If spending your vacation in a dreamy chateau in France’s Cognac region is in your future travel plans (I know it’s on my itinerary!) then you will love seeing an inside look at this gorgeous chateau Julie Berry (aka Jules) is in the midst of restoring.
I recently had the opportunity to see a live tour of the chateau between Charlotte Reiss of Vivi et Margot and Jules via Instagram, and much like Charlotte, I nearly fell out of my chair a few times when I saw how far the chateau has come since Jules first saw it back in January of 2017. From the winding staircase (if you don’t know by now two of my obsessions are winding staircases and chandeliers) and the beautiful bedrooms and tower rooms that guests will be able to stay in once the chateau is finished, to the plans Jules shared for her pool area and walled garden, you will find yourself absolutely mesmerized.
So today Jules graciously shares the story of how she first found the chateau, and inside look at what goes into restoring a large property (including her previous experience in restoration) and a list of the chateaus features that she looks forward to sharing with both family and guests alike.
When did you first see the gorgeous chateau that you are restoring in the Cognac region, and was it love at first sight?
The picture below was taken at our first viewing of the Chateau, you can actually see the agent showing us around. It was taken on 19th January 2017. We had seen a number of Chateau’s with this lovely agent, all with a much higher price tag but we really hadn’t found ‘the one’. Finally, he said I do have one more I could show you, but he was hesitant. He said it really needs too much work done, so I don’t think you will consider it. As soon as we drove up to the gates, we knew this was the one. Absolute love at first sight!
Having previously run an inn in the UK, what was the biggest challenge you ran into when taking on such a large chateau?
We previously owned an 11 guest roomed Country Inn with a separate 3 bedroomed detached cottage, large restaurant and bar in the UK. We completely renovated and refurbished the Inn much like we are doing here. It became a very successful business employing 35 members of staff. When we took on the Chateau, business was booming and in full swing so it was not easy trying to juggle both. The biggest challenge was finding a team of builders and artisans for the Chateau who we could trust. We had a few hiccups to begin with, but then found our team who are still with us now.
How much were you able to learn about the chateau’s history before you moved in?
We knew that The Chateau had been in the same family from its beginning, only changing ownership with the people we bought it from. It was always a cognac distillery, producing huge quantities of cognac (for Remy Martin we believe) from the hundreds of hectares of vines surrounding it. It produced the finest cognac as it is in The Grande Champagne region. The full distillery is still here and fully intact on the property. It is going to make a magnificent bar backdrop!
Have you made any interesting finds in the chateau during the renovation process?
There are so many outbuildings and barns that we really hadn’t fully discovered all of them at first. The most incredible find for me was the bread oven. Quite some time after owning the Chateau, I went into the end barn, through an ancient cranky barn door to see this magnificent original bread oven! I vowed one day to fully restore it, quite honestly wondering when that would ever be! Last week, the restoration of this oven was completed and we celebrated by cooking homemade pizza’s, Lamb shank casserole, roast potatoes and more. Its absolutely amazing and works perfectly.
Before & After of the bread oven
Another amazing find if you can call it that, was a 3 meter bee hive inside the triple chimney we removed through 4 floors… and there was a pink monstrosity in the middle of the kitchen that was a chimney stack that had to go!
What was one of the first rooms that you restored and where did you find some of the gorgeous finishings including the tub in the suites bathroom?
We didn’t really finish one room first because there was so much structural work to do first, like take the whole roof off and restructure it so that we could put in a staircase to access the towers (before you had to walk across the roof to get from one tower to another!)
We took a triple chimney out which was going through 4 floors, through the middle of each room and we dug down the cellar by about 1.5 feet to enable another entire floor. When we eventually moved into our bedroom suite (only this year) it was heaven. So I guess that was the first restored which has a huge claw footed bath from The Cast Iron Bath Co. in the UK. This bath had to be craned in through the window as it wouldn’t go up our winding staircase! Some other companies I’ve used are The French bedroom company, Vintage Sofas in Halifax, Yorkshire, Mcgowan Rutherford, Canonbury Antiques, etc etc.
Are there any areas or features of the chateau that you plan to leave as is/unrestored?
I think there will always be areas waiting to be restored or left un restored because there are so many buildings. There’s even a separate detached house with its own walled garden in the grounds! The main salon in the main house has needed less restoration and so this is probably the least touched.
Did all of the chandeliers throughout the chateau come with the home, or did you purchase vintage or new chandeliers?
No Chandeliers came with the Chateau unfortunately. 4 huge armoires were left though, which are gorgeous. We have bought a mixture of old and new chandeliers to furnish the Chateau as we needed so many!
What is one of your favorite rooms to spend time in?
Well, as the rooms are not properly finished and certainly not decorated or fully furnished, I don’t have that option at the moment but I know I am going to love so many places to spend time in! The kitchen and pantry I cant wait (we are nearly there), the cinema room with bar I think will be so much fun, the dining room has a table big enough to seat 20 people so there’s going to be some great times to be had in there!
During the lockdown, you were lucky enough to have the builders who are helping with the chateau’s restoration (including the pool) staying on site. What has been the best part about being able to spend more time at the chateau during the current situation?
We sold our business in the UK last November so living here at The Chateau is like a dream. Despite it’s unfinished state, it still feels like a fantasy every day from a cup of coffee on the balcony in the morning to watching the sunset over the vines every evening and all that goes on in between. The weather is sublime because we are in this wonderful micro climate here in the Charente, It’s just a joy.
On the lower floor of the chateau, you’ll have your office/hobby room, a theater, wine room etc. What are some of the rooms/areas of the chateau that you are most looking forward to sharing with your guests?
I’m just going to list these, because I cant wait to share so much of it with my family, our grown up children and my new Grandson and future guests….
- Feature swimming pool with bathing shelf and ‘in pool’ loungers
- Pool barn with fireplace, lounging furniture, pool kitchen and the aforementioned incredible bread oven
- The gardens, terraces, walled garden and raised ceremony area overlooking the vines
- The cinema lounge room with bar , popcorn machine, huge squashy sofas and day beds
- The dining room for grand dinners
- The kitchen for cooking, entertaining and ‘honesty pantry’
- The display wine cellar and room for wine & cognac tasting
- The party barns for all those special occasions
In addition to the outdoor pool, you have plans for a walled garden. What are some of the flowers and features you hope to have in the garden?
I am personally (because I wanted to have a go) building with stone a circular water feature in the centre of the walled garden. Then there will be raised beds of vegetables and herbs, a large cut flower garden, herbaceous borders and hopefully a cedar hot tub in a cosy sunset corner we have created. There are 2 lovely cherry trees already which I have planned the pathway to the ceremony area through.
One of the Tower rooms
Where are some of the nearby shops/villages that you enjoy frequenting the most and what is the best part about living the Cognac region?
Cognac is fabulous! Very chic now with the new 5 star Michelin hotel Chez Monet and its rooftop bar, The Martel rooftop bar ‘Indigo’ is very sexy and some lovely independent tres chic cocktail bars like Bar Luciole and Bar Louise. All the fab cafes on Francoise square, a gorgeous wine bar I love called La verre a pied and then all the restaurants and wonderful places along the river.
Cognac is obviously all about the actual spirit and so it houses all the famous Cognac Houses where you can take tours etc. There’s a hive of activity along the River Charente, which runs through Cognac where you can hire a boat of any type, swim, picnic or walk for miles. I could go on and on, but best to come and discover for yourselves!
Keep up with Jules of Restore the Chateau via Instagram @restore_the_chateau.
All photos provided by Julie (Jules) Berry.