You may now find yourself in the midst of a glorious hotel room in a French castle. A mother and daughter have taken on the ultimate property renovation challenge! There’s old world charm and then there’s the Chateau de Freschines in the central French commune of Villefrancœur.
This 16th century pile has seen notable figures come and go within its walls. Now with a few licks of paint, and a lot of determination, Elisabeth and Valerie Herring hope to preserve its period features for future generations. What’s more, they’ve opened it as one of the planet’s swankiest bed and breakfasts whilst they renovate the impressive castle and its grounds.
The Herrings reportedly took to the place on sight. Talking to website Messy Nessy Chic in February, Valerie called the buying process “a David & Goliath fight”. Interest was high and richer individuals than Elisabeth (an architect) and Valerie (a political science graduate) were circling this sizeable chunk of nostalgia-fuelled decadence from France’s yesteryear.
Fate smiled when a friend pitched in financially – in 2019 they bought the chateau, after a couple of years’ worth of yearning. Surrounded by 26 hectares of long-established woodland it has 30 rooms, 16 of which are bedrooms. An Airbnb listing mentions only 6 beds. Chateau de Freschines may be a prestigious location to lay one’s hat, but at this stage it’s still a bit rough around the edges. This looks to be more than made up for by the awe-inspiring decor, faded yet fabulous.
Elisabeth believes the job in hand is a “never-ending story”, as quoted by Messy Nessy Chic. The site goes on to say she “has been adding her touch with a mix and match of eclectic and period furniture thrifted from local brocantes.” A “brocante” is a second hand shop.
The hosts talk about its “classic elegance” on the Airbnb page. Their enthusiasm is matched by previous guests, if the reviews are anything to go by. “It’s almost like stepping into a film set with this beautiful chateau” says one happy customer. Another thought it “a fascinating and authentic insight into chateau life”. Pet lovers will be pleased to learn the place is “Very dog friendly”.
The chateau has a chef on site and also boasts 14 bathrooms. While these are shared, and reportedly lack hot water, many seem happy to stay for the sheer experience. Guests can pop into the “attached chapel”, or wander over to peek at the garden’s secret passageway.
Maybe this was created by a high profile former resident, the scientist Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier. Regarded as the father of modern chemistry, his work in the field of test tubes and breakthroughs was incalculable. Without his efforts, among those of other boffins, the world wouldn’t know about oxygen and hydrogen.
And he was just as ambitious when it came to home improvements. Referring to the “various outbuildings including an orangery and 4 horse boxes”, Messy Nessy Chic tells how “Lavoisier had the 16th century foundations rebuilt to his taste by the official architect of the French king himself” in the 18th century.
If Elisabeth and Valerie lost their heads over the chateau, that was nothing compared to what happened with Lavoisier. The nobleman fell foul of the French Revolution. In 1794, aged 50, he was marched to the guillotine where the laws of gravity would not be kind to him.
Other inhabitants included Napoleonic soldier Joseph Law and one Count Ludovic Hurault de Vibraye. It was then given to the clergy. For several decades from the 1970s onward it operated as a psychiatric clinic. It then lay abandoned for a while until the Herrings happened to chance upon it in 2017.
“One must book with an open mind and an appreciation for the monumental challenge the women have taken on” writes Messy Nessy Chic. They add, “It’s an invitation to witness a new chapter unfolding at the chateau.”
A nightly stay costs $150, with the entire castle available for $1,000 per night. More details can be found on its Airbnb page.
Steve is a writer and comedian from the UK. He’s a contributor to both The Vintage News and The Hollywood News and has created content for many other websites. His short fiction has been published by Obverse Books.