French property dreams: a priory in Dordogne
- Credit: Archant
Rachel Johnston heads to ever-popular Dordogne to contemplate life in a beautifully restored residence with 16th-century origins
Imposing wrought-iron gates set between stone pillars open from a cobbled street into a courtyard, gravelled and edged with shrubs and box hedging. At the end of a path leading from the courtyard, vast oak doors are unlocked with an ancient iron key and swing open into a cool, flagstoned hall, providing welcome respite from the Dordogne heat. A well-worn stone staircase curves around a corner out of sight and dark, pitted beams line the ceiling.
Welcome to Le Prieuré, a 500-year-old residence still basking in the limelight of its history as a home to lay monks from 1499 until the Revolution. Peace, serenity and a sense of gravitas is palpable both inside and out, and yet this is a home in whose contemporary, classy renovation no expense has been spared.
Current owner Elizabeth bought the property in 2008 after falling for its style and setting, but one of her earliest acknowledgements was its suitability for use as a chambres d’hôtes. In fact, her particular choice of Dordogne was made with this in mind, knowing there would be no shortage of tourists and holidaymakers needing accommodation in the area.
The nearby village is home to a much-visited château and there are most amenities on the doorstep (including an épicerie and depot de pain), yet the house is seemingly in a world of its own, perched in an elevated position and commanding wonderful far-reaching views across rolling countryside.
Originally composed of a single wing, the property was then extended to make room for the growing community of monks. Its two principal elevations have contrasting outlooks – one on the village side and the other more private, flanked by gorgeous, south-facing but shaded terraces ideal for al fresco dining. The three wells are a useful water source for the surrounding garden.
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Stepping inside Le Prieuré for the first time is a jaw-dropping experience – but its interiors didn’t always pack such a punch. “When I purchased the house, most of the heavy renovation had been done but I still continued to work on it, updating the electricity, adding a fabulous kitchen, transforming the old stables into a large living room, changing the windows and putting in terraces,” explains Elizabeth. “It’s hard for me to choose a favourite room now, but I do love the new living room.”
This room is indeed a delight to behold. Its ceiling beams have been painted to avoid any sense of oppressive ‘density’ and the walls remain their original stone selves, ochre and glowing and delightfully uneven. With a sleek, heated stone floor, simple spotlighting and accents of purple and taupe, it’s ultra chic without having lost its soul or the sense of its former function.
Also on the ground floor is a second living space containing a magnificent stone evier (sink), oven and inglenook fireplace, a dining room with French doors to the garden, and the new kitchen/breakfast room with its range cooker and central island. There is also a large study off the entrance hall which makes a supremely comfortable place to work.
Beds of roses
Besides the location, another aspect that made Le Prieuré ideal as a chambres d’hôtes was its seven bedroom suites. Each suite has its own unique character and there are unexpected features at every turn: an original ‘long-drop’ loo set into a recess in the wall, an adorable balcony overlooking the side garden, a monumental lattice of beams running the entire width of a room.
Two of the bedrooms go even further than offering their own salle de bain, with the addition of separate living spaces and one with a kitchenette, the other with a dressing room. With wooden floorboards, chandeliers and vast illuminating windows, none of the accommodation would be out of place in a grand château.
If all the aforementioned sounds a little too perfect and you yearn to get your teeth into a project, there is an additional room towards the western end of the property that used to be habitable but has since fallen into disuse. Beyond is an old bread oven with a large space above, and the whole area could be renovated to provide an additional studio apartment if desired. Beneath it is a vaulted cellar.
Since remarrying, Elizabeth has now decided to sell the house. “My husband and I would like more time for travelling as well as spending longer in the UK and USA, where our respective children live.” Le Prieuré is now on the market for €1,095,000.
Classic French Châteaux
Tel: 0033 (0)6 76 45 32 25