Based on an interview with Liz Murphy, the 45-year-old owner of Lac de Maison, a 17th-century French town and vacation rental, this piece was written. The text below has been reduced and edited for length and clarity. My husband, Dave, and I traded our separate house in Manchester for a 17th-century village in the French countryside in search of a higher quality of life.
We both worked 9 to 5 jobs in copywriting and marketing, and our lives had degraded into a whirlwind of food, bathing, and sleeping. When COVID struck, we were both furloughed. It allowed us to reflect on our life, and we realized how much time we’d missed with our children, Charlotte and Tom, who were 6 and 9 at the time. On a whim, we began browsing at gîte enterprises – holiday rental properties in France — for sale in August 2020.
We daydreamed about visiting the French countryside. We’d need to rent at least two gîtes, as well as two more houses: one for our family and one for my mother, Helen, and her husband, Terry. By September, we’d found eleven locations that met our requirements. Because COVID-19 travel restrictions had been loosened that month, we traveled to France and visited several locations.
We knew it was the one the moment we arrived at Lac de Maison, a three-acre homestead in the tranquil countryside of Poitou-Charentes. The 500-year-old hamlet comprised an owner’s residence, three functional gîtes, and several derelict buildings on the land that may be transformed into more gîtes. A wonderful garden with chickens and goats was also available.
We canceled the remaining viewings and made an offer on the spot. My mother and her husband, who had joined us, and I split the expense of the hamlet. The hamlet cost 430,000 euros in total. We paid 215,000 euros in total. We paid for the house by selling our English home. Any profits over the purchase price were used to fund renovations.
We finished the house purchase on December 15, 2020, but we did not begin physically relocating to France until January 2021. Brexit occurred during that time, altering all laws and turning our relocation into a flurry of passports and spreadsheets. The transfer cost us around 6,000 euros. By the beginning of 2021, however, all six of us had arrived in France.
We refurbished two buildings while running the firm. Our family moved to the largest gîte, while Mom and Terry moved into the previous owner’s house.
After two weeks, Mom and Terry discovered that the place was not fit for their needs. They chose to pay for the remodeling even though we hadn’t budgeted for it. What started as a new bathroom turned into a complete restoration, right down to the bricks.
Mom and Terry returned to the UK for around eight months while we completed the project. We saved money by doing any labor we could — plastering, floors, and roofing — as a learning experience. We’d purchased the house knowing that the previous owners had a few spring bookings and five or six summer bookings, including the gîte we were staying in. When Mom and Terry left, we moved into their house.
We stayed in that house until the renovations got so extensive that we had to transfer the following spring to a camper on the property. At the same time, Dave and I began entertaining visitors, which was our first experience with hospitality. The learning curve was steep, but we understood what kind of experience we wanted to deliver because we both love people and had previously gone on vacation.
We survived by advertising in locations where French people look for vacations. We also choose to remain open during the winter, when the property was previously shuttered. All of this was done in preparation for converting a demolished barn into a four-bedroom gîte and shifting to one of the existing gîtes.When we took the massive gîte off the market, moved in, and began construction on the ruin in January 2022, we braced ourselves for a loss of income.
The shell of this structure has been vacant for nearly a century, with no rooms, no power, and no running water. We worked as hard as we could, just like Mom and Terry’s house. Over 10 months, we kept the ancient floors and converted everything around them into a new third gîte. We were over our 80,000 euro budget, but it was totally worth it.
From May until the beginning of September, all three gîtes are fully booked seven days a week, and every weekend the remainder of the year. We’ve finished remodeling for the time being, but we’re still making modest changes to our home, changing it from a rental cottage into our home. The countryside life is fantastic. This historic farmstead is nothing like our neighborhood in the United Kingdom.