In 2013, an Australian couple bought a crumbling château in the French Pyrenees. Five years and innumerable power outages, leaks and tears later, Tristan Rutherford discovers how a “naive willfulness” (and many eager volunteers) helped coax a ruin back to life.
It was internet cookies that led Karina and Craig Waters to buy a 94-room château. The Australian couple’s daughter, Jasmine, was on a school exchange in southwest France; as Craig followed her progress, his browser became inundated with property ads for the French Pyrenees. One pop-up featured the Château de Gudanes, a Dracula’s castle–meets–Downton Abbey in the Aston Valley. The couple tacked it onto a tentative property viewing list for their forthcoming trip.
It was love at first sight, but there was just one problem: The Château de Gudanes was a forlorn wreck. It had neither water nor electricity, let alone a functioning roof. Trees grew from its turreted chimneys. Interior scaffolds were reflected in antique mirrors. Rooftop snowmelt dripped over Empire wallpaper dating from the late 1700s, back when when Voltaire and Diderot philosophized in the castle’s principal salon. It was a house of horrors—an atrophied mansion with the power to
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