In 2013, Karina and Craig Waters of Perth Australia purchased a dilapidated chateâu in the south of France — after only seeing four of its 94 rooms. Their short viewing was due to safety rather than impulse; the remaining rooms could not be safely viewed due to their disrepair. The couple were looking for more of a pied a terre to spend the holidays, a quaint farmhouse for their family of four, but ended up falling in love with the history and character of Château de Gudanes in Verdun, that dates back to 1741, the reign of King Louis XV. The property was initially built for Louis Gaspard de Sales, Marquis de Gudanes. An influential member of the Toulouse Parliment, he was known as the King of the Pyrénées, after the range of mountains and hills the chateâu overlooked.
The two began their search when their daughter, Jasmine, spent a month in France for a study abroad program and the couple was spending their spare time following her adventures online. As a result of their internet search habits, advertisements for French real estate began popping up, and the couple soon became hooked, determined to find the perfect country home, enticed by "the promise of another life."
After their purchase, the two spent four years restoring the property from the ground up, reports the , and are now planning to open its doors to the public as a working hotel. This proved no small feat, given that many of the rooms had collapsed ceilings and floors and had never been wired for heat, electricity or other modern furnishings. While four years has gotten the Château de Gudanes to the point of being able to host guests and give them an unrivaled taste of life in Ariège and views of the Midi-Pyrénées, the couple understands that the restoration process will continue for years to come.
While they consider the renovation a "lifelong commitment," the two have a good foundation to work with — Gudanes was said to have been designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who designed the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Karina Waters did not expect the process to be simple by any means; "buying an almost ruined château which was classified as a level one historical monument in a country where we didn't even speak the language was always going to be challenging," she said. The couple's background didn't lend itself to architecture or restoration, and given the property's level one monument status, they needed to receive permissions from the government to be able to work on the château at every step.
The first steps of the restoration involved a massive clean out of all the rubble, as well as the trees and vines that had grown throughout the interior and exterior of the estate (the couple notes that approximately 500 tons of rubble were removed). Then, installation of all the missing walls, ceilings and floors began, along with the application to the historic society for future changes to be initiated. In the process, the couple began to discover the chateâu's secrets and in-depth history, like a deep hole in the ground discovered by their contractors, which they think may have been dug as an escape tunnel to the local village during World War II. Karina and Craig Waters have also discovered bones, a fresco painting, ceramics and Venetian glassware in the restoration.
The details of their discoveries will be outlined in a book they plan to release in 2018, after they open their doors this summer for three workshops, each designed to give attendees a taste of the property, the region and the world of Château de Gudanes. The goal of the hotel once it opens, says the couple, isn't about maximalism. "It won't be about overcrowding the walls with paintings or overflowing the floors with furnishings, but will be relatively minimalistic — a place to simply rest, breathe and enjoy the calm. Until they are granted permissions from the historic society to become a boutique hotel, guests can visit via their three workshops this summer, which according to the owners is 'the season of village parties, dancing until dawn, flea markets and antiques, prehistoric caves, lazy picnics, walking in the woods and Château barbecues on the front terrace.'"
Sound perfect? Probably because it will be. The workshops will be divided by focus; the first focused on traditional cuisine, followed by another with a bric-a-brac theme, full of French attic sales, antiques and artisans and lastly, a "seven starry nights" workshop aimed at channeling a little bit of everything, including restoration, yoga and relaxation. In the sale of the estate, the couple was gifted some of the château's original recipes, and so the workshops conducted this summer season will reproduce those and allow guests to connect to the history of the property. In each workshop, guests are welcome to join and work alongside artisans onsite.
"The château is a keeper of memories, and whatever we endeavor to do in the future will be about passing on and sharing these memories, and the past itself," says Karina Waters. Their experiences with the property thus far have made them realize that adapting the château to 2017 may not be possible — and that both they and guests need to be open to adapting to the château's way of life as well. "Life does not move fast here, and there is a definite serenity in being disconnected from the rush of the rest of the world," she said.
You can follow the couple's vision and journey for the on their website and sign up for their summer 2017 workshops . Until then, you can follow their journey on , where they're likely to announce any and all exciting news, including their hotel's opening dates.