11 June 2012 by Jess Boston
Meet the Owner: Garrigue, Eymet, Dordogne
Elizabeth and Charles Clarke – 13 years in Holiday Rentals
Elizabeth and Charles Clarke are now in their thirteenth season of successfully renting holiday property in the Dordogne. They spent New Year’s Eve entering the year 2000 surrounded by packing boxes as they embarked on a new century and a new vocation in the traditional French farm longhouse ‘Garrigue’ that would soon be converted into a comfortable home and four gites.
The Clarkes’ passion for France grew over the years from their honeymoon in 1975 through family holidays and road trips in the 1990s when they regularly travelled to and from their home in Spain to see family and friends in the UK. The lush green countryside, rich history and peaceful way of life in rural France contrasted with the arid heat and bustle of Spain and led to a decision to move and live in the Dordogne.
Once the decision was made, the Clarkes wasted no time in choosing a property. Viewing four potential sites in one morning they deliberated over lunch before selecting Garrigue; in the afternoon the deal was done!
Converting Garrigue into holiday gites
The previous owner had been a farmer who had lived there for 62 years in the traditional farmhouse with large barn and pigeon loft attached so there was plenty of work to do. Elizabeth and Charles converted the barn into three gites and the pigeon loft into the fourth.
“A pigeon loft was a sign of some affluence for farmers here in bygone days” says Elizabeth, “they provided meat and fertilizer and were regarded as status symbols so this was once quite a prestigious farm”.
Today the pigeon loft is one of four three-bedroom, two-bathroom gites at the site housing tourists from all over the world, and the only livestock are the Clarke’s six chickens, two goats, two cats and two dogs!
Hands-on approach to holiday letting
Holiday letting is a world away from Charles’s previous career as a para-legal for the international community in Spain, but his dab hand at carpentry and DIY together with Elizabeth’s hands-on approach and a shared enthusiasm for continually improving the properties have made the new venture a great success. “We add something new every year” says Elizabeth, “Last year it was satellite television, the year before it was wi-fi and this year we’ve installed a hot tub”.
“We love having guests to stay” says Elizabeth, “Because we live on-site we are on hand to offer any help our guests need and we often end up making friends who come back year after year. Our most regular clients have now spent 40 weeks here in total and we look forward to welcoming them again this year!”
Local amenities in historical Dordogne
Garrigue is situated 20km south of Bergerac with the nearest town Eymet 6km to the South and the nearest village Fonroque just 4km away. The region is known as ‘the cradle of mankind’ due to the amazing historical sites found there.
Elizabeth notes “This area really is a destination for the French as much as for foreign tourists. The prehistoric caves here have the earliest cave paintings ever found and there is even a troglodyte dwelling to visit at La Roque Saint-Christophe”. There is also plenty of more recent history with ancient castles and villages throughout the region. “One of our favourite castles is Castelnaud. If you visit be sure to see the trebuchet in action, the sword making in the working forge and the amazing views from the battlements.”
History plays an important part in regional celebrations too and, as the Secretary of the Eymet Tourist oOfice, Charles has the responsibility of being ‘Chief Hog Roaster’ at the annual medieval celebrations in the town! Street entertainment includes jousting, jugglers and fire-eaters, and if you miss the Eymet festival, don’t worry; the celebrations visit various towns down the river throughout August.
Charles and Elizabeth’s recommendations
“You really don’t have to spend lots of extra money to have a great holiday here,” says Elizabeth “Enjoy the scenery, relax and take advantage of the great food. Evening markets and festivals cost nothing and our gites have lots to offer you on-site. Try your hand at golf on our 9 hole pitch and putt course, come canoeing with us on the canal or borrow the bikes and go off exploring”.
The region is also famed for its gastronomy. “The food and wine here are truly exceptional” says Elizabeth “The markets are bursting with amazing cheeses and cured meat and the fruit and vegetables are incredible! There is a grocer in Bergerac that sells four varieties of beetroot and six types of carrots ranging in colour from orange to purple! Even the supermarkets have a fabulous range here, not at all what you see in the UK. Try the locally produced Echourgnat cheese, it’s made by nuns and infused with nut oil – delicious, and it goes without saying that this area is renowned for foie gras and fine wines – a gourmand’s heaven!”
In peak season the Fonroque baker delivers fresh croissants and bread to the gites four mornings a week and there is a plethora of local cafes and restaurants to explore ranging from the Michelin starred ‘Tour des Vents’ to the family friendly local ‘La Pizzeria’. “Look out for traditional set menu lunches for a real bargain, ‘Le Croquant Fourant’ in Eymet does 5 courses for around €11” says Elizabeth “You can tell it’s one of the best places as it’ll be full of French people but remember to go at lunchtime, it’s not open in the evening”.
The Clarkes often find themselves offering advice to others looking to take the leap and move to France. “It’s a wonderful way of life, the only thing I would say is you need to be sure you can bear to be away from family. We try to get together with our children as often as we can and one of the reasons we chose this area was because you can reach the nearest cross Channel ferry port within a day’s drive so trips back to the UK are quick and easy.
One of our daughters is getting married this year and we’ll be hosting the reception in the barn here and putting up all the guests in local gites, it’s going to be a wonderful day. We’ve had groups of friends and families come to stay before for holidays or to celebrate birthdays or other events here but never a wedding, it’s very exciting!
This really feels like our home now, the Dordogne is a wonderful place to visit but living here is even better!”
Elizabeth Clarke’s top tips when visiting Eymet
- Go canoeing on the canals: Charles and I love to go when we have time, it’s great fun for beginners or experienced paddlers and the scenery is wonderful, take a picnic and make a day of it.
- Visit the village of Le Bournat: it’s an authentic recreation of the streets of the 1900s complete with costumed inhabitants going about their daily lives, a great day out for all ages.
- Shop at the market: the market in Eymet has been running on Thursday mornings every week since 1270 and is used by all the local people to shop and socialise, it’s a real insight into rural French life, and naturally the food on offer is superb!