24 April 2015 by Jessica Boston
Meet the Owners: Anne and Tim Holford, Haras du Gazon, Normandy
Anne Holford and her husband Tim own the impressive Normandy estate of Haras du Gazon.
The 300 acre estate includes a stud farm that breeds world-class show jumpers, pasture that yields premium quality feed for the horses, and a holiday business renting out a collection of three luxurious gites.
Historic 18th century manor house
The site is steeped in history; the manor house dates back to the 18th century, and the stud has been running since 1769. The gorgeous architecture, landscaped gardens and period features evoke a glamorous past full of aristocrats, horse drawn carriages and opulent living.
The Holfords have worked hard to give the estate back its lustre since buying the property eight years ago. “We feel like stewards really”, says Anne. “When we first saw the place it was a little run down and neglected. We felt it was almost our responsibility to restore the place to its former glory!”
World-class show jumping stud farm
Anne and Tim are vets and still run their London practice with regular visits back to the UK. The decision to trade a previous farm in Exmoor for the Haras du Gazon estate was a new challenge for them both.
“Tim liked horses and the chance to run a stud with such history was a wonderful opportunity. Restoring the buildings and gardens and making the farmland work for us has been hard work but so rewarding.
We have 50 to 60 horses at any one time and adding the gites was a natural progression; the buildings were just waiting to be converted! It’s useful for our buyers to be able to stay and also offers a unique holiday for anyone who wants a bit of French rural charm”.
Authentic traditional French experience, with mod cons
In fact the views from the gites show no sign of modern life, it’s the perfect getaway: a historic idyll with all the modern comforts! The gites are furnished in a traditional style but use premium new furniture and fittings for maximum comfort.
“We’ve kept the original features like the exposed beams to keep the traditional feel. We want our guests to feel relaxed and have plenty of space – the swimming pool and gardens will never feel crowded and there are 350 acres of fields and lakes and woods to explore!”
Perfect for animal lovers
Of course staying on a stud farm is a special treat for animal lovers and there are plenty of chances to see the horses in the views over the fields and pat the furry noses poking over stable doors. While these horses are not suitable for tourists to ride there are opportunities to visit nearby stables for horse riding excursions. You could even see the local Percheron, a famous breed of French working horse with an important local history.
“Normandy is well known for a love of horses from breeding them to riding them to showing them. Haras du Pin is near here and well worth a visit, it’s the Versailles for horses and they put on wonderful shows on Thursdays with riders and carriages all processing around the main courtyard – so impressive!”
The allure of rural France
While running several businesses at once keeps the Holfords more than a bit busy, there is still time to enjoy the reasons they choose a life in rural France.
“I’ve developed a real passion for photography,” admits Anne “the light here is so inspiring and there are just so many beautiful views to capture – it’s not possible to get an ugly view from here!
I took all the images for our website myself and really enjoyed doing it. People say it’s even more beautiful in real life though so maybe I need to keep practising to capture the true beauty of the place! I like capturing the nature and rural views through the seasons and have quite a portfolio on my Pinterest page already!”
Anne also enjoys inviting her friends to come and stay so they can ‘be tourists’ and visit some of the attractions in the region including carriage riding with Percheron horses, donkey trekking, visiting Monet’s house at Giverny or taking a day-trip to Paris on the train. “This is a perfect location for us, we can get to Paris for the day or back to London on the overnight ferry with no fuss at all”.
Normandy’s fabulous cuisine
Another great treat of living in Normandy is the wonderful food!
“The cheese is just amazing, Camembert and the heart shaped Neufchatel are famous Normandy cheeses and so delicious, but our absolute favourite is the less well known Coeur de Coutance made in La Manche. I have put a ceramic Camembert baker in each gite so our guests can make the most of the gooey dip you can make with a whole cheese. It works far better with the unpasteurized Camembert you can buy here.”
Cider is also popular in the region and pairs really well with cheese.
“It’s becoming a sophisticated choice now” says Anne “Cidre bouche comes in corked bottles like champagne and is getting really fashionable to serve. There is a local family at Chateau du Sassy who make a range of pear and apple ciders under the ‘Sassy’ brand that are really good, but if wine is your thing we are also close to the only vineyard in Normandy”.
Anne and Tim Holford work hard to maintain the high standards they have set themselves in providing exceptional gites and running several successful businesses. The rewards they reap by living in such beautiful surroundings and enjoying the benefits of the French food and culture are certainly well deserved.
Anne’s top tips when visiting Orne:
- Go donkey trekking. There is a fabulous place in the Orne river valley where you can rent donkeys and take them for a walk on leading reins! They have panniers so you can load up a picnic and have a wander. It’s a lovely way to see the countryside and the donkeys are so cute and friendly – kids will love it!
- Take a dinner cruise on the Rabodanges lake. Enjoy a marvellous gourmet meal onboard a boat as it cruises around the Rabodanges lake. The lake is formed by a dam in the Orne River and there is a commentary in French to tell you something about its history. The gorgeous food and views make this a very special (and romantic) evening out.
- Visit the market at St Pierre-sur-Dives. This traditional market in the medieval town square is so much more than a chance to shop – it’s a real event! It’s the place for locals to see and be seen and the barrow boys selling local produce give the place a fantastic authentically ‘French’ atmosphere.