Giscard d'Estaing a victim of chateau slump

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The Independent Online

For sale: 15th-century chateau in central France, recently restored, 43 rooms, 30 acres, many special features, including a glass sentry box once occupied by presidential bodyguards. €3m, ono.

The former president of France Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is having difficulty selling his family chateau in the Auvergne. The beautifully restored – over-restored, according to one expert – turreted, three-storey, cream-coloured mansion has been on sale since March.

There have been few inquiries. So few that M. Giscard d'Estaing, 82, had to abandon his initially secretive sales strategy and sanction a three-page, promotional spread in the specialist publication Propriétés de France.

Initially, in March, the Giscard family refused to confirm that they were selling the Chateau de la Varvasse, near Chanonat, which was bought by M. Giscard d'Estaing's father in the 1930s. The gushing article, published this week, presents the estate as the "domain of the President".

The failure to find a buyer for the property, six miles south of Clermont Ferrand, is not surprising. The chateau market is dead in France this year. Most chateaux over €2m (£1.5m) go to foreign, mostly British and American, buyers. Since the crisis in financial markets earlier this year, the interest from upstart "Anglo-Saxons" in owning aristocratic old stones and turrets in France has declined.

Buyers who do still have money, mostly Russian, Arab or Indian and some Chinese, go for luxury villas on the Mediterranean coast, not leaky old chateaux in the French interior. "For the time being, they are too bling-bling but in a generation they will be ready to move to a chateau," said one estate agent in the Auvergne.

Another expert on the French chateau market had another explanation. "Giscard, like many others, is just being greedy," she said. "This chateau is not expecially authentic and it is an inaccessible spot, where, quite frankly, it is winter most of the year. I doubt that this estate is worth more than €2m – and then just because of the Giscard name ... There is no shortage of buyers at the right price but the truth is that people can do much better elsewhere."

Why is the Giscard family selling? The chateau, rarely visited by the family in recent years, has become surplus to requirements.

Three years ago, the former president and his brother, Olivier, bought another chateau in the village of Estaing in the Averyon département, 80 miles to the south. By doing so, they finally cemented the right of the Giscard family to be called not just Giscard but "Giscard d'Estaing." The D'Estaings were a noble family, which once owned the chateau in Estaing. The former president's father and uncles, whose great grandmother was a D'Estaing, added the noble second name by decree of the Conseil d'Etat, one of France's highest constitutional bodies, in the 1930s.

The former president and his brother have announced their intention to restore the D'Estaing chateau, partly as a family home and partly for cultural events. Valery Giscard d'Estaing has also announced that he will turn the chateau into the permanent archive of all the documents that he collected while president of the European Convention, 2002-3, which produced the ill-fated European Constitution and, ultimately, the Treaty of Lisbon.

The surplus chateau at Chanonat has been restored in recent years at an estimated cost of €800,000. One specialist quoted this week by Le Figaro suggested that the restoration – giving the chateau a doll's house look with cream walls and white shutters – had been overdone. "It looks almost too new," he said.

The Elysée years

Valéry René Marie Georges Giscard d'Estaing is the youngest man to have been elected French president, at 48. He became president in May 1974 (Nicolas Sarkozy was 52 last year). M. Giscard d'Estaing spent seven years at the Elysée Palace but was defeated after one term amid scandals and the impact of the first energy crisis.