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Buying a Château to renovate

Chris & Jolyon as seen on Château DIY share their journey of renovating a Château in Northern France.

Why buy a Château?

The question we get asked the most is “why did you buy a Château, and why France”? Well, both are valid questions. One of the main reasons is the incredible Architecture that is captured in the many thousands of Châteaux that scatter the French countryside. The other reason is the incredible value for money you can get when purchasing one of these stunning buildings.

On discovering that some of these magnificent buildings (usually only a few hours’ drive from the UK) can be snapped up for the equivalent of a small flat in the UK,  many architecture-loving Brits make the brave decision to sell-up and take on the Herculean but rewarding mission of renovating one of these Châteaux and installing themselves in France.   

We count ourselves among this privileged (if a little crazy) group when we finally realised our dream and bought a Normandy Château called Château Trois Cloches situated near Le Havre and Honfleur back in July 2022. . 

External view of Château Trois Cloches in Normandy
Nestled in Normandy is Château Trois Cloches

Are Châteaux actually good value?

Taking on such a daunting and huge project was always going to present challenges. Châteaux are only affordable if they come with a long list of jobs to complete, and only by rolling up your sleeves, committing to learning a new skill every day and working tirelessly can these lists be tamed without breaking the bank. But this was always part of the appeal to us! To truly feel at home in a place, we feel you need to labour on it.

We believe that if you love a home, then it will love you back! Once we’ve applied enough of the love, we hope to also add to the incredible range of accommodation options available to Brits that want to explore Northern France with its easy access from the UK and we hope our Château will be popular for families and groups of friends popping over the Channel. 

Green bedroom in Château Trois Cloches in Normandy
One of the other refurbished bedrooms in Château Trois Cloches

Can we see more of Château Trois Cloches?

As it happens, the beauty of the Châteaux, the draw of the fantastic life that France has to offer, and the emotional roller-coaster that accompanies taking on these ambitious projects makes for great TV. So, when we purchased Château Trois Cloches, we also joined the family of Chatelains that are being followed by the popular programme “Château DIY”, featuring on Channel 4, All 4, and other international tv channels which was a spin off from the original show, Escape To The Château. 

Château DIY season 4 will air in the later half of 2023 so we’ve got our work cut out to renovate, film, and all while continuing to do our day jobs.

For us, our renovation is a long way from complete, and even when it is, we expect to be continuing with our jobs for the foreseeable future and this means regular trips back to the big smoke in London. A key draw of Château Trois Cloches was that we could reach the Château from London in less than 4.5 hours door-to-door, and only 2 hours 20 mins from the Eurotunnel in Calais. This was a revelation. 

Orangery in Château Trois Cloches with a laid table
The Orangery in Château Trois Cloches

Exploring France from Calais

In fact, so much of France that is a treat to explore can be reached in just a four-hour drive from Calais. We have explored a fraction of Northern France and Normandy, but Saint Vallery-sur-Somme, Fecamp, Etretat and Honfleur have all become favourites to visit when we have time to pop out of the Château to explore the local area. To the Southeast, you can visit the Champagne region which is not much further away, and by committing to a slightly longer drive, you can visit Paris and the surrounding areas including beautiful Versailles, or Fontainebleau – near where we had our wedding in another beautiful Château.

With our regular trips to and from the UK we quickly realised that the only way to travel was by Eurotunnel. It is affordable, yet so much quicker and more reliable than the ferry routes. It means we can travel in the evenings after work, pack the car up and put the dog in the car, and depending on your ticket type, you can just jump on an earlier or later train at your leisure, which significantly reduces the stress of the journey.

Jolyon & St Bernard in back of car on the  Le Shuttle
Travelling with Le Shuttle means no one gets left behind!

Any tips on where to buy in France?

For anyone thinking of buying and renovating a derelict French Château or house themselves, we have loads of tips, but one of the most important is to think about how often you plan to return to the UK and, if you intend to run it as a business how easy it will be for tourists from the UK or elsewhere to reach the property.

There are loads of really beautiful Châteaux further to the south that are even more affordable, but don’t underestimate how huge France is. This is one of the reasons why the Châteaux and property in Normandy and Haute de France are a bit more expensive. 

Is it all work and no play?

What you won’t regret about buying and renovating in France is the copious amounts of cheese, wine and bread available – it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable! Our journey is only just beginning and we still have much of the property to decorate and more serious work such as installing new bathrooms and sorting out old leaks. Learning how to do all of this ourselves has been equally rewarding and challenging. The sheer scale of everything means that jobs that might be fairly simple in a normal house, such as clearing leaves from gutters or finding new curtains, become so much more complicated in a Château.

But so far, we have really enjoyed the journey - metaphorically speaking but also literally when travelling with Eurotunnel. We feel so lucky to be able to follow what has been a childhood dream for both us and try to enjoy every step of it as we go along! A final word of advice, as the French keep saying to us, “Bon Courage!” Which means good luck.

Chris & Jolyon in front of Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel is one of the many highlights in Normandy

Travel to Normandy with Eurotunnel

Eurotunnel is the perfect way to explore the region as the journey from Calais to Normandy takes just four hours in the car.

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You can follow Chris And Jolyon's journey on their Instagram @ChateauTroisCloches

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