Foreign Correspondence: Want to stay in a chateau? She owns one in France

Chateau Challain, in France’s Loire Valley, was completed in the 1850s on the estate of Count Rochefoucauld.
Chateau Challain, in France’s Loire Valley, was completed in the 1850s on the estate of Count Rochefoucauld. JANISRATNIEKS

Cynthia Nicholson, 51, divides her time between home in New Jersey and the Loire Valley of France, where she and her husband own Chateau Challain, a chateau they rent to travelers via

Q. How does one acquire a French castle?

A. Pure insanity. Our oldest son graduated from culinary school in 2001 and wanted to go to France. My grandmother had taken me to France years before and I fell in love with it. We had stayed at a chateau B&B, so I was looking for one online.

My background is in design and at the time I was designing a French-influenced house, so I was curious. I made some appointments because I wanted to peek around.

The day we arrived in Paris, we met with a couple different real estate people. The chateau I’d seen online was in northern France. I said, “Thanks, but no. We’re going south.” They said, “We have one that’s not for sale – but could be. Want to see some photos?”

My husband came up from the car, saw the photos, and said, “I have to have this.”

Q. How old is it?

A. They started construction in 1847 and completed it in 1854; It took 700-plus men, plus shops in Paris doing the woodwork. For 78,000 square feet, that was very fast. There had been a chateau there before, but not on the same spot, owned by Count Rochefoucauld. He had it taken down. What he then had built wasn’t in the same style; he wanted to build an impressive legacy.

Q. Did it cost an arm and a leg?

A. Because it was dilapidated, the issue wasn’t the initial cost. It’s the renovation and upkeep. We hired a contractor in Europe, but we have a construction company in New Jersey, so we – including our children and their friends – could do a lot of that ourselves. In nine months, we had it up and running as a B&B.

Q. How many suites are there now?

A. In France, when you rent a place as a B&B, you’re only allowed to lease five. So we have five for that. Or we rent the whole chateau; we have a total of nine suites. There’s not a bath in every bedroom; that’s sometimes hard for people to understand. It’s a home, not a hotel.

By high-speed train, it’s an hour and a half from Paris to Angers; we’re about a 40-minute drive from the Angers station by taxi or rental car.

Q. What does the interior look like?

A. It’s mid-19th century with a neo-Gothic base design, which can be extremely masculine. So certain rooms have been made a little more feminine through colors.

Q. And the grounds?

A. We have 75 acres with forests and fields, also proper French gardens. So we have lots of paths. We have a horse-and-carriage people can rent.

Q. What’s the price range?

A. From about $320 a night, breakfast included, up to about $400-and-some dollars.