Lady of the Manor

Château Lalgayrié

Château Lalgayrié - Credit: Archant

Rachel Johnston chats to Lady Colin Campbell about her special house in Tarn

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- Credit: Archant

With just the sound of birds, bleating sheep and the occasional tractor, life in the Tarn countryside is an idyllic escape for many. At first glance, it has many similarities with the best of the British countryside, but with one important addition: its sunshine. Following the winter rains that maintain its lush landscape, Tarn enjoys early springs and long, hot summers. Its capital, Albi, is a blaze of red brick and medieval, traffic-free streets, and just 25km to the south-east lies what is a most exciting buying opportunity.

Château Lalgayrié is a striking rural property on the edge of a working farm. From its construction in 1820, the château belonged to the prominent Foulché del Bosc family, who still own one of the great hôtels particuliers in Toulouse. Much later, in 2001, it became the summer residence of Lady Colin Campbell, royal biographer and one of Britain’s most eccentric aristocrats.

PALLADIAN GRANDEUR

“It was only the second house I saw,” Lady Colin tells me. “I actually came looking for a cottage by a stream, but I ended up falling in love with Lalgayrié. Its setting is magical, beside a farm that produces Roquefort cheese and surrounded by fields dotted with sheep. It’s wonderfully bucolic.” A friend of Lady Colin’s recommended Tarn not only for its climate but also for its easy accessibility from the UK – the airports at Rodez and Toulouse are both within an hour’s drive – and she wanted a place for the children, then eight years old, to enjoy during summer holidays.

Built in the handsome Palladian style, Château Lalgayrié boasts classical reception rooms with particularly fine proportions. Arched double front doors lead into an impressive hall, and on into the magnificent ballroom, or grand salon, with a high, corniced ceiling, marble fireplace and French windows to the rear garden. The dining room can comfortably seat 14. “It’s wonderful for entertaining and I’ve thrown many dinner parties,” enthuses Lady Colin.

The drawing room, known as the petit salon, is approached from the ballroom and has its own fireplace. The ground floor also includes a study, a breakfast room with beamed ceiling, the existing kitchen – ripe for modernisation – and a wine cellar. Leading from the top of an elegant staircase with wrought-iron balustrades, the château’s upper floor has 12 bedrooms, and there are eight bathrooms in all.

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Since her arrival, Lady Colin has been very exacting in her choice of décor and has even mixed her own paint colours, drawing on her artistic background as a painter. The restful shades of green in the hall and ballroom have been thoughtfully synchronised across the walls and ceilings, mirroring the flow of space from room to room.

The property is set in just under three and a half hectares of its own land, which includes two woodland areas, parkland and an orchard. Protected by mature trees and flowering shrubs, the lawned gardens are peaceful, private spaces from which the peace of the Tarn countryside can be appreciated. Lady Colin has set up a table and chairs for meals beneath an old tree, making the most of Lalgayrié’s setting and offering total envelopment in nature. There is little within the grounds to improve upon but the new owner may wish to add a swimming pool; with no shortage of level ground, it would make a great addition for al fresco summer living.

CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

Having listened to Lady Colin’s descriptions of this grand château, its recently reduced price of €450,500 came as something of a shock. But, before suspicions had a chance to arise, I was assured that there is no hidden catch here; the owner simply wants a quick sale in order to return to her UK properties on a permanent basis. Now that her sons are grown and flown, her own increasing age and desire to be closer to friends in London prompts the sale.

Even at its original €1,200,000, she says the château was priced accurately to reflect the redecoration and modernisation that is needed, such as repainting of walls and resanding of floorboards, the extension of the central heating system, and the installation of a new, more modern kitchen. With such a large price reduction, there is now even more scope for the new owner to update the bathrooms and finish the conversion of the loft space, started by Lady Colin to make even further use of Lalgayrié’s capacious interiors. Importantly, there is no structural work needed on the property – the two foot-thick walls are solid and the roof, restored 15 years ago, is in excellent condition.

“I am giving someone a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take on this much-loved home at a bargain price,” says Lady Colin. She is also prepared to introduce the new owner to the local expat community. The immediate vicinity of Teillet has around 450 inhabitants and the slightly larger villages of Alban – home to one of Lady Colin’s favourite restaurants – and Villefranche d’Albigeois are a short drive away.

Before our conversation drew to a close, I just had to ask her about her favourite room in the house. “My bedroom, without a doubt. It has double doors that lead out to a balcony overlooking the front parkland. It’s so wonderful that it should really be a sitting room to share with guests, but I’ve claimed it all for myself.”

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