Tasmania, Australia, 2002 “Do you want to buy a share in a majestic French château?”
Having just sold his farm and enjoying semi-retirement from corporate life as a much-travelled business developer and part-time crocodile hunter, the obvious answer for Francophile Tony Botsman seemed to be “Yes”… And so his new adventure began.
Don and Pixie Lowe his Australian friends had spent several years and travelled an incredible 200,000km to find their ideal château estate in France. Their criteria? Space, style, ‘provenance’ and proximity to a vibrant town. These were all satisfied by the Château de Saint-Dau, a beautiful medieval construction with a history dating from Roman times (58BC), set in an estate of 21 hectares near Figeac in the Midi-Pyrénées.
The château, a classified “monument historique”, was being sold by the last of six generations of the French Guary family who had owned the site since before the French Revolution. Highlights of its history included a visit from Louis IX and the Knights Templar in 1258, it being a centre of contention during the wars of religion and a target for German occupation during World War II. The Australian investors, all fascinated by the area’s history, were very much aware that Château de Saint-Dau was an important part of French heritage. Their aim was to renovate the château and its grounds and to make this slice of French patrimony available to a wider audience.
Within two years, the Lowes had realized their dream of planting a rose maze in the grounds. One thousand roses created a spectacular site, attracting thousands of visitors and providing welcome income to offset the costs of maintenance and renovation. Sadly, in 2006 illness forced the Lowes to return to Australia and for the next four years the property remained unattended.
When Tony visited the site in 2009 he found the place overgrown and the château’s roof in a state of collapse. He decided to tackle the reconstruction himself. As he put it, “Flat on my back Michelangelo style, I rebuilt sections of a wall eroded by rainwater then repaired the roof five stories above the ground; Michelangelo did not have the benefit of Ibuprofen for back pain but then again, apparently he did not suffer from vertigo!”
COMPETITION – WIN 4 DAYS STAY AT THE CHATEAU WITH UP TO FOUR PEOPLE – COMPETITION DETAILS AVAILABLE HERE
He went on to renovate two cottages on the site and the first floor of the château, complete with its baronial-sized dining room.
The château has since welcomed a steady stream of visitors from Asia, Northern Europe, America and various parts of France. Many have commented on the château’s ‘magic’ and a French professor of Feng shui, even recently confirmed the site’s “positive energy “.
Tony’s focus is currently on the gardens which feature huge Gingko biloba trees, arguably the oldest in Europe and a massive yew tree estimated to be 900 years old, dating back to the Crusade of 1258 and planted by the English Knights Templar to supply their future bow stocks. The rose maze, “Roseraie”, is also being restored this year based on the obsession of Leonardo Righes, an Italian architect who came to stay in the château for a few weeks in September 2014 and is still there today! It will be re-launched as a tea garden and an outdoor sculpture centre featuring works by regional artists.
Château de Saint-Dau is known as a magical venue for hosting music festivals, artistic performances, weddings and other celebrations.
The site will be up for sale again at the end of the summer as Tony will be returning to Australia. He says he will take with him the magic of Château de Saint-Dau intact and “inoubliable”!
Visit Château de Saint-Dau’s website here