Buy Of The Week: France

The interior of this romantic 12th-century château in Provence is stunning, says Mary Wilson. And so it should be - its creator was Shirley Conran
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The Independent Online

The Var, which lies between Marseille and Nice, is the one of the largest départements in southern France. The terrain is amazingly varied: you can choose between the sun-drenched coastline, which takes in Toulon, St Tropez and Fréjus; inland Var which is rich in vineyards and olive groves, fields of lavender and sunflowers, and the Haut Var, with its hilltop villages, oak and pine forests and breathtaking gorges.

Buyers range from those who want a low-key pace of life in inland rural Var, and those who want the more cosmopolitan lifestyle of the bustling, ritzy coast. The local food is delicious - wild boar and truffles are specialities, and there are lots of olive and wine festivals, village fêtes and folk dancing. The area is served by the many cheap flights coming into Nice, which is only 65km away, but also the new airport of Toulon-Hyères, which Ryanair has been flying into this year.

One of the prettiest villages is Seillans, from which there are sweeping views across the plateau to the mountain ranges, which lie just close to the coastline. "There are plenty of good restaurants nearby, and the Lac de Ste-Croix, which is 45 minutes away, has been compared to the Grand Canyon, although much smaller," says Brian Groocock, who runs Savills' associate office in the Var. "There are plenty of golf courses, too - the Var has 18. Seillans is not only very accessible to Cannes, which is about 20 minutes away, but also to Monaco."

In the heart of Seillans is the impressive Château de Seillans, an 8th-century fortification built on the fifth and last hilltop inland from the Côte d'Azur to protect the area from marauders. It was enlarged in the 12th century and was owned for 15 years by the novelist Shirley Conran.

Its vendors, John and Maggi Addison, bought it from Conran in 2002. "We had had an apartment in Cannes for a number of years, and were in a position to move down permanently and run a bed and breakfast," says Maggi. "When Shirley Conran bought the chateau, it wasn't really liveable in. She employed the architect Tom Wilson to renovate it, and, over the years, she did an absolutely amazing job turning it into a beautiful home."

The Addisons only major change was to renovate the kitchens. "There are two of them, and one didn't have an oven as it was Shirley's 'flower kitchen', says Maggi. "So I used one kitchen for us and the other for the bed-and- breakfast guests."

When you walk into the chateau from its unassuming exterior, you go through a small, 12in-thick wooden door into a hallway with amazingly high ceilings dating back to the 12th century. Over the front door is a glass arch. From the hallway, you look into both the winter salon and the summer salon. The winter salon, with its huge fireplace, is the original 8th-century fort, complete with arrow slits.

The summer salon has large arched windows leading on to the large terrace, and next to the salon is what used to be the monk's cell and is now used by the Addisons as a television room. "The chateau backs onto the church and there used to be lots of secret passages, which are now closed up. During the war, the local children were hidden in the cellar from collaborators," says Maggi.

Around the terrace is a beautiful wrought-iron balcony. When the Addisons arrived, this was covered in ivy, which Conran had encouraged in order to give her family more privacy from the paparazzi. The Addisons removed it, creating what is now a fabulous view, which, on a good day, reaches as far as the sea at Ste-Maxime.

On the first floor are five elegant beamed bedroom suites. The main suite has a large fireplace, a wood-panelled ceiling dating back to the 15th century, and an adjoining study. The second floor, which is plumbed and wired, is still waiting to be converted. It could very easily be turned into a self-contained apartment.

The Addisons are selling the chateau because John has been transferred to San Francisco. Prospective buyers should note that a lot of the couple's lovely antique furniture is also included in the price.


What's for Sale: 12th century chateau with six bedroom suites, two living rooms and two kitchens, cellar and plunge pool.

Serious kit: High ceilings, many very old features, terrace with glorious views.

Other benefits: Has been run as a successful bed-and-breakfast, which could easily be started up again.

Buy It: Chateau de Seillans is for sale through Savills (020-7016 3740 or 00 33 498 10 20 90) for €1.65 m.