Have I ever divulged to you the story of how we came to own Le Moulin de la Quentinière? Well, grab a drink, sit back and relax … 

Back in 2006, we were a family of 4 - mum, dad and daughter aged 7 and a son aged 6. We were settled in our little 3 bed terraced house and looking for a holiday bolt hole. I had been taking Spanish lessons for a while, keen to find a lovely Spanish hideaway - we visited Barcelona that year and it was - and is - a great city, very laidback, full of culture and history… but, I digress. 
It was a Thursday night and me being more of a night owl than an early bird (side note: most mothers will agree that no matter what your proclivity was before children, you come to positively relish the hours after bath and story time and before the school run), I was sat passing time on my computer in the wee hours whilst the rest of the family were tucked up in bed. Scrolling through the many local chat forums on Facebook, I came across a post by a lady in my town. She explained that she was posting on the off chance that someone might be interested in purchasing her cousin’s property in France. Well, the accompanying photo showed a pretty 5 bedroom house set in the French countryside being sold for the equivalent of less than the cost of a one bedroom flat where we lived! I was so taken by the look of the property - and the price - that I ran upstairs and woke my husband to show it to him. He sleepily agreed that it looked lovely and we contacted the buyer to see if we coud have a viewing.  
That very same weekend, we left the children with their grandparents and, via the Eurotunnel, drove a 4 hour scenic journey; over the gorgeous Pont de Normandie - how impressive is that bridge, omg - through Rouen, Bagnole de l’Orne, Flers, Domfront - to reach the village of Désertines. 
Driving towards our destination, we felt the comfort and ease of the open countryside, the wide open space of rural France. When we arrived at Le Moulin de la Quentinière we were awestruck. Our first impression was how absolutely gorgeous it was. 
Susan, the owner of the property, came out to greet us. She explained that she was Welsh by birth and a journalist. She and her husband had moved to France to start their lives together. Her husband, being a keen ballroom dancer, had found Le Moulin de la Quentinière and had had the vision to refurbish it and run ballroom dancing classes there. They could see its great potential; the spaciousness of the plot, the fact that there wasn’t too much land so they wouldn’t have to spend every waking hour cutting the grass, lol, and, being behind a gated entrance, the site would remain exclusive to whoever was invited in. 
After having their wedding in Le Moulin - this was before the refurbishment and even they were amazed that none of their 100+ guests didn’t fall through the woodworm infested floor boards - the couple had two children. Their children, a girl and a boy, were born in quick succession. Tragedy then followed with the husband passing away suddenly. Left on her own with two small children and without her family nearby, Susan decided that she wanted to return to her family with her young children so put the property up for sale…. 
Fast forward to myself and my hubby going for that fateful viewing. As we sat in the cosy kitchen of La Petite Maison, the phone was ringing off the hook with - as we were told - prospective buyers. Indeed, as we drank our mugs of tea - all business is conducted over a hot cup of tea - a developer and his wife waited outside, having a look round while we spoke with Susan. 
Our next shock came when we were told that no, we weren’t just getting the 5 bedroom house that was La Petite Maison - albeit with a small part of the roof missing - but the whole entire site! This included La Petite Maison which back then on the ground floor had a traditional dark wooden and tile kitchen, an interconnecting door through to Le Moulin, a salon with dining room leading to a library/office with floor to ceiling dark wooden bookcases. There were also 5 garages open to the elements, 2 barns (with animal excrement encrusted floors), the little gite which had been uninhabitable for decades and an outdoor storage space. Looking back, we didn’t even realise what a daunting prospect we were about to undertake. We were overcome with the size and beauty of the place, the gorgeous location, surrounded by rolling fields and clear blue skies. 
After discussing the details and transferring a deposit to Susan, we returned home to let our family know our good news. Our next trip over was with our family, so they could see Le Moulin de la Quentinière for themselves. 
With our children aged 8 and 7, initially all we did was enjoy holidaying at our French idyll. Whilst at Le Moulin, our children would scramble to see who could be the first to go and sit on the ride-on mower with their father, taking the 40 minutes or so to cut the grass, lol. My husband and I relished the quiet calm of the French countryside with a glass - or two - of our local wine, rose d’anjou, with the obligatory crusty baguette and lovely creamy cheeses. We explored lots of our neighbouring towns; the picturesque Fougères boasting the largest chateau in Europe, the magnificent splendour of Le Mont St Michel, the gorgeous beaches of Dinard, St Malo and Granville, shopping in the vibrant city of Rennes, learning the history of Joan of Arc on a day out to Rouen and plenty besides. 
It was to be just over 6 months before we bit the bullet and decided to tackle the behemoth that was the refurbishment… 
Only 6 months in and already we felt like we were welcomed as locals. We had met our local Maire, Bruno Lestas, the proprietaire of our very own village café, Martine, and Angeline, who runs the beauty parlour in the village. 
Martine’s was a lovely place and a great find. With our village of Désertines being only a 15 minute walk away and the exchange rate of a whopping 1.5 euros to the pound, the 15€ for a 3 course plat du jour with drink was a very affordable luxury. 
The children loved having all the space outside to play and, once we had the delivery of sand and gravel for the start of the building works, they also had their own construction site to explore (no judgment please!) 
Now, looking at the additional 500 sq metres of site that we needed to renovate, it was obvious that we needed to get some funds together. So, off to the bank we went. We were told that the first thing we needed to do was to get the quaint but ultimately decrepit roof replaced. The devis came in at a whopping 60,000€! OMG!! We had spent practically all of our savings buying the site - we didn’t even have a second car that we could sell. Hubby shopped around and found another artisan who could do the job for the more realistic figure of just over 20,000€, a lot less but where would we find that sort of cash?? 
Were we going to fall at the first hurdle? Not likely! Back then in 2007, we were fired up by the prospect of creating a beautiful home that all our family and friends could enjoy. So, my husband, Andrew, had a chat with his Dad and the wonderful person that he is, he offered to re-mortgage his home to provide us with some of the funds. 
Side note: The purchase of our French adventure followed Andrew’s mum’s death and acted as a new focus for his dad. Reg was a constant companion every Thursday to Sunday. 
I also had an endowment policy (anyone remember those back in the day?) from the purchase of my first flat that I’d continued to pay into. We cashed that in and added it to the remortgage monies and managed to get the funds to pay for the roof. 
So, we commissioned the roof company and works started in around May 2007 and took approximately 3 weeks. It was all hands on deck; we roped in family and friends to help out. Andrew’s dad, at age 68, drew on his skills as an ex RAF cook to rustle up full english breakfasts for all the workers, every morning serving up 2 fried eggs, half a plate of baked beans, 2 sausages, 4 rashers of bacon, at least 4 rounds of toast and a large mug of proper builders tea to each and every one of them. I’m actually surprised they were able to move afterwards but they did. 
Once the roof was done, off we went to the bank to talk mortgages. We knew at this point that we were going to need serious funds to go ahead with all the refurbishment works. Luckily for us, once the roof was done, the property was actually worth a lot more than we paid for it at 620,000€. (Oops, I forgot to say we’d paid Susan her asking price of 225,000€ / £150,000 for the whole site). The bank agreed a loan of 495,000€ and we motored ahead. 
Hubby spent every weekend driving to France for the next 12 months, accompanied by my dad and his own. My dad, Charles, is a plasterer by trade so we encouraged his busman’s holiday, lol. For his own part, my lovely little dad, had developed a soft spot for the proprietaire of our local restaurant, Martine. My dad doesn’t speak French so Martine’s very friendly, “bonjour Monsieur, ça va bien?” and a kiss on both cheeks was something he had not encountered and brought a soft rosy glow to his cheeks every time. 
I remember my first step into Le Moulin. I opened the sliding door into what is now the front door into the dining room. I stared into the pit of darkness, literally not being able to see past the huge spider webs across the door. Yes, that was my first and last time until those same spiders were evicted! The only way upstairs was a rickety spiral wooden staircase, rotten with live woodworm, Yuck. How do I know they were live ? Well, myself and the kids decided to help rip out the rotten floorboards. As the men passed us the boards to throw outside, my son asked what the small wiggly things were on each board? OMG, you’ve never seen me drop something as fast!!! 
Although at least it wasn’t me who found the huge mound of excrement in the middle of the top floor… 
The first Christmas as owners of our very own ‘French chateau’ loomed ahead. The mill was still very much a derelict shell. La Petite Maison, however, had had the hole in the roof repaired so was now whole and the cosy retreat we had envisioned. With the children and Andrew’s dad, we decorated the house and tree we’d managed to get earlier that weekend and headed off to the nearest supermarket for the essentials for our Christmas meal. 
Now, at this point, I will put my hands up and admit that as the nominated ‘cooker of the Christmas meal’ I should have done my research but hey, the romance of the moment took over. So, imagine my horror, getting to the meat section in the shop to realise that I had no idea what the word for ‘turkey’ was in French! This was 2007 so no whipping out my phone to check with trusty Google either, lol. Lightbulb moment! We’ll just buy the biggest bird, that’s bound to be a turkey, right ? Er, mais non - as they say in France - that big bird turned out to be a goose (which I realised on Christmas Eve when it had defrosted). Long story short, we managed to pour off 3 trays of goose fat - kept one lot, basted the roasties in the other and the goose with the remaining - and had the tastiest Christmas roast ever ;) 
We’d taken on this huge project; it’s amazing looking back now and remembering all the work, the long hours, the journeys over to France… 
Our first drive over to France from our home in Buckinghamshire took 8 hours on the road. We would drive 1.5 hours to Dover to get a Eurotunnel crossing. It was such an adventure back then. We’d go into the terminal to check out the duty free and grab something to eat and a hot drink. Then a 40 minute crossing in the comfort of our own vehicle before exiting at Calais. Ahead of us was a 4 hour drive taking in Rouen, Gace, Argentan, La Ferte Mace, Domfront and Passais La Conception before arriving in our little village of Désertines. 
As we headed into the new year, the challenge ahead of us was to create something that we could enjoy as a family, that would eventually pay for itself and - more importantly - be ready in time to celebrate my 40th in May that year :) 
We had benefitted from the kindness of our neighbours; we were gifted home brewed pommeau (it had magical powers that stuff - more of that later) invited to some great parties at the home of Nicky and Steve, enjoyed lovely meals with homegrown produce prepared by Mandy and Christophe and, in particular, Robert and Mary, who lived in the house at the top of our road. Robert became a great asset, he is such a skilled artisan. (Btw, all the lovely woodwork on our site was Robert’s beautiful handiwork). 
Quick aside: when the children were little, for Halloween at our home in the UK, they would invite some of their friends round for a party then go trick or treating. After a trip to a french supermarket, my daughter found a few ‘items’ that she could use for a party game. Imagine the scene - kids blindfolded and having to put their hand into covered boxes and guess the contents. My lovely daughter thoroughly enjoyed the squeals of disgust when her friends realised they were touching and smelling pigs brains!! 
One memory I’ll share with you: there were - and are - many weird and wonderful foodstuffs in France. Anyway, Mary decided to treat us to a local French dish. Unfortunately, there are times in my life when I’ve realised it is better to disguise what one is dishing up (a) to get it past whoever you’re serving it to, for instance, ‘hiding’ a multitude of veg in the bolognese (mothers out there will know what I mean) and (b) because it looks totally inedible and definitely not eatable as a dear friend of mine would say. 
I’m so sorry Mary but the dish served up did not tick the boxes of the two criteria above. Seeing the huge, flaccid, ashen coloured cow tongue sitting in the surrounding gelatinous liquid….  
The following narrative is from my husband, Andy. 
As Dorn got more and more excited at the prospect of being able to celebrate her 40th in France, it was the incentive for us to refurbish the property from head to toe and the enormity of what was in front of us struck home. We made the decision that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. So, every weekend myself, Dorn’s dad and my dad would travel over. 
We’d worked out that we were going to construct Le Moulin over 4 floors with 5 bedrooms. We wanted the rooms to feel like suites and portray the space we lack generally in England due to the high land costs. 
Most of our time was spent taking deliveries whilst designing and building over 10,000 square-foot of property. This included 10 bedrooms between the two houses, adding power data infrastructure which was missing on a dilapidated property previously used for housing chickens, it was extensive. 
Our only access in Le Moulin was via a ladder through a small access hole cut into each of the 3 upper floors: no small feat for my father-in-law who was nearly as wide as he was tall ! I will mention that his hands were like paddles so as soon as I’d hoisted up a bucket of mix for him, he’d already got it on the wall before I’d got back down the ladder to the ground floor! 
We cut holes in floorboards to expose rafters to allow us to get all of our materials and each room was boarded from floor to ceiling. All the insulation was done to the maximum; walls were filled with extra insulation, the flooring had electric underfloor heating installed with a fibrous screed to give the best comfort in the long term. Bathrooms were designed to be spacious to house a family and all included walk-in showers, soaker tubs and double sinks to give that feeling of decadence. We sourced materials from all across the world, including 1200m of oak flooring from China, suitable for underfloor heating, porcelain tiles shipped direct from Spain each one weighing 20 kg. All moved by hand into place.  
40 tonne deliveries of moisture resistant chipboard and strong friends helping manually manoeuvre through the joists was back breaking. The job was made even more difficult by the discovery of the local plat du jour for 9€ (1.52 to the pound back then) at Martine's along with a carafé of wine, creating a blood pressure issue each afternoon! 
After completing the install of the base, we set upon framing out the walls. My background was graphic design and signs, so adobe illustrator was used to create floor plans and elevations. 
Damien was our artisan plumber and electrician. Superb man, excellent quality and workmanship. We got to know him over 3 years and we never understood a word each other said but a nod and a smile meant we knew each other’s requirements. 
Once complete, we were left with a 4 storey building with basement, 3ft thick external walls with 6” oak beams at 16” centres which all added to the adventure of converting a derelict Moulin into a fantastic Complex. 
The impending party gave us the focus and each week we concentrated on small targets to get to the end goal. Everyone worked tirelessly and, come the following May, we were able to host a fantastic black and white masquerade party with around 50 of our friends and family coming from far and wide to enjoy a stay at Le Moulin de la Quentinière. 
A major milestone birthday is the time to celebrate with friends old and new, as well as those dear family members (I am one of 9 offspring so my family seem huge; hubby is an only child so it seems a lot quieter on his side, lol) and we were so chuffed with our lovely French idyll and wanted to share it. 
Anyway, the invitations went out and we were overwhelmed by the lovely positive responses we received. So many people said ‘yes’ that we had to create a room plan! Luckily, most of our bods didn’t mind sharing a room. My [girl] cousins and a couple of my sisters bunked in La Lune, one of the larger bedroom suites - oh, I forgot to say that we didn’t actually have much in the way of furniture so ended up getting a job lot of airbeds and birthday present requests were mainly for duvets and pillows. It was great fun, loads of us girlies crashed the girls’ pad to share hair dryers, hair tongs, make up, get advice on what we were wearing, sample the local beverages with a pre-party sampling sess’… 
Music was via my DJ brother, Michel - who had to put away his drum and base persona and contend with my 80s playlist - and my sound technician friend, Simon, who also brought his sound system. My best friend from my stint in Moseley, Birmingham, flew back from Canada with her hubby and daughter in tow, school friends rocked up, new local friends that we’d made, a whole gang of my friends from our new home in Marlow as well as some of my hubby’s TKD colleagues…. yes, that brings me to the story of my surprise cake... 
My lovely hubby commissioned a bespoke cake to be made for my birthday. All in secret, I had no clue. 
I had travelled to LMQ beforehand to get everything ready. The arrangements for getting everyone else over to LMQ was that we hired two mini buses, with my hubby and his good friend, Ian, driving the 8 hour door to door journey. My husband securely wedged the cake at the back of the bus he was driving, in between all the bags and suitcases. We arranged a stop off, part way, at the Buffalo Grill in Rouen so that everyone could have a break and refuel. The boys did a sterling job, (even putting up with my sisters’ insistence at stopping for an extended shopping trip at the duty free shops at the eurotunnel). 
So, just under 8 hours later, the buses turned up at LMQ. Everyone disembarked, grabbed their bags and came in to find out where they were all going to be sleeping. Ian, in his wisdom, decided he needed to go out to get some alcohol, grabbing the keys to the minibus that Andrew had been driving …. unfortunately - and unbeknown to Ian - the cake was still in the back, without the surrounding cushion of the bags and suitcases… Suffice to say, after it’s subsequent roller coaster ride in the back of the minibus on its way to Gorron, the cake did not survive and I didn’t actually get to see it in its eventual state. There is a photo of it somewhere of how it did look originally. 
The party arrangements got underway. I spent hours in the big kitchen of Le Moulin, cooking up a storm for our guests. Some of my girlfriends joined me, creating some lovely dishes. There were lots of bottles of crémant (a lovely sparkling wine not too dissimilar to champagne but without the hefty price tag), red and white wine, spirits, etc. 
Once we were ready, photos were taken and everyone milled around, chatting and enjoying the food and music. Now that the pressure was off, I wandered up to our allocated room for a quick nap… 
The next day I was too embarrassed to confess to all my guests that after all the build up, the excitement, the anticipation, I had slept through almost the entire party, hahahaha! 
A good time was had by all - so I was told - and we were to do it all again for my daughter’s 16th - after we’d built the leisure complex of course…. 
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"Great place, wonderful host and most peaceful surrounding. The swimming pool was a hit, and the playroom a delight, what you'd need to make an unforgettable vacation" 
Henri & Rachel  
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