When we look back, my goodness, what an incredible venture we, as a young family, undertook 32 years ago ! We sold up completely in the Uk and moved to France at a time when very few people moved to a foreign Country. There was No Google, No Internet, No expat facebook pages, No skype, No zoom, No whatsapp, No Move Abroad programmes on T.V and telephone calls to the UK were astronomically expensive. At that time there were hardly any British people living in this area, so being a new family to the area, who did not speak the language, meant we stood out from the crowd. I remember wondering how on earth people seemed to know who we were. Not speaking the language fluently was a massive mistake, huge. Finding an English speaking French person was impossible to find and those that could speak it, were not prepared to do so. In 1991 it became apparent that actually a translator was only as good as what you yourself understood. We were completely alone on this huge, scary insane adventure, no Family or no friends to help us out. It was not easy !
It was in the summer of 1990 we took an extended holiday of 6 weeks to look for a property. We were looking for a pretty little house, nestled within the beauty of nature with a barn and land for Stuart to restore classic cars, his passion. We were heading for the Charente-Maritime to find our dream home, but ended up in the Dordogne Valley. Why ?
Long Story ….. Another time !
Once we had settled in at the campsite where we were staying we met up with the estate agents in Souillac with whom Stuart had been talking to before our trip. We had decided to view houses during the mornings only, so that our children could enjoy the pool at the campsite or splash about in the River Dordogne during the afternoon. It really was a very hot summer that year.
First details we were shown were that of Château de Lacomté, which had just come on the market. We looked at each other and laughed, declining the viewing straight away, it really was not for us. The entrance to the property was closed off with big black gates, behind those a long curving drive up to the massive house. There were some photographs in the details of beautiful stained glass windows and the property stood completely hidden within 32 acres of stunning parkland, so obviously not at all within our price range. Having made our thoughts abundantly clear, we went ahead and chose the first three houses we wished to view, and set off with Alex who worked for the estate agent, in his slightly battered car.
Myself and our three little children in the back with no seat belts made me feel a little uneasy. I had good reason, it was the scariest nightmare journey ever, he drove so fast along narrow roads going around blind bends like a lunatic, he even drove into the wall of a small ancient bridge as he was going too fast to steer his car around the bend. No wonder it was so battered ! Having no real conception of the area and distances at the time, we just seemed to be driving for an eternity, which I so desperately wanted to end. Note to self – if we survive the morning with him, next time we will take our own car ! Eventually we arrived, and as you have probably realised we were outside the big black gates of Château de Lacomté. The vision was simply breathtaking. The actual Château de Lacomté had been destroyed many years before, leaving only its ruins and the outbuildings; all of them in need of some extensive renovation. The children and I could not wait to get into the grounds, so we climbed over the wall whilst Stuart and Alex searched for the keys that had been hidden within the exterior wall ….. somewhere !
It was not the main building itself we fell in love with, my first impressions from the outside was that it had a gloomy appearance and felt sad. Inside felt just the same, it was going to take a lot of something to bring it back to happiness. I decided that perhaps it just needed a young family, love and laughter to once again bring the walls and property back to life. But the grounds, goodness, they were amazing. I thought I could put up with the house for the time being just to be within the grounds. They were gorgeous, magical, alive with intrigue, it was as if the trees were looking at us looking at them. They evoked a very special feeling we had never felt before, one of deep relaxation, an overwhelming feeling of freedom where stress and tensions just faded away. It was like being within a secret hide-away, far away from the stresses and tensions of the outside world. That incredible feeling that engulfs the grounds at Château de Lacomté then, and still now, is so deeply profound I have never found the right descriptive words that can actually enable anyone to feel the power of that feeling from simply reading written words on paper. It is like living within a bubble where the problems of the outside world cannot penetrate.
That was our first viewing of Château de Lacomté and although there was something quite magnetic about it, we decided sensibly, that it would also be our last.
We continued to view lots of properties over the next few weeks, 109 in total. But like a pin to a magnet, we just kept being pulled back to Château de Lacomté, furthermore, it stood empty and alone, so happily we were able to return most evenings to enjoy the grounds and dream. As the children played joyously amongst Cedar Trees well over 400 years old, Stuart and I sat on the grass planning what we could do. Might we actually be able to buy this property and afford to live here ? Massive question ! Of course the sensible answer was
No, but who listens to No ? Where there is a will, there is always a way. I felt like a tree on the land, as if I already belonged.
However as a young Family we could not just afford to move, we needed to work to survive, so this is where our French Adventure began. ‘Our dream was to build and create a Campsite’. Oh, it sounds so easy, does it not ! We had been caravanners for a while so knew what we and others expected from a good site and together with Stuart’s extensive knowledge as a Civil Engineer, it was something we felt we could build and create together as a young Family. Thus enabling us to enjoy new lives and survive in a foreign country where, at that moment in time, we did not speak the language; school French was just not good enough. We innocently thought we would be able to find someone who could translate for us, or so we thought. However life is never as you imagine it to be ; Is it ?
That summer of 1990, we took the biggest gamble of our lives, which in turn changed our lives and who we were forever. We decided to buy Château de Lacomté, moreover, we bought with confidence that somehow we would make it all work, source the monies required and everything would be just perfect. Courage, Madness or Stupidity, I do not know which. I guess it was all three, but from that moment on in time, nothing was straight forward or easy !
Our house in the UK sold quickly, and on the evening of Saturday 8th February 1991 we hitched our old unused caravan that we had crammed full with some of our belongings up to the car, and drove away from our family home and the safe life we had known for the last time. We were on route to our new home, Château de Lacomté, on the outskirts of the charming ancient little village of Carlucet and a very new and different life.
It was snowing heavily when we left our previous lives behind, infact it had been doing so all day. We were booked on the overnight crossing from Portsmouth to Caen, and were very relieved to board and get out of the heavy falling snow. We never once thought that we would awake to heavy snow on our arrival at Caen. Surprise !!!!!! Oh yes we did. The Port was eerily motionless, glistening under a blanket of thick heavy snow, twinkling with icy crystals in the light of the dusky early morning. We were the first off of the boat, breathing deeply we courageously slid our way from the ferry onto French soil and our brand French adventure. Pure, untouched, virginal white snow lay before us, it was terrifying with a caravan on the back, salting had not been done, it was as if we were sliding on uncontrollable skis, slipping in a direction we did not wish to go, towards the water ! My heart pounded louder than I thought it could, it actually had not stopped since we left my Parent’s house. I was so relieved when we drove out of the port, leaving the dark, cold murky water of the sea behind us. We drove all the way to Limoges staying within the lorry tracks made by previous lorries, only sliding out of them when a lorry or car was coming towards us. We passed numerous overturned cars, cars in ditches, abandoned cars, and bikes attached to lamposts. Every vision telling a story of the night-time hours of darkness when snow fell heavily upon the countryside. The roads were hazardous, but for this very reason fortunately mainly deserted, making our drive just a little less stressful.
So there we were, a young family with our Dog called Sam, driving through France on thick snow. Ourselves being, Stuart and Sheila, our Son Anthony then aged 9, our eldest Daughter Jemma then almost 8, and our youngest Daughter Victoria who had just celebrated her 3rd birthday, so innocent, tiny and cute. All of us together in the car, but each of us alone with our thoughts on what exactly was coming next, because actually, we did not know. We had done extensive planning, meeting Villagers, visiting Schools, finding out about Drs, Dentists, Hospitals, Banks, etc before we moved, but the unknown, was still very much the unknown. I sat wondering what my three gorgeous children were thinking, and how scared they may feel inside. Their anxieties about starting a new school where no one spoke their language. Schools had been already chosen, but none of them had any British children. My thoughts circled anxiously around and around within my mind, reminding me of a turning cement mixer, as they tumbled round and round stressfully within my mind. Leaving our Parents bothered me, they were of course devastated we were moving away, as you can imagine. It was extremely tough and immensely emotional saying goodbye to everyone we loved, in fact my Dad turned his back on me and refused to say goodbye. I was heartbroken, but I understand now. Leaving behind the children’s Grand-Parents was so hard, I felt so guilty for robbing them of being able to see their young grandchildren growing up, and robbing my children of the love and care of their Grandparents and all the guidance only Grandparents can give. Oh my goodness, were we right, or were we wrong, I just did not know. Having now sailed away from the love and security we had always known, literally leaving everything behind us and traveling into the complete unknown was causing my heart to pound and my head to ache. But it was done now, no turning back ! I just kept thinking through my fear, it cannot be that bad, we are only moving across the channel, the French are humans like us, we just speak a different language, surely it will not be that bad ?! We told the children that it was going to be just one big adventure, difficult to begin with, but they would soon make friends. So with two very intense emotions blended together, one a strong feeling of fear of the unknown and the other a brightly coloured feeling of excitement of adventure, we were energized with optimism, seeing only the positives. It was so strange, we just did not see or feel any negativity within our forthcoming world. Our thoughts being that should negativity appear, we would work out how to replace them with positivity, it would be easy, wouldn’t it ? Oh my goodness, we could not have been more wrong.
On our arrival at Limoges the snow just disappeared, and the sun shone, so the rest of the journey was more relaxing. After stopping off at Souillac to pick up the keys for Château de Lacomte, we drove home. Stuart had visited several times before moving and had arranged for the electrics, water and telephone to be connected, leaving the estate agents to ensure this was done, which they gladly said they would do. Afterall, they had just made a very lucrative sale for the year of 1990. It is amazing what you find out as time passes !!!
The big black gates came into view, we had arrived at our new home, our future destiny, whatever that was to be. However, there was a slight problem, we could not get up the drive, as a large tree had fallen completely blocking the entrance just inside the gates. Strangely, we did not happen to have a chain saw with us ! We hoped that our new next door neighbour would be home, and that we could borrow a chainsaw. Yes, we were lucky, she was home and she called her husband for us who was down at the local café. Word got out, Les Anglais had arrived ! Our neighbour along with several other intrigued villagers kindly arrived with their chainsaws to cut up the tree for us. It was very interesting as all of us were meeting for the first time with conversation via gesticulations only. Infact it all felt so extremely weird as we intently looked at one another, villagers that were going to become part of our future. Once the tree was cleared, our neighbour and locals departed, we drove up our drive, parked up and got out of the car, it was by this time so cold. Stuart gently slid the old and beautiful massive ornate key into the door lock, and turned, squeakily the door opened. I cannot begin to describe how strange it felt, like we were intruders. It was getting dark, so we flicked the switch for lights, but there was no electricity; we turned on the tap, but we had no running water and of course there was no telephone connected either. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, so there was nothing that could be done to improve our situation, except to enjoy the moments of this strange new life. It was so bitterly cold and everywhere you looked was filthy dirty, the building was full of drafts and had been home only to mice for over a year, they were everywhere, you could see them, hear them and smell them. Not being possible to sleep in the caravan as it was full, we decided that we would all sleep in the smallest bedroom to keep warm using the caravan mattresses and quilts. How we all would have loved a hot chocolate. Come morning we were all soaked, I could not understand why, until I looked at the walls, they were dripping with condensation, it was literally running down the walls. We opened the window wide, when most sensible people had their windows shut as it was so cold, gosh it was so bitterly cold. But it did not matter, this was our adventure, this was the beginning ! The next day our situation worsened when the removal lorry failed to arrive, we found out that its engine had failed to start on the ferry, so it along with our belongings sailed back to England !
So life in France had begun and as time passed by, like so many adventures our excitement turned to heartache, we never could have dreamt in a million years how difficult French Administration would be, purposely making life totally impossible for us at times. Not speaking French was a massive disadvantage obviously, and was used against us time and time again. Finding a French person that could, or would speak English at the time was like finding gold coins scattered on the pavement. We learnt very quickly that this new life was going to be very much “Amor Fati”. However, for Stuart, nothing or no-one would stand in his way.
Creating and building our campsite from nothing in rural France turned out to be more difficult than we could ever have imagined. Our family mantra, taken from the Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, kept us going “If you build it, they will come”. We repeated this over and over and over again as problem upon problem was levied against us. With sheer mental determination, physical hard manual work for us all, the children were amazing, coupled with the strength of our underlying Family positivity and togetherness, we somehow managed to open our campsite, welcoming our first guests in August 1993. We opened for business with just 12 fully serviced pitches, amenities block, bar, restaurant, swimming pool and tennis court. We worked long hours and way into the night by spotlight for months and against all the odds, we made it.
There were many years that followed that were not easy, but we continued with our dream, shattered so many times along the way, building and creating a little bit more of our campsite each year to share with those who wished to share our tranquil destination to gently re-energise whilst enjoying our stunning area known as the Dordogne Valley within the department of the Lot. A huge melting pot of glorious beauty, full of history, local legends, ancient towns, villages and Chateaux, not forgetting the sparkling meandering rivers of the Lot and the Dordogne. And of course the Wines and Gastronomy.
As it does, time passed by so quickly. Stuart and I soon found ourselves running our Family business alone as our young ones had all grown up and were following their own dreams and carving out their own career paths. They had been a huge part of our story and success, the campsite just did not have the same ambience without them. It simply no longer felt right, so it was time to change !
In 2009 Stuart and I took the huge decision, one we had been thinking about for a while and one that once again caused so much controversy with Officials and locals alike. That decision was to change from being a family campsite to becoming a campsite for Adults Only. Oh my goodness, another new battle with the authorities arose.
This was a concept well known and accepted in Britain, but totally unknown elsewhere in Europe at the time. Some friends, neighbours and business associates were completely aghast at what we had chosen to do, but we continued with our new business plan. Once again we found ourselves battling huge problems with the Authorities, we could not remain open as a 4* campsite if we did not accept Children, it was prejudice against them. and we were told that our decision would not be tolerated in France. We were formally informed that we were not allowed to use the word camping, as we fought against being closed down. It was a very stressful time, and to remain open we had to alter and change all of our publicity and our 4* campsite became known as Château de Lacomté Country Club – Holidays for Adults.
2023 will be our 14th summer offering holidays to Adults of all ages, wishing to enjoy some peaceful times around the pool, enjoy drinks on the terrace or in the bar, a quiet romantic undisturbed meal in the restaurant, without being surrounded by the happy screams of children as they run around. Stuart and I have nothing against children, but this is our choice, and there are many young and mature alike, no matter what age, that dream of enjoying a holiday for Adults Only where there are no children. And camping is now a word we can use.
Of course it goes without saying that when you become owners of parkland belonging to an old renaissance Château, it holds an awful lot of known and unknown history and past energies. What we know is fascinating and leaves us driven to find out more, unfortunately google does not help much here ! We know that Dr Hoch, who once owned Château de Lacomté, took care of and secretly performed operations on members of the resistance up in the huge loft space of the main building. We were told by senior residents of Carlucet, sadly no longer with us, that at the same time he also entertained the German Officers downstairs, in what is now our bar. We still have some of the Dr’s equipment which we found hidden in a corner of the massive loft space. In 2010 we were extremely happy to welcome Dr Hoch’s unknown Daughter to stay with us in her old home, a visit arranged by her friends earlier that year. Her existence only known by one of the Villagers in Carlucet, the other villagers thought her to be wrong, it was only Stuart and I that believed her. Our local honey lady was indeed correct, the Drs’ only child stayed with us for a week in our gîte, relishing her memories from the past. I was so excited and had so many questions to ask. This lovely Lady who was then in her early 80ies, was overflowing with information which she was only too happy to divulge. It was amazing talking with her and finding out about her Father, who once owned Château de Lacomté. We also know what other senior Villagers have told us, history passed down to them by their families, many of whom used to work at Château de Lacomté. We often dream of going back in time, but as that is not possible, we would love to welcome a ‘true born’ Medium to Lacomté, who is able to make contact with the energies that once upon a time lived here. It would be truly amazing to be able to re-connect with them and the past to find out a little more about the fascinating lives and secrets from those who once lived here before us. If only our Cedar Trees, many of whom are hundreds of years old could tell us what they have seen and heard ! They are witnesses to so much. Needless to say, like many ancient buildings, there are energies that sometimes cross over into our time of today, and ‘we’ the present owners / guardians of Lacomté, know this. We have heard them, seen them, smelt the beautiful scents of perfume and the nasty intoxicating odours of dreadful things. We quite often experience the very strong smell of horses, as in the days when Château de Lacomté stood tall and proud, our bar was once the stables to the Château. To our surprise there have been many Guests that have asked us where our horses are stabled as they can smell them too. They have never believed us when we have told them that we actually do not have horses and never have had.
Stuart and I would love to welcome you to Château de Lacomté, a beautiful country retreat hidden within a rural oasis of nature’s calm and beauty in the heart of the stunning Dordogne Valley where you can relax into peaceful surroundings.
Many of our Guests have said to me, “You really should write a book”. So am I writing one ? Yes, you bet I am. Even after everything we have lived through, Stuart and I love it here and our lives in France. We are merely ‘Footsteps in Time’, the present Guardians of Chateau de Lacomté. Everything we know about its past and our very own history of what it was like to move here in 1991, alongside the trials and tribulations of what it was like to build and create a business against all the odds and the years up until this current moment in time needs to be recorded, especially for our grandchildren. Our Family history and that of previous owners that lived here before us will become documented in black ink upon silky white pages ! It will be an unbelievable, page turning, riveting story set in the enchanting & beguiling ‘Vallée de la Dordogne’ !
A bientôt, Sheila & Stuart
Sheila & Stuart Coe