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Quite some years ago a book came out entitled A year in Provence, it was a best seller, everyone read it and many then travelled to Provence and bought homes with dreams of turning them into B&B and living on French wine, baguette and cheese without speaking French. Then came Under the Tuscan Sun, later another book entitled A year in Tuscany came out. Same idea of idyllic life in Tuscany without speaking Italian. Tuscany is only one province of Italy, the rush of tourists saw a sharp price increase and though we could travel for lunch in Florence from Rome easily, we often preferred to travel across to the Marche Province on the Adriatic for our annual vacation. Or how about Sicily? love that Island, it’s food and splendid wines.

So from buying a house, renovating it and doing a Shirley Valentine number many realized that it was not that simple and the difficulties quickly mounted. The BBC did a series on Provence and Brits who had come to discover it charms as detailed in the book. Most within 2 years discovered real life is not a book, many sold and moved out, too many problems, language and different attitudes and differences made for more problems than they had bargained for. Same in Tuscany, unless you have oodles of money and can come and go at will, think again.

Now we have gone from buying a house to buying a French Château no less, with grand gates and huge parkland plus many other buildings like a chapel and barn, keepers cottage and stables. All in need of major rebuilding, renovations and continuous maintenance. This idea is out there and the internet offers opportunities buyer beware.

One is the Chateau de Gudanes in the Pyrennées, an Australian family bought the half demolished castle about 10 years ago and have been rebuilding it, a major undertaking. They now have a shop on the internet and they sell stuff which is suppose to be items from chateau life. The couple who bought the place appear to have split up, only the wife remains and as for the kids it is not clear if they returned to Australia. Apparently renovations continue but lately I noticed it is always the same pictures of projects from some years ago. They no longer have the teams working nor the experts from Paris coming down to help out.

Château de Gudanes

Another Chateau is La Grifferaie in Anjou, bought by an American Evangelical couple who plan to use the place for Bible studies for Americans. The rest could be used as a B&B. The couple is from Oregon, they really look out of place in Anjou.

Yet another is the Chateau de Purnon, bought by a young Australian couple, a huge place. I wonder where do they get their money to buy such an estate in Aquitaine. There are lots of Château for sale in France, some are in pristine conditions while others need major work. In this case the couple speak French which is a big help in an isolated region. They are also getting some governmental help on renovations for this Château built in 1717.

Chateau de Purnon

The BBC had a series on mansions and great homes bought by people who had a dream of renovating such places. Many such great homes were built more than 200 years ago and required expert work. Some where nothing more than ruins, why would you buy such a place. One fellow who had made a fortune in IT renovated an old Bishops palace with ornate rooms, this required experts to rebuilt and restore decorative elements, the end result was truly magnificent but you wonder how much did it cost.

The unusual case of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich and his wife the Countess who live at Mapperton a place mentioned in the Doomsday Book, the mansion house dates to 1540 with their daughter-in-law Julie Montague, their son Luke Montague Viscount Hichingbrooke, her husband help run and renovate the Estate as a business venture. The beautiful gardens of Mapperton can be rented for weddings. On the Estate they even have their own church which dates back to the 12th Century. Julie and Luke run the place in order to pay for the upkeep which is considerable.

I do wonder where this fascination in people comes from, I recall some visitors at Government House here in Charlottetown which was built around 1834 and remains to this day the home and workplace of the Lieutenant Governor of PEI. This visitor said to me how wonderful it would be to live in such a grand mansion. Knowing the background of the place, I do not think so, such homes are rarely comfortable and are more designed for representational purposes than relaxation and home life.

MAPPERTON HOUSE