Back in 2013, we broke a story about a couple that bought an abandoned chateau and started a blog to share their journey. Widespread interest, longing and general FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) ensued on the internet. Several years later, we’ve found a similar fairytale: an architect from Austria, Elisabeth Herring, and her daughter Valerie, adopt a neglected 16th century French chateau, except in this story, they’ve decided to open up the house to guests as a Bed & Breakfast almost from the very beginning, to be a part of their journey as they bring this sleeping beauty back to life…
“We fell in love with the Chateau de Freschines and its park without knowing its history or anything about the previous tenants,” remembers Valerie, a recent graduate in political science who first laid eyes on the property in 2017 with her mother, who was instantly inspired by the unthinkable challenge of leaving their lives behind in Austria to revive a neglected 400 year-old French chateau. “But it was a David & Goliath fight,” she says. “The asking price was huge, there were competing American buyers interested and nobody knew of us in the area”. After nearly losing hope, the unlikely pair eventually bought it with the help of a good friend and benefactor from Sologne, a region near Paris known for its large hunting estates.
Two hours south of the capital, Chateau de Freschines was once owned by a famous French scientist who was guillotined at the end of the French revolution. Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier was widely considered as the “father of modern chemistry” and practised his experiments in chemistry and agronomy with his wife, Marie-Anne (who was also an accomplished chemist), on the grounds of the chateau until his arrest in 1794, when the property was seized.
Surrounded by 26 hectares of secular trees, an adjoining chapel and various outbuildings including an orangery and 4 horse boxes, Lavoisier had the 16th century foundations rebuilt to his taste by the official architect of the French king himself.
After the chemist, the next tenant on record was Joseph Law, a heroic French soldier during the Napoleonic war who became a nobleman for his bravery. Another military man then inherited the domain, Count Ludovic Hurault de Vibraye, whose daughter ceded the chateau to the local clergy upon his death in 1929.
Fast-forward to the 1970s, and a psychiatric clinic moves in, which eventually shuttered in 2013, leaving the chateau to the elements and a rotation of squatters. After six years of neglect and disrepair, enter Elisabeth Herring and her daughter Valerie, who finally get the keys to the chateau in 2019.
With the help of local builders, plumbers and the help of volunteers passing through, the restoration is a work in progress in every sense of the word. Furnishing the 30-room castle is a “never-ending story” says Elisabeth, who has been adding her touch with a mix and match of eclectic and period furniture thrifted from local brocantes.
Within a few months, the resourceful mother & daughter opened Freschines as a makeshift bed & breakfast, offering rooms from $150 a night on Airbnb, or the entire chateau can be privatised for just over $1,000 a night. Local chef, Uli, who helps out at the château can also cook dinner on request.
At present, Elisabeth and Valerie can host around 16 guests, offering an experience unlike any other. “It is not the Ritz but certainly an unforgettable experience,” wrote one guest review, noting that the hosts are “very attentive, helpful and genuinely concerned with guests’ comfort”.
Hot water is a luxury not yet available the chateau but well-placed heaters, lovingly-decorated rooms, heavy blankets, a delicious homemade breakfast and charming hosts and can make up for its shortcomings. One must book with an open mind and an appreciation for the monumental challenge the women have taken on. It’s an invitation to witness a new chapter unfolding at the chateau.
This isn’t the kind of place where you can compliment your stay with spa appointments. It’s the kind of place where days can be spent discovering secret underground passageways in the overgrown garden and uncovering fireplaces hidden behind walls in the attic.
Chateau de Freschines is open for room bookings and events & weddings.