L'isle en Dodon
Elegant beyond belief, enclosed by 7 hectares of grassland, this chateau, dating from the mid 1800’s and designed by Matthieu Begougnan, is one of the most beautiful buildings that Jennifer and I have ever seen in this part of France. The traditional “open U” design has remained unaltered, and the proportions are poetic in their classic styling and charm… the exterior stonework is embellished with carving, stone built balconies decorate the lower floors and, at the upper floors, the stonework changes to scrolled wrought iron balconies giving a feeling of delicacy and charm… even the iron rainwater pipes are fluted and decorated with cartouches. It has, miraculously, rested exactly as originally designed…..
The current owners, have pursued the restoration with enormous attention to detail – and sought expert advice in the choice of colors and detail… the love and respect that they clearly feel as the guardians of this a jewel of a building is just so clear. They have also given great thought to ensuring that the best and most practical innovations of the modern world have been seamlessly incorporated to provide standards of comfort and practicality that would otherwise have been impossible without a flurry of staff. To give but two examples: the central heating and swimming pool heating are serviced by three kilometers of geothermic feed… the most economic and ecologically sound method of heating any property, much less one of one thousand square meters… yet the radiators are antique iron to rest in keeping with the building’s age. The windows are double glazed…. and together, these improvements have aided in achieving an efficiency rating of ” C ” – almost unheard of in a chateau.
We approached the Chateau by the original wrought iron double gates, set in the old stone wall, and swept up the graveled drive to the imposing entrance. To the front of the chateau, the lawn is starred with clumps of cyclamen, which, later in the year, will give the impression that the chateau floats on a cloud of flowers. Above the huge double doors, carved stone leads your eye upwards… to the ornate balconies outside the windows above… and finally to the elegant cornice that centers the house. And then you enter …. and it takes your breath away… a vast receiving area, floored with languedocian tiles, paneled walls, delicate gilded mouldings and, facing you, a monumental wooden staircase that wings to left and right from the half landing… On either side of the staircase are carved wooden doors, their tops curved , mirroring each other… and to either side, along the flank walls, are formal, built in decorative planters that focus your attention to seating areas that welcome you to this gracious home. There are tall, wooden doors, glowing with centuries of polishing – original of course – which lead off to left and right to the rooms beyond.
To the left, a gracious salon overlooks the front lawn… coffered ceilings with delicate plaster mouldings above you, oak parquet laid in the traditional herring bone pattern beneath your feet and the whole room awash with light from the tall windows. One wall has the original chimney piece (true to form, all the chimneys in this home are clean and in good working order) and, opposite the windows, another pair of double doors open to a second salon overlooking the formal gardens to the back of the property with french doors leading outside. For large scale entertaining, the two rooms can join into one thanks to the generous size of the interlinking double doors. Each room is light filled, imposing in size, with high, high ceilings… and yet they feel warm and cherished…. this is still a family home, full time to the owners, but also to their children and their seven grandchildren during the holidays. The land is completely enclosed, so safe for both children and animals… (the owners keep two sheep to keep the grassland close cropped … although there is enough land to graze five horses).
Across the receiving hall are two more sets of matching double doors… the furthest, nearest the staircase, leads into the kitchen – and what a joy of a kitchen – a HUGE fireplace, which functions, an island unit providing workspace and also informal dining space, one wall filled with professional quality ovens and extractor units. The floor is languedocian tiles with the work areas delineated in tommettes – the old , handmade terra cotta tiles. To either side on the cooking wall there is a door, enabling access to the dining room beyond at the front of the chateau. The walls are about one metre thick… so kitchen noises would not intrude when dining, and the two doors enable food to be brought through one door and removed via the other – less risk of collisions when moving fast….
The dining room faces the front lawn and also looks out to the stable block to one side of the U shaped configuration. In addition to the doors from the kitchen, the dining room has tall double doors that lead back to the entrance/ receiving area. Once again, coffered ceilings with the most delicate plaster moulding, full of light, and again, elegant beyond belief… large enough to seat over a dozen people and still ride a bicycle around the table, the original chimneypiece, tall, tall windows – like all the rooms here everything is as it should be – the original design respected and hence functioning perfectly.
Practicalities have not been overlooked either, the ground floor has two toilets with washbasins and a smaller door off this corridor leads to an independent apartment with one bedroom and a generous living room / kitchen /dining room…. including independent access to the gardens outside.
The ground floor has a circular flow, with the receiving area as its axis, there is the ability to link rooms or to use smaller spaces as required … what surprised us both was the quality of light, many older buildings can be dark – but not this one. The situation must help, intelligently sited on a gently rising hill the chateau has no neighbours so light streams in… and gives beautiful views of the Pyrenees mountain range from nearly every window… to see it in later Spring and Summer would be a joy – enameled with flowers, the trees in leaf in the park, the sheep grazing …. possibly some horses in the vast stable block…. a quality of life that is rare.
On to the first floor…..
At the top of the stairs, to your left is the chateau office / library, with oak parquet flooring, delicate plaster mouldings , another lovely chimney piece, and full of charm. It is, perhaps , worth noting that, if one wished, all the rooms on this floor could be used as very generous bedrooms – the chateau could make the most stunning boutique hotel, with a mixture of bedrooms and suites – retaining the ground floor as ” public ” spaces… or, equally, a melange of studios and independent gites whilst retaining the chateau itself as purely personal space… the possibilities for income generation are many – with three entirely independent buildings allowing flexibility of choice and usage… the possibilities both for private and corporate hospitality are endless.
Next to the office / library is the games room – used by the current owners with their grandchildren in mind this is also used as a TV/cinema room…. a very light room with windows on two sides, the room is painted white to allow almost an entire wall as projection space … and continuing the “games ” theme a door leads to the billiard room – which holds a full size billiard table in its center – whilst french windows lead onto the stone balcony that looks out over the park to the mountains beyond… a marble chimney piece adds to the atmosphere.
Back to the generous, room sized landing, a curved arch leads left to a corridor with five bedrooms… the first bedroom has a full bathroom and WC ensuite, the second bedroom overlooks the swimming pool and park, this has a shower room with WC next door serving both this and the third bedroom (which would be loved by children of al ages as it has a “secret” space built into the slender tower abutting it). Bedroom 4 has french windows leading to a stone balcony that overlooks the park and more windows on the second wall – the attention to using light in the whole chateau is amazing – most likely the master bedroom, the generous en suite bathroom is gorgeous with it’s walk in Italian shower. At the end of the corridor is a laundry room… such a practical design … also worth mentioning is the brilliant idea of having plug in hoover points on all floors – no need for anyone to tote bulky machines up stairs …. so sensible in a property of approximately 1000 square metres!
Next to the second floor…
Originally the staff quarters, the ceilings at this level are more standard for the period, as are the windows, and the parquet is less detailed – but having said that, the chimney pieces are marble! The current owners have designed this floor to be two independent apartments, one of three rooms to the left at the top of the stairs , the other of four rooms to the right and directly above the bedrooms one floor below. All the plumbing and heating infrastructure is in place – all that is needed is for the new owner to choose fittings, plaster the walls and choose colour schemes. Two public spaces are planned for this level as well… one, a purpose planned cinema room, in mid-construction, and the second a lovely sitting room at the top of the stairs that looks out over the park to the front of the house.
At the end of the hall with the four rooms lies the staircase to the tower apartment – oval mansarded windows, sloping, steep pitched ceilings , following the line of the tower roofs, there is almost a ” mountain chalet ” feel to it… a seriously pretty space that just needs decorating to your taste. A second spiral staircase leads from one of the bedrooms on this hall up through the spire topped tower to the walkways around the chateau roof… the view from up here is truly astounding, with the countryside below laid out like a patchwork quilt and framed by the mountains in the distance.
On a practical level we would note that the roof has been addressed – a main and some subsidiary beams have been replaced and the tiling is in very good condition – it is also very lovely – especially the “fish scale” tiling to the slender tower. We would also note that internet and telephone contact is absolutely excellent…. ideal if one intends to do some work from home and superb for cable reception.
We then visited the cellars …. neither Jennifer nor I have ever seen cellars like these ! We wandered happily through arches with walls a metre and a half thick into cellar areas that house – the geothermic input / the backup oil fired central heating / the freezer section / the wine cellar section / the pool function area / and ( my favorite bit ) the area that houses the original heating boiler ! goodness how old it is – a real museum piece – still in place as to remove it would involve taking it to bits and some very heavy lifting !! and they are the cleanest cellars we have seen …..
We then exit the main chateau through the kitchen door that leads to the formal gardens and swimming pool area. The swimming pool is heated geothermically and there is a 6 person spa built next to it, housed in a wood building that has been designed in keeping with the style of the chateau…
To our left is a long low property with two pigeonier towers at the far end. It is a very, very pretty building with shutter clad windows all along its length and facing the pool and gardens. The current owners lived there for some years while restoration work was going on. That said, it needs updating but has three bedrooms, a very generous kitchen, oil fired central heating that runs totally separately from that of the chateau, and a bathroom that needs updating and replacing… plenty of space in the bathroom – but it has not been used for quite a long time.
Below this three bedroomed house is a huge amount of space, previously an apartment and storage space, which would lend itself to either continuing as storage space or could be altered to create another apartment plus private garage / larger apartment / apartment plus studio workshop… endless possibilities – all looking out to the home wood and grassland. Again, a carpet of cyclamens just waiting to flower.
On to the opposite wing of the U shaped grounds…
With your back to the wrought iron entrance gates you see the original wellhead – complete with pulley and ropes – and then the stables/barn building itself – 800 square metres on two floors! At ground floor, a huge workshop with an inspection pit fitted…. upstairs a hay barn…. then a carriage arch links the gardens to the stabling area. This really is the horse equivalent of a chateau…. seriously big loose boxes, five of them, and judging by the height of the feed mangers, these may well have been designed for carriage horses… a tack room with the saddle hangers still in place and, at the end, an additional barn, which, if extended could provide an indoor menage… Above it a 400 metre by 10 metre hay barn with open access to fork down feed and straw to the boxes below. This is the most gorgeous building, the sort of horse building that most people only dream of… close to the chateau, but far enough away to ensure that you would not know that there were horses on the property. If not required for horses it could be converted to very large and delightful human spaces…. additional guest accommodation / independent, income generating gites…. the scope is endless.
We would note that there is a spring fed water point at the perimeter of the land, that all the land is fenced and secure, all grassland, the current owner feels that there is good grazing for 5 horses. There are no neighbours, there is a tiny village with a restaurant ( the current owners spoke highly of it ) and there is a large village about 10 minutes away by car – very pretty village and with commodities. Air access is surprisingly good too, with Toulouse International Airport approximately 1 hour away. Access to the mountains and skiing and other winter sports are under an hour away. Approximately a three hour drive to the Mediterranean, this location provides the perfect mix of rural peace and security yet with everything this region offers within easy distance.
For more information or to arrange a viewing:
Terrington St. John
Tel: 0044 (0)1553 618834