Take a second to remember your childhood dream. The one that filled your eyes with wonder and makes you smile even as you remember it now. I pose you this question: if you were given the opportunity to make that dream come true, would you take it?
Meet someone who answered “yes” to that question—Philippa Girling. Her dream began in the quiet villages of France she grew up visiting every summer. She vividly remembers hoping that such a village would one day be home to her own summer camp.
But as expected, life got in the way. The reality of her career took over, and successfully so. Girling became CRO at several U.S. banks, acquired a Ph.D. in risk management, wrote two textbooks, and taught the subject at Wharton, Claremont, Columbia, NYU Stern, and Baruch. And as if these accomplishments were not enough, she is also an attorney. Each summer, she traveled to France and stayed in the historic region of Quercy while every week, as she drank her Sunday morning coffee, Girling would look at French-Property.com with that dream of hers in mind.
One day, in September 2021, “Château de Béduer popped up. And I said, ‘I know this building, we [would] drive past it on the way into the market town every day.’” And thus the seed was planted. Quickly, that childhood dream began to nag at her until she thought, “What if I just go see it? ”
So, she and her family went off and as soon as they drove through the main gates, “[they] fell in love.”
Girling, along with her children and grandchildren, were greeted by 85-year-old Roy, the owner who, after a quick tour, invited them to stay at the Château.
They spent 2 days alongside “a group of Oxford dons.” As Roy began his farewells to his home of 35 years, he explained to Girling, “I’m selling it whether or not you’re buying it. We will be mothballing it this winter.”
Roy, as it turned out, had planned a celebration to “say goodbye to the love of his life,” but he was alone due to COVID travel restrictions. So, he invited Girling, her family, and the Dons for dinner.
“We go out onto the terrace and there’s somebody serving champagne. All the Oxford dons are in their tuxedos, and cocktail dresses and we’re in shorts and T-shirts looking like rabble rousers. And, as we all toast to the Château, this enormous rainbow lights up the whole valley behind us.”
After, “we had the most delicious, fabulous meal and then all went to the salon, where local French musicians who had been playing for Roy every summer for the last 20 years, put on a private concert for him…it was quite emotional because you could feel this was a farewell…the next morning, I sat down with him and said ‘okay, we’re gonna have to make this work.’”
Together with her two co-founders, (her best friend of 25 years, and her eldest daughter), they thought about how to turn the property into a business opportunity when it struck them, “what if we make that camp, that camp that you wanted to make as a teenager, but make it for women?” (Girling) and in that moment, Camp Château was born.
After polling friends across social media and networking platforms, they constructed a funding model that allowed women to join in on this dream by investing 6,500 euros to become “founding members and, in return, get free camp every summer and 5 percent return. And after three years, you can ask for your principal back.”
Once they got enough interest to put together a bid, she presented it to Roy on the contingency that he would stay, and during camp, if he would be willing, “to sit and have afternoon tea with the women and tell them the history of the Château.”
It is worth mentioning that during this time, Girling was still a full-time CRO technically working on Camp Château on the side. But, as with the rest of this story, fate had a different plan. In the summer of 2022, she was unexpectedly laid off.
Girling was forced to ask “Am I all in? Or do I go and get another C-level banking job? It really took me about a day to decide, ‘you know what? I’m all in.’ This is what I want to do. This can change things for people. Every time we have a camp of 50 women, that’s 50 Women who are going to have this wonderful experience that will really bring them some joy. We can hire local people, we can use local products. We have a great relationship with the mayor, so, already, we feel like we’re part of the community, adding to it, and building one [of our own].”
So far, Girling has built a community that is triple certified by SheMark, meaning that 50+ percent of the people in management and leadership positions are women, 50+ percent of people in creative roles are women, and 50+ percent of the people who own or co-own the company are women.
This year is Girling’s inaugural summer, and we recommend you sign up as soon as possible as space in each session is limited. You can expect to enjoy a multitude of activities from local cooking classes, painting with watercolors, fishing, hiking, and more. Each activity is completely voluntary, meaning that if you’d rather just lounge by the pool with a good book or “stroll the grounds with a little sense of Jane Austen in the back of your mind” (Girling)—you can. It should be noted that the region is such a hidden gem that light pollution is simply non-existent. So, expect to enjoy a pristine view of the milky way each night.
As for accommodations, you will find yourself in one of Château’s ten converted bedrooms. Each has 4-6 twin-sized single beds, a plethora of antique furniture, and a shared bathroom lined with original, hand painted, 1920s Portuguese tiles. If you have reservations about sleeping accommodations, please keep in mind that this is a sleep-away camp experience making shared bunk rooms necessary.
Camp Château has exceeded every part of Girling’s childhood dream. Why? Because it has evolved into an “inclusive space where women can authentically be themselves.” It has become a home that allows women to return to a childhood joy often lost to the trials of adulthood. Girling has created an oasis that allows women to go back in time to not just remember a feeling but to re-experience it.