January – our château rocks!
In January, filming of the preparation of our wedding garden was drawn to a halt by the discovery of rocks just below the surface soil, preventing us from carrying out the wedding garden design we had set our hearts on doing. These rocks wouldn’t have been a problem, except they were positioned just where we needed to create a sloping path for wheelchair access to the wedding barns.
The gradient of this path is critical if we are to comply with our planning requirements, so the rocks had to go! Over the next ten months, Zion and our Chateau Helper
Adrian worked to pull out as many of them as possible (including the one in this photo) using the 5-ton digger we bought last year, but several very large rocks proved to be too big even for our digger, and irritatingly these particular rocks were right opposite the chateau steps, where we needed to start the path, so they too had to go.
We finally found the answer in October when we hired a 21-ton digger with a pick arm. This made light work of breaking up even the largest rocks. Even Alison had a go!
While we had the digger on-site, we made the most of its power and size and the good weather to clear the field to the west end of the chateau, where we dug out our swimming pool. It was ten days of real progress before the autumn rain stopped play (and filled our newly dug swimming pool), and the digger was returned to the hire shop. However, we felt we had made real progress, and we are now determined to have our wedding garden and pool finished in time for the summer season. They will be great assets to our gites and wedding venue.
March – Our Best Brocante Find Yet…
One of our favourite hobbies here in France is visiting brocantes (boot fairs/flea markets) and vide greniers (attic sales). We like nothing more on a weekend than driving to various villages to rummage through a brocante, or visiting our favourite second-hand and antique haunts. This is a popular pastime for the French, too, so there are multiple brocantes and vide greniers every weekend throughout France, many of which are listed each week by town on a dedicated website.
Back in February, whilst visiting our favourite second-hand furniture warehouse, we had our best find yet…. a beautifully decorated, solid brass clock (in working order!) with two magnificent candelabras. We just had to have them, but at the time, the proprietor, Mr. Drake, wanted 450 EU for the set. Over the past two years, we have worked out that the best time to do a deal with Mr Drake is around lunchtime because he always has a glass of pastis at 12.00, and after his aperitif, he is much more amenable to striking a deal! On this particular day, we were lucky because, after enjoying several glasses of pastis with him, he agreed to the deal of the century at 250EU for the clock and the candelabras! We have since seen similar online for 900EU! I think you will agree that they look magnificent in our Painted Salon.
May – Alison’s lovely Mum Rosemary and her sister Sue come to stay
Since the start of our chateau journey, two of our greatest supporters have been Alison’s Mum Rosemary and her sister Sue. It was while sitting on Rosemary’s sofa in 2018 that weirdest watched ‘Chateau DIY’ and were inspired to have a go at it ourselves. Rosemary (and her two little dogs, Daisy and Bella) also used to travel through France with us when we were looking at different chateaux.
We keep in touch with them both every day via a WhatsApp call, but last May, Rosemary and her two little dogs, Daisy and Bella, joined us as we travelled back to France in our van. It was the first time she had visited La Boutiniere because we bought it during the Covid lockdown when travelling was forbidden. We were so certain this was the chateau we wanted that we bought it without having seen it ourselves (not something to be recommended!). In June, Alison’s sister Sue also visited us with her Wellington boots and gardening gloves at the ready.
It was so exciting for us to show them both around, so they could see first-hand the chateau and all the work we had done and envisage what we were planning. They both worked so hard to help us prepare our gites for the summer season. Rosemary helped prepare all the linen, while Sue spent hours clearing our gite terrace, adding rocks all around the perimeter until it looked stylish and inviting – truly back-breaking work!
July – Completion of our Bridal Suite
In July 2023, we finally completed our bridal suite after 12 months of hard work! It was such a marathon because Zion has very exacting standards, and he had a very intricate design in mind, inspired by our visit to Morocco in 2022. With the ‘Chateau DIY’ cameras arriving every few weeks to film our progress, the end of July deadline for the ‘reveal’ was fast approaching, so the push was on to complete the project. Once we have committed to a filming deadline, it is always a real challenge to meet it, but also such a huge relief and a massive celebration when we do! One of the reasons we like being filmed (despite this stress) is because it means we really do have to finish each project, including the decorating and styling, which are the things people really remember. The bridal suite ‘reveal’, after 12 months of hard work, was huge for us, so we invited all our friends from our village to join us for a celebratory drink. Sadly, we are unable to share any photos of the bridal suite in this blog until the official ‘reveal’ takes place on ‘Chateau DIY’ in the New Year. Rumour has it that the new series of ‘Chateau DIY’ is due to start at the end of January 2024 …so watch this space!
August – Alison’s family arrive
The main highlight of the year for us both was, in August, the arrival of 22 members of Alison’s family, including her son James, daughter-in-law Melanie and our two small granddaughters Josephine (3) and Vivienne (9 months). It was the first visit for most of the family, and the chateau really came alive with lots of chatter and children’s laughter!
For months before the visit, we had been buying toys and bicycles of different sizes from Facebook marketplace and local brocantes. We had set up our Painted Salon as a playroom to accommodate all the little ones (there were seven children under 6!). This was a strategic decision because this room is linked to our dining room. As soon as the little ones had finished their meals, they were able to play happily next door, under the watchful eye of their parents, as the adults relaxed over a coffee and chatted at the table.
On day one of the visit, Zion immediately set the men of the family a challenge – to clear our English Park at the rear of the chateau. The park had been overgrown for years and was divided by a wire fence (installed by the previous owner to contain her donkeys). However, small trees had grown through this fence, screening off half of the English Park and making it a challenge to remove. Our bamboo patch had also expanded until it too blocked the park view from the chateau.
We were so impressed at the gusto with which our visitors got stuck! None of them had previously driven a tractor or operated a digger (let alone a chainsaw!) but with Zion’s guidance, in only three days, they transformed our English Park from an over-grown field, which blocked the view of the chateau into the magnificent open parkland setting it is supposed to be. This parkland will eventually be the backdrop to our weddings, which will take place on the chateau steps, so restoring it to its former beauty is a real milestone in our plan for the chateau. We were so grateful for this help and impressed with the outcome and by all accounts, our visitors enjoyed the challenge, too!
October – Sylvie
One very tragic event this year was the death of our dear little cat Sylvie, who, in October, was killed by a car on the road at the end of our chateau driveway. We are as perplexed as we are devastated because we live miles out in the French countryside and are surrounded by 52 acres of land, so why did Sylvie need to hunt near the road? Also, the road at the end of our drive is just a small, single-lane country road, so why was the driver going so fast that they didn’t see and avoid Sylvie?
Ironically, it was this same road that nearly claimed Sylvie’s sister Celine only six months before. Celine had gone missing for four days, and when she eventually managed to get home, she was in a very bad state, having been hit by a car. Luckily, she pulled through with only a limp and the loss of her beautiful tail, but poor Sylvie wasn’t so lucky. She was only 18 months old and was such a character. Everywhere we went, she and Celine would follow us and join in. We miss her dreadfully as does Celine, because being sisters from the same litter, the two of them used to sleep entwined around each other.
On a happier note to end the year, we can now let you in on a secret…. in November, we completed the purchase of two magnificent barns from our neighbour. The barns border the chateau garden, which is to become our wedding garden. The barns we have purchased are an integral part of our vision for our wedding venue. We already own a large barn, which we planned to make into our banqueting hall. However, we were struggling to decide where to site a serving kitchen, which is an essential element for the caterer. Our option was to use an outbuilding close by, but this would have meant carrying the food across the wedding terrace to the banqueting barn. Now we have acquired these two new barns, not only do we have a larger banqueting hall, but we also now have the site for a serving kitchen, perfectly positioned adjacent to the banqueting hall!
Along with our other outbuildings, our barns were built around 1100 AD as part of the farm, which served a much older chateau than ours. All that remains of this original Chateau de la Boutiniere are foundations, which we have been told are buried in a wood close by. One day, we intend to go on a hunt to locate these foundations!