In 1990 we decided that life was too short to live and work our whole lives in England, so we thought we would move to France, as much as anything to give our three young children a broader outlook on life and enable them to speak at least one other language.
So France it was, we just needed to find the right property in the right area and of course a way of earning a living! Not difficult you may think, but – France is a very big country compared to the UK. We decided on the area – Charente Maritime, not too far from the coast and maybe a small house with outbuildings to convert into Gîtes (it was before the big rush). So, here we are in the Lot, 3hrs from any coast with a big house, virtually no outbuildings and 32 acres of land
We had chosen not to view Chateau de Lacomté, way out of our price range, big black gates, big long drive, beautiful, but not for us. However, being driven by the estate agent he decided that we should view this property. We fell in love immediately, not with the building, but with the grounds, they were magical, just so calm and relaxing, we felt all stress or tension created by his driving float away as soon as we came through the gateway. Lacomté felt right for us, there was something that drew us in like a pin to a magnet. Being avid caravanners for several years we decided to build a campsite, as we knew what we expected from a site. Easy, great idea!
Old Carlucet Château de Lacomté view early 1900s (2)
This is where our big adventure started, it was going to be a real family affair, with Stuart’s extensive knowledge of construction and civil engineering we thought “we can do this”. In hindsight, slightly naively, as certainly speaking French would have been an advantage – Oh how you wished you’d paid more attention at school!
Saturday 8th February 1991, we, Sheila, Stuart, Anthony (9), Jemma (8) and Victoria (just 3), moved to the gorgeous little village of Carlucet, leaving Portsmouth with a covering of about 2 inches of snow, how we laughed on the ferry, we were off to sunny southern France. Not so much laughter in the morning when we arrived in Caen to find they had had about 6 inches of snow overnight and we were the first car and caravan, actually the only caravan, off the ferry, not a footprint or tire track outside the ferry terminal area, we didn’t see another moving vehicle for about 2 hours, several upside down in ditches, but nothing moving.
The removal lorry was due to arrive in the afternoon, it didn’t! It had apparently broke down on the ferry and was returned to Portsmouth, where it had a new battery fitted but didn’t cross the channel again until Wednesday night! Unfortunately for us we only had basic essentials in the caravan, everything else was on the lorry. Wednesday it snowed 6 inches in 2 hours, still no lorry, no wellies, no warm coats, try telling three young children they could not play in the snow! It eventually arrived Friday late afternoon, however, not the same size lorry that had collected our belongings, only half the size – so only half our belongings, no clothes, no cooker, no washing machine, no tools and still no phone, but they did bring the piano, the freezer and boxes of books, ornaments and empty boxes full of newspaper!
After a very long drive we arrived, no snow, we’d left that behind at Limoges. Great we thought, we’ll plug the caravan in and have something to eat and drink and an early night. Aah! No water, no electricity or telephone and to top it all the gas lines on the caravan were frozen solid, a very cold and hungry first night, “it’ll be alright tomorrow” we told the children. Unfortunately it wasn’t, yes we managed with the help of our new neighbour to get the water and electricity on, all by sign language, but at least we could make some breakfast.
“You could go back to England if you do not like it.
We didn’t ask you to come and live in this Country”
Eventually we started our project still with great excitement and masses of enthusiasm, which soon turned to heartache as we never dreamt how difficult the French Administration could be. Why make things easy when they can complicate it beyond all belief; occasionally offering advice like “you could go back to England if you do not like it” or “we didn’t ask you to come and live in this Country”.
Undeterred we continued, all 5 of us working every possible minute to build our dream, “If you build it they will come” words from the film Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, this became our mantra keeping us going and it worked. We opened in August 1993, Friday 13th to be exact, with only 16 pitches, the shower block, bar, restaurant, swimming pool and tennis court. It worked, people came and fortunately are still coming. Every year thereafter we added to our complex enlarging it to the 86 pitches that we have today, plus the Chalets, Mobile homes and the Gite, so that more guests could come and experience the amazing peace and tranquility of Chateau de Lacomté and enjoy this magical region of the Lot.
Time passed by so quickly and in 2008 we found ourselves running our Family business alone, our young ones all grown up and following their own dreams and career paths. They have been a huge part our story and our success, and worked so hard during their young years, when the three of them had left, the campsite just was not the same without them.
In 2009 we took another huge decision, one that once again caused so much controversy and that decision was to change our campsite from being a family site to a campsite for Adults Only. We were told by the French Authorities that we could not do this, camping was a holiday that you enjoyed with children, and if we were to do this it would be, in their own words“prejudice’ against children” therefore we would be closed down. Once again we found ourselves battling with the authorities, but also a lot of our French friends and neighbours could not understand why we were doing this, those moments were not very pleasant. However we carried on regardless, becoming Adult Only felt the right thing for us to do.
2017 will be our 8th year offering holidays to grown-ups of all ages, wishing to enjoy some peaceful times around the pool, enjoy drinks on the terrace or in the bar, a romantic meal in the restaurant, without being surrounded by the happy screams of children. We love children, but this is our choice, and just sometimes there are those, no matter what age, that dream of a ‘grown-up’ holiday in the sun, which is what we offer.
When we look back now, this was an incredible venture for a young family to undertake in a foreign country, where 26 years ago there were very few English people and an English speaking French person was never to be found! How times have changed!!
Sheila & Stuart Coe