When Brits Angel Adoree and husband Dick Strawbridge swapped their 2-bedroom flat in Southend, Essex, and bought the fairy-tale-like Chateau-de-la-Motte Husson in Mayenne, Pays de la Loire for £280,000, their adventures were filmed for a British TV Show.
Escape to the Chateau was a massive hit. Viewers were captivated as they watched the couple fall head over heels for the run down 45-room castle with its moat and pointy turrets. Millions tuned into follow their dream to turn it into a gorgeous home and successful business. A spin off series followed in which Dick and Angel helped other keen expat chateau owners. Escape to the Chateau: DIY was also a mega hit.
When each programme ended, “viewers were literally switching off the TV, firing up their iPads and looking at what is available” said Jane Berry, head of estate agent Leggett Immobilier’s Prestige division which lists numerous chateaux for sale.
Becoming chateau owners
One of the couples featured on the first series of Escape to the Chateau DIY became firm favourites with the viewing public. They were young and inexperienced but had huge commitment to bring back to life a neglected and enormous chateau.
Their willingness to do whatever it took, working night and day, impressed everyone. Billy Petherick from Greenwich in London was just 27 and his fiancé Gwendoline from Cherbourg, Normandy was 24 when they bought the Chateau de la Baismagnée. In the heart of the rural department of Mayenne in Pays de La Loire, it cost them €1,050,000 in 2016. Billy had some building experience, Gwendoline had worked in retail but nothing daunted them.
“When we decided to get a house in France, we knew we wanted to take on a project. Perhaps a grand house, manoir, maison de maître, or small château, but when we were looking online, we stumbled across a listing for a grand château” says Gwendoline. “We thought that even if it was bigger than what we were looking for, it was so beautiful that it was definitely worth a look, at least we could dream for an afternoon. But when we saw it, we fell in love with the place straight away. It made us re-think all our plans, because after seeing the Chateau de la Basmaignée we couldn’t really imagine ourselves being anywhere else. After months of figuring out a way to pursue this crazy adventure, we got the keys to our beautiful chateau”. Funding came from a legacy from Gwendoline’s late mother and bank loans.
Buying a chateau that needed a lot of work
The 50-60 room chateau, “we’ve never really managed to agree a definitive number” says Gwendoline, is set in 60 acres of parkland. It has a private chapel, traditional walled garden and six cottages.
To say it needed a huge amount of work is an understatement.
“It was uninhabited for many years and was in a terrible condition” says Billy, but the couple were undaunted. Billy’s brother Michael joined them to help our with the renovation after he too fell under the castle’s spell. And in 2018, Gwendoline and Billy welcomed baby Ernest to the chateau which has gone from being a neglected shell of a sleeping beauty to a fabulous home and business.
A chateau isn’t an easy option
When it comes to owning a chateau, upkeep costs are much higher than for a normal home. There’s almost always a constant need for maintenance and if your building is listed, you might need to get permission to renovate from Monuments Historique (Read about the requirements in our free ezine The Good Life France). In this case, the Chateau de Basmaignée is not listed.
“When people dream about being chateau owners they usually think of themselves living like royalty, but unless you really are royalty, that’s not really how things go and we knew that right from the start” says Gwendoline.
The couple took out a loan that enabled them to keep renovating and living until they could earn an income. They have done most of the work themselves with the help of family and friends, though they have had professional help when it comes to electrics and plumbing. They invested in essential equipment including a cherry picker. “By doing as much as we can between us, we estimate we’ve reduced the costs by 80%” says Billy adding “We focus on the work room by room, rather than think of what needs to be done over the whole chateau. When people ask, “when will the chateau be fully renovated?” We tell, them, there’s not set date, we have to go step by step. It’s like any other renovation project, only it’s going to take longer.”
The chateau is their only means of income and Gwendoline admits “we don’t have any idea of how much we can earn when it’s all finished, we’re not planning that far ahead. For now, we are just trying to make it so the chateau can pay for itself and for the renovation work, though we’re not really certain how much that needs to be.”
A sleeping beauty castle that’s now awake…
Their hard work is paying off, the castle is now a stunning B&B, wedding venue, and hosts antiquing weekends. “There’s renovation, maintenance, the business to run, a baby to look after and it’s a serious challenge to balance it all but it’s totally worth it – we love it and wouldn’t change a thing” says Gwendoline.
“To buy a chateau, you have to be determined, prepared to work seriously hard and perhaps just a little bit mad” adds Billy though he smiles when he says it.