Renovating a decaying neoclassical French Chateau is the ultimate dream, right? – Just the mere visit in a once sumptuous, now eerie palace lived by French aristocrats, where every corner has its intriguing story, gives me goosebumps.
So bringing back the glory to a crumbling, massive palace, makes the 94 room Chateau de Gudanes, Mount Everest of renovating. So, Australian couple Karina and Craig Waters in 2011 decided to “climb the summit” i.e to revive the 18th-century ruin as soon as they saw the abandoned beauty mansion in the Midi-Pyrénées online, that had been sitting on the market for four years.
Karina Waters, a former corporate and tax accountant lived with her husband Craig, a surgeon and their two children in Perth, Western Australia. In 2011, they’ve decided to buy a house in France, and they had almost given up the exhausting hunt, when the couple’s 16-year-old son, Ben, spotted the forgotten property on the internet.
The Australian couple immediately flew to Paris and drove 700km to view the enchanted mansion, and at the first glance they have found their calling: ” to bring this decaying beauty to life.”
“It was love at first sight. As we approached the village we could see the chateau – we both looked at each other, just like being at the alter! We drove to the front of the property and there it stood looking so proud” Karina recalls the moment she saw the Chateau de Gudanes in the town of Château-Verdun in the Ariège department.
Chateau de Gudanes is located at the base of Plateau de Beille, owned by a foreign syndicate, the property had been on the market for four years. The previous owners bought the chateau in the 1990s and planned to convert the palace into 17 luxurious apartments.
Naturally and luckily, this project was rejected and stopped by the French Historic Monuments organization. So, from then on, the neoclassical mansion was left to the mercy of nature and for new, more art-appreciating owners, and after a fair amount of time they came along.
Karina and Craig were not interested in making a profit out of this historic monument, but retrieve the beauty and glory of the crumbling mansion, and Chateau de Gudanes desperately needed retrieval.
“I remember seeing small trees growing on the roof, most likely birds had dropped seeds that had become lodged in the 300-year-old slate! The French Government ended up replacing the roof to save it from complete devastation”. Karina told The Good Life France.“It wasn’t habitable, there was no power, plumbing, water” she adds.
But as I mention above, Karina was assertive in her decision to ‘climb the summit of Mt. Everest”, and after signing the final contract to buy the Chateau in March 2013, lead by extremely good will and as she says “denial” her journey had begun. The task to restore a ruin dating to 1741 is challenging from the very beginning.
“A secret, slowly revealed. Each time I am here I feel happier. The area is quite simply stunning, walking along ancient paths joining villages across the mountains… picking apples, pears and blackberries, gathering walnuts, searching for the plumpest figs, taking home a bag of mushrooms, breathing in cool fresh air, forgetting I own a mobile and learning more about the history of my home in France …” Karina said.
And it got history, all right? – Another castle has stood this site for many centuries. The first one, Fantillon de Sales, the Catholic Lord of Gudanes was destroyed in 1580 during the wars of religion in France. The castle was rebuilt after 200 years int 1741 when Marquis Louis Gaspard de Sales known as “The King of the Pyrénées” decided to set up his home there. The construction was completed in 1750 and De Sales hosted first-class parties in the chateau, squandering money on guests who included notable intellectuals and artists like playwright Voltaire.The chateau escaped destruction in the French revolution and was purchased by a local family.
Karina despite knowing that this will be challenging from all aspects, started climbing the “summit and the best thing of all is that since from the start of the project she has been blogging the entire process. So, follow Karina’s journey on Chateau de Gudanes Facebook page for updates, look the Instagram feed and discover the blog.