LifestyleNew life in FranceRenovation

We bought a château during lockdown (from the other side of the Atlantic…)

Many of us might have been stuck at home dreaming of an escape (or even binge-watching episodes of Escape to the Chateau!) during 2020 but one brave couple from Canada made the jump last year and have a fantastic new life in the Dordogne.

Sara and Stephen Cole were living in southern Ontario working from home, and that is when their long-held dreams of moving to Europe and also buying a chateau began to progress. As Stephen, a graphic designer and artist, 46, said to Sara, a 49-year-old IT professional, one day: “What would we need to do to buy a chateau in France?” Well Sara knew the answer would revolve around finance and visas.

Because they each have a British parent they could apply for residency before the end of the Brexit transition period. “That suddenly put the time pressure on our project,” says Sara. The couple travelled to France in the summer of 2020 and met Susanne Gales, a Leggett agent in the Dordogne. After looking at some properties the couple flew back home and weren’t able to return until the Spring of 2021. “The couple really knew what they wanted so in many ways were ideal clients – the main criteria being an impressive drive up to the chateau; and a staircase that descended into the entrance hall from which to greet guests,” says Susanne.

Because getting finance was tricky for a Canadian-based couple, their maximum budget was €700,000 – from the sale of their Canadian home. The chateau they fell in love with, Le Chateau de Saint-Germain-de-Prés, just north of Hautefort, sits on 17 hectares and has 11 bedrooms. “Apart from needing to work on the heating – the chateau was previously owned as a holiday home – it was in great shape,” says Sara. The purchase of the chateau – listed by another estate agent but only 10 minutes from Susanne’s home – was an ‘adventure’ in itself, she says. “It had various phases – because of the pandemic – but all worked out in the end. Sara and Stephen are such a wonderful addition to the local community.”

Meanwhile, the couple have been busy renovating the bedrooms ready for guests, and have launched their YouTube channel, Manor & Maker – the concept is to encourage all sorts of artistic activities, workshops, and events to their manor. So their advice? “Fall in love with the dream but understand the reality: the long-term plan and the practicalities,” says Stephen. “You don’t buy a chateau to make money but to have a wonderful new life like we have achieved.”