Vacationing family stumbles across abandoned French chateau, decides to restore it

Vacationing family stumbles across abandoned French chateau, decides to restore it

A historic French chateau is not your typical vacation home.

Especially not an utterly abandoned chateau.

But as soon as the Waters family laid eyes on Chateau de Gudanes in the southwestern village of Chateau-Verdun, they discovered it was exactly what they wanted.

"We had never planned on a chateau. Our French friends warned us about those," says Karina Waters, whose Australian family had been on the hunt for a vacation home in France. "But after driving down the snow-capped mountains and seeing the chateau's grounds from the village, we were sold." (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow.)

The restoration, documented on their Chateau de Gudanes blog, is no simple undertaking. Many of the rooms lack a ceiling, a floor or both. And the place, though striking, has never been outfitted with such luxuries as heat or electricity.

And that's after three years of bureaucratic wrangling to simply purchase the property.

Chateau de Gudanes is a Class 1 monument, France's highest designation for historic buildings, in the company of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame.

The chateau was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the premier architect of France during the reign of Louis XV. Gabriel was responsible for parts of Versailles and the Place de la Concorde, a major public square on the eastern end of the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Karina and Craig Waters.
Karina and Craig Waters.

After the bureaucratic tug-of-war in purchasing the home, Karina, husband Craig and their two teen children began work on the restoration in November 2013.

Since then, they've unearthed mysterious medieval tunnels, discovered 18th-century artifacts that hint at what daily life was like in the chateau, and peeled back plaster to reveal a beautiful fresco in a salon on the first floor. (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow.)

The process of buying and restoring a home of such size and significance has been arduous. While the family has largely funded the restoration -- Karina is a tax accountant, her husband a urologist -- their blog has attracted enough attention that the donations have started to roll in from chateau aficionados around the world. When Yahoo Homes asked how much they've spent, Waters just laughed and said: "A lot. A lot."

But it's been rewarding work, too, and the Waters family decided that they wanted to share it with the public.

They plan to have a cafe and bookstore at first, and eventually they hope to host weddings, celebrations and overnight guests.

But there is still much to do before the chateau can open to the public.

"Once it's complete, it will be a fairytale," Waters says. "But we've just bitten in the poison apple and hope to make it out with our lives—and some electricity."

Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the Waters family's Chateau de Gudanes.