It’s a familiar story – thirty-something couple are house-hunting in London, realise how much more they can get for their money outside the capital and so opt to have more space, extra bedrooms, maybe a garden over the convenience of the inner city.
Doctor Erin Choa, originally from Highgate in north London and her French fiancé, Jean-Baptiste, took this move to the extreme, however, when they opted to buy a 20-bedroom castle in France for the same price as a one-bedroom flat in the capital.
For €680,000, the couple traded in their flat in Edinburgh, where they met 10 years ago, and bought the fairytale Château de Bourneau in the Vendée region in western France.
As well as the 20-bedroom castle, they also got 16 hectares of land and paid a supplement for four outbuildings, which used to be the estate’s bakery and stables.
Escape to the Chateau trailer
“We’d always talked about doing something like this one day but we were planning our next stage in life and we thought ‘why does it have to be something we do when we’re retired?’ A daydream evolved into reality,” says Erin.
“The thing that clinched our decision was having a search online for properties. For the price of a one-bedroom flat in London, we could buy our 20-bedroom house in France with land and outbuildings and the ability to run a business to make it work and pay for the renovations.”
The 1860s building had the “romantic, wow exterior” they were looking for but an update 30 years ago meant it was structurally sound with modern plumbing, electrics and heating – essential if the couple were to get their wedding event business up and running.
Their story is featured this week on the latest series of Escape to the Château DIY, which sees series presenter Dick Strawbridge visit the couple to help fix their leaking moat, while Erin visits Dick’s wife Angel at Château de la Motte Husson to get tips on hosting a tea party.
Erin and J-B will be able to put Dick and Angel’s hard-won advice to good use because they are doing most of the renovations themselves, little by little, as documented on Erin’s Instagram account @theintrepidchatelaine.
They estimate that the total cost of renovations could amount to a few hundred thousand pounds to get the property perfect but the couple say it’s a lifetime project. “We plan to be here for 30 years, renovating little by little,” says Erin. “At the moment it’s perfect for its imperfections.”
Keen upcycler Erin repurposes furniture left in the attic of the château or heads to the local charity shop for antique furniture at bargain prices, which she refreshes with a lick of chalk paint.
They’re also lucky enough to have inherited portraits of the family who built the château, as well as the original 22-seat gothic dining table. “I don’t think the old owners could get it out,” says Erin. “It was probably built in situ.”
That said, the Seventies décor, including peeling brown and green diamond wallpaper and lino floors, is on the way out.
The couple have their first wedding booked in for this year, a local French affair, with a grand British wedding to follow next year – and of course, when they finally get the chance to tie the knot themselves, they’ll be doing it at their new home.
Future plans include an organic kitchen garden – J-B grew up on an organic farm and the couple are passionate about eating seasonally, reducing air miles and waste.
They also have longer term plans to create a luxury bed and breakfast, while this year the couple are going to reinstate the local harvest festival tradition for the whole village to take part in.
The couple’s château adventure is in its early days – they only bought the building and moved in last summer – and it presents quite the contrast to their previous life in a small flat in Edinburgh.
“It can feel a bit strange being in a 20-bedroom château just the two of us and our cat Oscar, although we’ve made ourselves a little apartment in there where we spend most of our time,” says Erin.
“I’m used to working long shifts as a doctor but there are definitely some ‘what have we done?’ moments, usually at three in the morning when there’s a leak in the roof or we’re unblocking a toilet. That said, even after a really long, tiring day it’s really nice to look around and see how far we’ve come.”