Home & Away – living in France and Kent

Cranbrook couple Neil and Sally Chalmers tell us why they believe they have the best of both worlds owning a home in both Kent and France

Home & Away – living in France and Kent

Cranbrook couple Neil and Sally Chalmers tell us why they believe they have the best of both worlds owning a home in both Kent and France

How long have you lived in Kent?

We have lived in Kent on and off for more than 25 years. First in Goudhurst, then outside Cranbrook, where we ran the Kennel Holt Hotel for 10 years. Then after a spell at the seaside in Bexhill, we returned to Cranbrook just over a year ago.

We moved back to Kent because the ‘Costa Geriatrica’ of Bexhill was just too depressing! Also, we missed the landscape and the small-town pleasures of Cranbrook, as well as having our grandson start at school at Cranbrook last September.

How long have you owned a home in France?

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We have owned our property in the Dordogne, Les Tendoux, since 1972 - almost as long as we have been married! We bought most of a hamlet (eight buildings) and over the years have sold off five of those buildings so that we now have two fully converted houses, a swimming pool and a ruin awaiting renovation.

The hamlet is 4km outside the delightful little bastide town Issigeac, 10 minutes from Bergerac airport and 15 minutes from Bergerac town.

We decided on the Dordogne because we felt it was a charming, truly rural area, with the added attraction of the wine-making in the region, countryside that had a slight feel of the UK rather than the more barren south and a cuisine that we loved.

We bought the hamlet itself quite simply because of a ‘coup de coeur’ - it could certainly never be described as a logical purchase!

How much time do you spend in each location?

Originally, we only used the houses for holidays, generally three to four weeks maximum a year. When we sold the hotel in Cranbrook in 2002, we decided to spend more time in France, upgrading both the converted houses to run as a micro hotel in the summer.

This particular idea unfortunately fell on stony ground so we changed course and started to let out the larger of the two houses and swimming pool in 2005 on a self-catering basis. This business has grown and grown, especially after we appointed Pure France as our letting agents.

Now we divide ourselves and our time, with Neil spending most of the summer in France and Sally going to and fro as UK commitments allow.

How do you divide your time?

Fortunately, we are now both retired so we are, within reason, able to come and go between the two locations as we wish. Neil’s summer time is divided between managing the rental property and garden, and rushing around tidying whenever Sally is about to appear for a visit! This does, however, leave plenty of time for reading and writing, exploring the region and the occasional wine tasting.

Sally’s summer is spent keeping the garden in Kent at bay, ensuring that grandson Josh has all his name tapes sewn on and his homework completed in between attendance at various events sponsored by Charleston Farmhouse as well as acting as a volunteer there.

Winters are spent planning for the following year, a spot of shooting and catching up with Kent and London friends.

What do you like most about living in Kent?

The best thing, especially in the Weald area, is the landscape, with its villages, pubs and its reasonable closeness to London. Also, Neil is a keen game shot and there is a surprising amount of high-quality shooting within easy reach in the county.

And France?  

That would be no traffic worth talking about! The south of England is really becoming a martyr to traffic, while one can drive all around the Dordogne and generally see far fewer cars. This is probably fortunate, as Dordogne drivers are the worst in France! The wine, the cuisine, the pace of life and the charm of the Dordogne French are all wonderful reasons over and above the traffic.

What are the biggest differences?

In France, the pace of life, the quality and availability of fresh produce from local markets, the attitude and politeness of the locals, the availability and quality of fine places to eat and finally, the price of wine, with a good-quality Sauvignon from a local producer costing all of three euros at the supermarket! Surprisingly, however, the more time you spend in alternative locations, the less the weather features as a major concern.

Are your two homes similar?

No, they are very different. In the garden, the types of trees that thrive and grow well are not the same, as well as lawn cultivation in France being a serious challenge due to the summer weather conditions. The keeping of a swimming pool, only in France, is a costly and ever-challenging exercise - the adage that ‘the best swimming pool is your neighbour’s’ is very true!

While both houses are converted farm buildings, the house in Kent is a weatherboard converted storage barn, while in France all the buildings are of local limestone.

In France, both the houses, and even the ruin, all have terrific views over the local countryside: sadly, we don’t have the same variety and expanse of views in Cranbrook.

What are your favourite activities in both?

For Neil, the favourite Kent activity is shooting in the winter and for Sally it is a combination of garden visiting, such as Sissinghurst or Great Dixter.

In France, for both of us, the Dordogne is almost overcrowded with history, especially architectural gems in the form of chateaux, villages and towns, all of which also offer marvellous restaurants and local vineyards.

And your favourite places to visit?

In Kent it is Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, especially early or late in the season. In our region of France, our favourite place to visit is Bordeaux, a delightful city with wonderful architecture, a gem of an opera house and a wealth of other cultural attractions.

Do you have favourite restaurants in Kent and France?

In Kent, our favourites are Apicius in Stone Street, Cranbrook, with its very elegant, delicious and beautifully presented food, well worth its Michelin star. The second, also with one Michelin star, is the West House in Biddenden, where we have been going since Graham opened 10 years ago.

In France, our favourite restaurant is in Domme, at the top of this national heritage village, with stunning views across the Dordogne river. Lunch on the terrace at the Hotel Esplanade, on a clear and sunny day is pure bliss. The food is certainly at least the equal in quality, presentation and imagination to our two Kent favourites, but the location really steals the show.

Do you have favourite shops?

In Kent we love the South Coast Fish van at the Hartley Farm Shop on the Hartley Road just outside Cranbrook - some of the best fish you can find, great variety of choice and prices that don’t make you gasp.

In France, there’s an institution in the nearby town of Beaumont called Quincaillerie Boriat. You can get everything in this ironmonger’s from the tiniest panel pin to a cement mixer. Our last purchase there was a walking stick with basket attached for the keen truffle hunter!

Do you have the best of both worlds?

It is without doubt a great privilege and immensely enjoyable to be able to spend time regularly in both the UK and France. We wouldn’t have missed Les Tendoux and all those wonderful moments of family holidays, celebrations and visiting friends over the last 40 years. It’s the house we have had all through our married life, after all.

However, we are beginning to find that all the responsibilities of owning two quite substantial properties in two locations is becoming more onerous than it used to be. So, we are looking in time, to sell certainly one, if not all, of the French properties, handing the baton on to someone with sufficient energy for another 40 years or so. It’s going to be an enormous wrench, but on balance, we would not want to settle permanently in France, despite loving the country, the region and the people enormously.

Kent and Cranbrook are where we feel most at home, although we would miss the views from the Esplanade and from our house across the vineyard dreadfully!


You too could find the best of both worlds at the French property exhibition at The France Show, a three-day extravaganza of everything French, held from 13-15 January 2012 at London’s Earls Court.


Two tickets for the price of one - only �13 (save �13). Just enter KL282 when booking tickets online www.thefranceshow.com or call 01242 264777*  

*(a handling charge of �2.50 per order will be charged)



South Coast Fish 07866 741 288,                

Hartley Road,                                                 

Cranbrook TN17 3QG                                   

Apicius 01580 714666,                                   

23 Stone Street                                                

Cranbrook TN17 3HF                                     

The West House 01580 291341

28 High Street

Biddenden TN27 8AH


Esplanade Hotel

Domme 24250

0033 (0) 553 28 31 41

Quincaillerie Bariat

33 Rue Foussal

Beaumont  24440

0033 (0) 553 22 30 12

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