Château de Gudanes: Australian couple behind incredible French renovation open house to public

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The Australian couple behind an incredible 18th century château restoration in France have announced that their home is ready to open to the public after almost ten years of renovations. 

Karina and Craig Waters had no idea how long it would take to restore the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun when they bought it in 2013 for $500,000 after seeing just four of its 94 rooms.

But now the level one historical monument – from the reign of King Louis XV in Ariège, Occitanie, is now ready to take bookings. 

‘It is with much excitement and anticipation that we present to you the keys of the Château,’ The couple posted on Instagram, saying a stay would take guests back to the 18th century while they experienced the history and culture of the French countryside. 

However, a stay at the château doesn’t come cheap.  

Château de Gudanes: Australian couple behind incredible French renovation open house to public

The Australian couple behind an incredible château restoration in Verdun in the south of France have announced that after ten years of renovations, they are finally ready to open their home to the public (Château de Gudanes pictured)

When Karina and Craig Waters (pictured) purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun in 2013 for $500k having seen just four of its 94 rooms, they did not know the full extent of restorations that would need to take place

When Karina and Craig Waters (pictured) purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun in 2013 for $500k having seen just four of its 94 rooms, they did not know the full extent of restorations that would need to take place

When Karina and Craig Waters (pictured) purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun in 2013 for $500k having seen just four of its 94 rooms, they did not know the full extent of restorations that would need to take place

There are several accommodation and experience packages available, including a seven night and eight day option in spring, which costs AUD $8,350 (€5,200).

There is also a Cooking in the Château package for AUD $6,744 (€4,200). This is ‘all about cooking with love together in the Château’s kitchens, using recipes both old and new to create sweet and savoury French fare’.

Visitors after something shorter can stay for a weekend for $5,138 (€3,200).

‘The weekender is a leisurely long weekend with a little mix of everything,’ Karina and Craig explained.

‘Revelling in the peace and the tranquility of simply being at the Château as well as exploring the local surrounding villages and historical sites. Enjoying picnics, pondering and pottering around the Château, surrounding countryside and antique and farmers markets together.’

All stays include breakfast, lunch, dinner and delectable desserts prepared by French chefs, unlimited drinks, with organised activities, transfers and ‘many special surprises along the way’.

There are several accommodation and experience packages available on the Château's website, including a 'Seven Starry Nights and Eight Spring Days' option - which costs AUD $8,350 (one of the bedrooms pictured)

There are several accommodation and experience packages available on the Château’s website, including a ‘Seven Starry Nights and Eight Spring Days’ option – which costs AUD $8,350 (one of the bedrooms pictured)

Speaking previously to FEMAIL, Karina told Daily Mail Australia about their search for a French castle, and why the project will be a lifelong renovation that they will never stop with (interiors pictured)

Speaking previously to FEMAIL, Karina told Daily Mail Australia about their search for a French castle, and why the project will be a lifelong renovation that they will never stop with (interiors pictured)

Speaking previously to FEMAIL, Karina told Daily Mail Australia about their search for a French castle, and why the project will be a lifelong renovation that they will never stop with (interiors pictured)

Speaking previously to FEMAIL, Karina told Daily Mail Australia about their search for a French castle, and why the  project will be a lifelong renovation.

‘Our property search in France began when our daughter, Jasmine, spent a month in France while she was in school,’ Karina Waters told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘Craig was tracking Jasmine’s every move on the computer, and so advertisements for French real estate began to pop up as suggestions for him to look at. 

‘We stumbled upon a French property blog, which enticed us with photos of French farmhouses in picturesque rural villages. Before we knew it, we were hooked on French real estate websites and the promise of another life.’ 

The Château had been on the property market for four years by the time it was finally snapped up by the Waters family. 

‘We found Château de Gudanes on the Internet just a few days before we left, and decided to include it on our viewing itinerary,’ Mrs Waters added.

But now, a decade after they began renovating the level one historical monument - which dates from the reign of King Louis XV and sits in Ariège, in the Occitanie region - Craig and Karina are ready to invite the public in to their home (pictured)

But now, a decade after they began renovating the level one historical monument – which dates from the reign of King Louis XV and sits in Ariège, in the Occitanie region – Craig and Karina are ready to invite the public in to their home (pictured)

Since the couple made the purchase in 2013, restoring and attaining the Château - which was built between 1741 and 1750 - has been a lengthy and involved process (staircase pictured before renovations)

ince the couple made the purchase in 2013, restoring and attaining the Château - which was built between 1741 and 1750 - has been a lengthy and involved process (staircase pictured during renovations)

Since the couple made the purchase in 2013, restoring and attaining the Château – which was built between 1741 and 1750 – has been a lengthy and involved process (staircase pictured before and during renovations)

Remarkably, the historic château, which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées, had never been outfitted with heat or electricity prior to their ownership (exterior pictured in winter)

Remarkably, the historic château, which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées, had never been outfitted with heat or electricity prior to their ownership (exterior pictured in winter)

Since the couple made the purchase in 2013, restoring and attaining the Château – which was built between 1741 and 1750 – has been a lengthy and involved process. 

‘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,’ Ms Waters said.

Remarkably, the historic château, which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées, had never been outfitted with heat or electricity prior to their ownership.

‘To add to that, we had very little exposure or background in architecture, restoration or old buildings. When we put in the offer, we had in fact only seen four of the 94 rooms (most were inaccessible because there were no ceilings or floors). Trees were growing inside and on the roof!’

However, undeterred, the ambitious pair set to work and began to update the crumbling building, which was designed by renowned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel – the brains behind the Petit Trianon in Versailles.

To conduct any work at all – even the smallest of details – they had to apply and receive permission from the Historic Monuments of France. 

‘In the first phase, our builders re-installed all the walls, ceilings and floors that had collapsed. Prior to that, they had to remove the 500 tonnes of rubble from inside,’ Ms Waters said. 

Next, they had to apply again to the Historic Monuments to make more changes. 

‘It usually takes several years before anything else can go ahead,’ Ms Waters explained. ‘In the meantime, we have been doing smaller tasks, and also continuing to reinstall things like tiling. 

‘A few years ago, we also milled the trees which had fallen in the Château park, and our local artisan helper, David, used the wood to create two massive Medieval-inspired tables.’ 

It's been an in-depth job - Ms Waters confessed they've put in as many hours 'as humanly possible', but she added: 'Every day counts towards building a dream, and a sustainable future for the Château' (bedroom pictured)

It’s been an in-depth job – Ms Waters confessed they’ve put in as many hours ‘as humanly possible’, but she added: ‘Every day counts towards building a dream, and a sustainable future for the Château’ (bedroom pictured)

Incredible finds from the past 10 years include bone, ceramics, a fresco painting and Venetian glassware (areas of the building before pictured)

Incredible finds from the past 10 years include bone, ceramics, a fresco painting and Venetian glassware (areas of the building before pictured)

Incredible finds from the past 10 years include bone, ceramics, a fresco painting and Venetian glassware (areas of the building before pictured)

It’s been an in-depth job – Ms Waters confessed they’ve put in as many hours ‘as humanly possible’, but she added: ‘Every day counts towards building a dream, and a sustainable future for the Château’.

Building work on the château as it stands today began in 1741, on behalf of Louis Gaspard de Sales, Marquis de Gudanes. Also known as the King of the Pyrénées, he was an influential member of the Toulouse Parliament, and ironmaster of the Ariége area.

With regards to their highlights during their epic Château restoration so far, Ms Waters said there have been many.

‘We have discovered some very interesting “finds” at the Château along the journey. The Château has revealed her history to us slowly.

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‘One example from when we first started occurred when the builders found a hole in the ground. After they started excavating it, they figured that it goes at least six metres underneath the ground.

‘We think it may have been an escape tunnel to the local village. There is even a boarded up doorway on the walls around the Château grounds leading there.’

According to local reports, a 10ft wide hole found in the floor is believed to have been dug as a safe passage to the local village during World War II.

Other incredible finds from the past 10 years include bone, ceramics, a fresco painting and Venetian glassware.

What lessons have the Waters family learned while renovating the Château?

1. It’s all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make everything new. The more that you emphasise the old, the more beautiful it will look.

2. When taking on any renovation project, it’s important to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project. 

3. You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork. You will end up having to do some of this yourself.

4. Take into account the cost and be realistic about the amount of money you are able to invest. These can be enormous, and unless you have rigorous training and qualifications, you will not be able to make all changes yourself and will need to factor in the cost.

The Château has more than 381,000 fans on Instagram, while thousands more check in on the castle's websites for updates and upcoming events (exterior pictured)

The Château has more than 381,000 fans on Instagram, while thousands more check in on the castle’s websites for updates and upcoming events (exterior pictured)

The Château has more than 381,000 fans on Instagram, while thousands more check in on the castle’s websites for updates and upcoming events.

‘The château is a keeper of memories, and whatever we endeavour to do in the future will be about passing on and sharing these memories, and the past itself,’ Ms Waters said.

‘As the restoration journey progresses it becomes clearer to us each day that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us.’

She added: ‘Life does not move fast here, and there is a definite serenity in being disconnected from the rush of the rest of the world. This is a lifelong commitment’. 

For more information about Château de Gudanes, please visit the website here.



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