Chateau life in France: 'Cold winters and hard work but no regrets'
More than 1,500 of France’s 40,000 chateaux are currently for sale but what is the reality of chateau living in France?
There are more than 1,500 French chateaux currently up for sale – and many come with affordable price tags.
With opening auction prices beginning at €90,000 – for an abandoned chateau we profiled in the September issue of The Connexion – the prospect of owning a chateau is tantalisingly within reach for many.
Tom Palmer, 46, and Miranda Reinarz, 50, made that dream a reality last year when they finally got the keys to Château de Beaupoirier in Allier, Auvergne.
The couple were already familiar with the area.
Miranda’s mother moved there in the early 1990s to take advantage of lower property prices and a slower pace of life.
Tom and Miranda became used to regular breaks in the country and had always talked about the possibility of moving to France themselves one day.
The catalyst for their move turned out to be the Brexit vote in 2016. “My father was Dutch and I hold a Dutch passport. I wanted my daughter Delilah, now 11, to feel like a European,” says Miranda.
Rather than snap up a modest property close to her mother, the pair chose to set their sights higher.
“I had always dreamed of owning a chateau,” says Miranda.
“I am an antiques dealer, so love beautiful, historic buildings. And Tom was director of a restoration company in the UK, so has the perfect skillset.”
The couple visited several chateaux before settling on their current home – just a few kilometres down the road from Miranda’s mother in Allier.
“We looked at one chateau that did not have a roof at all,” says Miranda, “and others did not feel quite right.
“Then my mother suggested Beaupoirier. We were not sure at first, but when we first walked in, we fell in love with it.”
Having signed the compromis de vente for the 12th-century building in 2019, the couple went through a long legal process before finally being able to call the €600,000 chateau home in March 2020. With Brexit looming and the pound dropping in value, it was a nerve-wracking period, but all was forgotten when the sale came through.
“When we finally had the keys and turned up at the gate, I had goosebumps,” says Miranda. “It was a real dream-come-true moment.”
So what is it like actually living in such an enormous building?
“It is in good repair, other than a few slates coming off the roof, and you soon get used to the space,” Tom says.
“There is nothing about it that feels too austere or big.”
An early challenge was getting daughter Delilah to settle in her new bedroom, a long way from the living room, but a more serious bump in the road came during the family’s first winter at the chateau.
“It was absolutely freezing. The chateau has oil-fired central heating, but it is neither affordable nor ecological to use,” says Miranda.
Instead, the family relied on electric blankets, blow heaters in the bathrooms, an Aga and three wood burners to get through the cold weather. They are looking into alternatives for the future.
Maintaining a property of 800m² of living space, as well as a gîte, outbuildings and four hectares of land, is also proving a challenge, with Miranda admitting that the garden will remain “a bit out of control” while they look for someone to tend it.
“We have animals too – two borzoi (Russian wolfhounds), a poodle, two old ponies, 24 pekin bantams and two breeding American miniature horses – and just cannot do it all.”
While it is still early days, the family have lots of ideas for making an income from the property.
“We are renovating a gîte in the grounds, and it has also become a showroom for my antiques business,” says Miranda.
Since their move, the chateau has already been used for a professional photography shoot, and the couple plan to let the entire building out on occasions.
They are also hoping to host weddings and breed horses.
“If you take on such a huge property, you must be prepared to find ways to make money from it,” says Miranda. However, they retain a deep respect for the history of the building.
“We feel we have a duty to look after the chateau, and return it to the community. We are hoping to run brocantes and festivals in the grounds and bring it back to life. Purchasing a chateau is an enormous undertaking but the best thing we have ever done,” says Miranda.
“We’re ecstatically happy and would never go back.”