Escape to the Château DIY: how we bought and renovated our French château
With a bit of help from Escape to the Château stars Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree, British couple Michael and Jonathan transformed a 16th-century château in the Loire Valley into a luxury hotel and wedding venue
When Michael Halpin and his partner Jonathan Cooke’s friends sent them a picture of a château that was for sale in the Loire Valley, they thought they were pulling their leg. “Our first reaction was ‘Are they joking?’” laughs Michael. “We really didn’t take it seriously to start with.”
But when the pair went to see Château de Jalesnes in Maine-et-Loire, they found that the 16th-century property looked as good as it did in the pictures. “It boasted all the traditional features you would expect to find in a French château,” Michael remembers. “It had a turret, a moat and it also offered over 2,000m² of living space.”
Suddenly, the idea of buying a French château didn’t seem like such a far-off dream, and in November 2013, the couple bought the property, along with their Australian friends Jenny and David.
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“We looked at 10 other châteaux just to make sure it was the right one, and we always came back to this one, because of the potential for what we could do with it and the fact it was a size we could manage,” says Michael. “This was the one that stuck out.”
As the château had been previously used as a medical institute, the couple set about stripping away its clinical veneer, taking down partition walls and suspended ceilings to reveal original beams, restoring the château to its former glory. “It was great to bring it back to life,” says Michael.
“One of the things we didn’t like about French châteaux is that when you go into them they are fusty and a bit smelly and there’s one bathroom that you share between the whole household even if there’s 20 people in there. Our market – British people, Americans, Australians – don’t like that. We’ve been able to put that five-star quality into the château.”
“The whole style we went for is contemporary château chic. It has a château style but it’s modern. It’s all new and comfortable – for example, there are king-sized beds, not doubles. It’s all very comfortable but it looks the right style.”
Following extensive renovation works, the couple have transformed the once-forgotten building into a luxury hotel offering people from all over the world a little slice of the Loire Valley fairy tale.
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Starring in Stylist magazine…
“There was a real buzz that weekend!” says Michael. “Stylist magazine came out and turned it into ‘Château de Stylist’. They took over and transformed the château; they really put their stamp on it. They had picnics in the forest, a banquet in our banquet hall, a cinema in the chapel, beauticians in the salon doing nail treatments and facials. There was a real buzz!”
Taking part in Escape to the Château: DIY
Most recently, Château de Jalesnes stars in a new Channel 4 series documenting expats renovating châteaux in the area, with some help from Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree stars of Escape to the Château. The series, called Escape to the Château: DIY, is on Monday-Friday at 4pm on Channel 4, starting on 9 April.
“They filmed all sorts,” explains Michael, “including a bride coming to see the place and then a wedding, but also day-to-day things like me mopping the floor when we had a blocked drain!” he laughs.
Like this? You might enjoy:
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All you need to know about buying a French château
What is it really like to live in rural France?
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