Anthony Silver met his future wife, Marianne, in 1981, when they were both working in London. He was director of sales in a trading company and she worked for a multi-national pharmaceutical company. They sold their house in Muswell Hill, north London in 1993, through estate agent Winkworth, to pursue a common dream — of running a gîte business in France.
They chose a house in the Tarn, called le Manoir de la Maysou. They felt that the area offered the perfect blend of warmth, countryside, delicious food produce and a local international airport, Toulouse.
Once the noble fief (1740) of Felix de Costecaude, musketeer to the King of France, then a hunting lodge for nobility (1772) and family home for more than 200 years, the property was sold in 1986 as a weekend home to chic Parisians. Then, in 1993, the couple rediscovered it and, with the help of an architect and local artisans, they renovated the 18th century “castle” to create a charming guesthouse. The impressive 750sq m Manoir borders the river and stands in six acres of mature parkland with 200-year-old cedars, pool and outbuildings. The house is approached via massive black wrought-iron gates, dating from 1873. Surrounded by vineyards, countryside and eight golf courses, it is within easy reach of the Mediterranean, Atlantic coast and Pyrenees.
The Silvers renovated their home, rewiring and replumbing it. They preserved most of the original features, including marble and wooden fireplaces, terracotta-tiled and parquet floors and original leaded glass windows. The beamed ceiling in the entrance hall is decorated with the fleur de lys symbol, from pre-French Revolution days. The Silvers found it hidden under layers of wallpaper. There are several reception rooms, with large and/or French windows leading to a patio and terrace for outside dining. The first floor offers seven rooms and six bathrooms.
One of the rooms is called the Louis d’Or — harking back to a find during renovation. “There was this moment of suspense when the painters discovered something unusual in the thick walls: a Napoleonic safe,” says Mrs Silver. “A professional was called out — more used to opening the bank vaults than a private safe. But, severely intrigued and, like every one else present, dreaming of a treasure of louis d’or, the old French legal tender, he did his utmost to open the thing – only to discover it was empty.”
On the second floor, the Silvers call what is now the cinema room the “owl room” — because owls had moved in by the time they bought it. The owls moved on to a big fir tree nearby.
The Silvers opened for business in summer 1997. Within a year, they were featured in the exclusive Gîtes de Charmes guide book (“gold dust,” says Mrs Silver) and thereafter in many other guide books. They have recouped the money spent on the property. It is a tax-efficient business. By creating a limited company, they could claim back VAT, while turnover was below the corporation tax threshold.
The Silvers have now been running their gîte for close to 15 years. However, Mr Silver has now restarted his old job part-time, as he was missing the energy of the city and Mrs Silver says she is feeling a little “burnt out”. Consequently, they have bought a smaller house in their local village — and their gîte is on the market. And in a remarkable display of customer loyalty spanning 16 years, it is on the market through Winkworth.