September 19th, 2012
The word chateau is French for castle. We met the owners of this place on our travels (two English guys named Mike and Steve) and we ended up hanging out at their castle for a few weeks.
Set in the remote French countryside of the Loire Valley, this chateau dates back to the 15th century, though the tunnels beneath the castle go back to the 9th century. The network of tunnels and connected caves are largely unexplored, with some routes indicating a complex system that leads into the town. We spent some time wandering the claustrophobic tunnels and we noticed a great deal of graffiti from the 18th and 19th centuries. There were even some scribblings from people hiding out during WWII. Sadly I forgot to snap photos, so you’ll just have to trust me that it was impressive. Or visit for yourself.
Living in a European castle may sound like a bad Disney movie, yet for these two guys it is every day reality. It wasn’t without a fair bit of luck and determination though. The two of them visited over 70 different places throughout the French countryside. This chateau was the second to last one they saw, having nearly given up on their search. It wasn’t even their intention to own a castle. They were hoping to find an old run down farm house as a holiday home/ investment, but came across this space and ended up quitting their jobs, selling their home, and relocating to France.
To ease the financial burden of owning a castle, they also run a small bed and breakfast from the chateau. It was a far more ambitious project than they had expected to take on, and finances were a major strain, but still, they made it work. France has an interesting system when a place like this goes up for sale. It is first made available to any family members, and if there are no takers, it then becomes available to the neighbors. If none of the neighbors snatch it up, it hits the public market. Since the economy is rough everywhere, it was in jeopardy of being left vacant. Fortunately, it wasn’t left to rot.
The chateau is also used to host weddings, as the castle can easily accommodate over 60 people. That means beds and meals. As they reclaim, rebuild, and remodel more and more of the castle, they are able to incorporate many of the unique spaces that only exist when you choose to live in a castle.
For example, the large caves previously used to store wine and other dry goods are now converted into a holiday market during the Christmas season, where townspeople and surrounding locals set up booths and tables to sell their goods. They also continue to find spaces they didn’t even realize were there. It took them nearly a year to discover a whole section of the uppermost attic that had two full bedrooms in it. Since this castle had been owned by one family for the past few hundred years, a great deal of the castle was boarded up, hidden, and forgotten about until now.
As mentioned before, they also open up their home as a bed and breakfast to bring in additional income. These buildings here contain two large reception halls, kitchens, rooms and little apartments converted from the old stables and barns. This provides quite a lot of real estate for private functions.
The vineyards and gardens are still being revived, but they have enough berries and fruit to make several different varieties of jam. They keep getting a bit of friendly pressure from the neighbors to start producing wine, so hopefully that will be going soon. The property also has six full wells, just to give an idea of the size of the estate.
Of course, this is quite the ridiculous set up. Not many people have the means to buy a castle, but remember, this one is remote. It is in a region where there are tons of old castles in a thousand different states of decay. Their castle is set in a town of less than 300 people, and it’s well over an hour from the nearest large town. Nevertheless, the point of this series to is showcase unusual living spaces, and a French castle fits the bill.