Rise of the mini château: petite prestige homes are all the rage in France right now

695k maison de maitre for sale in Gers with Agence le Bonheur

Handsome home in the jazz festival town of Marciac (see listing below) - Credit: Agence le Bonheur

Spurred on by TV shows such as Escape to the Chateau and Chateau DIY, Brits have long lusted after affordable fairytale properties in France. Now it seems the French too are buying into the shoestring château dream.

683k Cute château in Charente for sale with Beaux Villages

€683,000, Charente: Near the Plus Beau Village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, a neat little château, ideal for weddings, with six bedrooms, four bathrooms and two one-bed apartments set in a hectare of parkland with outbuildings. - Credit: Beaux Villages Immobilier

According to the Mercure group, a luxury estate agency that claims to sell one in three French châteaux, sales of flashy multi-million-euro properties have plummeted by 20% over the past two years, mostly due to the pandemic-enforced absence of wealthy foreign buyers.

However, more modest country piles with a pricetag of less than €800,000 – and ideally around €500,000 – are proving a hit with French buyers – with sales shooting up 20% in the last year alone.  

Fairytale house with turrets for sale in Lot with Leggett Immobilier

€583,000, Lot: Fairytale seven-bedroom house (currently a highly respected B&B) with twin towers, sauna, pool, carport, shed and over a hectare of land in Le Vigan - Credit: Leggett Immobilier

Homely châteaux, mini manors and maisons de maîtres with grand features are proving hugely popular with upwardly mobile French urbanites suffering from covid claustrophobia, says the group’s managing director Olivier de Chabot-Tramecourt. In fact, the most popular budget for its clientele is now €500,000.

“The [luxury] market remains dynamic and lively. It’s just that expectations and the type of properties most in demand have changed,” he told the Figaro newspaper. “This trend can be explained by the desire of our clientele to acquire, at the same price as a flat in the city, a beautiful property in a rural or suburban area.” 

259k mini chateau for sale in Manche with ASI Immobilier

€259,350, Manche: Elegant seven-bedroom petit château with parquet floors, spiral staircase, wine cellar and geothermal heating on a two-acre plot with outbuildings and paddock near the market town of St-Hilaire-de-Harcouët. - Credit: ASI Immobilier

You certainly don’t need to be a millionaire in France to pick up a grand-but-manageable residence with high ceilings, tall windows and at least echoes of Versailles or the Loire Valley. Looking for turrets and balconies? Pediments, plasterwork and parquet flooring? A sweeping entrance hall and vaulted wine cellar? Baroque-style oeil de boeuf windows or Renaissance-style facades? You’re spoilt for choice. 

Chateau in Haute-Vienne for sale with Beaux Villages

€798,000, Haute-Vienne: A stroll from amenities in a Périgord National Park village, a tasteful eight-bedroom château with Napoleonic black marble fireplace, pool, sauna, wine cellar and 1,658m2 gardens with wrought iron gates. - Credit: Beaux Villages Immobilier

Not surprisingly, handsome homes not far from the capital have been selling particularly fast. 

 "For this budget of less than €800,000 euros, it's madness with us at the moment for properties located up to 100km or even 150km from Paris,” confirms Marc Foujols who heads up a real estate network of the same name. “As soon as we bring in properties with character at this price, they go very quickly.” 

550k Manor house for sale in Manche with Agence Newton

€550,000, Manche: Handsome six-bedroom manor near Tessy-sur-Vire, with conservatory and two spacious outbuildings that could be converted (with permission), set in nearly three acres of lawns and orchard with two entrances. - Credit: Agence Newton

Even though overseas buyers have been restricted by the pandemic, they are still getting a slice of the action. 

“The increase in demand for this type of property has been staggering - with demand from both French and International buyers,” says Joanna Leggett, of France-wide English-speaking agency Leggett Immobilier. “You just need to look at the page views on our websites to see that buyers are browsing châteaux whilst sipping their cafes in Paris, London and New York. 

“In the last two years, our French website has seen 1.1m views on URLs containing 'chateau' or 'maisons de maitre', whilst our English-speaking website has seen a staggering 6.8m views over the same period. Obviously real-life visits and sales are way up too.” 

Stylish manor-style house near the Loire Valleywith Leggett

€614,800, Maine-et-Loire: Stylish manor-style house in a town near the Loire Valley, with parquet flooring, stained-glass windows, electric gates, garden and three bedrooms plus a three-bed apartment already rented out. - Credit: Leggett Immobilier

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Joanna adds: “The vast majority are not dreamers looking at the property porn of glorious and historic châteaux, but serious buyers with budgets of €500k to €2m looking for country property that can accommodate extended family and can also be used as a home office. Once again though, it is all about location, location, location and the property must have excellent communication links – rural but accessible is the mantra.” 

bourgeois house for sale in Duras, Lot-et-Garonne, France

€400,000, Lot-et-Garonne: A short walk from the château town of Duras, a five-bedroom Bourgeoise property renovated in 2010, with attached stone barn, two large attics well and cellar with cobbled flooring on a 500m² plot. - Credit: Richard Immobilier

Samm Khoury, of south-west agency Richard Immobilier, saw her entire stock of small châteaux snapped up last year.  
"They had been on the market for five or six years and then suddenly all sold for between €500,000 and €1m. And there is still demand," she said. "However, those priced over €1m have not really moved much in the last couple of years."

695k maison de maitre for sale in Gers with Agence le Bonheur

€695,000, Gers: In the town of Marciac, famous for its international jazz festival, a handsome maison de maître with four bedrooms, a large convertible attic and reversible air con, set in 1500m² of grounds with a renovated barn and conservatory. - Credit: Agence Le Bonheur

Many buyers have headed to rural Gascony in the south-west corner of France, where rolling hills, clean air and fertile land between coast and mountains are credited with giving locals one of the longest average life expectancies on the planet.

"Small manor houses and châteaux have been very affordable to clients leaving the cities," says Edward Landau of Agence Le Bonheur. "In many cases, the proceeds from the sale of a modest apartment in one of the larger cities is enough to buy a very prestigious property here."

Gascony is also well known for its large character farmhouses, with generous hallways, high ceilings, traditional terracotta tiles and expansive plots of land – often at modest price tags.

265k character Gascon farmhouse for sale with Agence Le Bonheur

€265,000, Gers: Traditional Gascon farmhouse with three large bedrooms, attached barn and 3,800m² of land with a lake - Credit: Agence Le Bonheur

"The abundance of stock that we were accustomed to only a few years ago seems to be a faint memory as agents and clients clamour to get hold of what is still available in the area," added Edward. "We are starting to see prices move upwards with growth of around 8%  for the calendar year but I feel that this could accelerate due to the unprecedented level of demand."