Live like a lord

If an entire château is a little beyond your budget, then buying an apartment or outbuildings within one may provide a lifestyle to grow accustomed to, says Ginetta Vedrickas
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The Independent Online

Exchanging life in the UK for a better one abroad is a dream that grips many of us. But a truly unique house that has just come on to the market ensures that living the high life need no longer be the stuff of dreams. Just 21 miles from the heart of Paris, Château du de Mareil, a 25-acre estate incorporating a 17th-century chateau and landscaped grounds and woodlands, is for sale with a guide price of £5.75 million.

Exchanging life in the UK for a better one abroad is a dream that grips many of us. But a truly unique house that has just come on to the market ensures that living the high life need no longer be the stuff of dreams. Just 21 miles from the heart of Paris, Château du de Mareil, a 25-acre estate incorporating a 17th-century chateau and landscaped grounds and woodlands, is for sale with a guide price of £5.75 million.

Steeped in more than 400 years of history, the château is in the village of Mareil de Guyon surrounded by unspoilt countryside. It was built in the 1680s before being bought by the Chaumonts family in 1710, who kept it until 1846. During the Second World War it was commandeered by the Gestapo as their HQ. After the war the Red Cross used the château as an orphanage and it wasn't until the 1970s that the house was restored to its former glory by interior designer Pierre Scapula. Today the property is a blend of 17th-century architecture and 21st-century living.

London-based agent Powis Properties is marketing the château. "We don't get a huge amount of properties like this coming onto the market. It is extremely rare and we've already had a lot of interest from buyers who are considering turning it into a boutique hotel. It would be an incredibly beautiful one," says Guy Griffin, the director who personally investigated planning consent needed for change of use. "There is an awful lot of bureaucracy involved, which is why we undertook this ourselves. We approached them in July, but they all go away in August, so it wasn't until October that we finally met with the mayor and got approval."

The path should now run smoother for potential hotel owners but Griffin feels that the house could also make a wonderful family home. "It is big but, if you had a large family and lots of friends, it would be perfect." Griffin believes that, despite its price tag, the house represents good value although arriving at the sum was difficult. "It's incredibly cheap compared to properties of this size in the South-east of the UK but, while here it is easy to get comparables by looking at equivalent properties that have sold, in France and especially Paris very few large houses such as this one ever come on to the market."

Behind iron gates, the house is surrounded by parkland, gardens and woods. Internally, the rooms include two striking salons with elaborate fireplaces and Versailles parquet floors. Two dining rooms cater for intimate or grander occasions and one room has a horticultural theme with corner panels carved with gardening motifs. Much renovation has already been done and a pool has been added, but the second floor lies untouched since its orphanage days. "The major chunk of expensive work such as the roof, electrics, wiring and installing a country-style kitchen has been done, what is left really is decorative," says Griffin.

Château de Mareil lies at the very top of the market but many British buyers are tempted by the often dilapidated châteaux. Paul Carslake, author of How to Renovate in France, has seen many such examples over the years. "They are often extremely large and, by comparison, very cheap. But buyers should be very wary of what they are taking on. Renovation costs can be enormous and you often notice them selling but coming straight back onto the market, still unrenovated, and you have to ask why."

Restoring an entire château may be financially impractical for many, but there is a way of living like a French lord: by buying properties that are part of a château's estate. Penny Zoldan of Latitudes explains that "heavy maintenance" is the biggest deterrent: "To keep those kinds of places going you've got to be more than a millionaire."

Zoldan recently sold a very large château, which its owners are converting into separate apartments. She sees this as an increasing trend: "I've seen wonderful examples where the owner has ended up with the former huge reception as their own and it's just amazing."

Latitudes has a range of properties carved from formerly grand houses, which give buyers the advantages of setting and outlook but without huge maintenance worries. Most are set within wonderful grounds and in some cases have a swimming pool, gym, conference rooms and a resident caretaker. In Beaujolais, 45 minutes from Lyon, a chateau's outbuildings have been converted into 18 separate homes, all with private gardens and access to an indoor/outdoor pool and gym. Prices are between £185,000 up to £400,000.

A two-bedroom apartment in Charras, north of Dordogne, set in 12.5 acres of walled parkland and gardens within a château's grounds, has access to the pool and tennis courts and is for sale fully furnished at €130,000. "Many of these properties are no more expensive than a one-bedroom villa on the Côte d'Azur, yet you get so much more and can truly live like a lord yet without paying through the nose," says Zoldan.

www.chateaudemareil.com

Powis Properties: 020-7221 1101; www.powisproperties.co.uk

Latitudes: 020-8951 5155; www.latitudes.co.uk

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