Alison, Paul and their renovation in the Tarn

Sophie Duncan
6 min readJan 9, 2023

My light hearted but informative tales from France are inspired by 22 years restoring a sandstone Renaissance castle in the Aude department of South West France’s Occitania.

In 2018 we appeared, with our castle at St Ferriol, on Escape to the Château DIY. This popular English television programme about quirky Brits taking on the ruined and ruinous glamour of France’s aristocratic history led me to find out more about other foreigners in France taking on these enchanted money pits.

Whilst researching it I had an opportunity to explore parts of France I had not, until then that I made the time for and meet Château rescuers in different parts of the country.

Larking at Lalande

In sight from our castle, beyond a chequered valley and perched on a blazing red escarpment sits Rennes le Château, our sister Château of Dan Brown and Holy Blood fame. It is home to legends of earthly and spiritual treasure: The grail, apostolic secrets and an extraordinary priest who some say got away with murder.

Audacious wilderness

The area stands alone, without these mysteries, in its exquisite beauty. The independent culture of the area reaches back beyond Roman times, superimposing on the France that we know, a fascinating richness of history and savoir faire.

Alison and Paul are relatively close by on the other side of Toulouse in the Tarn. While the Aude has a little bit of a reputation for alternative lifestyles the Tarn is somewhat affectionately known as Tinsel Tarn.


Alison and Paul were inspired by Chaos at the Castle

Attracted to the rich history and culture of France, Paul had always wanted, one day, to have a home there. Alison had always wanted to learn a second language and believed that would only ever happen if she lived in the country.

They knew that fabulous properties were affordable in France. In 2003 they sat down and wrote a wish list. They wanted to be within striking distance of a big city, walking distance to a village that had a bar and a bakery, and to have the perfect spot…



Sophie Duncan

I write about France, Oxford, dogs, love and more. Sign up for my newsletter today, find Beyond Paris - a Short Guide to Rural France on Amazon