Engaged couple Jean-Baptiste and Erin were looking for a way to relocate to his native France, but had come into some obstacles on the way. That’s when they came up with an incredible and seemingly senseless idea: to take part in real life fairy tale by purchasing and renovating an old French manor. But if they had thought finding the right place to invest in would be hard, their challenges, not to mention surprises, were just beginning. Once they took a look inside their newly purchased antique property, they knew that as gorgeous as it was from the outside, the inside was quite a different story.
1. A Chance Meeting
What would turn into the business deal of a lifetime began with a chance meeting. While studying abroad in 2010, London-native anesthetist Erin Choa decided she would go north to Scotland, to study in its capital city of Edinburgh. And it was there while on her program that she met the love of her life.
Jean-Baptiste Gois (JB for short) was a mechanical engineer, who had come to Scotland from France. He had started off on a nine-month program, yet ended up staying on for nine years. The two fell in love, and got engaged. Both at the age of 31, they looked into what their next great adventure together would be. Little did they know where their fairy tale romance would take them.
2. Language Barrier
The pair decided they wanted to move to JB’s native France. Erin was working as a doctor, but that occupation was not one she could feasibly fold up and reinstate across the English Channel. Erin’s French skills were not yet good enough so that she could earn a living properly in her fiancé JB’s home country.
If they were to relocate back to France and embark on a shared life plan there, they would have to think of a different career path for Erin. And that’s when they landed on an incredible venture for them to take as a couple — a total shift from anything they had ever tried before.
3. The Lightbulb Goes On
JB and Erin concluded that they would change their career paths, and shift into something utterly unlike anything they had done before. They shared an interest and appreciation for history, particularly historical buildings — and that led them to an idea. They wanted to break into the venture of renting out properties to customers for holidays.
The couple thought of purchasing a classic chateau, a French castle, in the sunny countryside, and offering the property as a place tourists could come stay and enjoy the distinguished luxuries of staying at a real-life estate. But there were a few difficult obstacles standing in the way — and they would have to reflect on the idea with caution.
4. Everything’s Relative
For Erin and JB, getting their wild idea off the drawing board and making it a reality meant they had to weigh their options carefully. To invest in such a property would mean draining their personal savings. Still, they compared the costs of purchasing and maintaining their own chateau back to the average price of living in Edinburgh.
Just to have a one-bedroom apartment where they were currently living in the Scottish capital, let alone London itself, was notoriously expensive. In fact, to live as they were living would not cost significantly more than what it would require to purchase a chateau in France. Why not take the plunge and go for it wholeheartedly?
5. The Quest Begins
Excited by the prospects on the horizon, the young couple made a decision together that this was indeed the life change they wanted to make, that they were ready to go all in. That meant packing up their home, relocating from Britain along with their cat Oscar, and making a new life for themselves in France.
They had to start from scratch: finding a property. To do so, JB and Erin began searching online for real estate possibilities in France. But their interest was particularly piqued by old properties with tons of history behind them. And so, they set out on a search to find what their new path in life would look like — and where it would play out.
6. Closing In
To look for their dream mansion in France, the couple traveled throughout the country to visit and examine over 10 different properties in person. In addition to their visits, they scrolled through hundreds more potential mansions and chateaux on the Internet. The problem was, while so many of the chateaux that they visited were absolutely gorgeous, the investment would not be worth it.
Although all of the chateaux were in need of repair and therefore were selling for a lower price, a great deal of them were not structurally sound, to the point that just making them safe would cost more than they could afford. Erin and JB were just moments away from stumbling upon the deal of a lifetime — and they would have to take a massive risk for it.
7. Chateau De Bourneau
After an exhaustive and methodical search, JB and Erin’s quest brought them precisely where they were most needed. They landed upon an incredible finding. Tucked away in a forest near the village of Bourneau, in the western French region of Pays de la Loire, was the exquisite Chateau de Bourneau.
They fell head over heels for this classic French estate, replete with its stone walls and turreted pillars. Even though it looked much older due to its style, the current building had been constructed anew in 1863, after its original construction fell into disuse. That meant whoever inhabited it would have a distinct advantage.
8. Not All Rotten
Although the Chateau de Bourneau had been neglected, its mid-19th century plumbing system still functioned, meaning there was one less problem for JB and Erin to tackle as they brainstormed how to get the chateau back into shape. They had to think not only about their own satisfaction on the property.
JB and Erin also had to consider the travelers that they were seeking to host in the future, and their own comfort and enjoyment at the chateau. But in the end, the chateau’s stunning appearance and charm was too much to resist. They took the leap and became its owners. And they quickly discovered what a challenge that would be.
9. What Dreams Are Made Of?
Looking every bit like a classic European castle, the Chateau de Bourneau had historical roots reaching back over five and a half centuries. The sprawling grounds, which covered 16 hectares, even included an authentic moat in medieval style. The chateau itself was surrounded by a series of gorgeous, regal turrets.
Hidden at the edge of a forest, the chateau had obvious architectural grace, and its grounds were brimming over with possibility. What’s more, it was up on the market, available to be purchased. But despite its charming outward appearance, nobody had taken up the offer yet. There was one enormous problem.
10. Honky Chateau
The chateau was far from being in a state where someone could just move in and set up shop. In fact, the entire building was in a state of absolute disrepair, having been neglected, to certain estimates, for up to three decades. Everywhere the eye could see was in desperate need of renovations.
That meant anything from a badly-overdue paint job, restoring the furniture, and even repairing the water damage that had been caused by the moat seeping. It would take an extraordinary amount of focus and dedication, not to mention hard work, to make this livable. But for this dilapidated chateau, help was on the way.
11. Medieval Origins
Chateau de Bourneau is not only a feast for the eyes, but a site steeped in a fascinating history stretching back all the way to the Middle Ages. The original foundations of the manor had first been built and fortified on the site in 1464, by royal permission of King Louis XI. But what had once been majestic was now a far cry from its former grandeur.
Today, the moat was leaking, and the window frames were rotted through. Whoever took possession of the chateau would have to take charge of building it up, using their own resources, DIY-style. And so, the chateau sat slowly rotting, waiting for the right person to redeem it.
12. Chateau Of Dreams
JB and Erin closed on the purchase of the property of the Chateau de Bourneau. It was love at first sight, or as they describe it in their own words, “a complete coup de foudre (lightning strike)”. They bought the chateau for 680,000 Euro, which is roughly the equivalent of $775,000.
To do so meant using up all their personal savings, and taking out a bank loan. Making such a tremendous decision and carrying it out required guts, there was great risk involved in buying and sprucing up the chateau. As they were about to find out, it was going to be an uphill climb.
13. Back To Basics
Chateau de Bourneau’s decadent exterior belied what was going on inside. Moving into the chateau was no smooth transition for Erin and JB. It was an enormous, daunting undertaking that would require a special kind of dedication. When they first arrived and set to work, the living conditions were basic, but at least functional.
Luckily for the couple, the plumbing system still worked, there was running water, bathrooms, and a heating system. But the massive expanse of this chateau would need so much more than that to maintain it. And they were about to discover more of the chateau’s secrets, hidden deep inside, neglected for decades or even centuries.
14. Whistle While You Work
Erin and JB divvied up the tasks. Their work on restoring the chateau often meant pulling 14-hour days as they focused and sweat over the chateau’s remodeling. The amount of neglect left them with the daunting task of going over every inch of the property, all 10,700 square feet of it.
Additionally, the ceilings in the grandiose rooms were about 13 feet high. All of the chateau was bursting at the seams with potential to be made more beautiful than ever. Now that the purchase had been made, there was no going back. The chateau’s treasures were about to finally see the light of day. But little did Erin and JB know what they were about to discover.
15. Chipping And Peeling
The engaged couple had known from the get-go that they wanted to find a chateau that would need to be fully restored, and were fully prepared to do just that, through their own devices. They had to take inventory of their new estate and figure out what assignments would be easier, and which ones were more urgent.
Even the front doors of the chateau themselves badly needed a touch-up. To remove the matte paint coating them in a garish shade of blue meant carefully chipping the paint away and then sanding the doors. The doors then had to be primed and repainted. And this was but a taste of the challenges ahead.
16. Troubled Bridge Over Water
As they finally stopped the moat’s leaking problem and cleaned up the cellars, which were one of the only pieces of the chateau remaining from its original 15th-century foundations, JB and Erin gave a good look over the chateau’s outside features. They noticed the moat’s bridge could also do with quite a bit of repair and care.
They found a sepia photograph depicting the chateau grounds in 1908. After examining what the bridge had once looked like in ages past, they were inspired, and knew what they wanted to do with it. They repainted the bridge railings, bringing them from green to white. But it was inside the chateau’s walls that they would find their greatest reward.
17. Hidden Treasures
As they went methodically room by room throughout the chateau in the course of their renovations, JB and Erin found something absolutely thrilling. They began to discover hidden treasures, objects and furniture long forgotten by time, stored away, just waiting to be revealed and brought back to their former glory.
Having a gorgeous living space was one thing, but finding artifacts inside was truly exciting. For example, in rooms behind the kitchen, they dug up a series of metal fittings, ones that had likely fallen off the walls and been stored there for someone someday to deal with. And what was waiting for them upstairs would leave them ecstatic.
18. Antiques Galore
As JB and Erin continued surging on ahead in their wild renovation project, they found even more antique pieces of furniture that any collector would kill for. A dressing table was found untouched; it was stashed and hidden for decades upon decades of neglect, high up in one of the chateau’s turrets in the attic.
When they had bought the property, they had no idea they would also acquire such fantastic treasures, and it made them even more resolute in their dedication to making their home shine again. But even if the chateau had plenty of charms of its own, they also had an eye on their own decor. What was about to show up on their doorstep would be breathtaking.
JB and Erin also had plenty of fun shopping for antique pieces with which to accentuate the freshly brushed-up and renovated chateau. They ordered a tasteful set of antique chairs that were built in the 19th century, right in line with the period in which the current structure was built.
They also found a great pair of giant urns for the equivalent of eighty dollars, at a home and garden store. At long last, the way they had wanted their dream chateau to look all along began to take shape. After months of intense work, they could start inviting people inside. Their dream was ready to be enacted.
20. Come One, Come All
Erin and JB were finally able to fling open the newly-painted doors of the Chateau de Bourneau, and invite guests to come stay. There was one big catch: they still hadn’t finished renovations! The 16 hectares of the castle grounds would require far more extensive work, and they had to find a way to fund it.
Now, they could blend work with the pleasure of sharing their space. The first guests began making reservations and piling on in. But the biggest question remained open-ended. Considering they had left their jobs in order to move to France, how would Erin and JB be able to keep financing the costs of construction?
21. A Unique Business Model
Gradually, eager tourists came to stay at the chateau property, enticed by its breathtaking views and imposing facade. Being there was just so irresistibly appealing, and JB and Erin’s guests enjoyed themselves as thoroughly as they could, while living out a real life classic fairy tale fantasy in the French countryside.
Because he doesn’t look like a typical chateau owner, JB jokes that there have been many instances in which guests have approached him and asked him where the owner is! He and Erin used the proceeds from hosting guests in order to further the renovations. And for now, it’s a miracle they were able to get by — not everything was running smoothly.
22. Work In Progress
The kitchen of the Chateau de Bourneau came designed with a gorgeous built-in stone fireplace, the kind one can only dream of. But despite that feature, the kitchen is not as functioning as Erin and JB need for it to be. The rest of the chateau’s cooking quarters still beckons further design and unpacking.
To complicate matters even further, there is no working fridge in the chateau kitchen for the time being. Yet despite this, Erin and JB have managed to be creative and find ways to ensure their guests will enjoy their stay. And they are far from the first people to have done so.
23. Ghosts Of The Past
The Chateau de Bourneau has had many past lives. As was the case with many other similar French castles, was abandoned during the French Revolution. It was rebuilt almost 80 years later by a local, inspired by the royal and extravagant structures in the nearby Loire River Valley. The chateau stayed in the same family until 1954.
In its next lifetime, the chateau was converted into a home for Algerians fleeing the colonial war there, men and women who had fought for the French and now risked retaliation. Not long after, the building was even used as a home for hundreds of refugees escaping war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. And today, there’s one last reincarnation.
24. French Style Luxury
Today, the rooms where Southeast Asian refugees had once lived have been totally repurposed. They have been divided into four quaint cottages. This part of the estate can host a total of 42 people, and each cottage comes complete with its own swimming pool — a new touch in the midst of the old chateau.
The guests’ quarters are heated by wooden fireplaces with wood that Erin chops herself. The place is a dream made reality, where you can have romantic dinners in the orange grove on candlelit classic tables. And JB and Erin’s incredible home makeover story was just too glorious to keep it contained. News spread — and it wasn’t just tourists who were intrigued.
25. Birds Of A Feather
Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel Adoree run a series with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 TV called Escape to the Chateau. Dick formerly served in the British Army as a lieutenant colonel, and today they too are in the process of renovating their own chateau in the French countryside.
In the course of filming the series, naturally they had to pop over to Bourneau to give JB and Erin a visit — and no doubt to compare experiences. As it stands, there’s no end in sight to the Chateau de Bourneau’s renovation project, but it is a lifetime labor of love — a love affair between people and their magical home.
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