TV blog: Escape to the Chateau

Benjie Goodhart / 31 May 2016

A British couple trade in their modest UK home for a fairy tale French castle.

Every year, 10,000 Brits in search of a bit of joie de vivre move to France to capture la belle vie, something with a certain je ne sais quoi, and… um… jeux sans frontiers. Right, that’s the entirety of my French used up. Anyway, Dick Strawbridge – sometime TV presenter, full-time walrus-lookalike and owner of the most prodigious moustache in Europe, and his partner Angel, are planning to join them.

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They have around £300,000 to spend. Just as well they’re not moving to London, where that would buy you a share of a bed frame in a squat. The world’s a funny place, though. Turns out it’ll buy you a chateau in France. When I read about this programme, I’d assumed that they were playing fast and loose with the term chateau – it would be a reasonably large country house. Trust me – this is a chateau. It’s got 45 rooms! It’s built on a lake! It’s got seven outbuildings, a walled garden, and twelve acres of land! Okay, it’s not Versailles, but Dick, Angel and their two kids might manage to squeeze in.

It’s a bit of a fixer-upper mind you. You know you’re taking on something complex when the survey comes back looking like a Dostoyevsky novel. “Two hundred pages of reasons not to buy the house,” grins Dick. It’s probably just as well there’s work to do, though – otherwise we’d have a four part series about Dick and Angel moving house.

Another stroke of luck is that Dick is an engineer, and Angel is a designer. They’re pretty well equipped to take this on. I’m so jealous of people with practical skills. I write stuff, and my wife used to teach primary school, which is why we quite often sit in the dark for a week when a lightbulb goes.

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The problem with the house is that it’s been unoccupied for 40 years. It’s more than just a lick of paint and a new throw for the sofa. The place has no plumbing, no electricity, no sewage, no heating. No heating. It’s January. Half of the windows are broken. Dick doesn’t mind – he’s ex-army, and he’s got the world’s most luxuriant facial hair to comb down over his body. But this looks like the kind of house that would be chilly even with working heating. In July.

Oh, and they’ve pretty much spent their budget. And they’ve got to have it ready in ten months, when they’re getting married at the house. It’s a fool’s errand.

Oh, but it’s a glorious fool’s errand. The house is simply stunning. The potential is almost unlimited. The parquet flooring and hand-painted wallpaper, the wrought-iron bannisters on curving staircases, the soaring turrets, the sweeping driveway, the glassy lake – it’s a project of such beauty, such optimism, and such indefatigability, you cannot fail to be enthused. And it feels so right, to reverse the decay that has taken root in such a fabulous residence, to preserve it for generations to come.

There are 40,000 chateaux in France. 40,000!! That’s four for every single Brit moving to France next year. Mind you, what a family of four would do with sixteen chateaux is anyone’s guess. But it means other places like this are out there too – some available for as little as £150,000. There could be plenty worse boltholes to end up in.

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Escape to the Chateau, Sunday 5th June, 7pm, Channel 4

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