When Paul Solomons took friend Sarah Griffith on a surprise trip to France she assumed it was to show her the house of his dreams, the rural retreat where he hoped to retire.
Little did she know that Chateau Charly, a rundown,32-acre property in France’s Loire Valley, was destined for so much more.
Aid-worker Sarah, who founded Guernsey charities Bridge 2 Sri Lanka and Bridge 2 Haiti,had just got back from a traumatic trip to Haiti and was shell-shocked, but intrigued by the mystery tour.
En route, Paul had arranged accommodation at two lovely chateaux. ‘Make a note of everything you like in the rooms,’ he told Sarah. That’s when she knew he was up to something.
The destination was 19th-century Chateau Charly – picture perfect from a distance, in a clear state of decline close-up. Dazed and confused, Sarah followed her friend around the property and the pair left having agreed that although it would be a fantastic location for a bed and breakfast, the place needed too much work.
‘That was in March last year. In July, Soli [Paul] phoned me and said, ‘I’m buying it’,’ she said.
When the keys swapped hands in October, the enormity of the project dawned. But Paul had a plan for the chateau – and the penny still hadn’t dropped for Sarah.
‘He said, ‘You’ve got to help me.’ ‘’Soli, I’m going out to Sri Lanka, I’ve got fundraising to do,’ I said.’
But fund-raising was exactly what the wealthy businessman had in mind.
Paul planned to use his money – and Sarah’s help – to transform Chateau Charly into a luxury B&B.
But here’s the thing. Instead of making it a business, they would make it a not-for-profit organisation, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to Sarah’s two charities.
Even more ingenious was that guests would be invited to decide the value of the stay themselves.
‘We think it’s a world first. We don’t think anybody has ever opened a B&B, given all the proceeds to charity and allowed guests to choose how much they want to pay,’ said Sarah…