A young couple who quit their jobs and poured their savings into a crumbling French chateau have revealed the trials and tribulations of renovating the fairytale property.
London-born doctor Erin Choa and her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste ‘JB’ Gois, both 31, are on a mission to restore Château de Bourneau to its former glory after purchasing the sprawling castle for €680,000 (£585,000) last summer.
When they first moved in, the stunning Renaissance château in rural Vendée, Pays de la Loire was falling apart following three decades of neglect with a leaky moat and rotting window frames – meaning the DIY-mad couple have their work cut out for them and often clock up 14-hour days.
Anaesthetist Erin and Jean-Baptiste, a mechanical engineer from Burgundy who she met in Edinburgh in 2010, now making a living from hosting dinner parties and letting out their fairytale castle as holiday accommodation after acquiring the keys in July 2018.
The couple, who live in a small apartment nestled inside the castle, had decided that they wanted to ‘take the plunge’ and set up home in France with their tabby cat Oscar – but Erin’s language skills were not advanced enough to allow her to work as a doctor in her partner’s home country.
London-born doctor Erin Choa and her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste Gois, pictured, are embarking on a property renovation of epic proportions after purchasing Château de Bourneau in Pays de la Loire for €680,000 (£585,000) last summer
Red roses in the grounds of the stunning Château de Bourneau in Vendée, Pays de la Loire. The crumbling Renaissance castle was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin after the pair swapped Edinburgh for rural France. Images shared on their Instagram page reveal the hidden treasures they have discovered while exploring the buildings many rooms, from a dusty old travel chest to a rusty set of keys for the castle’s library
‘Life in boxes’: Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin are constantly finding hidden treasures in their recently-purchased Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. Pictured: The château kitchen featuring a large stone fireplace, with boxes yet to be unpacked; the couple have been getting by without a functioning fridge despite having guests to stay
A snap shared on Erin’s Instagram account (@theintrepidchatelaine) shows the extent of the renovations taking place. The south corridor was covered in ‘1970s weird brown textured wallpaper’ which the couple tore down last month
New arrivals: A pair of grand urns which the couple recently bought for €70 (£60) from a garden ornament store (left) and the arrival of some antique Victoria chairs and a cast iron bath, delivered to the chateau in February (right)
An Instagram snap of a recent al fresco dinner at the Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. It was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin, who wrote: ‘This is one of the most beautiful hours of the day to watch the sun set over the château with candles in the waning light’. They are also taking bookings for weddings and private events
The Yellow Salon at the Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire is described as ‘a blank canvas for any kind of party or celebration’. The fairytale castle was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin, a doctor from London
The sun-filled solarium in the sprawling Château de Bourneau. The castle and its 16-hectare grounds are built above the ruins of a medieval town square which were inhabited until 1789; it was abandoned during the French Revolution
The couple appear in the new series of Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau: DIY which follows plucky Brits taking on the task of renovating and running their own fairytale chateaux dotted across the French countryside.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline about their life-changing decision, Erin said: ‘We soon realised that in France we could afford a much bigger property and our dream lifestyle, which cinched the decision.’
So the pair decided to move into the holiday letting business and began looking out for a suitable property.
‘We started looking at manoirs requiring full restoration,’ said Erin. ‘And then our ideas evolved to a property capable of supporting the two of us full-time.
‘Our ideas then grew into something bigger – creating an events venue to serve the local community as well as attracting an international market to host weddings and private events.’
The couple visited more than ten properties (and viewed hundreds more online) before coming across the Château de Bourneau by chance after driving past it, and say it was a complete coup de foudre (love at first sight).
Erin and JB, who live in a small apartment nestled inside the castle, had decided that they wanted to ‘take the plunge’ and set up home in France – but Erin’s language skills were not developed enough to enable her to work as a doctor
Jean-Baptiste Gois (left) and Erin (right) Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire which they recently purchased after deciding to move into the holiday lettings industry. The castle is thought to have been uninhabited since 1997. Abandoned during the French revolution, it was later restored in the Renaissance style in the 18th century
Hiding behind the back of the chateau is the only remaining turret of the original building that was built on the site in 1564 with permission of Louis XI, according to Erin. It was a fortified chateau surrounded by a moat which still exists to this day
All at sea: JB takes a row around the moat to inspect the damage caused by a leak into the cellars. There are rumours that secret tunnels still exist underground, although the couple admit they haven’t found any evidence of them yet
An exterior shot of the sprawling Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. The historic building was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and his partner Erin, who met during their Erasmus year in Edinburgh, Scotland. The moat is still filled with water and the couple have painted the bridge railings white since this photo was taken
Hidden in the back rooms of the kitchen, the couple recently discovered a collection of various metal fittings that have fallen off the chateau over the years (left); The couple tackle the chateau’s front door’s which are 4m high and currently covered in ‘smurf blue’ matte paint that requires chipping and sanding off. The doors then need priming before the final few coats of paint are applied (right)
JB sanding down the 4m high front doors which need repainting. Hidden from view from the local village and just a stone’s throw from the Mervent-Vouvent Forest, the château is thought to be inspired by the castle of Azay-le-Rideau, and built in the Renaissance style
Erin off to chop some wood for the fire in an Instagram snap taken in November (left) and in an arched recess which used to be the original corridor on the courtyard side. In the 1960s the corridor was moved centrally to create more bedrooms on either side (right)
JB doing some plastering and painting on the staircase. The sprawling Château de Bourneau and its 16-hectare grounds are built above the ruins of a medieval town square which were inhabited until 1789; it was abandoned during the French Revolution before being rebuilt in the 19th century
Old vintage French doors of varying shapes and sizes, some of which still have keys in them, were found hidden away in the chateau. The site also served as a shelter for refugees under the Maréchal de Lattre Foundation, and is believed to have housed some 528 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s
Abandoned in one of the turrets in the attics of the chateau was this antique dressing table. The attics had not been lived in for decades and Erin compares them to a ‘time capsule’, admitting she cannot decide what to do with the vintage piece
‘Set in 16 hectares of woodland and park, with its encircling moats and romantic turrets, we completely fell under its spell,’ Erin recalled.
As well as depleting their personal savings, the couple had to take out a bank loan and admit buying the country pile was a ‘risky investment’; they had reservations about restoring the chateau, which is located in Bourneau in the Venée department of western France’s Pays de la Loire region.
The sprawling Château de Bourneau and its 16-hectare grounds are built above the ruins of a medieval town square which were inhabited until 1789; it was abandoned during the French Revolution before being rebuilt in the 19th century.
The site also served as a shelter for refugees under the Maréchal de Lattre Foundation, and is believed to have housed some 528 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s.
Hidden from view from the local village and just a stone’s throw from the Mervent-Vouvent Forest, the château is thought to be inspired by the castle of Azay-le-Rideau, and built in the Renaissance style.
Erin in the kitchen with Angel Strawbridge, who appears on the new Channel 4 show as the couple find their feet in Chateau Bourneau. Angel is something of an expert, having bought and renovated a French chateau of her own with husband Dick
‘Excited for the arrival of our guests’: A dinner table in the ruined orangery is ready for summer fresco dining. The fairytale Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin. The doctor, who did not reveal how much the château cost, is originally from London but met her partner in Edinburgh in 2010
Jean-Baptiste and Erin are now painstakingly restoring the castle to its former glory, most recently painting the moat bridge from green to white after finding a sepia photograph of the grounds from 1908.
‘We have only been here six months and so far we have concentrated on catching up with maintenance that has not been done here for the last 30 years,’ Erin told MailOnline.
‘There were drains that hadn’t been cleared, the moat had a tendency to [leak] into the cellars, many windows that had rotted, leaks in the roof and managing the woods and gardens.
‘It’s always a juggling act balancing the ongoing maintenance and pushing forward with the renovations. This year, we also managed to do up a honeymoon suite with adjoining solarium, which is the perfect romantic spot for a glass of wine watching the sun setting over the moat. Our next renovation project is doing up our south turret garden suite.
‘The renovation is entirely financed by the income generated from our holiday cottage rentals and our events and weddings business. It is a lifetime project for us so there is no final figure but we renovate little by little, as funds enable.’
Sunset al fresco dining: Dinner is served in the stunning grounds of the Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. The French castle was recently purchased by Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin, who met as students living in Edinburgh. Jean-Baptiste said: ‘Initially, we did not consider buying a castle at all. The idea came to us as we went along’
Jean-Baptiste Gois and Erin shared this Instagram snap of recently-unearthed old books at the Château de Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. Also pictured is a rusty set of keys to the original library of the historic castle
Speaking about their first few weeks in the chateau, Erin said: ‘We are lucky that when we arrived, there was already basic but functional living conditions with running water, bath room facilities and heating.
‘This region is France’s second sunniest region and we are lucky that we have very mild winters here but that said, heating a 1000 Sq m building with 4m high ceilings is no mean feat!
‘We try to be as energy efficient as possible so when we don’t have any guests, we only heat our flat and maintain the rest of the chateau at a minimum temperature.’
Images posted on the couple’s Instagram page reveal the hidden treasures they have discovered while exploring the building’s many nooks and crannies, from an antique travel chest to a rusty set of keys for the castle’s library.
Erin, who did not reveal how much the château cost, is originally from London but met her partner in Edinburgh in 2010 when they were both enrolled on Erasmus, the European student exchange programme.
Speaking to Ouest-France in August 2018, Jean-Baptiste explained: ‘I had to stay [in Edinburgh] for nine months. In the end, I spent nine years.’
One of the many rooms inside the sprawling castle. The couple appear in the new series of Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau: DIY which follows plucky Brits taking on the task of renovating and running their own fairytale properties in France
A sun-filled double bedroom in the castle, which Erin and JB are letting out to guests. The couple plan to let the outbuildings around the castle as holiday homes and will completely renovate the main building, to be used for weddings or events
A cosy corner of the chateau. While the stunning Renaissance property in rural Vendée, Vendee, Pays de la Loire is a feast for the eyes, it was falling apart after three decades of neglect including a leaky moat and rotting window frames
The couple plan to let the outbuildings around the castle as holiday homes and will completely renovate the main building, which they will then rent for weddings or events.
However, Jean-Baptiste reveals the investment near didn’t happen: ‘Initially, we did not consider buying a castle at all. The idea came to us as we went along.’
Jean-Baptiste admits that he is far from most people’s idea of the kind of person who might own a castle; most visitors who see him in the grounds only approach him to ask where they can find the owner, he told the publication in an interview this week.
Erin added: ‘We have only been here six months and it has been a whirlwind of activity. Our days are long and we work very hard, often clocking up 14-plus hour days and our weekends are also dedicated to the château.
‘But it is also our privilege to have this opportunity to be the guardians of this beautiful historical monument and we get a lot of pleasure seeing it come back to life little by little.’
Fascinating history of the Chateau de Bourneau
‘The original château on this site was built in 1464 by Jacquette de la Ramée who was Dame de Bourneau and received royal permission from King Louis XI to build a fortified château at Bourneau,’ says Erin.
‘The original château was then abandoned during the French Revolution and fell into ruin. All that remains of this ancient château are the four turrets that delimit the the moat and the vaulted foundations that the current château is built on (our cellars.) There are rumours that secret tunnels still exist here (although we haven’t found any yet!)
The sprawling Château de Bourneau and its 16-hectare grounds are built above the ruins of a medieval town square
‘The current château you see today is in the style of the French Première Renaissance but is actually younger than most people think since it is a 19th century ‘folly’ built in 1863, by Edmond Möller, a local gentleman.
‘It was inspired by the magnificent royal châteaux of the Loire Valley, in particular Azay-le-Rideau and the Château d’Anet, so the Château de Bourneau’s Renaissance design is entirely unique to this region.
‘I feel this gives it the best of both worlds – a perfect homage to the French premier Renaissance but with the advantages of Victorian plumbing!
‘The château stayed in the same family until 1954, before it was sold to the Foundation Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny in the 1960s, who opened a home for Algerian men and women who fought for France and had lost everything.
‘It was called ‘Maison Raymond de Fontaines’ in memory of the original heir Raymond de Fontaines, who was killed in WW1 aged 25.
‘In 1967, the out buildings (old stables, granges and boulangerie) were completely transformed to expand the Foundation’s activity in welcoming refugees from wars in South East Asia, notably Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, with the aim to repatriate these people into French Society.
‘These outbuildings have now been converted into 4 holiday cottages that can sleep 42 people in total, each with their own swimming pool.’