Amazingly affordable Châteaux
Anna Healy Fenton
Who doesn’t dream, once in a while, of splashing out on a chateau in the French countryside?
Wandering around the UK’s Daily Telegraph website, I happened on a selection of surprisingly cheap country piles, under the heading “Amazing Affordable Chateaux for Sale.” There’s the “turreted chateaus that looks like it has sprung from the pages of a fairytale.” Recently reduced to pounds sterling 795,000, it’s in Haute-Garonne just an hour’s drive from Toulouse and its international airport. Then there’s the one in Allier, the late 19th century property, built on the foundations of an older hunting lodge, on 10 hectares, with options to buy more adjoining meadowland, for pounds sterling 397,000. Even cuter is the chocolate box chateau in Maine-Et-Loire, set in six acres of parkland with stone fireplaces exposed beams, four bedrooms and attics just waiting to be converted into more. All for pounds sterling 612,000. Then, in Lot-et-Garonne for just a bit more, sterling 690,000, that’s about HK$7 million, there’s one that requires “comprehensive internal refurbishment,” but with 11 bedrooms and vaulted stone ceilings and a stone staircase, it’s going to repay the effort.
But read the reader’s comments below and it emerges that life in rural France is far from the idyll we fondly imagine it to be from 7,000 km away in Hong Kong.
Seems rural France is not peaceful at all. There’s apparently a blight of heavy goods vehicles plying the country lanes and making a huge amount of noise. There’s even a website you can check to see if you might be moving to a truck nuisance hot spot.
Then there are those who warn of the nightmare of restoring crumbling country piles, no matter how divine they may look. One reader warns that though the 17th century abbey for sale in their village would only set you back one million euros, you have to have it restored under the auspices of the Architectes de al France and the minimum cost is 2 million euros. Most of these splendid chateaux can only be fixed up under the eyes of the Architectes de la France, unless you wan to be bold and undertake some illegal building works like our own dear chief executive.
It seems blow-in Brits are renowned for hiring dodgy Polish builders, who substitute cement for stonework and rendering instead of lime. Buyer beware and read books about French workmen, cautions another jaded restorer, adding that renovation work can cost four times as much as it does in the UK and take years. Then there’s the mounds of fiddly red tape and paperwork that goes hand in hand with living in France. So beware – if you don’t speak French, it’s going to be difficult.
These fabulous properties are usually in the middle of nowhere and a lot of French, including the mayors, resent foreigners, cautions another reader. Yet another points out that Brits don’t realise that mayors need to be bribed and so it goes on.
Sad at best and misguided at worst, is how one reader brands the whingers. This chap has used both French and British builders, all registered and providing written contracts, to restore five houses with great success. “Get a life and get real,” he says. “France has problems for living in, just like the UK, but overall I would suggest a better time can be had in La Belle France.