A few years ago, I sat next to a lovely woman on the Eurostar from Paris to London. She was Scottish but worked as a French/English translator in Paris. We were the same age and had shared similar lives. I liked her immediately. I liked her even more when she told me where she lived. She and her French husband had just purchased a castle in Normandy, she said. They'd bought it three months before, for the same price as their two-bedroom apartment in the Bastille area of Paris. She was still incredulous. "May I ask how much?" I politely enquired. €300,000, she replied, still delighted by the price. Then she told me the extras. A carriage house, a gate house, a grand estate of 10 acres, stables, a parterre garden and river frontage too. Okay, so it was a little run-down, but they'd bought a hammer and drill too. All this for the equivalent of $380,000 Australian dollars. You can't buy a smart apartment in Melbourne for $380,000, let alone a chateau with a charming carriage house.
As the train rumbled along, I thought of the A$400,000 I'd sold my one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra for the year before. I thought of the building, and how a prostitute had moved in next door. And then I thought of the chateau, with the gatehouse and estate. Thinking of these stark difference in property prices between France and Australia made me sick for the rest of the trip.
I would have forgotten this amazing story but for a couple we met the other day. They own a store in High Street, Glen Iris. My partner and I were window-shopping for an investment property in the area when I noticed they'd arranged their window display around one of my French books. So I thought I'd pop in to thank them and say hello. We chatted for almost half an hour. They revealed they were only doing "the retail thing" for another year, and then they were off to France to buy a little chateau. "You can pick them up for a pittance!" said the gentleman. The sentence was starting to have a familiar ring.
I'm not going to tell you the conversation my partner and I had in the car on the way home, but I think it had the word 'pittance' in it about ten times. And there were exclamation marks too. Lots of them. "French chateau' and "pittance" in the same sentence has a lovely ring to it, don't you think?
Intrigued, I trawled the Internet tonight, looking for chateaux of my own. I have a little money. I thought I'd see what I could buy. This is what I found. I tell you, it was lust at first shutter. Even if it's derelict, it still beats a call girl yelling out her clients' names at half-hourly intervals right next door.
Now my partner's already set his heart on relocating elsewhere. He hadn't thought of France as a potential home. He doesn't even like wine. So it might be an uphill climb to get him to reconsider a little chateau. But looking at these makes me wonder if we're looking for property in all the wrong places?
(PS The manor above, which is also described / pictured below, has had a price reduction from 492,900 Euros to 430,000 Euros. Bargain, I say.)
MANOIR / MINI CHATEAU, NORMANDY
Manor house / mini chateau set in mature grounds, also suitable for business such as a boutique hotel. 5 bedrooms, 8 acres of land, views over the valley, landscaped gardens, bluebell wood, stables, heated swimming pool. Price reduction from €492,900 to €430,000 (Euros). (A$547,000)
HISTORIC PRIORY, NORMANDY
Historic 18th century priory set in its own 8,000m2 (2 acres) park in a small village. 8 bedrooms, each with ensuite, large kitchen, scullery and landry room, and 2 salons with views over the garden. Also comes with attractive outbuildings, including stone built barns, two of which have recently been re-roofed, which could provide further development potential. €655,500 Euros / $A830,000.
HISTORIC PRIORY #2, NORMANDY
Historic 18th Century Priory, built on the site of a 14th-century monastery, located on an elevated position overlooking its outbuildings, houses and land. Also comes with a 3 bedroom detached house, formal gardens, and agricultural land, which is rented to a local farmer. €659,000.
And a few more, all of them within "a pittance" budget. I like the middle one. But I'd be happy with the last one too.