Many people dream of buying a chateau, perhaps running a chambre d’hôtes business in the surplus rooms.
However, a former teacher and HR director who have done just that say it is near- impossible to cover the huge maintenance and running costs like this – so an additional income stream is needed.
Custodians of the chateau
Since Grahame Elliott, 68, and Pierre Fontaney, 58, moved into the historic Château de Détilly, near Chinon in the Loire Valley, in 2020, they have become realistic about the challenges involved.
“We have become very conscious of the chateau’s several centuries of history.
“We are just one of generations of people to live here, take care and preserve it for the next owners,” says Pierre.
With some parts dating back to the 13th century, there is a lot of history to preserve.
“The original chateau was taken and burnt in 1562,” says Grahame. “Only some parts of buildings and the 13th century chapel remained.”
The chateau that now stands on the land was built around 1600, and in the recent past was owned by former French Prime Minister Camille Chautemps, a resistance fighter, the director of a major oil company, and an Anglo-American couple who let the property for wedding parties.
The right time to realise our dream
So what drove the couple to move from the outskirts of bustling Paris, where they had lived more than 30 years, to comparative rural isolation?
“I have always had a fascination for old buildings and had dreamt of living in a chateau long before I could afford an apartment,” says Pierre.
“We could not live in this sort of location previously because of our careers. Grahame retired two years ago, and I stopped working – it was time.”
The pair – who met in Australia in the 1980s – spent months looking for the right property, often finding that places they visited left a lot to be desired.
“We saw chateaux that were cheap, but would cost hundreds of thousands to repair. Another looked amazing in the pictures, but turned out to be a third of the size we had imagined when we turned up,” says Grahame.
Finally, in October 2019, the couple booked to view the building that would become their home.
It was simple but elegant
“When I first walked into Château de Détilly, I looked at the floors – beautifully crafted from marble, stone, slate and oak – and enormous, crystal chandeliers and thought ‘I do not care about the rest, I want this chateau!’,” says Grahame.
Fortunately, the rest of the property did not disappoint.
The chateau comprises a 700m² building, large orangery, coach house, pool, and 2.6 hectares of parkland – including a 2,000m² rose garden.
“The chateau had been rented out in full to guests in the past and used for weddings. It was in good condition, but had been neglected for a few years since the owner died.
“His widow did not visit at all and let the place slide a little.
“Thankfully, although the gardens needed work, the building itself was fine. The decoration was simple but elegant, created by a well-known Paris interior decorator about 20 years ago,” says Pierre.
The pair made an offer the same day.
Plans for writing retreats and wine events
Despite slow negotiations and a slight delay due to the Covid lockdown, they took residence in July 2020, opening a chambre d’hôtes business shortly afterwards.
In future, they also plan to host writing retreats for both professionals and novices.
“I was teaching English and writing in Paris,” says Grahame. “I hated retiring, so hope to keep it going.”
Wine connoisseur Pierre also plans to set up his own wine-tasting experiences.
“We are right in the heart of the Chinon wine-producing region so, as well as drawing on my existing knowledge of vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, I plan to engage with smaller, local producers,” he says.
…and Ramsès makes three
On top of realising the long-held dream of owning a chateau, the pair achieved another life goal in 2020 when they welcomed Irish wolfhound Ramsès to their home.
“We had always wanted to own one, but had to wait until the time was right,” says Pierre.
Couple planned for maintenance and running costs
Despite their business plans, Pierre and Grahame are realistic about what can be achieved in terms of moneymaking from their new home.
“People say buying a chateau can be cheaper than an apartment in Paris,” says Grahame.
Pierre agrees: “It is true, but you have to pour so much money into maintenance and running costs. Nobody can live off a chateau, in terms of income.
“That is one of the reasons we waited until retirement.
“We have visited places where people are trying to live from proceeds of chambres d’hôtes in enormous buildings, but you just cannot cover costs.
“Places become terribly run down as a result.”
Although income from the chambre d’hôtes helps towards running costs, one of the main reasons the couple open their doors is to share the sense of wonder their chateau instils.
“We love welcoming guests to this beautiful building.
“It is an enclosed bubble of paradise,” says Pierre.
“It gives us a great deal of pleasure to share our home.”