A Torontonian thought of buying a property in cottage country. Instead, she bought a $ 1.25 million castle in France
Growing up in Thunder Bay, I had an obsession with architecture, especially great castles and vast estates of old money, places you might read in a fairy tale. I even remember telling my mom that I wanted to live in a house with a turret when I grew up.
I was in French immersion from kindergarten to high school. Back then, my teachers always said it would lead to global opportunities, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.
When I finally traveled to France for the first time in 1992, at the age of 20, Paris looked like a movie set. The buildings were unlike anything I had seen in Ontario. I really enjoyed the architecture: the big curves, the big windows, the stone details, the history, the grandeur and the romance of everything. France had really taken my head and my heart.
Finally, I studied economics at Western and got my CFA. Then I went to Toronto to start a career in investment management. I have always been an artistic person, with a knack for drawing and the visual arts, but I thought I had to do the practical thing and find a stable job.
Over the next 15 years, in the 2000s, I found myself browsing real estate listings for chateaux in France. I must have been looking for an accomplishment or something. Oddly enough, house prices in Toronto have always seemed sky-high, but you can buy a chateau in France for half the price. Go figure it out.
Fast forward to 2019. At that point, I had a husband, Oscar, and a daughter, Ella. But I kind of felt like life was slipping away from me. I realized that I had always done what others expected of me. I thought, When am I going to do something for myself? When will I follow my passions? I decided to take a trip to France, on my own, to see some castles.
That summer I contacted a UK based broker to schedule a few visits. I flew to Paris, then took a two hour train west to a town called Rennes, known for its art and history. There I rented a car and toured five properties in the area over the next week.
It’s one thing to look at a map, but I’ve had the opportunity to really explore it. It was basically a foodie paradise, with amazing wine, cheese and pastries. I have sampled a lot. I discovered a lot of small towns, all rich in history and full of energy.
For my last visit, I visited a castle in Saint-Pierre-de-Maillé, a picturesque town of less than 1,000 inhabitants, located in the west of France, a few minutes by car from the cultural center of Poitiers. It’s only an hour and a half by train from Paris by high speed train. There are hills, caves and beautiful limestone cliffs in the area, as well as close to Michelin starred restaurants and Loire Valley castles.
The place says Molante Castle, was listed for 850,000 euros (approximately C $ 1.25 million). Built in the 1800s, it stood on a 70-acre property, with its own forest and a long driveway leading to a small town, making it easy to walk or cycle to the market. It was also only a 10 minute drive to the famous thermal springs of La Roche-Posay, the famous skin care brand, which I immediately recognized.
Outside, it had a beige stone facade and two large turrets.
Inside, it was 4,500 square feet on three floors, with 11 bedrooms and 12-foot ceilings. It had marble fireplaces, arched windows, oak moldings and herringbone floors. This is called a petite Chateau; I joke that this is an “entrance castle.”“
There was a bunch of outbuildings on the land, built around 1500, which would have been used for housing, winemaking, stables and storage.
There is even a caretaker’s house, rented to an Englishman named Alec, who lives there with his German pointer. This is an added bonus as it provides rental income, as well as someone on hand to look after the property.
Upon my return to Toronto, I took the time to think about the purchase, with the intention of returning in early 2020. Then the pandemic struck, putting everything in limbo. So I waited.
Then in the summer of 2020 my husband and I went to visit his brother in Prince Edward County. After the trip, we briefly discussed getting secondary property.
But then I showed my husband the list of Chateau de Molante – which was still on the market – and told him we could have it for about the same price as a nice place in PEC. I also explained that it could be a base for our daughter to learn French and explore Europe. He wanted to go.
The paperwork and the buying process took a long time, but in the winter of 2020 we finally got the keys to our new castle. I considered it a Christmas present for the family.
Over the next three years, we plan to do some renovations including painting everything in a clean palette (whites and creams), finding some nice local furniture, opening up the kitchen, converting some of the bedrooms on the second level into a master bedroom. suite, replacement of wallpaper, addition of an elevator. I hope I can use local vendors and do it all for around C $ 500,000.
We would like to spend a few months there every year, ideally in the summer, until my husband and I retire and my daughter finishes school at which time we will be extending our stays. More than anything else, I can’t wait to fulfill my childhood dream of living a fairytale life in a castle with a turret.
– As said to Katie Underwood
Do you have an interesting story about buying or selling real estate during the pandemic? We would love to hear it: [email protected]