The number of castles for sale in France has been rising for years. In 2010, it was 800, in 2019 there were 1500 chateaus for sale. One of the causes of that increase is maintenance, which costs a handful of money.
With ten or even dozens of rooms, you need more than a wallpaper rolls. For a roof leak, you should not put a ladder, but a scaffold. Fewer and fewer castle owners have the money for that. It is then choosing between decay or sales.
In France now seems to be a solution to that. “We started an initiative to buy castles collectively, with a whole group of people,” says Romain Delaume, top man of the online platform Dartagnans. “That‘s our way to save French cultural heritage from ruin.”
And there seem to be plenty of chateau fanatics. “We made our first purchase in 2018,” says Delaume. “With more than 20,000 people from 115 countries, we bought Château de la Mothe-Chandenier.”
That 13th-century castle is in the Loire region. It burned out largely in 1932 and then turned into a green overgrown ruin. The castle has trees everywhere and the branches grow through the windowless windows.
The monument with crumbled towers is partly in the scaffolding and is propped and supported by wooden beams. However, the castle has another moat. Admirers often talk about France’s most romantic ruin.
Nobody saw bread in repair or renovation. Dartagnans did: interested parties could register on the platform, buy one or more shares at 79 euros and then all became co-owner of Château de la Mothe-Chandenier. “They come from the United States, Brazil, the Netherlands, Japan, you name it,” says Delaume. “And they range from 18 to 90 years of age.”
Falling in love
Every weekend, co-owners gather at the castle to get their hands out of their sleeves. Cleaning and debris is being cleaned. With shovels, brooms and wheelbarrows, they enter the ruins with groups. The real repair work is left to specialists.
“It feels like one big family,” says Frenchman and co-owner Jean-Christophe Lippmann. “Everyone works together and you all meet people you don‘t know at all. But after a weekend at the castle together, it feels like you’ve known each other for years.”
Lippman bought ten shares with his wife. “We were in love with the castle from the start, it‘s so beautiful and so magical. We even moved for it. We lived near Paris and drove back and forth every weekend. Now we bought a house in the neighborhood so we can go to our castle much more often.”
The more than 20,000 owners are always allowed to enter the castle for free for the rest of their lives. In addition, they decide on finances, renovations and what work is priority. “We have a shareholders‘ meeting every year,” says Delaume of Dartagnans. “We then make proposals and all owners vote on that.”
So far, those owners have put 3.6 million euros on the table. The purchase required 1 million and another 1 million was spent on the first recovery operations. But the remaining 1.6 million will not be enough to restore Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers to its former glory.
“We also expect 100,000 paying visitors a year in the long run,” says Delaume. “And on the grounds around the castle there are wooden houses that visitors can rent.”
In the castle itself, a room can be rented out in the long term. In that room there is another bell before the fire of 1932, allowing the owner to call the staff from the living room.
For the rest, the 13th-century chateau remains a refurbished ruin. “We‘re going to repair and refurbish the walls. But all the greenery, all the trees that grow in the castle now, that all remains. That’s what makes this castle so unique: the combination of architecture and nature.”
At Dartagnans they have the taste. Two other French castles have now been purchased with participants from all corners of the world.