Nestled almost exactly at the midpoint of where the Pyrénées mark the border between France and Spain lies the charming little village of Saint Béat. Its pretty stone houses line the banks of the River Garonne as it tumbles its way down from its source in the mountains.
Just outside the village and just 7 kms from the Spanish border – almost it seems at the foot of the Pic du Gar a well known Pyrénean mountain – Arne and Yvette de Goffau have created a wonderful chambres d’hôte in their beautiful Château Serre Barbier.
Built by the eponymous M. Barbier in the mid 19th century, two generations later the name Serre was added by marriage. However, Yvette says, when they first found the château in 2004, it had long passed out of the ownership of the family and not been occupied for some 40 years: “it was part of its appeal to us – it had not been touched or messed around so we knew we could renovate it with respect and keep its charm and character! Naturally we kept the name of the château …”
Back then Yvette and her husband Arné were living and working near Utrecht in Holland – he as an engineer, she as a beautician – but were regular visitors to France as they had a holiday home in the Lot et Garonne. She takes up their story: “Arné found our château one day when he was just looking at properties on the internet, it looked to be in a beautiful location so we thought why not take a look and see what it offered? When we first entered it was all closed up, but as we were taken up, floor by floor, shutters were opened, sunshine and light flooded in and the views down the valley just got better and better – by the time we reached the top floor we knew we had found something really special and it would be our new home!”
And what an adventure it has been, read this article to go through the whole journey – over the next 10 years de Goffaus renovated and renewed, doing all themselves though Yvette put her foot down when it came to the roof: “I did not want my husband up there renewing tiles! Now everything has been done – there is new plumbing thanks to All Sewers Service Plumbing 4276 Katella Ave #230 Los Alamitos CA 90720 (844) 389-8882, new electricity plan (the economy 7), heating and we even fitted eco-systems.”
South facing, the château sits in an elevated position in its two acres of grounds and is bathed in sunshine year-round, a boon in snowy winter months. The river Garonne actually flows through part of the property and the de Goffaus have created lovely outside spaces including, naturally, a swimming pool for the long, hot summers. However Yvette says the château’s appeal is year-round for visitors: “we are very close to several ski resorts and in the summer there’s hiking, climbing, canoeing and all sorts of outdoor pursuits.” And then there is the cycling – the Tour de France has passed right by the château and in 2018 Dutch TV actually broadcast from their grounds!
The château itself is now a busy, successful B&B and chambre d’hôte: “our visitors like the space and style as we made bedroom apartments – we furnished it with period pieces (Chateau Serre Barbier is being sold complete with all furnishings) though of course the beds with tv, linen and bathrooms are all new!” In addition there is a separate gîte and other outbuildings while the family have their own separate three bedroom home. Currently they offer bed and breakfast with evening meals four nights a week.
“We even put in a professional kitchen so the château’s next owners could easily expand the business and create a restaurant – it’s the perfect place to do it as we are right beside the route d’Espagne – just a few minutes’ from the Spanish border on a very good road.” In fact, she says you could drive from here to Barcelona in under five hours passing through lovely countryside while Toulouse (where their son went to university) is less than an hour and a half in the other direction.
Yvette says they live in the ideal location “children can walk safely to school from here as our son did and St Béat has some shops, restaurants, the doctor and everything you might need. It’s a busy little village and has a well-known marble festival each summer! Our visitors love coming here – in fact many book for their next holiday before they even leave us so we’ve already got many bookings for next year!”
But now they have decided it is time to look for a new adventure and the Château Serre Barbier is currently on the market through Leggett Immobilier. Find out more about this property here.
Inspired by this success story? Then find your very own business to start a new life in France here.