The abandoned French chateau brought back to life by an Australian family

We all dream about packing our bags and escaping to a new life abroad.

That’s exactly what one Australian family did when they took the plunge four years ago and bought an 18th century abandoned chateau in rural France.

Craig and Karina Waters got straight to work restoring Chateau de Gudanes to its former glory, hiring a team of builders on site while they were still living in Perth.

But things in the village of Chateau-Verdun in southwestern France didn’t initially go to plan.

“One time I visited for two weeks, and upon arrival witnessed hand-painted beams being used for firewood by the builders!” Karina told Lifestyle.com.au.

The prospect of losing many of the beautiful handmade architectural details - the reason the family bought the chateau in the first place - prompted a swift change in strategy.

“At the start of 2015, I simply packed up my bags and my life and moved to another hemisphere in a country where I didn't even speak the language.”

Adjusting to the pace of life in rural France didn't come easily for Karina, although she soon learned to embrace it.

"I underestimated the impact of cultural differences," she said. "It wasn’t something I had ever given much thought. I had always lived in Perth”

Simple errands like French food shopping or going to the bank could take all day in this sleepy corner of the world.

“Everyone queues all morning and then at 12 noon the doors shut whether you have been waiting or not. I have been locked in the bank and the pharmacy at lunchtime!” Karina recalled.


“After some time I began to realise that lunch is a very important part of the day. It’s the time  when the family meets and the main meal is shared. Sometimes I take lunch at the local bistro - it is a wonderful occasion filled with laughter and song.

“Now I understand what this pace of life is about and that it is part of French culture. Not to be mocked but in fact a beautiful way to live life.”

The family also found themselves spending essential cash set aside for the transformation of the historic property on “red tape, consultants and paperwork”, not really understanding how the French system works.

But it was all worth it to see the chateau brought back to life, and the restoration continues with support from the local community.

“[Local villager] Monique recently cooked in the chateau kitchen - making several dishes from the original chateau cookbook,” Karina explained. “Her mother and grandmother all cooked in the chateau.”

The small restoration team works hard to preserve the atmosphere and authenticity of the chateau, taking a free-spirited and sustainable approach to interior design.

“Our decoration is homespun, not designed or styled but just as it happens, pieces sourced from local bric-a-brac and antique shops,” Karina said. “It is about repurposing. And why not - there seems to be an endless supply of medieval furniture and decorative arts.

“The markets and attic sales are part of the charm of France. Recently, someone asked me why I position the beds away from the walls, and what my style inspiration was behind that.

"I simply replied that it is to avoid dust and debris falling from the walls onto the bed!”

Now the Waters family are opening up the chateau for holidaymakers seeking a taste of the idyllic French dream.

So what can guests expect?

Karina told us: “It is about stepping back in time, living within the walls of an 800-year-old site.

“Summer is the season of village parties, held in every village every weekend in summer. It's where the smallest of villages each take their turn to host the evening.

“It's a night of long table dinners, piano, accordions and singing. Then afterwards the disco begins and the music plays and can be heard throughout the valleys until four in the morning!”

Guests are also given the opportunity to work alongside artisans onsite, learning old world restoration techniques and cooking with the traditional chefs.

Outside the walls of the chateau, the region is well known for its early medieval cities and villages, including fortified town Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Life does not move fast here,” Karina added. “There is a definite serenity in being disconnected from the rush of the rest of the world.”

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