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Properties in rural France are known for their iconic shutters, sweeping vines and rustic stone walls. Many of them are used as second homes and holiday lets for Britons looking to escape the bustle of English cities for the lush French countryside. However, many old French gîtes take years of renovating and DIY before they become the country havens they are today.
British expat Enasha de Zoysa, who will be appearing on Channel 5’s new series Allo! Allo! Brits in France, has revealed the challenges she faced when renovating a barn into the two French gîtes she has today.
The 51-year-old single mum to 11-year-old Xavier, managed to renovate a barn and set up her own business in the beautiful Dordogne in southwest France.
Gîte Les Fontanelles in Sarlat-la-Canéda is the perfect spot for city dwellers who are looking to take a break from the bustle and drink in fresh air, log fires, incredible views and stay in a beautifully-converted stone barn.
The property was renovated using “local materials” and techniques which maintained the stonework that was already in place.
The entire renovation took Enasha over 10 years to complete, five of which she did by herself after she split from her ex-partner in 2016.
The photo taken before the barn’s renovation was taken when Enasha first bought the property.
She told Express.co.uk: “It looked a bit like a prison!”
One of the key features Enasha wanted for the barn was a verandah to remind her of her Sri Lankan roots.
She said: “They all have verandahs [in Sri Lanka] and that’s where I’ve got my view – it’s really gorgeous.
“You can see miles into the distance with all the hills and everything.”
Enasha also did a lot of the gardening herself and even planted vines so she gets fresh grapes in the summer.
However, this wasn’t the most challenging part of the project.
The “major challenge” was right at the beginning of the major renovation.
She explained: “Because the building is made out of stone, it was actually held together with mud!
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“We had to hose down the walls and I remember I was there with my ex-partner and he was standing on ladders hosing down these walls.
“We had concrete on the floor and we had to sweep out all the muddy water into the garden.
“After that, you had to do something called ‘pointing’ which is where you have to infill all around the stone.
“You can see the size of the building – that took months.”
Enasha explained the technique involves mixing up cement and then putting it in between the gaps.
The cement can “slide off” so they mixed it with washing up liquid in order to make it easier to apply.
You then have to leave it to dry before moving onto the next step.
She continued: “Then, we were there with a dustpan and a metal brush.
“There’s an optimal point before the cement fully dries and you have to brush it off and rub it off.
“At one point, we had about four volunteers helping us and we would be spending weeks doing just that.
“But it makes the stone look really pretty because the cement is made with sand that’s quarried in the local area.”
Enasha said they also used French oak from local trees and stones from the local area when they were needed.
She added: “Levering all the stone into place is pretty hard work as well. Everything is pretty much done by hand.
“It is actually harder to renovate an old house than it is to build a new one.”
The new Channel 5 series Allo! Allo! Brits in France follows the lives of British expats who have decided to make France their new home.
One episode of the programme will follow Enasha on her dating journey as a single mum in France – from the countryside to the streets of Paris.
Enasha said she hadn’t had a date in around 13 years, having spent her time renovating and looking after her son.
With the help of her friends, she sets up a dating profile on the hunt for a partner.
If you fancy staying at Gîte Les Fontanelles, check out her website here.
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