For many, the restoration of a derelict chateau in the heart of the French countryside is a romantic dream, but for one brave couple, the reality of taking an historic building under their wing has been a daunting labour of love as well as the realisation of a long-held ambition.
But this is no ordinary renovation story. The eighteenth-century Chateau de Gudanes, which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées and was built by Parisian architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, has had a turbulent history of highs and lows. Latterly, the building has fallen into a severe state of disrepair and initial plans to develop it into a hotel were eventually cast aside. Rescue eventually came in the form of brave Australian couple Craig and Karina Waters, who secured the purchase of the historic monument in 2013, after two years of protracted negotiation.
Determined to preserve the building’s integrity, the pair have settled on a considered renovation, one which has been boosted by generous donations from the public across the globe. Craig and Karina have also devised a series of workshops, shorts stays and tours where guests can immerse themselves in the unique nature of the building and even take part in its renovation. ‘Our aim is to tread lightly and gently - to preserve the atmosphere and authenticity of the Chateau and region as much as possible,’ the couple explain. ‘She will be renovated, but her rawness, wear and history will not be erased, rather, integrated. In keeping with this, we also plan to use energy efficient principles and sustainable refurbishment.’
Renovations have already hinted at the building’s fascinating history, including the discovery of hidden frescoes and a deep hole in the ground, which contractors believe may have been dug as an escape tunnel during World War II. Meanwhile, vines and trees growing within have been removed and missing floors, ceilings and walls reinstated. With the full installation of electricity ongoing, many of its rooms are still bathed in candlelight. That the works here will take years is all part of its charm – this restoration story is set to be one whose individual chapters are just as enthralling as its finale.
Château de Gudanes, Château-Verdun, Ariège, 09310, France, chateaugudanes.com