Lonely Planet Writer

Follow the restoration of this gorgeous French château on Instagram as it opens to the public

Many people dream of picking up everything and starting over in a new and beautiful country, but the Waters family actually made it happen by leaving their home in Australia and heading to France to restore a gorgeous château in the countryside.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Oct 4, 2016 at 6:28am PDT

The family has been documenting their journey on Instagram, where they have attracted more than 230,000 followers who await images of their restoration work on the Château de Gudanes, an incredible mid-18th century home located in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The family consists of Karina and Craig and their adult children Jasmine and Ben. Back in Australia, Karina worked as an accountant, while Craig was a urologist. But, their lives moved towards being château owners when years ago, their daughter spent a month in France while she was a student, and the idea of buying a property there started to take shape.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Oct 27, 2016 at 2:00pm PDT

“Quite simply, we then stumbled on a French property blog, enticing us with photos of French manors in picturesque rural villages. Before we knew it we were hooked onto French real estate websites and the promise of another life. It didn’t take long before the entire family was caught up in the idea, but it seemed more like a far off dream than a real possibility,” Karina told Lonely Planet.

The dream started off as acquiring a small farmhouse in somewhere in France, but it quickly turned into the ownership of a massive château in need of renovations. Karina had gone on one unsuccessful trip to France looking at properties, but didn’t the right one. She and Craig returned a year later to take a road trip around France with the goal of looking at more properties. A few days before they left they saw Château de Gudanes online and decided to add it to the list.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Mar 7, 2017 at 12:18pm PST

The building is classified as a level one historical monument – and has been a part of some incredible French history – but it was in near ruins when they acquired it back in 2013. When the Waters put in an offer, they had only seen four salons inside, as the other ninety rooms were inaccessible because they had no ceilings and floors. “Trees where even growing inside and on the roof,” said Karina.

While the restoration is tough work – and has involved “restoration drama, unexpected costs and disputes” – they continue put in the time and effort, much to the delight of the people who love to see it unfold online. Karina said the initial idea was use Instagram and Facebook to share their progress with friends and family. But naturally, the incredible pictures gained attention online and soon their following began to grow.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Sep 28, 2016 at 9:06am PDT

And while following the adventures on Instagram will be enough for some people, the family will actually be hosting workshops at the château through the summer so people can go there in person. They are offering three different workshops they describe as “the ultimate French experiences”. They include “Cooking in the Cuisine, Bric-a-Brac Away and Seven Starry Nights”. The first will take visitors through French food and cooking, even using some of the original recipes of the Château de Gudanes. The Bric-a-Brac Away is “a long weekend full of brocantes, vide greniers (French attic sales) and markets – a real life antique roadshow”, says Karina. The Seven Starry Nights workshop will cover a number of different activities, ranging from learning old-world restoration techniques, yoga, relaxation and more. During the workshops, participants can work alongside artisans to learn about restoration, or even cook with the chefs in the château kitchen.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Nov 28, 2016 at 10:41am PST

And while the restoration is expected to be a long journey, the family is happy to take their time to appreciate the château as “a keeper of memories” and consider their work there a lifelong commitment.

A post shared by France (@chateaugudanes) on Sep 20, 2015 at 11:55pm PDT

“The philosophy of the Château begins with our end intention to have created something that is both respectful and sympathetic to not only the Château herself, but also the region of France that she finds herself in. At the moment we are trying to tread lightly in the restoration until we have a greater understanding of what is sustainable and what will truly do justice to her past, present, and future”.

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