in the area.
“We saw it and fell in love with it,” says Karine.
“I fell in fear. . ,” quips Adrian.
After extended negotiations, they finally managed to secure ownership in April 2007 for about €600,000. Since then, they have sunk about another €500,000 into the place.
The transformation is stunning.
“We offloaded assets in London at a time when, luckily for us, people were paying silly prices, going around outbidding each other,” says Adrian. His philosophy was to restore the building to its original state, in terms of structure and materials, and in an eco-friendly way.