About Us

Contact Us


May Editorial

2001 Archives

First Chapters
November Issue
July Editorial
August Editorial
September Ed l
October Editorial
October Editorial 2

October Ed 3

November Ed 1
November Ed 2
December Ed 1
December Ed 2
January 1
January 2
February 1
February 2
February 3


March 6th 2002
Sam North

If you feel tempted to buy a ruin you may find that it is several years before you can actually occupy it

Region: Dordogne : City - Sarlat

Image: Sarlat Film Festival 2001

It must be everyone’s romantic ideal – fly to France, buy a summer home for around £12 - 20,000 and dream of long French summers to come. The crazy thing is that in the villages outside Sarlat – a pretty medieval town in the Perigord Noir there are many properties with a starting price as low as £20,000 for a simple pied a terre. But caveat empor if you have romantic ideas about renovation; if it is cheap and it looks like a ruin it is a ruin! The walls might be thick as a castle but you will need a new roof, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, plumbing, electricity - which is why the French like new homes. Something else to beware of, local by-laws.

For instance, in Salignac, the village of a hundred ruins, the local mayor has decreed that all the concrete scree that covers most dwellings have to come off. Now I am all sympathetic to a Mayor who must hate pebbledash as much as myself, but getting this stuff off is tough and requires many weeks and hours of chipping and cursing to remove it. It’s one thing to insist upon the aesthetic for your village, but it may be the one thing holding your new home up. Why is it there in the first place? to stop the damp getting in. So not only do you have to renew the doors and ceilings and roof, scrape off the concrete covering the stones, but then you have to seal it and point it and who knows what horror story you might find once you remove this ‘seal ’. For one thing you will find that most of your house is made of rubble. The more you chip off, the more nervous you will become. Something that might set you back £30-40,000 for a three-bed 800-year-old town house may end up costing £100,000 (if you are lucky!).

Right now in Salignac (a fifteen-minute drive from Sarlat) there is a huge town centre ex-convent for sale. OK there is a crack half a mile wide in the back and the ground floor looks pretty ropey, but I am assured that it is amazing inside with the largest fireplace outside of Hampton Court. It comes with furniture that would make Antiques Roadshow pop their corks and the locals just think it’s ‘ugly’ and old. What they would really like is some early Eisenhower period furniture with a dash of Formica™…

How much for this? It has so many bedrooms I lost count. It is a mere snip at £100,000 plus around 6.5 -10 percent tax and ‘Notaire’ costs. Then you begin the renovations….at the barest minimum you can double it. Why would you buy it? Well it would make a great hotel and it is dab smack in the centre by the old market. Parking might be a sod but you could get a few cars at the back. It could be divided into apartments or you could just be rich and lonely and like being isolated for seven months of the year.

Of course, as everything is made of of a tough, golden stone (some locally mined near Soulliac) these houses are very, very cold and damp when the wind blows and it blows a lot in winter.

One Scotsman who came to live in Salignac two years ago has experienced many of these problems. Barry Paton and his partner Fiona Alderman have settled there. They bought a 800 year old townhouse and set up a little company that offers video and dance training, location scouting and more sensibly servicing ex-pats who have bought homes out here. His company will take over the running of lettings, repairs, finding plumbers and the like and the changeovers when tenants leave. It is pretty essential to have someone there to do all this. Something always goes wrong.

Barry bought his Salignac hobbitt house on the hill two years ago and seen it rise in value since then. It is nicely situated by the ruined Chateau that gives the village it’s name – an imposing place that stands like a fortress in 'Lord of the Rings' at one end of a valley. A tiny hamlet of houses are stashed below it and one can see something like a ‘Gormenghast’ existence for those who once inhabited this vast pile of stone and those who serviced it.

Finding the right property Barry says is not easy. He viewed over forty before he bought his place (three floors with a curious ‘cave’ at the back he hopes to turn into a dance studio for his partner Fiona who teaches the Merce Cunningham method of dance there). Both of them stressed that whatever you buy make sure it is immediately habitable. If you feel tempted to buy a ruin you may find that it is several years before you can actually occupy it and finding artisans who will do the work that is needed is hard and they can be temperamental. There are horrors stories of roofers who hold Brits to ransom on wet days.

Elsewhere in Salignac you can see many abandoned homes. Some houses are of a very pleasing design and well situated. It is a puzzle as to why they are empty and rotting until you discover that under French inheritance law virtually any relative can contest a will and the disputes can continue for ‘generations’. Also this region suffered from years of neglect, high unemployment and the decline of agriculture, as well as a continual drift to the urban centres. The empty Chateau must have also contributed to the loss of pride in Salignac, only now returning with the dynamic and ambitious Mayor. So yes, there are bargains to be had right now, but these will disappear, as the region is about to become very accessible.

By train from London it takes about eight hours via Paris and Austerlitz station. The train is excellent from Paris going via Limoges. But Buzz (the airline that knows how to charge you twice) is flying into Bergerac from April 2002 and this is just forty minutes away from Sarlat. It makes Salignac a weekend possibility.

The English are coming, but so are the Dutch and the Belgians, snapping up the ruins for their summer sojourns. In summer, I am assured the countryside comes alive (May to September) but rest assured it is deceased out of those periods. You will be able to watch the walnut trees grow in perfect solitude. If you are the kind of person who hankers after retiring to such quiet places, then be aware that it will be very quiet in the winter. Luckily Salignac boasts a brilliant patisserie so there is at least one place to go to while away the long hours…

You might be better off buying in a city like Sarlat. It might only be a city of 10,000 souls in winter but in the summer it receives a million visitors to its quaint streets and quirky markets. Make no mistake Sarlat is gorgeous. It has around 60 restaurants and er.. at least sixty hairdressers, and every shop sells just one thing Foie Gras.

You probably think I am kidding. But no, that’s it. Postcards, bread, chocolate and foie gras. You can go on school trips to watch the poor geese and ducks being force-fed. The corn growing in the fields is only for the geese and ducks. This is what they do in the Perigord Noir, stuff geese and make foie gras. Of course the food in the restuarants is excellent. We had a meal in Café De Paris on the market square and for around £9 quid you get the set menu, foie gras, duck casserole and crème caramel. Of course you will need a long walk to burn it off, but fortunately there’s plenty to see as you inch your way through the narrow packed streets. Make sure you go to see the biggest doors in the world. You’ll know it when you see it. Of course a little embellishment might have gone a long way or some graffiti but then again, the French are not quite as reverential about their history as the Brits and get careless from time to time with restorations. They aren't too picky about sympathetic modern designs either and the effect can be rather jarring. Witness the Tax office in Sarlat like looks like a giant Macdonalds.

For film buffs, there is a four screen cinema tin the city (The Rex) and they have the Sarlat Film Festival here every year around November. In 2001 Sylvester Stallone turned up and Eddie Murphy. Quite why is a puzzle, but there you go. They tend not to show ‘version originale’ so will need to know your French.

So if you really want to buy in this region and you have found a ruin you’ll need a lawyer. Luckily the UK lawyers Siddals will make it easy for you. They will help you buy, sort out the inheritance problems, help you get a Carte de Sejour (your residence card) and social security numbers and suchlike.
Or phone them in the UK at (0044) (0)1329 288 641 and they will send you a pack on how to buy in France.

Having bought your ruin, fixed the roof, installed some beds and want to let it out when you aren’t there well then you will need Barry to look after it. His ‘Gites to the gentry’ comes highly recommended.
email him at Salignac Foundation

So is it worth buying a ruin? Right now buying the right place in the right location that is close to trains or at least on a bus route is going to be very lettable. If you want liveable, then stick close to the cities so there will be hospitals and services for emergencies. Find a place like Salignac that still has upward potential and watch the prices rise. Certainly you will need French, the locals are very friendly but just don’t mention the 100 years war!
My tip? Buy in winter when prices are cheap – repent in summer

*I might add that beware of EVER changing your flight plans with Buzz; they charged me a whole new fare to return early despite the plane being half empty. Personally I would suggest that Buzz can be a very bad deal if you have problems or miss a flight check-in by even a minute. If you can book ahead, use the train. It goes from Waterloo-Paris – (change stations) and Soulliac (where you can get a fast bus to Sarlat). Either that or fly to Bordeaux and catch the train direct to Sarlat. It costs 5.30 Euro from the airport to the train and 18 Euro for a one way to Sarlat.

Local Places of interest:
Castelnaud and Les Milandes (Josephine Baker’s orphange)
Domme, Sarlat, Vezere,
Lascaux (the Cro- Magnon cave paintings)
Beune Valleys.

Airports Bordeaux/Bergerac
Trains: Soulliac–Paris- 4 hours
Sarlat – Bordeaux - 4 hours

Local English news

Salignac Foundation Video Training
Sarlat Film Festival (last year's roundup)

Walter Roberts writes about cloning babies. Right or wrong it is going to happen. Read about it in Life Choice. Robert Cooper risks leaving London to explore authentic England and falls upon Tunbridge Wells - he is not a happy bunny. Meanwhile Kevin and Diane from the States have travelled to Zambia and Vietnam and have much to say about what they saw there. Ian Bowie who lives in Finland is missing his pint, so gives a potted history of the pub; useful information next time you are stuck in a pub quiz I should think. Colin Field has been treading in Kerouac's footsteps. Thumb a ride with him in Kerouac - the sequel.
Al Humphreys is still cycling around the world aiming for the Sudan, James Campion is very upset about Donald Rumsfeld and Shana Ting Lipton has a word of advice about spiritual excesses. Also James Skinner on european violence in the home and Dave Rich visits Myanmar.

© Sam North 2002 - Editor

Read CARELESS LIVES - a novel in progress -

Missed February's Issue? Read it here

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Carine Thomas - Publisher - A Brighter Image Company
Kit and Co



< Back to Index

Hackwriters - an independent writer's magazine - all rights reserved © 2001-2002