Escape to the Chateau: DIY follows family’s wedding adventures in France
Escape to the Chateau: DIY is back for a second series following intrepid British families taking on the task of renovating and running their fairytale châteaux dotted throughout the French countryside, including Château du Doux
In the latest series of Escape to the Chateau: DIY, Dick and Angel Strawbridge, from the original Escape to the Chateau show on Channel 4, are back on hand to offer advice and practical help to prospective château buyers, as well as new and established château owners.
The observational documentary series features Château du Doux, in Altillac, Corrèze, south-west France, which is run by IT consultant Clive, wife Karen and their 20-year-old daughter Abbie Young who tells us what it's like to live in a fabulous French château.
Had you always wanted to own a French château?
It was definitely my dad's dream to own a French property. He has always been passionate about architecture and restoration, and since I was a child his dream had always been to live in France. For the last 25 years he has been an avid reader of Living France magazine and loves to look at splendid properties (especially châteaux) for sale throughout France.
What attracted you to Corrèze?
In short, Château du Doux! My parents were familiar with Dordogne after we spent a summer there for my third birthday and we'd also had a chaumière (cottage) for eight years in Normandy. We didn't have our hearts set on a particular region, we simply fell in love with the Château and found the surrounding countryside overwhelmingly beautiful and tranquil. It has so much to offer! Corrèze is stunning and really is like a second home for me now. The weather is fantastic too, we have beautifully hot summers (almost without exception), and the autumn colours are breathtaking and inspiring. Another advantage is that we have ski slopes just over an hour's drive away.
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Tell us about the first time you stayed at Château du Doux
We first visited the Château in 2008, when it was still being run as a 2* hotel. My dad cleverly combined visiting the Château for a week while he was working throughout France and Spain. Little did we know that the magnificent property we stayed in would one day become our own!
I remember my dad saying "it's magnificent, gotta have it" and I remember my mum raising her eyebrows in disbelief but here we are all the same! On a subsequent date, I remember going back to view the Château with an estate agent, I was only 10 at the time and I remember all of the shutters were closed and it was dark inside. I recall being overwhelmed at how many bedrooms there were to explore!
What were your first impressions?
My dad was completely blown away by the beautiful architecture and the sheer size of the building. Although the interior was run down (as it had not been renovated for over a decade) I remember all of my family thinking our rather basic apartment was almost luxurious as we'd been staying on a primitive campsite in Spain in over 40 degree heat.
What do you know about the history of Château du Doux?
Unlike many châteaux it isn't that old as it was built in the 20th century between 1904 and 1906. It was designed by the famous architect Jean-Louis Pascal (who also designed the famous Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris). The Château was originally built as a private residence for entertaining foreign dignitaries. During the Second World War the Château was used to detain Jewish people during the Vichy regime.
In the 1950s Château du Doux, along with the surrounding farm, was put up for sale. The farm itself was purchased by my boyfriend's great uncle and inconceivably cost more than the Château itself. The Château was then subsequently run as a "colonies de vacances". Prior to this, the Château was converted into a 2* hotel and run by an association called ADEP which employed adults with learning difficulties. They had over 30 staff present and living onsite. Unfortunately the overheads were greater than the revenue which forced the business to close at the end of 2008 leaving some of the staff bereft as they had felt a true sense of worth and been a valued part of the community living at Château du Doux. This was a situation that we really empathised with as my brother, Ross, is autistic and is a tremendous asset with the day-to-day tasks associated with running the Château.
How long have you owned it now?
10 years, we have owned it since June 2009.
Who lives there?
I live here full-time and have done since finishing my A levels. My parents are here during the season, but more and more so. The aim is for them to sell up in the UK and move here full-time.
When did you decide to open it as a wedding venue?
My family had no previous experience in hospitality and we never really planned to run it as a business. I guess it all started when a couple knocked on our door in 2011 asking to use it as a wedding venue. It was then that we realised what an amazing building and location we had and that running it as a wedding venue would provide a solid foundation for the future. Over the next few years we tried everything from Bed & Breakfast, to holiday apartments to whole château rental! In the end, we decided that the best and most enjoyable way to fully utilise the Château and to earn enough income to pay for its upkeep would be to host weddings. By word of mouth the business has slowly picked up and it is now a viable wedding venue.
Did you have to do a lot of work to it?
When we purchased the Château it was in a functional but run down state. Work will be on-going for as long as we have it!
How would you describe its style?
I guess the Château is not the traditional wedding venue in the sense that there are no fairytale turrets, but it has a unique style all of its own - there is nothing like it!
What do you most enjoy about running it as a business?
One of the highlights is the possibility of meeting so many different people from all over the world. We try our utmost to provide the wedding party with an unforgettable stay and there is nothing more rewarding than the success of a 5* review and hearing people say how much they enjoyed it.
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How did you come to appear on Escape to the Chateau: DIY?
We were sat enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a hard day's work and saw an advertisement for the programme on social media and on the spur of the moment thought why not?!
What did Dick and Angel help you with?
My mum and I travelled eight hours north to meet Angel. She was delightful and it was very helpful to speak to someone who also organises weddings. It was great to be able to exchange experiences and receive her advice. She also helped us create a rustic bar, using old barrels from my boyfriend's farm. It was tremendous fun, the end result was impressive and will definitely be used going forward!
What advice would you give to expats thinking of buying a château in France?
Think it through very carefully. As any château owner will tell you, the upkeep costs are extortionate and without DIY capability you will almost certainly run into difficulty because labour costs and tax are enormous in France! You would definitely need a means of generating money to contribute towards the upkeep costs.
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