They say an Englishman’s home is his castle – but for many Brits, Americans and others, the real dream is to buy a piece of history in the form of a French chateau.Over the last couple of years, television audiences in the UK have been watching TV presenter Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel Adoree as they took on the challenge of renovating an abandoned French chateau they bought for around 400,000 euros.
The most recent series, Escape to the Chateau: DIY, saw them impart their new-found wisdom to other couples in the process of turning dilapidated castles into charming homes and successful businesses. Throughout the series, we have seen everyone involved commit many hours to renovating their chateaux, often to avoid what would otherwise be enormous bills.
Of course, it’s one thing to watch a television show and browse images online, but quite another to take the plunge in real life. How realistic is it to buy and renovate your own chateau in beautiful France? The guide below gives you five key areas to consider before you decide whether investing in a French castle is the right choice for you.
There’s no question that a French chateau commands a premium compared to other properties. A manor house could be just as spacious, filled with character and surrounded by extensive land, without the high price tag of this special piece of French real estate. Even if you manage to grab a bargain – Dick and Angel paid just €390,000 ( some years ago…) for their 45-room castle – it’s likely you’ll need to invest much more to restore it to a habitable state. A good deal on currency transfers always helps!
The size and scale of most chateaux mean it is fairly obvious that they will cost more to renovate than your average home. However, it’s not just the square footage that adds to the bill: specialist materials and fixtures may well be needed to meet the requirements of owning a listed building. The good news is that there are often significant grants available for restoring historic buildings, so it is worth investigating this before you buy.
As well as the initial renovation costs, you need to factor in on-going maintenance over many years. The cost of this can also be higher than for other properties –but again, there may be grants available. In many cases, money is attached to the condition that you open the chateau to the public for a set number of days per year. If you’re planning to run it as a business anyway, this shouldn’t prove too problematic, but you need to be confident you can generate enough income to cover routine maintenance for features such as the roof, windows and traditional features inside.
Because of their special historic status, there may be restrictions on the changes you can make to a chateau to make it suitable for your business. Whether you’re hoping to offer chambres d’hotes, holiday rentals, or even a stunning wedding venue, you may need to adapt the property to suit your needs and this will be more tricky in a castle than in other properties. French real estate covers a wide range of options, including historic manor houses, domaines with associated gites, and former farmhouses with outbuildings ripe for renovation. Explore all the options and get expert advice before making your decision.
There are chateaux across much of France, the north-west of the country, particularly around the Loire Valley, has by far the most to choose from being in the Kings Valley. Anything within an hour or two of Paris commands a particularly high price, but the lavish style and construction of the Loire Valley chateaux means they do tend to be expensive. Although there are many castles available elsewhere, they will usually be simpler in style and therefore more affordable, though they are often older and in need of significant investment to restore them to their former glory.
A good alternative, and also not too far from Paris, the alps, and Switzerland is the Burgundy region, perhaps one of the best kept secrets where one can find rare gems, still in their own ‘jus’, while still enjoying a pace of life some areas may have lost, while being just 1 hour away from Paris. And then, there are many castles for sale in south west France.
Ultimately, though, if you have your heart set on a chateau, you may need to be prepared to search for longer than if you are looking at other property types … unless of course you have a ‘coup de foudre’ and find your own fairytale chateau or castle on the first visit.